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
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?