Book Review: The Golden Compass (His Dark Materials, Book 1), by Phillip Pullman

The Golden Compass is actually called Northern Lights in every place except North America. I guess the publishers thought that kids would get confused, because they would not know what lights could possibly be doing in the north. Never mind that the book never refers to the titular object as a compass; that’s not confusing at all, no.

It’s like how the first Harry Potter was renamed “Sorcerer’s Stone” from “Philosopher’s Stone” in the United States (but luckily not here). Because, publishers must think, kids are dumb; they wouldn’t want to read a book about philosophy! Never mind that the idea of a philosopher’s stone has been around for centuries. Just rename it and kids won’t have to learn anything new.

With that out of the way: While I’ve just referred to The Golden Compass as a kid’s book, it’s really not. Not any more than Lord of the Rings is a kid’s book. It may have talking animals and magic, but there is also disturbing violence and very adult themes. There are polar bears in this book that will chew your face right off.

It’s also no secret that Pullman is a raging atheist, but while it shows in the novel in subtle ways (incorporation of deep scientific principles, and participation of the Church in certain questionable activities), he never beats the reader over the head with it. It’s more atheistic by omission; there is no fuzzy feel-good God-is-watching-over-us and the-lion-is-Jesus message. Not that there aren’t feel-good moments, because Pullman creates characters that you’ll actually care about, who interact in very human (or human-like) and touching ways.

Overall, The Golden Compass is a dark, touching, epic fantasy novel that is just chock full of giant killer polar bears. I really enjoyed it, and look forward to the forthcoming movie (though it looks to have been pussified quite a bit, leaving out the disturbing parts. boo.), and to the other two books in the trilogy.


A Diatribe on the Nature of Intellect, and A Method With Which One Can Answer the Query, “Do Lycanthropes Possess Testes?”

Lately, most of my time is taken up reading for comprehensive exams. One of the topics I’m studying is intelligence. An interesting finding in this field is that raw IQ scores have been increasing over the last few decades; this is known as the “Flynn effect”, named after its main discoverer. There is some confusion over whether this is a superficial increase in IQ test scores, or a real increase in what they are meant to measure (i.e., intelligence). This leads to the following awesome quote from one of my books:

“Flynn argues that if the intergenerational gain in IQ scores were “real” (i.e. reflected g), the real-life consequences would be conspicuous. For example, the younger generation with average IQs would perceive their parents and grandparents as intellectually dull or borderline retarded. Flynn even suggests that baseball and cricket fans of two or three generations past wouldn’t have had enough intelligence to understand the rules of the game.”

I just find it hilarious to imagine every kid in the world coming to realize that their parents are dumber than they are. They’d get together in the playground and swap stories about how their dad couldn’t find Africa on a map, or their mom gave $30 as a 15% tip on a $100 restaurant bill. “I swear,” they’d say, “my parents are borderline retarded.” Then dad would take his son to the ball game, and be all like “Wha? Why’d he just swing at the ball with that there stick? Who’s them guys with the mitts? What’s going on, son?”, eating a hot dog and drooling the entire time.

But hey, maybe it’s not so far fetched. If 80s movies and South Park have taught me anything, it’s that kids are the only ones who really know what’s going on. If Dracula and the Wolfman tried to take over the world, it would be kids who would have to stop them, and not their cognitively challenged parents.

P.S. Monster Squad is finally coming out on DVD!!!!

P.P.S. The quote is from Arthur Jensen’s “The g Factor”, p. 329.

Read This or Else

So I finished my last and only exam today.

The following occured to me: In grad school, it’s not really writing exams that matters, but the threat of writing exams.

See, marks don’t really matter. In a grad course, everyone is going to get a good mark no matter how well (or poorly) they do on an exam (unless something goes horribly wrong), and marks are barely important for any future endeavors * anyway. What matters is that the students have learned the material taught in the class.

To learn the material, any motivated student will learn all they can possibly learn in preparing for an exam. But see, it’s preparing that makes them learn, not writing. So if everyone thought they were going to write an exam and thus prepared their asses off, but then it got cancelled, they will have learned just as much as if they had actually written it. The threat of writing just needs to be there, and needs to be taken seriously.

It’s like how some beetles will mimic the colouring of bees and wasps, so that potential predators will think they’re all badass and stingy and leave them alone. Or how peacocks puff up their feathers to look gigantic and attract the ladies, even though under all that fluff they’re just a shitty little runt of a bird. They achieve their purpose by threatening to accomplish something that won’t actually happen. It’s exactly the same thing.

Wait, I forget what my point is. Oh…let’s just say…the moral of this post is… “faking your way through life is nature’s way.”

* CONGRATULATIONS! You have witnessed my first usage of the word “endeavor” evor!