Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Golden Compass

The Golden Compass will be released to theaters in December, and there is a coordinated effort to promote Pullman's trilogy - not just the ordinary product promotion, but extensive promotion in the public schools. Tom Gilson at Thinking Christian has been reading the books and has posted extensively and well about their content and the issues they raise.

Objections to the Harry Potter books among Christians greatly exaggerated their danger. But now, the problem may be that Christian parents are underrating the danger, not so much of this film, as that it may draw those who enjoy it to Pullman's books.

Unlike the authors of the book below, based on my experience as a high school teacher and reflecting on my own behavior as an adolescent, I think it is futile to forbid teenagers to read what they wish. They will anyway, and if they do so in defiance of their parents' direction they will read secretly, thus precluding discussion. A far better approach is for parents to be prepared for the issues raised by books like these. A potentially useful source of information may be Pied Piper of Atheism: Philip Pullman and Children's Fantasy by Catholic authors Pete Vere and Sandra Miesel, which will be published soon. The authors were interviewed here. Extensive excerpts:
Q: The first movie of "The Golden Compass" trilogy is being released at Christmas. For those unfamiliar with the series, what kind of books are these and to whom do they appeal?

Vere: To begin, the books are marketed for 9-12 year olds as children's fantasy literature in the tradition of J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and J.K. Rowling. "If you're a fan of 'Lord of the Rings,' 'Narnia ' or 'Harry Potter,'" the critics tell us, "you'll love Pullman."

Personally, I just can't see a child picking up these books and reading them. I see them more as books that adults give kids to read.

Having said that, "The Golden Compass" (1995) is the first book in Pullman's trilogy. The second book is titled "The Subtle Knife" (1997) and it is followed by "The Amber Spyglass" (2000).

Collectively, the trilogy is known as "His Dark Materials," a phrase taken from John Milton's "Paradise Lost." This is appropriately titled in my opinion, since each book gets progressively darker - both in the intensity with which Pullman attacks the Catholic Church and the Judeo-Christian concept of God, as well as the stridency with which he promotes atheism.

For example, one of the main supporting characters, Dr. Mary Malone, is a former Catholic nun who abandoned her vocation to pursue sex and science. The reader does not meet her until the second book, by which time the young reader is already engrossed in the story. By the third book, Dr. Malone is engaging in occult practices to lead the two main characters, a 12-year-old boy and girl, to sleep in the same bed and engage in - at the very least - heavy kissing. This is the act through which they renew the multiple universes created by Pullman.

Another example is Pullman's portrayal of the Judeo-Christian God. Pullman refers to him as "The Authority," although a number of passages make clear that this is the God of the Bible. The Authority is a liar and a mere angel, and as we discover in the third book, senile as well. He was locked in some sort of jewel and held prisoner by the patriarch Enoch, who is now called Metatron and who rules in the Authority's name. When the children find the jewel and accidentally release the Authority, he falls apart and dies.

Additionally, Pullman uses the imagery of C.S. Lewis' "Narnia" chronicles. "His Dark Materials" opens with the young heroine stuck in a wardrobe belonging to an old academic, conversing with a talking animal, when she discovers multiple worlds. So the young reader is lulled early on with the familiar feel of Lewis.

Nevertheless, Pullman's work isn't simply about using fairy-tale magic to tell a good story. He openly proselytizes for atheism, corrupting the imagery of Lewis and Tolkien to undermine children's faith in God and the Church.


Q: The author, Philip Pullman, is an outspoken atheist. Does this come across in the books and the movie as a secularist position or more in the form of anti-Catholicism?

Vere: It's not an "either/or" situation. What begins as a rebellion against the Church turns into a rebellion against God. This then leads to the discovery that God - and Christianity - are a fraud.

The 12-year-old protagonists - Lyra and Bill - discover there is no immortal soul, no heaven or hell. All that awaits us in the afterlife is some gloomy Hades-type afterlife where the soul goes to wait until it completely dissolves. Thus Pullman uses anti-Catholicism as the gateway to promoting atheism.

Q: The trilogy is being compared to "Harry Potter" and "The Lord of the Rings." Is there a comparison to be made with either?

Vere: On the surface, yes. You've got wizards, heroines, strange creatures, alternate worlds, etc. Although for reasons already stated, the real comparison - by way of inverted imagery - is to C.S. Lewis' "Narnia" chronicles. Pullman, who has called "The Lord of the Rings" "infantile," has a particular dislike for Lewis and "Narnia." This is reflected in Pullman taking Lewis' literary devices and inverting them to attack Christianity and promote atheism.

As Pullman said in a 1998 article in The Guardian: "[Lewis] didn't like women in general, or sexuality at all, at least at the stage in his life when he wrote the 'Narnia' books. He was frightened and appalled at the notion of wanting to grow up. Susan, who did want to grow up, and who might have been the most interesting character in the whole cycle if she'd been allowed to, is a Cinderella in a story where the ugly sisters win."

Miesel: That nasty quote is factually wrong on both points. Lewis began corresponding with his future wife in 1950, the year the first "Narnia" book came out, and married her in 1956, the year the last one was published. Susan's problem isn't "growing up," but turning silly and conceited. She doesn't even appear - much less get sent to hell - in "The Last Battle." [more]
ZENIT - What Every Parent Should Know About "The Golden Compass"


  1. Anonymous3:22 PM

    This article and articles like this only support narrowmindedness that most conservative/religious types are known for.

    While Philip Pullman may be an atheist, and may have said he hates Christianity. There are undeniable themes in his writing that resonate across most protestant doctrines.

    Here is an article from a Christian website that is well written and by someone who has actually read the entire series and recognizes Pullman as the brillant writer he is, regardless of his subject matter. He also clarifies the plot and religious undertones of the novels.

  2. There has been much comment on a lot of websites about Pullman's intentions - and he hasn't been shy about expressing them, although he has recently seemed less aggressive in expressing them.

    The First Things article referenced above Daniel Maloney concludes: " is almost Christian, even if only implicitly and imperfectly. But implicit and imperfect Christianity is often our lot in life, and Pullman has unintentionally created a marvelous depiction of many of the human ideals Christians hold dear." So perhaps no harm will be done. We shall see.

    Another take can be found at Touchstone:


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