Wednesday, January 02, 2008

The Golden Compass

With the Golden Compass movie in theatres to fairly poor reviews (I’ll wait for Netflix, if ever) and attacks from Christendom, here is a paragraph I wrote in November of 2006 about Pullman’s trilogy:

I often listen to recorded books while I drive or occasionally exercise. Over the past years, I have listened to history, classics, children’s literature, horror, and more. The limited selection at the library actually encourages me to read (listen) to books I’d otherwise not read. Once, I listened to Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy for children. It is well written and interesting fantasy, but marred by an arrogant, naïve, anti-Christian polemic. For example, one of the characters shares how she was a Catholic nun until the first time she became attracted to a man. She decided that, if her faith told her that sexual attraction was bad, then to hell with her faith – and she became a happy, promiscuous atheist. Throughout the trilogy, the church – always the RC church, it seems – is the arch-villain (a la Da Vinci Code), spreading lies, violence, and repression; while the forces of atheism are enlightened, kind, and pro-personal fulfillment. I read a lot of good children’s fantasy literature to my children: this is one fantasy series that I won’t be reading to them!

Now, though I haven’t revisited the books since then, I do recognize that the series can be read as a critique of bad theology and oppressive governing structures, whether religious or non-religious, as some have written. I certainly would not support any sort of ban or boycott of the movies or books. But I cannot shake the feeling of prejudice I got from listening to the books, much the same feeling I have from listening to fundamentalist Christians dismiss other world religions as demonic. There is a common ground among all people of goodwill, no matter what their faith tradition – even atheism. We can be united around values and goals, such as justice and peace. I did not find that in these books, but perhaps I missed it.

The books also (from my impressions) set up a false dichotomy between unhealthy repression of sexuality and promiscuity, without clearly showing the healthy third alternative of faithful, committed, lifelong adult relationships – i.e., marriage. The two main characters seem to engage in a very adult relationship at a very young age, which is really not a good message to send in these times of teen pregnancy and broken relationships. I’m no prude, but I certainly will steer my children away from these books and movies, especially when there are so many other superb fantasy series – from C.S. Lewis, Tolkien, Rowling, Lloyd Alexander, Ursula LeGuin, and others (all of which we have read or will read with our children). What do you think?


  1. I would tend to agree with you Eric. My kids have loved reading the Harry Potter series, even though some here in the South have said it is of the devil. We often read them together and then see the movies as they come out.

    What strikes me is how my girls get so engrossed in their reading and then ask questions. They want to know why others see some books as "not appropriate."

    Of course, my wife being a librarian gives us a leg up on many parents as far as researching books for our kids, but even that doesn't replace spending time with them and reading as family.

  2. Thanks, David. We've tried to wait to see movies until we've read the books together - my wife just started reading Prince Caspian to our daughter in anticipation of the May release of the movie (we read it to our boys a few years ago, but we'll read it with them again, too). My eldest son (age 9) is reading The Fellowship of the Ring, with the promise that he'll be able to watch the movie when he finishes.

    The day after I wrote my distant memories of Pullman's books, The Christian Century had a couple good articles arguing with Pullman. They make a good point about the issue of sexuality - whereas C.S. Lewis tended to think of the transition to adulthood negatively (remember Susan and her makeup?), Pullman has a more positive view of bodily life in all its dimensions. My view of Pullman's prejudice against organized religion was confirmed.

  3. Thank you for this post. This is something important for parents, youth workers, pastors and that like to be aware of. I, personally, am still doing my own research on this movie and author. Thanks again.