Golden Compass among the few fantasy epics with a girl hero

CanWest News Service
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Lyra Belacqua is the sort of girl who spends her days running wild, climbing roofs and exploring forbidden places when she's not playing war with the boys or trying to steal boats.

Lyra Belacqua is the sort of girl who spends her days running wild, climbing roofs and exploring forbidden places when she's not playing war with the boys or trying to steal boats. When her friend Roger the kitchen boy goes missing, she doesn't hesitate to go on a dangerous journey to the frozen North to find him, even though she suspects he's been kidnapped by a mysterious organization rumoured to be stealing children.

She's just the girl to embark on an epic quest to save the world - a rare creature in pop culture, which tends to leave the questing and saving mainly to boys.

Lyra is the fearless hero of The Golden Compass, the first book in Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy of fantasy novels, now a much-hyped movie directed by Chris Weitz (of American Pie fame) and starring Nicole Kidman, Daniel Craig, and Eva Green.

Her search for her friend quickly escalates into a battle between good and evil, as she is confronted with the power of the Magisterium, a religious organization trying to eradicate free thinking and take over the world.

The film has come under fire over its treatment of religion, with Catholics saying that the sinister, oppressive Magisterium is a thinly veiled reference to the Church.

But the religious controversy has obscured the fact that The Golden Compass goes where no $200 million blockbuster has gone before. How often does a girl get to be the hero of her very own big-budget adventure movie?

Not very often, as Dakota Blue Richards, the young actress playing Lyra, has noted in media interviews, pointing out that while boys can dream of being like Harry Potter and Frodo, there aren't many brave girls in adventure stories.

With its esoteric lore, magic, talking animals, special effects and big action sequences, The Golden Compass is another Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings franchise in the making - at least, that's the hope. If it does well, there are plans to adapt the other two novels in Pullman's trilogy, The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass.

But whatever its merits as a film - one early review in the U.K. complained that the human talent is overshadowed by the special effects - The Golden Compass charts new territory in the fantasy genre. Just in time for Christmas, here's a story of a girl as a Messianic saviour whose coming was prophesied - by witches, no less.

It's a radical rewriting not only of Christian beliefs but also of the boy-centred adventure tradition.

Girls are usually the heroine, not the hero - they tend to stand on the sidelines cheering on the boys and men, or waiting to be rescued.

Geographic location: U.K.

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