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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 of

    children 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 Hospital



    Disclosure: 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 to

    summarize. 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 happy

    life, 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 golden

    compass, 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 family

    of Gyptians, wandering river people. Together, they decide to



  • go 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 are

    worthy 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 daemon

    also 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 that

    is 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 a

    child 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