The Purpose of Intertextuality in Pullman's novel The Golden Compass

Philip Pullman, as a famous representative of children’s fiction and a guru of creating fascinating and compelling stories, demonstrates that people cannot ignore interesting stories that are usually presented in literature and aimed at continually evolving children’s attention. Presumably, the fact that children direct their attention to the peculiarities of the story, and the fact that it should be written in a coherent understandable manner that would make it interesting, make children’s fiction a breakthrough in literature that presents meaningful content in a simple way. Even though The Golden Compass is a reflection of a fictitious world, it portrays children’s reality to the extent that the main character’s childhood loses its main features, transforming into an autonomous world where family breakdown, crime, adult secrets are perceived differently and recognition of the main character by peers for a risk assumed takes place.

In Pullman’s novel The Golden Compass, the main character is a small girl Lyra who continually interacts with the adult world, taking all the consequences of such an interaction. According to the author, “That’s the duty of the old, to be anxious on behalf of the young. And the duty of the young is to scorn the anxiety of the old” (n.p.). The representation of a child as the main character is already interesting for the audience of children as the possibility to compare oneself with Lyra becomes an evident privilege created by the author.

Claiming that some themes are too heavy for adult fiction, Pullman is trying to convince the readers that children’s novels are important no matter what age is actually concerned. Among the topics the writer addresses in The Golden Compass, one may find the speculations about the concepts of destiny, the nature of human intentions, morality and ethics, fate, sacrifice, etc. Pullman also directs children’s attention to the formulation of the concept of obedience that is vividly portrayed in the novel in order to appeal to the children’s emotions and influence their further choices. In her article that compares Lewis’s and Pullman’s writing style, Naomi Wood incorporates literary evidence that the latter presents obedience in the light of “corrupt, ecclesiastical and political authorities to whom allegiance would be evil” (268). The main character Lyra thus faces all the above-mentioned problems and becomes a medium through which they are solved in the novel. It means that in children’s fiction, there are usually two sides that can be taken into consideration when making conclusions: there are positive and negative characters, and their behavior can be treated either positively or negatively. These ideas form the concept of obedience in Pullman’s interpretation.

The author believes that the implementation of such genres as crime and science fiction are inadaptable in the context of children’s literature. Probably, the cause of such an interpretation is the children’s inability to grasp the reasons for writing as their social basis is not sufficient enough to get the pleasure from the formal characteristics that fill the above-mentioned genres. However, Lyra’s reality is different. She is placed in the context where crime becomes a background to her further actions.

However, not only the character-making aspect should be considered in this case. The matter is that Pullman brings to the children’s attention the concept of a ‘daemon’, a creature that accompanies every person and displays his/her emotions and feelings in the form of a particular animal. The representation of daemons in the story makes the target audience realize that people also have a temperament, a soul, and a natural disposition, which is formed under the circumstances of social interaction with the others. By means of daemons, Pullman shows his audience that children are able to develop both a positive and negative way. Lyra is able to understand that everyone has a soul. In addition, the literary critics are inclined to believe that “When the political, religious, social, or personal risks are high, when we are standing close to the metaphoric fire, the use of animals has long provided intellectual and psychological distance and allowed us to critically explore that which we would not be comfortable exploring directly” (Burk and Copnhaver 207). Such a literary technique not only grasps the attention of children, but is also clearly oriented to the adult understanding of a book.

In fact, all genres that exist in the adult literature can be found in the children’s one: a novel, a story, a poem, etc. However, the way any genre is implemented matters in this context (Daniels 78). A children's writer depicts the same reality as the representative of adult fiction, but brings to the fore the fact that the children are able to perceive. Changing the way the reality is viewed leads to a shift in emphasis in the content of the literary work, and there is a need for specific stylistic techniques related to the plot. In his speech, Pullman states that “There's more wisdom in a story than in volumes of philosophy” (n.p.). This particular thought can be supported by the one expressed by David Galef: “Perhaps accretion is in some ways easier than simplicity” (29) as both accuse modern writers of additional philosophical layers that only make the perception of the story more difficult. Thus, the stress should be put on the creation of a meaningful and dynamic plotline. Specifically, Pullman’s The Golden Compass is guided by simplicity accompanied with a fictional world ruled by magic and mystery.

One of the thoughts that the reading of the novel evokes appears because all the characters live for a certain purpose: to fulfill their roles and contribute to the aesthetic aspect of the story. The style of writing is unique because of its simplicity and directness. The narrator does not conceal anything from the reader. On the contrary, the morality is apparent to the reader’s critical eye.

Writers like Pullman should know children’s psychology, especially their perception of the world at different age levels, and definitely remember well their own childhood. High artistic skills and natural ability are required to meet the aesthetic demands of children. The writer should deeply know and feel the fictional world they create, each time making the content of their books match the perspectives of the child, without remaining a prisoner of the children's perception of the world, and being always ahead of a child to lead the reader along. Thus, children’s reality in the novel is interwoven with the concepts, transforming into children’s media with the course of time.

In writer’s opinion, children’s literature, in contrast to the adult one, has acquired the status of reachability and a crossover. This is particularly due to the broad variety of moral and ethical issues it conveys to a wide audience of both children and adults. Being a crossover, children’s fiction appeals to the adults in a way that it reduces the tension of ideas, illustrating every particular notion as an entire, well-balanced feature that combines with the other aesthetical and didactic messages. The role of children’s literature, according to Pullman, is to make implications for the consciousness of its young readers and destroy the barriers of modern literary techniques that only worsen the ways simple morality is perceived.

The subjects discussed adequately in The Golden Compass that could not be addressed in any other novel belonging to adult literature concern the representation of good vs. evil. The concepts of ‘good’ and ‘evil’ are usually formed in children’s literature because it is quite easy to frame their perception through the portrayal of positive and negative characters and their intentions. The truth is that there always seems to be a strict line drawn between good and evil in a children’s book. On the contrary, in adult fiction, the reader may take different sides, thus justifying the characters’ nature. In this case, taking into account all the above-mentioned peculiarities accompanied by Pullman’s observations, the question concerning the definition of children’s literature arises along with the characteristic features of a novel that becomes a crossover.

To sum up, the novel The golden Compass is a vivid example of a crossover novel, which is adjusted not only to the target audience of children, but also to the adult world, increasing simplicity in portraying the morality of good and evil, obedience and disobedience, kindness and hostility. The peculiar differences and the respective exploration of the features of both children’s and adult fiction have proved that the novel is a crossover that can be interpreted from both above-mentioned perspectives. Evidently, the role of children’s literature is to carry important messages to the readers, in a meaningful and simple way.


Clearly, children’s fiction usually presents the ways how younger generations are perceived and depicted in media. Pullman’s novel The Golden Compass is one of the vivid examples of book media written for children. Analyzing the intertextuality of this novel, one can make assumptions about the peculiar features of children’s fiction based on the peculiarities of children’s perception in contrast to adults’ one. Writers who write for the audience represented by children should be aware of the characteristics defining a child as a member of the social environment. With this aspect in mind, Buckingham’s thesis concerning media determinism, the access to adult secrets and debates over childhood can be easily applied to Pullman’s novel The Golden Compass. On its basis, one can make conclusions related to the ways the child’s independence from parents arises in a literary work. Pullman’s novel retells the story of a child, Lyra, an important character, whose actions determine the future of the story described in the book. Growing without her parents, Lyra is a vivid example of a child who experiences family breakdown, poverty, crime, economic exploitation, religious problems, and other aspects that prevail in the social environment that Pullman creates. Although there is a great deal of fantasy in the book, it raises many questions concerning childhood and to a certain extent blurs the boundaries between a child and an adult in a way that makes the novel a crossover. The concept of Lyra’s childhood is blurred. Due to this reason, the novel may interest adults as well.

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