Smart Pop Books is running a series of essays, 'Navigating the Golden Compass', on all aspects of Philip Pullman's trilogy. The latest, 'Dismembered Starlings and Neutered Minds' by Naomi Wood, looks at Pullman's treatment of notions of innocence and experience, especially as these concepts relate to our understanding of childhood.
In The Golden Compass, Pullman subverts our notions of innocence by first showing children’s innocence not as guiltless, but rather as uncouth, even feral—as the absence of knowledge and of culture rather than the presence of purity, love, or virtue. Lyra, the spirited heroine, is described initially as “a coarse and greedy little savage,” a “half-wild cat.” [...] And although adults may see children’s play as “pleasant,” “innocent and charming,” children are actually just as political as their elders: Lyra is part of a “rich seething stew of alliances and enmities and feuds and treaties”; as leader of her own gang of children affiliated with Jordan College, she leads the others in “deadly warfare,” delighting in physical combat and tactical victories. In her leadership ability, her physical courage, and her rhetorical power, Lyra possesses the same qualities as her parents, Lord Asriel and Mrs. Coulter, and has similar power to influence the people around her for good and ill. Being a child makes her no more inherently moral or immoral than any of the other individuals in the series.