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Tilting at Windmills

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November 24, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

THE GOLDEN COMPASS....Morbo notes that The Golden Compass will soon be coming to a movie theater near you:

A few years ago, my daughter and I read "The Golden Compass," the first volume of British author Philip Pullman's trilogy titled "His Dark Materials."

We moved on to the second book but never finished it. Now I'm thinking we made a mistake. A movie version of the first book opens Dec. 7, and the Religious Right is throwing a fit. If the Religious Right does not like this series, it must be worth looking at.

....[Baptist Press] notes that the series is very popular and is marketed to school-aged children through the Scholastic Books firm. Naturally, this being the United States, some of the more controversial themes of the series have been toned down in the film version. But BP still warns that interest in the movie will lead more kids to the books and from there straight to hell.

....These folks need to take a deep breath.

I'm not in the habit of defending the Religious Right, but I have to say that just this once they have a point. I'm sure the movie itself will indeed be harmless, but the books are every conservative Christian's nightmare of what the secular left's real agenda is — assuming you get past the first two volumes, that is. Pullman's attack on Christianity is foreshadowed in those books, but in the third it's laid bare with no attempt at even unsubtle Narnia-esque analogies. The Amber Spyglass is the story of how God (yes, the God of Abraham, the one in the Bible) has ruled despotically and malevolently over the Earth for 30,000 years and the forces of good and decency are finally going to kill him. And they do.

Not that there's anything wrong with that. But I'd sure want to know about it beforehand if I were a serious Christian browsing around for fantasy books for my kids. And if I were a mucky-muck in the Southern Baptist Convention, I'd be warning parents away from it too. Yeah, they've cried wolf too often over stuff like Harry Potter to have much credibility left, but in this case they're standing on pretty solid ground. These books are about as rabidly anti-Christian as a kids series can get.

Kevin Drum 12:49 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (97)

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What age group are the books targeted at? And the movie?

As an atheist myself, the books seem interesting, but I am not sure I would want my Harry Potter reading 8 year old read stories that explicitly talked of killing someone else's god, for much the same reason that I am very annoyed when people try to proselytize to us.

Posted by: jerry on November 24, 2007 at 1:02 PM | PERMALINK

Why "rabid," exactly? Vigorously, perhaps (I've read the books), but rabidly? Was this a casual or a deliberate choice of adverb, and if the latter, why?

Posted by: Rand Careaga on November 24, 2007 at 1:05 PM | PERMALINK

My 8 year-old daughter loved Harry Potter, The Hobbit, and Narinia, but my Pat Buchanan-esque brother warned me about this series themes. That said, if my daughter's faith (or my own) cannot withstand a children's science fiction novel is it really faith, or just ignorance?

Posted by: Bagel Johnson on November 24, 2007 at 1:06 PM | PERMALINK

I'm sure the studios will carefully, dreadfully bowdlerize the story. I read an interview with one of the producers and remember him saying the story wasn't about "religion" but "rebellion". Ha! It will probably end up like the recent screen adaptation of 'The End of the Affair' - where the central premise (in that case a search for morality outside the confines of religion) is turned on its head to make American Christians more comfortable.

Posted by: Sir William on November 24, 2007 at 1:21 PM | PERMALINK

I found the third book disappointing and bizarre.

As I was reading the section where the former nun mused on how she decided to give up her life of celibacy and have sex with a handsome stranger, I started wondering, "What audience is this book aimed at? Are there twelve-year-olds who would find this remotely interesting?"

At least C.S. Lewis seems to have been interested in fairy stories. The first two books were lovely - the third needed an editor or two, plus a discerning friend.

Posted by: blogthemagnificentferret on November 24, 2007 at 1:22 PM | PERMALINK

Yeah, "rabid" is an interesting word choice. Fits CS Lewis at least as well as Pullman.

As for intended age of reader, my local children's publishing professional says that it was originally marketed at 10-14, and that is on the boundary between middle grade and YA.

It's a disapppointing series, in part because The Golden Compass is so good that the last volume fails even more completely by comparison.

As for warning labels on books for religious content, I have no doubt that the religious people can get the word out about such books.

But I do not understand why nobody is similarly concerned with the claptrap constantly forced on children whose parents are atheists.

That reminds me of a point Dawkins makes frequently--that there is no such thing as a Baptist or Atheist child. These are choices adults make, not children. Children aren't considered competent to make such decisions.

Posted by: jayackroyd on November 24, 2007 at 1:28 PM | PERMALINK

I may be misremembering, but didn't the Ancient of Days just die on his own, after having been usurped by Metatron? And it's the latter who's defeated in the end. I think the third book was the weakest of the trilogy, but it did have some good moments. The idea of a Republic of Heaven is certainly resonant.

For Christian parents, I think it's always possible to observe that (a) it's a fantasy and (b) most of it takes place in worlds that are not our own.

Posted by: RSA on November 24, 2007 at 1:29 PM | PERMALINK

In response to blogthemagnificentferret - as a former 12 year-old who enjoyed reading mature books, I admire Mr. Pullman for not talking down to young adults. Many of the best fairy tales take a dark turn or two. Bros. Grimm anyone?

Posted by: Sir William on November 24, 2007 at 1:30 PM | PERMALINK

Jerry - the books would be suitable for a pre-teen and older; that's where most bookstores have them. I know of at least one 11 year old who didn't like them, one 12 year old who did, and two other adults who liked them as much as I did.

Kevin is right about the deicide part of the books, but they're really quest/adventure stories. Two good kids and a variety of good and bad adults are struggling towards a distant, hard-to-understand goal. The books are about killing God as much as Lord of the Rings is about tossing the ring in a volcano. There's a sweet romance as well.

But Kevin is absolutely right. Using my credentials as a former Southern Baptist fundamentalist, I can say that my mother's eyes would have been out on their stalks if she knew that I was reading this as a child. Specifically on the religious aspect, Harry Potter is very weak tea compared to this series. I believe that many Christians, even open-minded ones, would find the books offensive in part. It's a good/bad reversal vaguely similar to Harlan Ellison's "Deathbird" story about Satan coming to save the world from God.

As novels, they're more than equal to the Potter series: richly imagined, complex, well-written. Quite good.

Posted by: travis on November 24, 2007 at 1:32 PM | PERMALINK

I've never read this series, but it does remind me of my personal path from devout Catholic to atheist. I wanted to believe, but I wanted to understand what I was believing, so I repeatedly read the Bible cover to cover and found most of it monstrous (and not just the Old Testament; there's a lot of warped stuff in Paul and Revelations, though I still like the Sermon on the Mount).

I could take the path that Thomas Jefferson took and cross out all the parts that were obviously bogus, but I'd also read Huck Finn, and was impressed by Huck's decision to go to hell, because he believed that to follow his conscience and save the slave Jim would condemn him.

So even before I rejected the whole thing, I concluded that if the Bible were true (which I strongly doubted anyway), then God is a monster and it was my duty to refuse to submit, and maybe Milton's Satan had it right.

Posted by: Joe Buck on November 24, 2007 at 1:43 PM | PERMALINK

Joe - reading the bible carefully and thinking about it is a sure path to agnosticism or atheism. you might look into Ken's Guide to the Bible. Lots of hysterical stuff in there.

Posted by: travis on November 24, 2007 at 1:46 PM | PERMALINK

I would encourage anyone who is interested in these books to read the New Yorker profile of Pullman about a year ago -- it's online and a quick google search away.

Posted by: Joe on November 24, 2007 at 1:47 PM | PERMALINK

The first two books were lovely - the third needed an editor or two, plus a discerning friend.

I actually thought the problem was that there were two books jammed into the third, and that if he could have made it a four book series, some of those problems of severity and abruptness could have been smoothed out.

Posted by: jayackroyd on November 24, 2007 at 1:50 PM | PERMALINK

I thought all the books were great, and there was much to be discovered in re-reading. Obviously aimed at many levels -- who writes about quantum mechanics for 11-year-olds?

Posted by: Gore/Edwards 08 on November 24, 2007 at 2:05 PM | PERMALINK

Pullman's books are not anti-Christian. In fact, Christ isn't even mentioned in them.

They are, however, quite explicitly anti-church. His universe is one where angels and demons and souls very definitely exist, but it's also one where the church (a peculiar mix of Catholicism and Lutheranism, at least structurally) commits all manner of evil to support itself, and where the God being worshipped isn't even the real God--not the Creator, in other words, but a usurper of the heavenly throne. And Pullman is pointed in demonstrating that the church's actions are both immoral and totally hypocritical given its position as arbiter of morality.

In other words, it's a decidedly heretical view of religion, but it's not in any way singling out Christianity for criticism.

Posted by: Cash on November 24, 2007 at 2:14 PM | PERMALINK

I loved The Golden Compass, liked the Subtle Knife, and was very disappointed in the Amber Spyglass, but I think Kevin is missing an important point about Pullman's "theology."

As Pullman perhaps makes clearer in interviews than in the books, his "atheism" is more a reaction to a version of Christianity he sees as "life-hating" and oppressive than it really is "anti-Christian," at least if one considers what Pullman favors.

In an article in the current Atlantic, Pullman is quoted as saying in a 2000 speech “We need joy, we need a sense of meaning and purpose in our lives, we need a connection with the universe, we need all the things the Kingdom of Heaven used to promise us but failed to deliver.”

A lot of Christians (particularly Christian theologians) would agree completely with that. In fact, it seems to me a fair paraphrase of much of what Jesus is recorded as saying (think Sermon on the Mount and the Lord's Prayer).

I think it is clear in Pullman's speeches, interviews, and essays that the god (in whatever religion) he wants to die is the god he believes has led adherents to persecute or kill those who reject that god. Sounds to me like a good message for children, not to mention the rest of us.

Posted by: Bob Gaines on November 24, 2007 at 2:15 PM | PERMALINK

I know a young couple who drove across the country last week and they were listening to the whole series on CD while on their trip to reacquaint themselves with the books they had read earlier before becoming adults. They are both recent college graduates. I think of them as naive, they were both very protected from the world as teenagers, but perhaps their specializing in science has given them a greater perspective on life I am unaware of.

Posted by: Brojo on November 24, 2007 at 2:20 PM | PERMALINK

I took everything written in the Bible with a grain of salt when I discovered it was all written by a bunch of men who wanted to keep women subservient.

Posted by: Mazurka on November 24, 2007 at 2:52 PM | PERMALINK

I haven't read the series but based on the descriptions provided here, it sounds like Cash has a point in his earlier post.

Are the books anti-"christian" or simply anti-church or anti-organized religion?

The hypocrisy being that these books sound like they might be just as heretical to devout Jews or Muslims as Christians, but of course many within each of those crowds believe that the other is going to hell for their beliefs. So why should an anti-organized religion novel take any more heat that the tons of literature and organizations that demonize each other daily?

Posted by: Condor on November 24, 2007 at 2:53 PM | PERMALINK

Perhaps some of you(of all faiths or none at all)will be interested in my "take" on this. I will start out by saying, first of all, that I loved Pullman's trilogy, and I agree that "The Amber Spyglass" is probably the weakest of the three books. But I also loved the Narnia series(and I still love it, though I find Lewis's theology unappealing.

Which leads to the "take". I grew up in a rather aggressively "nonreligious" household. I didn't discover the Narnia series till I was 13 or 14. I've always loved fantasy of any kind, and I still do. So I picked up "The Silver Chair", and read it and enjoyed it very much, and was inspired to read all the rest of them. I soon learned that C.S. Lewis was pretty explicitly Christian in his symbolism. Okay. I pretty much figured out the symbolism. And it didn't really bother me very much, but it *did* bother my mother, who wanted to know why I was reading *that*. I just told her that they were good stories, so she wisely shut up.

But I keep remembering this, because unlike certain kinds of "Christian" parents(or perhaps some "atheist" parents), I don't think it hurts for kids to be exposed to a variety of beliefs and philosophies when young. What their parents believe, one way or another, is going to be the most important influence in their lives, not what Pullman or Lewis writes. They may come to hold beliefs or nonbeliefs quite different from those of their parents, but the core values will probably remain(if the parents are anything decent at all). And if their values aren't strong enough to withstand the "influlence" of the Harry Potter books(or Narnia, or Pullman, or anybody else, for that matter), what kind of values do they actually hold?
Anne G

Posted by: Anne Gilbert on November 24, 2007 at 2:57 PM | PERMALINK

I'm post-teen (71 going on 72) and was raised Roman Catholic.

At 12 or 13, reading in the Baltimore Catechism (do they still do that?) the question, "Why am I here," and the answer, "...to know love and serve God in this world and be happy with Him in the next," I immediately changed it to "I am here to know, love, and serve, and to be happy." Forget the god part.

That was a global life decision for me, and by age 17 I was a full fledged 'nonbeliever.' Still am.

I read each volume of His Dark Materials as it came out. When I got to the meat of Amber Spyglass, even this total ex-catholic atheist was shaken by the depth of the, yes, heresy at the center of these books. Shocked. This is thundering heresy. The worst ever, and quite deserved, I think.

I smirked for days when the vatican went ballistic over it. Just sweep the whole thing off the table. Good work Pullman.

Posted by: AM on November 24, 2007 at 3:11 PM | PERMALINK

Cash raises an point vital to understanding Pullman's meaning. IMO, the His Dark Materials trilogy is not anti-God. And the key to understanding that rests in Pullman's name for the "God" of the church in the books - "the Authority".

There are many aspects of the God who is depicted through the course of the Bible, but the one I find least compelling is the one that is usually shoved down my throat by churches and evangelicals - God the Authority. Not the loving Father, not the forgiving Son, not the benevolent Spirit...but the ass-kicking, throw-the-nonbelievers-in-Hell-for eternity, vengeful Authority. This is the "god" Pullman has in his sights, and this is the "god" that is overthrown in The Amber Spyglass.

As an ex-Catholic (ex- for reasons very similar to those of Joe Buck), I have always found it quite easy to separate adherence to the tenets of the church from the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. In fact, I'm basically what you might call a secular humanist because I thought Jesus' ideas on how to treat my fellow humans were spot-on; it's all the God-bothering that lost me.

Posted by: Cap'n Phealy on November 24, 2007 at 3:13 PM | PERMALINK

General follow-up point on literature - the final book in any multi-volume work is often (though not always) the weakest, mainly because the author has set up multiple threads that will lead to differing expectations among different readers, while only the author is capable of seeing that the ending will turn out the way he or she wants (and even the author doesn't always get satisfaction, depending). As far as The Amber Spyglass is concerned, I don't think it was all that weak, mainly because I managed to keep my expectations in check until I got there.

Also, re-reading the ending, once you know where the author is going, can make a big difference.

Posted by: Cap'n Phealy on November 24, 2007 at 3:19 PM | PERMALINK

I read these books to my son, and we both really enjoyed them - he even re-read them after we were done. I found the third book a little messier than than the first two, but the ending saved it. He could have left his message to teased out, which many readers that age might not do. Instead he chose to deliver it with strength and conviction; the final passage is a powerful warning of the dangers of religious dogmatism and intolerance delivered on the back of compelling and supporting story, and a welcome respite from Narnia and LOTR. Of course the religious right is up and arms, so what. It always something.

"If there is a Hell, surely it waits for them, not us." (I can't recall who said that, but it bears repeating. My guess is Frank Zappa, but that is only a guess)

Posted by: John D on November 24, 2007 at 3:21 PM | PERMALINK

I gonna have to give you a "Golden Pearl Clutch" on that one, Kevin.

Posted by: Rula Lenska on November 24, 2007 at 3:26 PM | PERMALINK

Rabidly anti-christian? In the book, the Magisterium really isn't a very nice body.

Posted by: scarshapedstar on November 24, 2007 at 3:32 PM | PERMALINK

Yawn. These books are very much crafted in the spirt of C.S. Lewis and JRR Tolkien (Oxford, other worlds, quests, artifacts, talking animals, suffering and flawed heroes, souls, etc). Like Twain's Tom Sawyer, the young heroes find their own morality amid the lies and hypocrisy of adults.

That they are anti-church is simultaneously refreshing and unremarkable. In case you haven't noticed, Kevin, organized religion hasn't exactly been advancing the human condition as of late. Educated young people especially are turning away in droves.

And as literature alone, these books stand miles and miles above things like the Left Behind shitstack.

Posted by: HeavyJ on November 24, 2007 at 3:43 PM | PERMALINK

I've only read The Golden Compass of the trilogy, but the only thing "kids" or "young adult" about it is the marketing. From the vocabulary, to quantum physics, to the larger themes, this is not at all a work for children. Basically, the protagonist is a kid, so it is somehow decided to be children's/young adult fiction, which is just ridiculous. Certainly a 12-year old could read and enjoy the book, but they'd be missing a heckuva lot, and I really doubt that Pullman was writing the novels with kids in mind. As a very open-minded Catholic, this book did not bother me at all, but I am not sure I would want my 8-year old reading it.

Posted by: Steve on November 24, 2007 at 3:44 PM | PERMALINK

The books are not anti-Christian per se, because they are extremely consonant with general Christian morality. They are definitely anti-Church as an organized religion. Pullman has emphasized that that was his point.

However, there would still be many Christians who would be offended to have their deity portrayed as a bad guy, specifically as an angel-gangster who managed to rob other divine beings of their powers so he could rule unchallenged. That's going to bug some people.

Posted by: travis on November 24, 2007 at 3:57 PM | PERMALINK

If you are a practicing Christian -- or Muslim or Jew, for that matter, since all three are supposedly Children of Abraham -- then you absolutely have the God-given right as an American to both not see The Golden Compass film and not read the Those Dark Materials trilogy of books yourself, and further to forbid your own minor children from seeing that film or reading those books.

But what you have a right to do as an American, is to attempt to restrict another adult's access to such materials, simply on the grounds that you personally find them morally offensive.

By the same logic offered by the so-called "Christian" Right, would we also now ban the Bible, the Torah and the Quran, on the grounds that far too many people in positions of real authority willfully misinterpret the contents of those three books in order to justify the most extraordinarily cruel and inhuman behavior toward their fellow man?

Posted by: Donald from Hawaii on November 24, 2007 at 4:11 PM | PERMALINK

C'mon, people write books with other gods as evil villains, why not the god of abraham as well?

It's just mythology.

Posted by: Crissa on November 24, 2007 at 4:13 PM | PERMALINK

Sorry! The second paragraph in my 4:11 PM post should have read:

"But what you do not have a right to do as an American, is to attempt to restrict another adult's access to such materials ..."

Posted by: Donald from Hawaii on November 24, 2007 at 4:15 PM | PERMALINK

I'm not sure what the fuss is over this post, or the idea that parents would take an interest in what their kids read. Comparative literary merit aside, I reserve the right to warn other liberal parents against The O'Reilly Factor For Kids.

For that matter, I'd like to know about potentially "anti-Christian" literature, too. I'm a NON-Christian; I'm not interested in raising any anti-Christians, and shame on anyone who is. Maybe these books aren't that, but does that mean we shouldn't talk about books we think might be, or that might require a little "parental guidance," non-theistic cosmos forbid?

Posted by: Matt on November 24, 2007 at 4:21 PM | PERMALINK

These books are about as rabidly anti-Christian as a kids series can get.

They are not anti-christian. They are anti-evil. If you think those are the same thing, well...

Posted by: craigie on November 24, 2007 at 4:23 PM | PERMALINK

Travis: "However, there would still be many Christians who would be offended to have their deity portrayed as a bad guy, specifically as an angel-gangster who managed to rob other divine beings of their powers so he could rule unchallenged. That's going to bug some people."

Then, so be it. As it stands, the more vociferously holier-than-thou among them are always looking to get their shorts twisted over something, anyway. If it's not this, then it's their anually manufactured "War on Christmas" meme.

Well, they can sing in perpetual soprano over this issue, for all I care. Fuck 'em.

Posted by: Donald from Hawaii on November 24, 2007 at 4:27 PM | PERMALINK

Oh, please. Shall we just start going through books and movies, cutting out stuff that might offend people? That's one of the primary reasons behind, whaddaya call it, The First Amendment.

And, bluntly, if someone's god is so fragile that a fictional movie based on a fictional book about a fictional mad scientist fighting a fictional god might offend them and even threaten their faith, maybe their faith could use some threatening and offending.

Posted by: filkertom on November 24, 2007 at 4:31 PM | PERMALINK

At least Pullman's theology is consistent:

"How can a compassionate god allow all this evil in the world??" In Pullman's belief system, it makes perfect sense -- Lucifer was the GOOD god, thrown out of heaven by evil bureaucrats who have been running heaven and the world ever since. Explains a lot, doesn't it?

I think it's interesting that the Pullman books have been around for years, but the Baptists have only discovered them when one was made into a movie.

This trilogy is truly absolute heresy according to their beliefs, but they didn't know a thing about it, BECAUSE THEY DON'T READ....

Posted by: aghast on November 24, 2007 at 4:47 PM | PERMALINK

Yeesh. I wasn't aware the First Amendment prohibited individuals from getting upset about stuff, or critiquing it, or seeking to privately affect the culture they live in. To be perfectly honest, I kind of thought it meant exactly the opposite.

Posted by: Matt on November 24, 2007 at 4:50 PM | PERMALINK

I'm a thorough atheist (I prefer the term "scientific rationalist"), and I barely made it through "The Golden Compass" and stopped after a third of "The Subtle Knife". I don't remember the Narnia books being nearly this strident (they sure didn't turn *me* into a Christian), and they sure were a hell of a lot easier to read when I was 10 than "His Dark Materials" is now that I'm 28. What I've read about Pullman makes him sound like a whiny, sanctimonious, self-proclaimed "freethinker" who's still bitter that the girls he knew in church youth group wouldn't put out. (I can't imagine how else to interpret the plot theme of the Catholic Church essentially neutering children.)

I'll let my (hypothetical) children decide for themselves whether or not they're believers, without the help of any crusading Oxford dons wielding sloppy, unsubtle metaphors and near-incomprehensible plots. I'll buy them LOTR and Harry Potter, and if I feel the need to instill anti-religious sentiment, I'll hand them a Bible and a stack of books on European history. Pullman can fuck off.

And no, I don't care if the Christian Right is offended by these books, but I can sure as hell understand why they would be.

Posted by: Nat on November 24, 2007 at 5:01 PM | PERMALINK

I have a very different opinion than the folks who felt the third book wasn't as good - the third book blew me away. I thought the first two were good, but really just set up for everything in the third - which, if anything, should be even more offensive to the Christian right than you might guess from the thread so far. In addition to god's being kind of a loser and the Church's being evil [spoiler coming], the universe is saved when some under-age teens have pre-marital sex. So, if the right is going to get offended about something, it might as well be this/

Posted by: AG on November 24, 2007 at 5:22 PM | PERMALINK

These books are about as rabidly anti-Christian as a kids series can get.

They're certainly rabidly anti-church. Anti-Christian? There's no reference to Christ anywhere remotely in them, that I could detect anyway. That's one of the reasons I think Pullman is a bit of a cheat, actually.

The anti-God stuff is pretty straight Gospel-of-Thomas gnosticism, as far as that goes.

Posted by: DrBB on November 24, 2007 at 5:39 PM | PERMALINK

Rabidly anti-Christian?

Sheesh, Kevin.

Posted by: a-train on November 24, 2007 at 5:49 PM | PERMALINK

"Rabidly anti-Christian" is exactly right. Pullman's Christian characters run the gamut from obnoxious doofuses to hitlerian sociopaths. Compare how Tolkien treated characters like Gollum to how Pullman treats his villains and you see the difference. One views his villains as evil, but pitiable, the other treats his as unredeemable evil. Really, Tolkien even treats his orcs better.

Posted by: Derek Copold on November 24, 2007 at 6:50 PM | PERMALINK

"At least C.S. Lewis seems to have been interested in fairy stories. The first two books were lovely"

How do you do the counting? By date of writing, the second book was _The Horse and His Boy_ which, yeah, was lovely if you're into every one of the evils of orientalism that Edward Said was so passionate about. Against the decent free white folk of plucky little Narnia, we have the dark skinned hordes of Calomen who keep slaves, can't dress, eat or tell jokes properly, and are apparently all in a constant state of misery. Just what we need for these days of modern-day Jihad; children's books telling us how evil the Islamic wogs are. I'd take Philip Pullman any day.

Posted by: Maynard Handley on November 24, 2007 at 6:54 PM | PERMALINK

The anti-Christian bias in the novels noted, Christian parents would be better off letting their kids get the books, then read the books themselves, and then point out the flaws in the books arguments, which are mostly based on provoking an emotional reaction with fictional scenarios.

Posted by: Derek Copol on November 24, 2007 at 6:57 PM | PERMALINK

"a whiny, sanctimonious, self-proclaimed 'freethinker' who's still bitter that the girls he knew in church youth group wouldn't put out"

AHA. That's the distillation of all the "b-b-but REASON says..." angry sanctimony that pervades the internet that I've been grasping at for years. Until now I'd had this clumsy analogy with Spock-worship that I used to describe people who got halfway through chapter 2 of their philosophy textbooks and thought it made them smarter than any atheist who didn't get foaming mad about the existence of religion. But that's much better, and probably much closer to the truth.

Full disclosure: the girls in my youth group put out. Not to me, but I admired their willingness to do so.

Posted by: ML on November 24, 2007 at 7:04 PM | PERMALINK

Horse and His Boy was the second in the order of Narnian time, not the second book written. The classic order of the books, up until about 10 years ago, was the order in which they were written. The first two are _The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe_ and _Prince Caspian_. HHB was written 5th, I think. And when we get to reading that one with my son, we'll definitely talk about the issues with the Calormenes being the bad guys...To bring up Huck Finn again, you can get the good parts of the story, and discuss the racist/sexist parts (in an age appropriate way)in many classics written long ago.

Posted by: Susan on November 24, 2007 at 7:27 PM | PERMALINK

Boy, thanks for the spoilers! I just finished reading The Golden Compass, myself, and I'm reading it aloud to my 9yo so we can go see the movie when it comes out. My 11yo read the whole series this past summer (after seeing the movie trailer), and loved it, and didn't say anything about anti-Church or anti-Christian or anti-religious content -- I'm sure it's all just pure fantasy to her, like any other fantasy novel where the entrenched authorities are the evil guys.

Posted by: Suzanne on November 24, 2007 at 7:48 PM | PERMALINK

Well, read the books. They're good. Of course, I'm a Buddhist.


Posted by: Steve on November 24, 2007 at 7:49 PM | PERMALINK

In anticipation of the movie, I just read Dark Matter : Shedding Light on Philip Pullman's Trilogy His Dark Materials by Tony Watkins. All I can say is that for those of you really interested in this topic, I recommend it highly. For those of us with a visceral disdain of organized religion (like myself) who delight in Pullman's heresies, Watkin's book takes a measured religious approach from the point of view of a practicinf Catholic. Watkins enjoys Pullman immensely and attempts to strike a balance (successfully I'd say) between Pullman's valid criticisms and his more obstinate proclivities in His Dark Materials. Watkins certainly is not going to convert me from my atheism or enthusiasm for Pullman's 'War on Religion', but it's a well written re-visitation to Pullman's trilogy and it addresses, in great detail, many of the arguments raised in this comment thread.

Posted by: Augie on November 24, 2007 at 7:50 PM | PERMALINK

You do know that these books are about story telling, right? And that they are among three of the most remarkable stories we will ever read? These books wrestle deeply with issues of faith and reverence, and this makes them a fantastic choice for your teen or preteen who you want to encourage to think and talk about religion and God.

Pullman's is never an empty universe, it is filled with incalculable angels dancing on the head of a pin.

Posted by: Shrink in sf on November 24, 2007 at 8:22 PM | PERMALINK

God is not going to die. Secondly He is not going to become a voodoo marten. And thirdly, He'se read the weblogs.

Posted by: pitch on November 24, 2007 at 9:09 PM | PERMALINK

good comments so far...
i add my own too sense, because i get the impression from the blog that Kevin and Morbo don't think much of the trilogy; now it's true that the third book was a disappointment to me (not the theology but the way the plot was brought to an end... overly complicated and a let down)...

but the first two books are great; much better than any Harry Potter, more inventive and surprising...

I consider them to be good literature; even though they are clearly anti-Church, they should given the respect that any work of literature deserves. Thus, talk of a boycott is to me symptomatic of what the fundamentalists do: avoid any challenge to their belief sustem, even one that comes in the form of fantasy.

Posted by: Cosmin on November 24, 2007 at 9:46 PM | PERMALINK

Some mag recently reviewed it.... sorry, can't remember what one.

Anyway, ALL, repeat ALL, the explicitly antireligious stuff of the book is OUT, repeat OUT, of the movie.

And Pullman's take on that?

Essentially, this: "I've got my paycheck for selling the movie rights."

Pretty sad, no, disgusting, in my book, that he sold out on this

Note to Steve: Buddhism is also a religion.
"Not sorry" to either you or Sam Harris.

Posted by: SocraticGadfly on November 24, 2007 at 10:01 PM | PERMALINK

This from the New Yorker article:

"Nevertheless, the selection of Pullman was surprising: he is one of England�s most outspoken atheists. In the trilogy, a young girl, Lyra Belacqua, becomes enmeshed in an epic struggle against a nefarious Church known as the Magisterium; another character, an ex-nun turned particle physicist named Mary Malone, describes Christianity as �a very powerful and convincing mistake.� Pullman once told an interviewer that �every single religion that has a monotheistic god ends up by persecuting other people and killing them because they don�t accept him.� Peter Hitchens, a conservative British columnist, published an article about Pullman entitled �This Is the Most Dangerous Author in Britain,� in which he called him the writer �the atheists would have been praying for, if atheists prayed.�

I think those who post should stop pretending that this guy and his work is just one of those we-just-don't -like-bad religion, I'm-Ok with Christianity-rightly understood types. He sounds pretty rabidly anti-Christian to me.

I would not want my 12 year-old daughter signing on to his view of preteen sex-and when the freethinkers on this thread have 12 year daughters, I'm betting that they will agree with me.

Posted by: stonetools on November 24, 2007 at 10:07 PM | PERMALINK

And Pullman's take on that?

Essentially, this: "I've got my paycheck for selling the movie rights."

Pretty sad, no, disgusting, in my book, that he sold out on this

You're essentially saying that the books have no literary value without the anti-religious subtext (if "subtext" is the proper word for something so explicit). I suspect Pullman might disagree, and given the choice between several million dollars versus making another public display of whiny atheism that would mostly just piss off potential consumers, any rational person would take the money and run. I'd lose respect for Pullman if he *didn't* sell the rights. (Not that I had much respect to begin with.)

Posted by: Nat on November 24, 2007 at 10:23 PM | PERMALINK

I am rereading the trilogy now in anticipation of the movie. I thought the ending was not the best, but then few fantasy series are brought to conclusions well.

I only have two things to add to this discussion.

1. I would also hastened to point out that the books have a trend toward being anti-science as well. This is much more ambiguous than the anti-church themes, but both experimental and field science does not fare well. The experiments to separate children from their souls and the intercission of Roger by Lord Asriel to open the worlds hardly reflect well on what these scientists are willing to do to advance knowledge. Mary Malone is perhaps the only positive scientific role model, but she is made stronger by her spirituality, even if it is a skeptical spirituality.

2. I admit that I only skimmed the comments so far, but I can't believe no one mentioned that the villainess is named Mrs. Coulter, played by Nicole Kidman. The character is raven haired in the books, but has been changed to blond for some reason. I wonder if Ann will make much hay of this? She hasn't been in the news for a week or so...

Posted by: adolphus on November 24, 2007 at 10:27 PM | PERMALINK

they are among three of the most remarkable stories we will ever read?

That's among the most remarkable examples of hyperbole I've ever read, at least here.

Posted by: Nat on November 24, 2007 at 10:29 PM | PERMALINK

People, these ideas are common in Japanese style RPGs. In particular, in one of the six endings for the game Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne, you defeat eight incarnations of Death, plus several incarnations of Lucifier, so that you can lead an army of devils against the Christian God. This game came out in North America in 2004; churches still have people in their pews. It is just a story; is your faith so weak that a mere story will destroy it? How sad for you.

Posted by: crag on November 24, 2007 at 10:32 PM | PERMALINK

"The Amber Spyglass is the story of how God (yes, the God of Abraham, the one in the Bible) has ruled despotically and malevolently over the Earth for 30,000 years and the forces of good and decency are finally going to kill him. And they do."

Really? I haven't read the books, so I ask sincerely - is this the same God that created the talking polar bears I've seen in the movie trailers? If so, where I can find me one of them critters? It appears to me that the movie at least takes place squarely in a fantasy realm that is not the same as this reality.

Posted by: Pocket Rocket on November 24, 2007 at 10:40 PM | PERMALINK

Thus, talk of a boycott is to me symptomatic of what the fundamentalists do: avoid any challenge to their belief sustem, even one that comes in the form of fantasy.

Given Pullman's clearly stated agenda, I doubt he expects many Christians to choose to read his books or see his movies, or encourage their kids to do so. I would think that would be OK with everyone here, as well. Or is there some obligation to see the latest hot movie I'm not aware of?

There's more entertainment out there than I have time for. Given what I know about Pullman, I don't see why his stuff should make the cut, unless under the same circumstances where I'd see something like Triumph of the Will, Birth of a Nation or that idiot ABC made-for-TV movie a few years ago that made 9/11 all Clinton's fault. One person's trash is another person's treasure, of course - I have no interest in keeping anyone who does want to see it away. Like Passion of the Christ and The Last Temptation of Christ, I suspect the campaign against it will be some of the best PR the movie gets.

Posted by: just sayin on November 24, 2007 at 11:19 PM | PERMALINK

His Dark Materials is certainly one of the most original series I have ever read. I was just amazed at the universe Pullman constructed.

Considering the vast quantity of Christian propaganda out there, we atheists can rejoice that ONE SERIES gets it right.

Posted by: POed Lib on November 24, 2007 at 11:59 PM | PERMALINK

I think Kevin is off base abit here.

It's a fantasy story that incorporated parts from another fantasy story. Writers do this all the time. Rowling did it too.

Beside, if you think in terms that anything non-human are really aliens from outer space, another dimension, or a whole another universe, then the criticism of Pullman's work is silly.

Shakepeare had it right: It's much ado about nothing.

Just read the story and see if you like it. Now back to those pesky Hobbits.

Posted by: James on November 25, 2007 at 12:17 AM | PERMALINK

I think Kevin is off base abit here.

It's a fantasy story that incorporated parts from another fantasy story. Writers do this all the time. Rowling did it too.

Beside, if you think in terms that anything non-human are really aliens from outer space, another dimension, or a whole another universe, then the criticism of Pullman's work is silly.

Shakepeare had it right: It's much ado about nothing.

Just read the story and see if you like it. Now back to those pesky Hobbits.

Posted by: James on November 25, 2007 at 12:33 AM | PERMALINK

Hmmmm...Posting software said earlier comment failed too post, but it did. sorry for the duplicate.

Posted by: James on November 25, 2007 at 12:36 AM | PERMALINK

Proponents of Intelligent Design have argued that that schools should teach both it, Evolution, and the dispute between them.

Why don't the Southern Baptists (and other objectors) consider teaching their theology, Gnosticism as related to Pullman's story, and the difference between them.

Posted by: MonkeyBoy on November 25, 2007 at 12:39 AM | PERMALINK

As a mother of two daughters constantly forced to read books about male heroes, usually by male authors, my main concern over their reading material wasn't whether or not it challenged their religious beliefs, but whether the book focussed on a world in which boys got to have all the fun. (In my house we refer to this as the "Hatchet" syndrome, which my daughter had to read for every reading teacher for three years running.)

So I find it interesting that a female author has written a fantasy series with a male hero, while a male author has written about a girl who challenges her universe. Good for Phillip Pullman, I say, and I was very happy for my daughters to read his books.

Posted by: KathyF on November 25, 2007 at 3:26 AM | PERMALINK

"rabidly anti-Christian"

Not that there's anything wrong with that. We rationalists need every edge.

Posted by: Xofis on November 25, 2007 at 4:46 AM | PERMALINK

There's enough comments here that run along the lines of 'I haven't read them, but I hear Pullman is a bad guy so...'

It made me laugh. Authors are not their books. CS Lewis was a Christian propagandist, but his books don't make the case that well-- certainly didn't alter my attitude to religion at age 10.

There is hysteria about 'underage sex'. Lyra isn't 12 at the end (I don't think). And the sex is about like everything in the book, it is about growing up, and learning to live with the consequences of your actions, and learning that some decisions and choices are irrevocable, and that you can change your destiny, if you will.

The books are really about growing up, in all the pain and glory that growing up is.

What Pullman has written is literature. The stage version of the book (7 hours in 2 parts) is amongst the most moving theatre I have ever seen.

We are all subject to the fates. But we must act as if we are not, [...] or die of despair. There is a curious prophecy about this child: she is destined to bring about the end of destiny. But she must do so without knowing what she is doing, as if it were her nature and not her destiny to do it. If she's told what she must do, it will all fail; death will sweep through all the worlds; it will be the triumph of despair, forever. The universes will all become nothing more than interlocking machines, blind and empty of thought, feeling, life...[/i]

She turned away. Behind them lay pain and death and fear; ahead of them lay doubt, and danger, and fathomless mysteries. But they weren't alone. So Lyra and her dæmon turned away from the world they were born in, and looked toward the sun, and walked into the sky.[/I]

This notion that children are somehow unable to deal with the complexities of the world, that we can 'protect' them from questions like 'Does God exist?' and 'do I like God, if he does exist?' and 'who will I choose to sleep with' and 'people die, even people I love and don't want to die'. This notion that we can protect our children from these things is foolish, and stupid.

Children can read a novel and take their own things from it. No novel will warp their minds, totally, if they don't want it to be warted.

Go read the books. They are literature. Southern Baptist hysteria be damned.

Posted by: Valuethinker on November 25, 2007 at 7:21 AM | PERMALINK

A note to the literary minded

The source material for 'His Dark Materials' is Milton's 'Paradise Lost'.

It's about the war of the angels, the references are quite obvious. And Lyra's journey is the journey in Paradise Lost.

What it's really about, though, is the pain of growing up. It's quite a universal theme in that sense.

The Church in the book is quite clearly modelled on the Catholic Church, with twists ('Pope John Calvin' in Geneva). It's anti organised religion in that sense.

Posted by: Valuethinker on November 25, 2007 at 8:55 AM | PERMALINK

" 'When you stopped believing in God, did you stop believing in good and evil?' 'No. But I stopped believing there was a power of good and a power of evil that were outside us. And I came to believe that good and evil are names for what people do, not for what they are. All we can say is that this is a good deed, because it helps someone, or that's an evil one, because it hurts them. People are too complicated to have simple labels.' "

Posted by: Valuethinker on November 25, 2007 at 8:58 AM | PERMALINK

“It appears to me that the movie at least takes place squarely in a fantasy realm that is not the same as this reality.”

It takes place in a number of parallel universes, one of which appears to be ours.

I guess the Atlantic article on the movie is behind the wall (is it?), but if you can read it, you should. The writer interviews Pullman and makes clear his central themes.

For my part, I was very disappointed with the third book. It's a polemic against the authoritarian churches organized around the monotheistic God of the Abrahamic faiths. Which, yes, includes Christianity, though Christ isn't mentioned. But the Magesterium is most recognizable as the Catholic Church.

In my opinion, polemics are odd things because they putatively are other-oriented, attacking some ideology or person for the benefit of those who are not already aware of the supposed wrongness of it. But, in fact, polemics rarely are successful as conversion pieces because they're mostly scorned by that putative audience—and when not, that audience is put on the defensive and often hardened in their beliefs.

So, in my opinion, the true audience of a polemic is the already-converted. I'm sure polemics have value in “rallying the base”, as it were, but when it's outward-directed it is, on balance, probably more harmful than helpful to the cause.

In contrast, the effective form of outward-directed conversion literature is subversion. It's subtle, it seems at least neutral, even friendly, to the opposing viewpoint, but subtly undermines it.

When I read any literature that is, in effect, proselytizing a viewpoint and criticizing its opposition, I vastly prefer subversion to polemics. Polemics are like being beaten with a two-by-four. Subversion is like a lovely melody that dances you right off the edge of the world.

I'm pretty sure I know which of the two requires the greater artistic ability.

With regard to the issues of sexuality someone mentioned, Pullman's view is that sexual awakening at adolescence corresponds with one's full assumption of the rational faculty with regard to morality. In his view, the Church is anti-sex because it sees this acquisition of this faculty—the eating of the fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil—as The Fall, Original Sin. Therefore, Lyra's sexual awakening as an adolescent, and her off-screen loss of virginity, are celebratory moments of becoming fully human. She's no older than 15 or 16.

Posted by: Keith M Ellis on November 25, 2007 at 9:18 AM | PERMALINK

The god of Abraham is a Despot. Have you read the Bible?

Posted by: lilybart on November 25, 2007 at 9:21 AM | PERMALINK

SocraticGadfly on November 24, 2007 at 10:01 PM:

Essentially, this: "I've got my paycheck for selling the movie rights." Pretty sad, no, disgusting, in my book, that he sold out on this..

I read an analogy once by a writer who had once sold the rights to his book to a movie studio. It ran something like this: "Seeing a movie based on a book you've written is like seeing your child ten years after he was stolen from the crib by gypsies, unwashed and panhandling at the streetcorner for loose change."

So, yeah; Pullman sold the rights to his work. But unless you are a Rowling or Tolkien, you don't have enough industry pull to gain creative control over a movie based on your work.

As for selling out by selling the rights in the first place; with this controversy popping up around the movie, exactly how many more copies of the dead-tree version of his trilogy is Pullman gonna sell...and, by extension, how many people will be exposed to his way of looking at the world?

Y'all should just see how many different versions of the His Dark Materials trilogy are at the bookstore than there were two years ago when I bought my set.

Posted by: grape_crush on November 25, 2007 at 9:23 AM | PERMALINK

"I wanted to believe, but I wanted to understand what I was believing, so I repeatedly read the Bible cover to cover and found most of it monstrous (and not just the Old Testament; there's a lot of warped stuff in Paul and Revelations, though I still like the Sermon on the Mount)."

Joe, you just summed up my journey from Christian to agnostic.

Posted by: Speed on November 25, 2007 at 10:07 AM | PERMALINK

Get a grip, Kevin. This series is certainly no worse than the "Left Behind" claptrap that christianists have embraced and swooned over. Sheesh, it's just fi-ck-shun.

Posted by: mikey on November 25, 2007 at 12:40 PM | PERMALINK


In that vein, might I recommend the Kingdom of the Wall series by Garth Nix. Another strong female hero written by a man.


Posted by: Adolphus on November 25, 2007 at 4:05 PM | PERMALINK

"rabidly anti-christian"? How about turning that around. Would you call say, C.S. Lewis, "rabidly pro-christian"? It is a better fit.

Pullman, like many others, has reasons for his views. Calling him "rabid" opts out of the language of rational discourse, suggesting that he has no reasons and that his opposition to the church is just an irrational disease.

Disease metaphors don't have a particularly pretty history. If you want a better adverb, try "militantly."

Posted by: velid on November 25, 2007 at 4:05 PM | PERMALINK

Keith Ellis

Lyra is no older than 15 or 16.

So right, she's about the median age for first intercourse for a woman in the UK, now.

So what is Philip Pullman guilty of, other than writing a novel which is real world in that respect for its intended audience?

If you recall the scene, it is a very genuine and sensitive one, and fits nicely into the theme of the 3 books: growing up. And the sense of loss is quite palpable.

Posted by: Valuethinker on November 25, 2007 at 5:15 PM | PERMALINK


Another reason you should be very happy for your daughters to read books like His Dark Materials is that this is real literature, and it doesn't talk down in any way to its audience. You should be proud as a mum that your children read that kind of stuff.

(JK Rowling manages that as well in terms of not talking down, but Harry Potter isn't that well written, I don't think)

I'm sorry the National Theatre in London will never again stage His Dark Materials (in 7 hours of theater in 2 parts) or I would say take your daughters. It's something to see 9,10,11,12, 13 year olds sitting patiently through 7 hours of theatre.

I couldn't move out of my seat. The second part couldn't quite reach the heights of the first part, maybe, emotionally (partly because I was wrung out), and the witches were botched in my view (Scandinavian witches done with African accents... it didn't work)...

but I was completely and utterly grabbed. Drained by the experience.

Posted by: Valuethinker on November 25, 2007 at 5:21 PM | PERMALINK

Socratic Gadfly

Your analysis is apt and excellent re selling your movie rights. I am not sure if you are quoting David Mamet (or Arthur Miller) but it sounds like something they would write. Or Joan Didion (who more or less came to accept (with her husband John Gregory Dunne) that nothing they worked on in Hollywood would ever work out as they had intended it).

Think of how rare it is that a Hollywood movie is ever a torch on the book.

100 years from now I can see us arguing about Philip Pullman. Harry Potter I suspect we will have forgotten.

Posted by: Valuethinker on November 25, 2007 at 5:24 PM | PERMALINK

These books are about as rabidly anti-Christian as a kids series can get.

Why, that sounds great! Definitely a better tail than the child-hating/girl-hating "Chronicles of Narnia" wherein a girl growing into young adulthood (with its attendant growth in interest in boys) is cause to banish. Narnia is typical Jaysus! tripe. THIS series (Golden Compass) sounds like a breath of fresh air.

Posted by: Praedor Atrebates on November 25, 2007 at 5:35 PM | PERMALINK

I'm a big fan of the first book, not so much of the second, and even less of the third, but it is an interesting and strongly heretical look at organized religion. The ending strikes me as phony, though - not for its heresy but for its naive spiritism and some implausible plotting.

If the book is anti anything though, it's profoundly anti-parent. A more sinister pair of natural parents is hard to conjure.

Posted by: capitalistimperialistpig on November 25, 2007 at 7:45 PM | PERMALINK

Praedor, I've always felt the Susan thing is about materialism not sex.

Anyhow, I'll be watching these on mute as the Pullam anti-religious thing is just as offensive to me as the death to atheists crowd. Of course he has a right to say it, but I have a right to not like it one bit.

But the art direction looks fan-fucking-tastic!

Posted by: MNPundit on November 25, 2007 at 8:39 PM | PERMALINK

Valuethinker: "Think of how rare it is that a Hollywood movie is ever a torch on the book."

When actor Clint Eastwood agreed to take over the direction of a very troubled cinematic production of Robert James Waller's The Bridges of Madison County, both he and co-star Meryl Streep prevailed upon executive producer Kathleen Kennedy to commission veteran screenwriter Richard LaGravenese to do a complete re-write. The results were such that the movie is a marked improvement over the actual book.

Posted by: Donald from Hawaii on November 25, 2007 at 10:18 PM | PERMALINK

Holy crap! How have we made it 85 comments without a troll making an oblivious rant against liberals? It's an X-mas miracle!

Posted by: yocoolz on November 25, 2007 at 10:29 PM | PERMALINK

I got to know The Golden Compass will soon be coming to a movie theater at http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0385752/ , I think this is a good way for the audience to spend less time in enjoying Pullman's novel. But the novel---The Golden Compass is indeed an enjoyable fantasy. It creates such a beautiful imagination. And it is suitable for those young adult readers as well as adult readers, who can maitain an openess to bright new imagination and literature. I found this novel with a good price here: http://dealstudio.com/searchdeals.php?deal_id=70047 ,
I think those who want to see the upcoming movie can read it.

Posted by: Edward on November 26, 2007 at 3:25 AM | PERMALINK

KathyF -- Try Terry Pratchett's "Wee Free Men" series. A wonderfully strong young girl as a protagonist, and an author who can make a larger point, unlike Pullman, without pounding you about the head with it.

It sounds like a lot of people here have read and loved this series, but I just don't get it. I really enjoyed the first book, but after that it immediately fell apart. And I'm not even talking about the philosophy of it. SPOILERS FOLLOW.


If I recall correctly, at the end of the first book, the protagonist's father kills her best friend. No one, including the protagonist, seems to care about that at all throughout the second book. I remember reading it with nothing more than a sense of confusion. Why was there no fallout from that death, at minimum an emotional fallout? The protagonist goes about her business, trying to help her father out, and never looks back.

It was just bad writing. Which I imagine is what happens when your goal is more to make a point than tell a story. If someone can correct me on this, or I'm remembering wrong, let me know.

Posted by: tmv on November 26, 2007 at 11:52 AM | PERMALINK

TMV: Lyra undergoes a tearing separation from her own daemon in order to free Roger (and everyone else) from Hades -- essentially she is the one who "harrows Hell". Her friendship with, and grief for, Roger are clearly very strong emotions and motivations for her.

Posted by: Pyre on November 26, 2007 at 12:50 PM | PERMALINK
This series is certainly no worse than the "Left Behind" claptrap that christianists have embraced and swooned over.

As someone who is both a Christian and a fan of a wide variety of fiction of different styles and genres, I have to say that its almost impossible for any work of fiction to be worse than Left Behind —at least judging from the portion of the first book that I was able to make it through before literally throwing the book across the room and giving up on it, which I've never done for any other book—so I wouldn't defend anything by saying it is no worse than that.

Posted by: cmdicely on November 26, 2007 at 12:52 PM | PERMALINK


Sure, all the way in the third book. Where was there any reaction in the second book? Where was the story flow? Where was the "Holy crap, my (spoiler) just brutally murdered my (spoiler) in front of me."

Bad, lazy writing. Bah.

I will probably go see the movie though, in the hopes that someone ironed out the narrative. But I'm getting kind of tired about hearing about Pullman's literary genius. Please.

Posted by: tmv on November 26, 2007 at 2:11 PM | PERMALINK

It's not about Christianity. The theology of Lyra's world resembles a love child of the Spanish Inquisition and John Calvin's Geneva (yikes!). His Dark Materials isn't anti-Christian so much as anti-theocratic, whether of the Pat Robertson type or the Taliban. Pullman's real target is any faith that rejects this world in favor of an idealized afterlife.

A Christian would be hard-pressed to find anything that attacks any real tenets of Christianity (such as the Sermon on the Mount). But His Dark Materials is a major attack on the self-righteous, the priggish, the judgmental, indeed on the whole Augustinian view of the world as cursed from the beginning.

If those Baptists and others can't put up with a good story that challenges their world view, then the God they worship seems very small and fragile indeed. I'm just sorry the movie has watered down the theological parts of the story. I could go for some more of that old experimental theology.

Posted by: BFranklin on November 26, 2007 at 4:45 PM | PERMALINK

Oh please. Seriously, Kevin, you're massively underestimating the movie industry's ability to neuter Phillip Pullman's story and transform it into Harry Potter for Girls. With witches! And polar bears!

Posted by: Jonathan Mayer on November 26, 2007 at 5:26 PM | PERMALINK


What was it someone said in the Creationist debate?

'if God only created the world and all its animals and plants, and human beings, in 6 days, I'm pretty disappointed in him'

ie the belief that we have to have a literal interpretation of the Bible, and believe all that guff, to believe in God is risible and reminds me of Wahaabi fundamentalism, the Taliban etc.

If HDM is their idea of an anti-Christian book, wait til they get to Das Kapital. Or Ayn Rand.



We have a slightly different recollection of the books. Lyra is obsessed with getting Roger back, as I recall, and her part in his downfall.

Posted by: Valuethinker on November 26, 2007 at 5:27 PM | PERMALINK

Couple of things -

There isn't any pre-teen (or any) sex depicted in the books (there's a very veiled reference re: two adult characters). All we actually see is kissing: one can decide that Lyra and Will are gettin' it on off-stage, so to speak, and such an interpretation is entirely possible, but . . .

Besides "And they [kill God]" not being a very good description of what happens, as pointed out, the Authority doesn't seem to be the Creator at all (whether or not one exists in the Pullman universe), but a very old angel who seized power very long ago, and is now utterly decrepit, while a once-human spokesman rules in his name.

Both my wife and I are atheists, but I certainly don't have any problem with any child of ours reading the Narnia books - which have some good moments beside what by the end is for me a rather horrifying denigration of the incalculable value of life - I'd just prefer to discuss these themes with them. Same with the Pullman trilogy. (Heck, same with the Left Behind books, although they're so incredibly crappy and soulless that I certainly wouldn't be overjoyed at such a choice. Everybody's familiar with slacktivist's ongoing demolition of the first book, right?) Concerned Christian (or anything) parents certainly are under no obligation to run out and buy the trilogy, but . . . .

And yes, tmv, that rather bothered me as well. There definitely would be a lot to discuss . . .

Nat: "What I've read about Pullman makes him sound like a whiny, sanctimonious, self-proclaimed "freethinker" who's still bitter that the girls he knew in church youth group wouldn't put out. (I can't imagine how else to interpret the plot theme of the Catholic Church essentially neutering children.)"

Well, I realize a world where the Church allows - even participates in - the abuse of children is pretty much inconceivable, but if I told you that the severing process (when the victims survive) produces people incapable of creativity, curiosity, and independent thought, fit only for dully following orders, would it help you out a bit?

Posted by: Dan S. on November 26, 2007 at 6:55 PM | PERMALINK

I got an Idea! If your a christian don't go see the movie or read the books. Your attacks will only make more middle of the row people go see it. The sad part is the underlining point is that religious group try to control everything. Just like all you IDIOTS are trying to. Proving the authors point. Christians bash any body they don't understand because they are different. The Bible says that he without sin can judge. Who amoung you is? So SHUT UP!!! Don't go see the movie or read the books. Which doesn't really make a difference you interpt it the wrong way anyway. And save you point of view for church, where your people will be.

Posted by: John Doe on December 5, 2007 at 12:51 AM | PERMALINK

I don't know how you atheists can function. What a boring life! why can't you believe in a God? What holds you back? Anyway, about the movie, if ya want to see it, go ahead. But if your a self-respecting Christian, don't waste your money on it. And the books are even worse. DEFINANTLY dont read those if you are hard core christian.

Posted by: Ws Jerry on December 6, 2007 at 6:18 PM | PERMALINK



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