His Dark Materials Trilogy: The Golden Compass

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was initially founded as a treatment for World War I and IIveterans, experiencing both physical and mental war-relatedtraumas. Today, music therapists work with people of all ageswith conditions including psychiatric illness, developmentaland learning disabilities, neurological conditions such asAlzheimers disease and traumatic brain injury, physicaldisabilities, and acute and chronic pain.In Music Therapy Groupwork With Special Needs Children:The Evolving Process, music therapist and author Karen Good-man lays a framework for using music therapy with schoolchildren in a group setting. From the start, it is clear that thisis a textbook geared toward music therapists and therapists-in-training based on her work with children in a regional dayschool in New Jersey. Initially hired to work with six children,she eventually set up a school-wide program that allowed all80 children to participate in music therapy. The book beginswith history, her own and that of the program, then movesinto the how-to section. She moves easily among sharingher own experiences with the children, reviewing the litera-ture, and stating her own opinions in a clear and concise way.Goodman starts by introducing the reader to a group ofchildren who come alive off the page as she describes boththeir limitations and strengths and how these relate to eachchilds ability to participate in the group setting. She makesclear the importance of working within the system, as part ofthe team, reviewing individual education plans and foldingeach childs goals into the work of the group. She gives spe-cific examples, showing how one activity, properly executed,can meet the individual needs of multiple children.As a former elementary school music teacher who con-sidered a career in music therapy, I found this book easy tofollow and enjoyed the literature reviews and multitude ofexamples of lesson plans and other resources available to planmusic therapy for diverse groups of developmentally andpsychiatrically challenged children. As a mental health pro-fessional, I saw the value in understanding the goals ofmusic therapy and how they relate to the work a child is doingboth in school and in treatment. With training in neurologyand psychiatry, Professor Goodman possesses a keen senseof group dynamics and, through her examples, shows howboth children and therapist grow through the group process.Although unlikely to become a primary source of informationfor child and adolescent psychiatrists with an interest in musictherapy, the text will surely become a mainstay in the educa-tion of music therapists, and this can only benefit psychia-trically challenged children in the school setting.Sherry Nykiel, M.D.Massachusetts General HospitalBostonsnykiel@partners.org10.1097/01.CHI.0000357898.98488.5bDisclosure: The author reports no conflict of interest.His Dark Materials Trilogy: The Golden Compass. ByPhillip Pullman. New York Laurel Leaf, 2003, 399 pages,$15.30 (softcoverVbox set).His Dark Materials, the trilogy of childrens fantasy novelsby the English author Philip Pullman, has won both popularadmiration and critical acclaim. The first book in the serieswas awarded the Carnegie medal for U.K. childrensliterature, and the last was the winner of the 2001 Whitbreadaward. This marked the first time in the history of the awardthat a childrens novel had won the prize. The popularity ofthe series has been so significant that, in 2007, the first bookof the series (published as Northern Lights in the UnitedKingdom, and in the United States under the title, TheGolden Compass) was made into a film. Yet why should childand adolescent psychiatrists or other caregivers take notice?Because understanding why these books appeal to childrencan inform and deepen our therapeutic work.The plot of The Golden Compass is intricate and difficult tosummarize. Lyra, the main character, is a preadolescent girlwho initially seems to be an orphan and is being raised by thefaculty of Jordan College, Oxford. The world she lives in is ahazy simulacrum of our own. However, there are certainsignificant differences, the most striking of which is thepresence of daemons. A daemon is an animal being that isa part of each person but separate. A daemon knows yourthoughts and can communicate with you but has its ownopinions and character. Initially, a childs daemon can changeshape, but its form becomes fixed in adolescence.When the book opens, Lyra is leading an apparently happylife, receiving occasional lessons from scholars and spending agreat deal of time with other children who live nearby; she isoften in trouble for her pranks and her curiosity. Lord Asriel,whom she believes to be her uncle, is involved in research intothe nature of Dust, a mysterious substance that eventuallycovers all adults, but no children before adolescence, and thatmay represent the capacity to appreciate evil.Lyra is given a device called an alethiometer, or goldencompass, with which she can discover the answer to anyquestion, once she has learned to interpret its responses. She isthen sent to live with Mrs. Coulter, a beautiful woman bywhom Lyra is initially charmed. However, Mrs. Coulter isinvolved in a secret, powerful organization called the Obla-tion Board, which kidnaps children and brings them to anIntercission Center in the North where they are separatedfrom their daemons in an attempt to prevent Dust fromsettling on them and the resultant awakening from innocence.Lyra runs away from Mrs. Coulter and is found by a familyof Gyptians, wandering river people. Together, they decide toBOOK FORUM1044 WWW.JAACAP.COM J. AM. ACAD. CHILD ADOLESC. PSYCHIATRY, 48:10, OCTOBER 2009go on a rescue mission Along the way, they meet and befriendan aeronaut, whose hot air balloon facilitates their travel,an armored bear, Iorek, who is an outcast from the com-munity of the armored bears, and witches. Lyra is separatedfrom them and taken to the Intercission Center. There, just asshe is about to be separated from her daemon, she is saved byMrs. Coulter, who is revealed as her mother. Lyras reactionto this reunification with her mother is unexpected, as herhatred of Mrs. Coulter is not assuaged by this knowledge, andshe attacks Mrs. Coulter and saves the other children, withthe assistance of the Gyptians and the armored bear.Subsequently, she and Iorek travel back to Lord Asriel,whom Lyra believes to be her uncle, but who is, in fact, herfather. She believes she is taking him the golden compass butinstead finds that she is betraying her friend, whom her fatherultimately uses for his own dark purposes. At the end, Lyraand her daemon begin to consider the possibility that Dust, incontrast to everything they have been told, may be not evilbut good and leave their world in search of the truth.There are several themes in The Golden Compass that areworthy of the attention of a child therapist. Most notableamong these are the role of the daemon, questions about themeaning and significance of Dust and Intercission, and thenature and quality of Lyras courage.The question of what it is like to have a daemon is an-swered with descriptions of the utter desolation of those whohave lost one. Without a daemon, one is lonely and bereft.The comfort of a daemon evokes a childs longing for a bestfriend. The physical reassurance of the contact with thedaemon is reminiscent of a childs comforting by the touchof a loved adult or a cherished stuffed animal.Beyond its importance as a constant companion, the daemonalso plays a critical role in helping the child to figure out whohe or she is and will become. In childhood, the daemon takesvarious shapes that meet the childs current needs and alsodemonstrates the childs various personality attributes, any ofwhich could become predominant and thus influence the typeof animal that the daemon will ultimately become. In thebook, Lyra talks with an adult friend about what it will be likefor her daemon to take a fixed shape. He tells her:Anyways, theres compensations for a settled form.What are they?Knowing what kind of person you are. Take old Belisaria. Shes aseagull, and that means Im a kind of seagull too. Im not grand andsplendid nor beautiful, but Im a tough old thing and I can surviveanywhere and always find a bit of food and company. Thats worthknowing, that is. And when your daemon settles, youll know the kind ofperson you are.(p. 167)In our world, and in theirs, a 6-year-old is happy to revel infantasies of all the possible selves he or she could become.However, by adolescence, children become aware that thegoal of, for example, Olympic gymnast or rock star mayprove impossible to achieve. A developmental task of lateradolescence and early adulthood is to narrow that focus in away that is in accordance with the persons core values, to beable to make choices that allow for deeper progress in oneschosen field, and to avoid being so distracted by the lost selvesthat one is unable to make a choice.The metamorphosis of the daemon into a fixed shape thatis not consciously chosen by the person takes place at ado-lescence. The conversation referenced above continues:But suppose your daemon settles in a shape you dont like?Well, then, youre discontented, ent you? Theres plenty of folk asd liketo have a lion as a daemon and they end up with a poodle. And till theylearn to be satisfied with what they are, theyre going to be fretful aboutit. (pp. 167Y8)This theme allows Pullman to discuss the difficult task ofgrowing into an acceptance of ones limitations.In some ways, a child therapist might strive to provide to achild many of the same things a daemon can. Like a daemon,the therapist is willing to hear and accept everything the childis thinking and feeling. The child therapist provides a childwith the space to act out the sometimes warring characteristicswithin him or her and a place to be in fantasy the varioustypes of person the child may grow up to be. The childtherapist reflects back to the child the various moods thatrepresent the different facets of a complex personality.In an attempt to win Lyras allegiance in support of thesevering of children and their daemons, Mrs. Coulter talks toher about Dust:Darling, these are big difficult ideas, Dust and so on. Its not somethingfor children to worry aboutIDust is something bad, something wrong,something evil and wicked. Grownups and their daemons are infectedwith Dust so deeply that its too late for them. They cant be helpedIButa quick operation on children means theyre safe from it. Dust just wontstick to them ever again. Theyre safe and happyI (pp. 282Y83)Lyra rejects this explanation and retreats in horror fromthese statements and the implication that children are im-mune from evil or bad thoughts before adolescence. Thissame attitude, more prevalent in our society in the past, seemsto have been the groundspring for the belief that childrencannot truly suffer emotionally and cannot, for example,experience mood disorders or significant anxiety.Mrs. Coulters statements that this assault to which child-ren are being subjected is actually a wonderful opportunityare little different from adult assurances about the need forvaccinations or trips to the dentist. Furthermore, the sceneechoes a common experience of children: being told by adultsthat the adult world that is forbidden to them is nothingmuch to wish for. This is no more satisfying for Lyra than forBOOK FORUMWWW.JAACAP.COM 1045J . AM. ACAD. CHILD ADOLESC. PSYCHIATRY, 48:10, OCTOBER 2009children in real life. In effect, the children of our world areoften told, just as Lyra is in the book, that what seems bad tothem is really good and vice versa and that what they long for,the forbidden joys of adult life, will come with far moredisappointments and drawbacks than they see.Here, too, is a model for child therapists. One of theappeals for children is that Mr. Pullman emphasizes thediscrepancies between what children feel to be good or badand what they are told is good or bad for them. This is a vividdepiction of what we hope to do in child therapy. Whereasmany of the adults in a childs life are frequently murmuringvariations of oh, its not so bad, we, in the moment withchildren in therapy, will do our best to support them in theirexperience of just how bad things really can be. Only when weacknowledge the truth of childrens painful experiences canwe help them to find a way to bear what hurts.Part of what draws children to this book is the demon-stration of what it takes for Lyra to do what must be done.She is not a one-dimensional hero who does right withoutthinking and without fearing. Her particular genius is to dowhat she knows she should, even when she is terrified to doso. This depiction speaks far more deeply to children, whomay need to hear the message that others can do things notbecause they do not fear to do so but rather because they learnto act even when afraid.Even a consideration of the above themes does not fullyanswer the fundamental question: what makes this story soappealing? The allure may lie partly in the fact that Lyrais allowed to matter. Her actions have consequences, andher ability to act even when frightened is important. Thisis a quality shared with other new and old classics of thechildrens fantasy genre. One aspect that makes this bookso engaging to children is the demonstration that a childsactions can matter. Children in The Golden Compass are takenseriously.However, as important as Lyra is, she is also describedthroughout the book as being the subject of a prophecy. Thisidea of the powerful, special child whose actions are governedby supernatural powers is also common in childrens litera-ture. This raises the question of why it seems so importantto include this element. One wonders whether it serves toprotect the children who watch and read these stories. Perhapsthey, too, could be special, if they were part of a prophecy, butthey can have no need to feel badly about themselves if theyare not, because Lyra is powerful, in part, because of herrelation with something outside of her control.Like many other heroes of childrens fantasy literature, Lyrais, ostensibly, an orphan. However, unlike many of thoseother heroes, Lyra seems to spend little time brooding overthis. This, again, is part of the appeal: Lyras story suggeststhat you can find other relationships to make up for what youdont have. She may not be able to trust her parents, but shecan trust in the good-natured Gyptian woman who cared forher as an infant, and she can trust her friends.Perhaps, too, there is an important clue here regarding therole of the daemon. If you have a daemon, you can weatherother losses more readily. This theme echoes our growingunderstanding of resiliency in children whose early environ-ments are characterized by interpersonal deprivation. Often-times, children with difficult early life experiences who canform positive attachments to other adults in their environ-ment grow up to have less difficulty than children fromsimilar backgrounds who do not have a history of a positiverelationship with another adult.Before his career as a writer of childrens novels, Mr.Pullman worked as a teacher. He has written about educationand about his concerns that the current emphasis on testingand achievement may not be best suited for helping childrento come to enjoy the experience of learning. He wrote in TheGuardian in 2003, [W]e really must learn not to press pupilsfor a response to everything. A child very seldom wants to talkabout something thats made a deep impression: its toopersonal, too sacred.1 Therapy is a form of education andone that values insight over information. The skilled therapistknows well that to press children for words and responsesoften inhibits their ability to do the therapeutic work thatallows them to incorporate an experience and to move past atrauma. It is the setting of the therapists office in which achild can be given the chance to communicate in play what istoo close to be said in words. It is in reading The GoldenCompass that child therapists can both muse on the themesthat resonate with children and, at the same time, recaptureone of the joys of childhood as they lose themselves in thepleasure of reading an engaging story.Christine Wittmann, M.D.Cambridge HospitalCambridge, MAcwittmann@gmail.com10.1097/01.CHI.0000357899.36607.1cDisclosure: The author reports no conflicts of interest.1. Katbamna M. Lost the plot. The Guardian. 2003. http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2003/sep/30/primaryeducation.schools. Published September 30,2003. Accessed March 15, 2009.Note to Publishers: Books for review should be sent to Laura M. Prager,M.D., Department of Child Psychiatry, Yawkey Center for Outpatient,Care, 55 Fruit Street, Suite 6900, Boston, MA 02114 (e-mail:LMPrager@partners.org ).BOOK FORUM1046 WWW.JAACAP.COM J. AM. ACAD. CHILD ADOLESC. PSYCHIATRY, 48:10, OCTOBER 2009


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