Dec 1, 2007

Pullman, the Golden Compass, and Killing God

I'm writing this post because I'm soooo tired of all those emails I've been getting! You know which ones I mean. I don't write back, because I don't like to get into unnecessary debates. But I feel a need to express my frustration about it, so here all of you lucky people go.

I have a pretty strong opinion about the Golden Compass books.

I loved, loved, loved this series. I also don't agree with where the author is coming from.

Lots of books are like that. Hemingway, for instance, was very anti-feminist and pro free-love,and yet even the most conservative of people will read his stuff. Why? Because it's good writing and it teaches us important truths, even if we don't agree
with every aspect of his arguments.

The thing about Pullman: Yes, he is an atheist. More specifically, he is a Humanist, an outspoken secularist. He's also a brilliant writer. The His Dark Materials series explores not only the idea of religious persecution and dogmatism, but childhood, innocense, the nature of the human soul and its influence on the human experience. He explores the idea of the Fall of Adam, setting those who want to prevent it (the Magisterium, or Church) against those who are trying to cause it (Lord Asriel, Lyra, and all the protagonists). This could be viewed as troubling to Catholics, perhaps, or other Christian religious groups that believe that the fall should never have happened. But In LDS culture, we believe that it was a good thing. Where's the beef? Are we just jumping on the "I'm P.O'd because I'm religious and I'm extrasensative to anything that may seem even slightly anti-religious" wagon? Shame, shame.

Those who object to Pullman's books have been making some rash statements. For instance, that he wrote the series as an anti-Chronicles of Narnia series. This is not true; he himself states that, if he has based this series on any other set of books, it's Milton's Paradise Lost.

His books make a statement about religious dogmatism and persecution, not about religion in general. Many people who have read them don't think of them as against the God of Christianity, (or for that matter, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Buhddism, or Polytheistic socieities), but against the God that is set up by those who are engaged religious tyranny. He does kill a character named God, yes; a senile, misguided, hateful character whose wish is to enslave human beings into a narrow range of experiences and behaviors. Does this sound familiar, guys? I read these books and read a man who did not kill God, but instead, killed Satan. Who, we must admit, has been behind some of our more oppressive religious events. The crusades, the inquisition, the holocaust... can we really ignore the influence of Satan in religious persecution and dogmatism?

In these emails, Pullman is described as a God-hater, a sneaky atheist who is trying to convert the world's children to atheism. Phillip Pullman is a decent man. He's been described as a polite and considerate debating partner. He doesn't deserve to be villanized, and that's what happening.

I have a hard time when religious people decide to tell everyone that someone is evil simply because he doesn't believe the same way that they do, and examines a different wordview in his writing. Conservative "Christian" groups did the same thing with the Harry Potter series (which actually had lots of beautiful religious (Christian) symbolism).

When it comes down to it, if I decided to decry every author whose beliefs conflicted with my own, I'd be eliminating a lot of great writing. I'd have to elmiminate Hemingway, Steinbeck, Thoreau, Rousseau, Milton, Dante, even CS Lewis because he doesn't share my exact Christian beliefs.And if I decried every artist who lived a lifestyle that I could not condone, the list would have to stretch to include Mozart, Beethoven, Rachmaninov, Liszt, and a great many others who have created inspiring, uplifting material.

I guess what I'm saying is, it's fine for people to decide, as individuals, that Pullman isn't for them. But to mass email everyone about how evil a certain author is, or a certain series, is not only intolerant, but is somewhat hypocritical. Unless these same people are also sending out emails about Steinbech, Mozart, etcetera.

Having said that, I do NOT think this is a children's series. Some of the materialin it is way too adult (children get kidnapped and harmed, Lyra loses her best friend in frightful circumstances, and the Magisterium is very scary and evil). I don't want my little daughter worrying about these things yet, and I know she would. I won't be taking the kids to see the movie.

Skywalker and I will find a babysitter and enjoy it together, because he also loved the books.


NoSurfGirl said...

Oh, and I wanted to add.. I know that the people forwarding these emails to everyone are doing so with the best of intentions. Those of you who have done so, I'm not calling YOU hypocrites. Just... maybe slightly misinformed.

*duck and cover*

OK, swing away.

Janell said...

I mentioned that I wanted to see the movie over Christmas to someone who promptly responded, "But it's by an atheist who wants to turn children's beliefs away from God."

Uh-huh. And, should a properly taught child, be pulled away by a mere film of fiction? Further, what's the probability children even really "get it"? At worst, consider it an opportunity to discuss things like The Fall, Satan, other people's beliefs, good and evil, and even media with the chitlins.

If the Pope releases a statement decrying the film as a blatant misrepresentation of their religion I'll not go. Otherwise? I'm all for seeing it. Well, ok, even then I find it hard to believe that a fantasy film with witches and inter-dimensional(?) travel being a misrepresentation of Catholicism unless characters are running around shouting, "I'm Catholic!"

PS. I haven't read the books and I won't until I see the movie. If I read the book first a movie never lives up to expectation.

NoSurfGirl said...

another PS...

here's an interesting article, a "different take" sort of thing... I enjoyed reading it (probably because I agreed with it, LOL).,0,1352215.story?coll=la-home-center

NoSurfGirl said...

sorry, here's a link that should work.

Sherpa said...

Actually, what the forwarded e-mail is doing is painting a logical fallacy--a tu quoque,and several other fallacies also, to convince others to believe the same they do. Tu quoque, in any discussion is a huge pet peeve of mine, and unfortunately allowed to run rampant.

Personally, I'm glad I haven't received this e-mail. Anyone who would've sent it to me would've gotten an e-mail telling them how lame it was.

Janell-That's too bad. Books and movies are completely different art forms, and although I try and read the book first when at all possible, I think you shouldn't really compare because well, its like comparing apples to orangutans.

Fern said...

I'm one of those guilty parties who forwarded that email. I must admit, that since I've never read the books I cannot judge whether the email is true or not. Nonetheless, I'm more inclined to just stay away from the book/movie entirely because of all the hype.

NoSurfGirl said...


I understand. I think I'd feel the same, if I'd come into it at this point, when there is so much hype. I read these books several years ago, when nobody was saying much about them. :) I avoided harry potter for a long time for the very reasons you describe.