Study Guide

The Golden Compass Writing Style

By Philip Pullman

Writing Style

Elegant, Packed with Dialogue

Elegant Writing

Pullman knows how to push a pen across paper (or his fingers across a keyboard). The guy is a great writer, and has even been praised by the New York Times. Check this out:

If you are going to preface your books with passages from Milton, Rilke and John Ashbery, then you had better write well. Pullman does. His prose has texture and flexibility, like excellent fabric. And he gives us so much. Suspense of course, but such degrees of pleasure, excitement (the excitement of meeting characters, not just adventurers) and grief. (source)

That's a pretty big compliment, if you ask us. Pullman's flair for elegant language shines brightest in the book's narration. For example, take this description of the novel's northern lights:

The sight filled the northern sky; the immensity of it was scarcely conceivable. As if from Heaven itself, great curtains of delicate light hung and trembled. Pale green and rose-pink, and as transparent as the most fragile fabric, and at the bottom edge a profound fiery crimson like the fires of Hell, they swung and shimmered loosely with more grace than the most skillful dancer. (11.8)

Fancy, right? The sublimity of the aurora – inspiring both awe and terror – is captured in Pullman's language, with its images of Heaven and Hell.

Packed with Dialogue

That's not to say that the book is page upon page of lovely and fiery descriptions of Lyra's world. Not by half. A lot of the book is actually made up of dialogue. Not only do we see a lot of characters talking to each other, but we also see conversations happening out loud that would normally be taking place in someone's head. This is because, instead of the narrator describing, say Lyra's inner thoughts, Lyra talks with Pan, her daemon.

Let's look at an example from when Lyra's running away from Mrs. Coulter after finding out she's one of the Gobblers. We'll make up a "narration" version, then show you how Pullman actually did the scene in dialogue.

Shmoop's narration version:

As Lyra trudged down a street of closed and shuttered shops, she wondered where to sleep. She considered a doorway, but worried that she'd be too obvious there. A better possibility was the canal not far away.

Pullman's dialogue version:

"Where are we going to sleep, Pan?" she said as they trudged down a street of closed and shuttered shops.

"A doorway somewhere."

"Don't want to be seen, though. They're all so open."

"There's a canal down there…." (6.35-38)

Now, which version would you rather read? We'd definitely vote for Pullman and dialogue. It's just a bit more interesting, and we enjoy hearing the characters talk in their own voices. How about you?