Cover to Cover with the Golden Compass

Reading The Golden Compass was a coming of age for me – it was darker and more serious than any book I’d ever read before. Philip Pullman takes his readers seriously: he might be writing for teens and pre-teens, but he pulls no punches. I mean, the series name comes from a line in Paradise Lost; rather than worry about what his readers were capable of understanding, Pullman wrote a deeply intellectual and metaphorical novel for teenagers.

A summary: Lyra is an orphan raised by the scholars at Jordan College. Her natural curiousity and brashness lands her in the middle of a plot for power, and sends her on a quest for the mysterious Dust at the North Pole. Lyra also finds herself intrusted with a beautiful golden compass – an alethiometer – which tells the truth for good or ill.

For obvious reasons, the golden compass features heavily in most of this novel’s covers – sometimes well, sometimes not so much.


For instance, most of the English-language covers I’ve found don’t use the compass image as well as they might:

Trade Paperback edition     Paperback edition     Hardcover edition

This one probably does the best work with the compass – and I’m not necessarily a fan of the art style, but I appreciate that it conveys a sense of the symbols around the compass’s edge:

Del Ray edition

The art has a certain classic-fantasy sense to its style – and along with the fact that this paperback has an introduction by Terry Brooks, this points to the fact that this particular edition attempts to snag fantasy and science fiction fans.

My favourite foreign cover is by far the Hebrew, followed closely by the Polish:

And as per usual, graphic designers who turned their hands to this cover just nail it. From left to right (and top to bottom on mobile): covers from Rachel Nicole Sattold, Kelly McClellan, and Erick M. Ramos.

Rachel Nicole edition     Kelly McClellan's cover     Erick Ramos' edition

I love the art style from Sattold, although it does make the book seem a bit childish. McClellan’s art is beautifully shaded and detailed – it looks like an updated version of one of the older English covers. Finally, I love the simplicity of Ramos’ design – although I think I would pick another font if given the choice.

Which cover is your favourite? I’d love to see your comments. Feel free to link to any great cover art that I’ve missed!


Cover to Cover is a weekly project comparing and critiquing the various covers of popular novels, published every Wednesday. Find more posts in this series here.

The header image for this post is a cropped version of a shot from photographer Prunk via Wikimedia Commons.


11 thoughts on “Cover to Cover with the Golden Compass

  1. The copy I own is the Ericka Meltzer O’Rourke – which I do like. But as a reflection of the story itself, my favourite would be the Hebrew cover which you’ve posted. It’s lovely, intricate and dark – a perfect accompaniment to the tale.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I only read The Golden Compass a year or so ago, and I loved it – grew up on Narnia and Pullman satisfied some of the dissatisfaction I felt when reading the Narnia books. Loved your post – it would have been cool to see some covers with Northern Lights (the original title) as well. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • I was actually thinking of doing a companion post with all the Northern Lights covers! I didn’t know it had an alternate cover until I put this post together but it seems a shame not to include them.


  3. This is a very special book for me, to the extend that my daughter is named after a character. I have many versions of the books at home but until coming across your story here I had not seen that wonderful Hebrew version before. I would love to know where I can purchase a copy as the cover just gives such a fantastic image to the story. Thank you for a great article.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s amazing! I love when I run across people named for characters from books. My mother was named after a character from a musical, which is almost the same. 🙂 If you’re looking for that specific edition, try They’ve never let me down!


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