Long ago, before Harry Potter even, we were wild about The Golden Compass in this house. That was way back in the days when I would read books aloud to The Kid, but really it was to all three of us, four of us once Jasper came along.
So it went with The Chronicles of Narnia, with The Hobbit, with The Lord of the Rings, and then with the Dark Materials trilogy. We didn't have television in those days, which was fine by us, so books it was.
As a book lover, that was a dream. As a children's lit lover, even more so. I've never gotten over, forgotten, the books I loved as a child, and still re-read them now, marveling at how they grabbed me then and still grab me now.
The Golden Compass was new when we read it, and a revelation. I'm not sure how I found out about it, but in the years that have passed, I have re-read it five times. Which means that I'm now on my sixth reading, as I prepare to make a gift of the book to a young reader-friend but mostly as I grieve my lost dæmon, Jasper.
We had the good fortune to see Philip Pullman when Book Two: The Subtle Knife was published. The three of us trooped down to Clean Well-Lighted Place for Books at Larkspur Landing on a school-night and sat mesmerized as the author himself talked about and read from the book. Must have been 1997 or 98, I imagine, so The Kid was 10. He and I had already logged hours and hours at that bookstore by that time, at Story Time on Sunday mornings (which held me much more rapt than him) or just generally browsing, stretched out on our stomachs companionably in the children's section, leafing through books. It was a bit our library. Since there was a cafe in the bookstore, I could imagine myself living in there -- all essentials covered.
Reading The Golden Compass aloud, I'd always pronounced dæmon "day-mun," probably as a way to differentiate if from dee-mun, using sound to make it clear that dæmon is not demon. Imagine our surprise, then, when Mr. Pullman himself pronounced it dee-mun.
And truly, of all of the wonders Mr. Pullman creates, the dæmon reigns supreme. Yes, I love Iorek Byrnison and all of the other panserbjorne (armored bears). I love Serafina Pekkala and all of the other witches. I love the parallel universes, the cities visible in the Northern Lights, but most of all, I love the dæmons.
As I re-read the book now this sixth time, it's with particular appreciation for how the story gradually unfolds the meaning of the dæmon, the rules for how this part of that world works. As always, I hunger for a dæmon of my own, for that special relationship that the humans have with their external animal-shaped souls. It's like a familiar but better. Like Jiminy Cricket, but oh so much more sophisticated and multi-dimensional. When you have a dæmon, you are never alone. Your dæmon both amplifies and reveals the essential of who you are.
My sister has just been reading The Golden Compass for the first time, so I have also been appreciating her joy in the story. It's been so helpful to share this point of reference, so that she can now remind me that a large part of my grief at losing Jasper has been because he was like my dæmon, or as close to one as I am likely to get, in this lonely dæmon-less world we inhabit. It's so true that throughout my life with Jasper, all of which was in the post-Golden Compass part of my life, I wished so fervently that he and I were as connected as human and dæmon, that he was with me everywhere and always, our minds and hearts truly interpenetrated, inexorably linked.
Over this morning's first coffee, I cried and sighed my way through Chapters 12 and 13, in which Lyra, Pan and Iorek find and bring back Tony Makarios. This is truly the very heart of the story, and the part that is for me the true-est to how I've been feeling about Jasper lately, the deep cut and sharp sense of loss. Like Tony, I keep asking, "You got my Ratter?"
I'm relishing this 6th time around with Lyra and Pantalaimon and the rest so much more, as I hold Jasper's memory close. Feeling very grateful to Mr. Pullman, indeed, for the deep deep solace this represents.