Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass – what is the appropriate response?

Last week, we sent out an e-mail about the film version of Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass. It included a link to Alan Jacob’s interview with Ken Myers about the novels upon which the film is based. We also included the summary of the interview from the Mars Hill Audio website. We found Professor Jacob’s response to be fair and balanced in its view of the quality, purpose, and style of Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy and thought it worth sharing with our many friends.

Although we merely intended it to serve as a resource for each reader’s individual discernment, we soon learned that some readers of the e-mail assumed that our official stance was against the film and that we advocated a boycott of the movie. While several readers were in favor of this stance and cheered us on, others were surprised that we would take such a position. One reader, much to our surprise, rebuked us for “biasing [people] in advance” rather than recommending that they decide for themselves, which is precisely what we thought we had done. Others sent us further resources on the topic.

In view of the spirited response to our e-mail, we decided to create a space where our friends and supporters can safely weigh in with their thoughts and their voices on important issues of the day.

So what is an appropriate response to Pullman’s works? We invite you to tell us!

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Published in: on December 10, 2007 at 2:55 pm  Comments (22)  
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  1. The most appropriate response to His Dark Materials? Laughter.

    See This wonderful “conversation”-cum summary by Abigail Nussbaum

    By-the-by, the e-mail I recieved from the C.S. Lewis foundation viz the new movie did indeed seem to encourage readers not to spend their cash-y money on hateful dreck.

    The only problem is that the first book of Pullman’s series is truly excellent. Mr. Pullman’s agenda happily buried between great world-building, interesting characters and thrilling adventure. And then books two and three come along, each successively more pedantic and annoying. It’s hard to imagine how these books could convince anyone not already a foaming-at-the-mouth (cough-Mr.Hitchens?-cough) anti-religionist.

    It’s not a new problem for Pullman: a series (Like the Sally Lockhart Mysteries) start out strong, then succumb to some inner demon of Pullman’s, which cannot allow the story to survive the bludgeon-like propaganda. A real pity–Pullman has both talent and skill.

    On the other hand, the BBC adaption of the Sally Lockhart adventures managed to avoid most of Pullman’s bile and keep the story. I was rather hoping the Hollywood people would work their meddlesome magic and wreck Pullman’s message, as they so often to do other books’.

    One can hope, because face it: Iorek the panserbjeorn is just too frelling cool to miss!

  2. I think the Christian community really needs to realize that Pullman’s books are not going to change anyone’s beliefs. I read these books when I was really young and all I remember thinking about them was that they were really good books. My faith and belief in God did not come crumbling down with the publication of a fictional novel. The books are an amazing piece of work and their fictional status makes it hard to believe that they’re anything but that: fiction. Get a grip, people!

  3. The controversial film based on the first of three books by Philip Pullman is a disappointment. We find it a convoluted and boring film.

    Denny and Hal
    http://www.cinemainfocus.com
    THE GOLDEN COMPASS
    1 Star – Disturbing

    Having never read “His Dark Materials” trilogy by Philip Pullman which he supposedly wrote for the children of atheists, it is difficult to know whether those books are effective. It is very clear that the film version of the first book “The Golden Compass” is not. It is convoluted and boring.

    Though the theme is clearly one of encouraging “free thinking” people to overthrow the control of the “Magisterium”, which is a lightly-veiled allusion to the institutional church, director and screenwriter Chris Weitz fills the film with religious and spiritual themes: The humans have souls, albeit animal ones that live outside their bodies called Daemons, reflecting the human’s personality and character. The universe has a destiny as noted by the prophecy about the importance of Lyra Belacqua (Dakota Blue Richards), though no indication is provided for who has given such prophetic revelation. There are witches who have the supernatural power to fly and who join the “free thinkers” and the Gyptians (a cross between gypsies and pirates) to fight against the church. The Magisterium meets in buildings that are obviously based on St. Peter’s cathedral and courtyard in Rome. And the armor of the banished prince of the armored bears, lorek Brynison (voice by Ian McKellen), is being held in an Orthodox church indicated by the Christian icons painted on its walls. In other words, this film does not describe a materialistic world-view for atheistic children to admire. Instead, it presents a disturbing mixture of religious and spiritual symbols and ideas, most of which are inverted such that good is bad and bad is good.

    Even the title of the film is misleading. The compass is not a compass at all. It is an Alethiometer. In the hands of Lyra, who someone has destined to possess and has also given the gift of interpretation, the altethiometer shows the truth about the questions she asks. The implication that truth is all she needs is itself contradicted when she is deceived by Marisa Coulter (Nicole Kidman) and must be saved by the Gyptians. This becomes an ongoing action of the film as Lyra is saved by others throughout the story and the alethiometer is reduced to little more than a parlor-trick.

    There are some interesting ideas presented. One is that there is a dust that permeates our universe and all parallel universes. Though not explained, it is clear that the Magisterium wants to destroy this dust which it sees as harmful and the “free thinkers”, which includes Lyra and her father Lord Asriel (Daniel Craig), want to keep that from happening. This opposing view of the nature and source of dust is a theme that obviously will be continued in the next films to come if the trilogy is completed.

    “The Golden Compass” is a film trying to preach an atheistic message. The difficulty is that a truly atheistic world would have humans without souls and life without mystery. That it would be a boring world is perhaps why this film cannot decide what is really true, alethiometer or not.

    Discussion:

    Can you imagine a world in which humans have no soul? One in which we are only animals? Why do you believe that even this film could not present such a worldview?

    The experiments that the Magisterium was doing on children was to separate them from their souls. Why do you think the film presents such a view of the church? Do you believe the church separates a person from their soul? If so how do you see this occurring?

    The belief in truth in and of itself, without belief in love has created difficulty even within the church as seen in such instances as the Spanish Inquisition. Have you ever used truth to harm someone or have you been harmed by someone who used truth to hurt you instead of “truthing it in love” as the Bible teaches? What did you learn from such an experience?

    Do you believe a film like this is harmful to those who view it? Why or why not?

    ________________
    Cinema In Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of the Free Methodist Church. For more reviews: http://www.cinemainfocus.com.

  4. I found the Alan Jacobs’ interview to quite helpful, and I was not at all offended that it was sent to me. Although it’s nearly impossible to be truly unbiased, I believe Jacobs and Myers gave an honest commentary on Pullman’s book trilogy and personal interviews, rather than acting on presuppositions of Pullman’s reputation.

    I took the email as an informative look at the books on which a new movie is based. I did not take it as a call to boycott the movie. I believe decision making was clearly left up to the consumer.

    Thank you for the information.

  5. I haven’t read any of the Pullman books nor seen the film, but I know for a fact that a lot of children are deeply affected by these.

    This is why I have to demur when I hear sentiments such as Julie’s above, when she says that the books “are not going to change anyone’s beliefs.” (see also Nathaniel Peters at firstthings.com: “Just as most children walked away from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe with religious convictions unchanged, so will they leave The Golden Compass as they were when they came.”) Perhaps this is true, but this is not my main fear, nor do I think it’s the main fear of those who are leading boycotts.

    The problem is not that this film will change anyone’s convictions, or even less likely, that it will convince anyone of anything. The problem is not its capacity to change, but to FORM convictions. Anyone who says otherwise misunderstands the power of narrative, especially for children. (And let me just say that especially in my generation (youngish people), it’s not just children whose convictions are an unformed mass waiting to be molded by persuasive and creative people like Pullman.)

    The Narnia books formed the bedrock of my worldview and laid the foundation for a faith that arrived much later. Were it not for its apparent ineptitude I have no doubt that this film would have the same potential. Unfortunately I hear that the books do not share this attribute with the film, and this is why I would keep them away from children young and old.

    As in all their endeavors, I wish the all the very best for the C. S. Lewis Foundation’s blog. Now why didn’t I think of this?

  6. Whether this film or “The Last Temptation of Christ,” boycotting is never a solution. Discerning engagement is what is required. More than ever children need to learn the tools of discernment. This film — and many that don’t cause such widespread alarm — are an opportunity to teach our children discernment. We live in a pluralistic culture. A defensive stance toward worldviews with which we disagree only serves to belie our commitment to truth. More than ever, we need a winsome, thoughtful, life-affirming response, the kind of response that remembers that C.S. Lewis once held views very similar to Philip Pullman. Pullman expects boorish criticism. Let’s surprise him with the kind of response he does not expect — which might mean seeing the movie and reading the trilogy before writing him off.

  7. I feel the most important issue being missed is the most pervasive problem in today’s many wrecks of philosophy. The rocks of mindless “negative certainty” have torn minds into stubborn hulks.

    What I mean is the habit of many factions and purported belief systems of knowing and precisely something to rebel or retaliate against without comprehending any concrete subset of what they would advocate with their foe’s hated influence removed.

    As for Pullman, many fascinating scifi/fantasy books are founded on rebellion against oppressive groups and contorted ideals. This is not new.

    What remains to be seen is how mystically-connected soul-pets, magic/meaningless golden dust and many more layers of escapism represent “sensible reality”. Even if made plain as “simple naturalism” or “innocent pursuit of unhindered truth”…. very few are related to any atheist concepts except as fun things some poor minds banish.

    Is this what the church so horribly confutes in unwary minds by means of its oppressive so-named fairytale teachings of Jesus’ example and transcendent role. Stories of a mediator toward a reunion with a purposeful Creator… are these the oppression?

    Or.. is any one groups fever-driven dislike of another belief system one of many “natural” and corrupt problems mankind tends toward. Even of Atheists toward those who remain in “ancient” ways?

  8. Wanting to take advantage of all that Oxford had to offer, we responded to the notice in the bookstore window. The discussion was billed as Writing, Myth, and Religion. I wanted to investigate beforehand, and on the St. Mary’s website it was described as a discussion on Fantasy and Faith. It sounded so much like Lewis.

    We arrived at the St. Mary’s Chapel early and were served mulled wine(strange to Americans in a church)–The place packed out. Oxford students are unquestioningly Pullman fans. THis is the college where the film was made last summer and everyone was interested in the film, and the book’s author.

    Pullman called himself a “Christian Atheist”. He mentioned that his grandfather(father figure) was a vicar and had come to faith later in life in a “conversion” experience of some kind. He felt that most of his generation were enriched by the beautiful words of the prayer book and hymns of the Church of England. But he presented himself as a complete non-believer and an unapologetic “borrower” of others writers’ ideas. It is easy to see how he has borrowed from Lewis-a girl whose name begins with an L, hides in a Wardrobe…..He quoted Lewis in the discussion, but made sure that we all knew that he,Pulllman, was not a fan..(only a plagarist)

    But more troubling than Pulllman was the vicar/chaplain of the college, who did not offer an opposing viewpoint of Pullman’s atheism.Where but in Oxford would one expect to find discussion and debate and opposing points of view? But he did not take the side of the church or faith or Christianity at all. He called himself a “secular priest.”

    At no point in the discussion or Q/A was there any acknowledgement of the Christian point of view. Sitting in a church sanctuary, this portrayed to me Christianity’s lack of ability to stand up to the negative cultural influences

    CS Lewis would say that if you choose not to believe, don’t continue to make your living in the Church. Don’t expect a salary from an institution in which you do not believe! That is hypocrisy.(Fern- Seed and Elephants ) He would be all for sending missionaries to the clergy!

    I am thankful for this blog and for the discussions carried on about the film and the books,in the context of faith. We must be prepared to examine, think, study and be prepared to be salt and light within the culture.

  9. Deb and I loved the books, having listened to them on CD. [The first movie is rushed, but the characterizations are very effective. We were amazed how quickly the two hours passed and look forward to the next installment.]

    Ironically, the books are good even from a Christian point of view. No, especially from a Christian point of view. What Pullman has done in his alternate universe(s) is paint a picture of a magisterial (read authoritarian) religious establishment that any historically-aware Christian would agree is hideous, and if an ACTUAL Christian church were to BE as Pullman’s Magisterium IS (with a “God” that could not possibly be the true God) then indeed it should perish along with its theology or suffer the agony of deep reformation. Any Christian ought to cheer aloud when Pullman’s “god” dies (an anemic thing who claims for himself the titles of the true God), for if such is God, then reality is far better served with him dead and gone.

    The irony is that Pullman, while intending to undermine Christianity, has in fact written something that Christians can wholeheartedly enjoy both as a whopping good story and as a cautionary tale. What he champions as the good and true and honorable and lovely are (though perhaps not at all points, as might also be said of Milton’s “Paradinse Lost”) profoundly Christian; he may be anti-Christian in motivation, but as Lewis and MacDonald and L’Engle and others have been telling us for generations, the GOOD story is always Christ-affirming. Poor Mr. Pullman; his creation has made the fool of him, and HERE is where we, as lovers of the true God and the good story, ought to be taking our stand. The story is bigger than the man.

  10. Hello, this is Devin Brown checking in. Last week, I was interviewed by Rich Copley who writes for The Lexington Herald Leader here in Kentucky. I have inserted the post from his Blog “Copius Notes” below.

    December 09, 2007
    ‘Narnia’ scholar Devin Brown talks about ‘Compass’
    Posted at Copious Notes by Rich Copley, writer for The Lexington Herald-Leader
    http://copiousnotes.typepad.com/weblog/2007/12/narnia-scholar.html#more

    One of the major arguments against Philip Pullman and the His Dark Materials trilogy is his reported distaste — could or could not be putting it mildly, depending on what interviews you read — for C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia. Pullman has been at the center of controversy recently with the opening of The Golden Compass, the first movie based on the trilogy, which some say is anti-Christian.

    We just happen to have a noted Lewis scholar in the area in Devin Brown. The Asbury College English professor, who is a visiting writer at Transylvania University this year, is the author of Inside Narnia: A Guide to Exploring The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. His new book, Inside Prince Caspian: A Guide to Exploring the Return to Narnia, is due out Jan 1. The new book is in anticipation of the May 16 release of the second film in Walden Media’s Narnia series.

    But Compass is the topic du jour, and before the movie opened, I rang up Brown to discuss it. Here’s an edited transcript of our chat:

    Copious Notes: What do you know about the controversy, and what’s your perspective?

    Devin Brown: I’ve read The Golden Compass and I know it pretty well. I have not read the other two, and the reason I stopped reading them was not any inappropriate spirituality that drove me nuts. I just didn’t find the reading to be as engaging as other things I might have read. It was fine. I liked it mildly. It wasn’t enough to keep me reading, but there was nothing that put me off.

    Apparently, a big part of the controversy has to do with the second and third books — which have not been made into films yet — which have a little bit more overt anti-church, anti-God sentiment.

    So, there are two things you can talk about: Philip Pullman’s book of The Golden Compass and then the movie from the book, which is apparently toned down from the book, which wasn’t that hot in the first place. And then, there are the next two books, which have not been made into films yet. So, these people are reacting to something that’s in a book two or three down the line that has not been made into a movie yet.

    My personal view of The Golden Compass is, I didn’t see anything objectionable to me. It’s set in an alternative universe where a group of evil people called The Magisterium have really taken over the church, and they use kidnapping, assassination, torture and other methods to hold onto their power. The good people in this world are opposed to The Magisterium, and I would guess that good people in our world would be opposed to a group like this as well. So, if there had not been a second or third book, I don’t think we’d be having this discussion now . . . There will be a point later where this evil church will become more prominent, and people might say, ‘Well, isn’t that anti-Christian?’ Well, Pullman may be anti-church, and the church he’s against is a church we should all be against . . .

    I just have to wonder if there aren’t some people out there who make a living by being incensed and outraged by certain elements in fiction. That gets them talking points on shows. Then there are some people who find some significance in being terrified for the youth of today and that the Pullman Compass is going to turn them all into — this is one of the ones I read on the Internet — ‘Satanists and atheists.’ Really, I think you’re one or the other, because I don’t know any atheists who believe in Satan. But this woman I was reading was terrified kids would go to this movie, which she hasn’t seen, based on a book she hasn’t read, and they’ll be turned into Satanists and atheists. I don’t see that happening.

    CN: It does seem like you can’t release a piece of children’s literature these days without people getting upset about it for one reason or another.

    DB: Then you wonder, what’s the real problem? I would say there are obviously people who are afraid of the imagination.

    There has been a strain in all religious faiths, including Christianity, that’s been afraid of our God-given imaginations. It’s a powerful thing, and I suppose there’s the extreme case where it gets out of hand. But I think kids are a lot smarter than these people give them credit for being. I don’t think there’s ever been a young person who read the Harry Potter books and thought, ‘Is that real?’ They know it’s a story . . .

    There’s this group that thinks people will read about evil in a story and become evil. I suppose if evil is glorified and depicted as cool or fun or exciting, they have a point there. But in the books they typically object to, The Golden Compass included, the evil people are typically creepy, and we don’t like them. And the people we like are quite moral.

    So people get really upset if they think Pullman, who is an atheist, is attacking their church. But this is an alternate universe, and the church there looks nothing like any church I’ve seen.

    CN: I remember talking to one of the producers of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, which also partially takes place in an alternate universe, and he was saying that the way they saw it, people could take it as Christian allegory, if that’s the way they saw it, or they could take it as a fantasy story about good vs. evil. Are these two stories in the same league, in that way?

    DB: Pullman has made sort of a reputation for himself in contesting the Narnia stories, and he throws in The Lord of the Rings, too. The fact that he has outright hatred for The Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings trilogy does not in itself make him a bad person; possibly a bad literary critic, but not a bad person. He got a lot of press making outrageous claims about the Narnia books, which really don’t hold up, but he got a lot of press.

    But now that he has the movies out, he’s sort of playing down his atheism and playing down his anti-church thing, calling it anti-totalitarianism, instead. But I don’t really think that’s a cop out. The thing that he’s against in his books isn’t the church. It’s a group of despots that have banded together to grab a hold of power. There’s certainly nothing Christian about them . . .

    CN: So, I’m taking it, from what you’re saying, that you don’t quite see the outrage here.

    DB: Well, as with any movie, I would say people have the right to not see it. That’s fine. And maybe they’ll decide they don’t want their children to go see it. And that’s fine. On the other hand, I’d say people who want to see the film should do so, and decide for themselves if there’s anything anti-Christian about it. And what if there is? I don’t think there’s anything anti-Christian in this one, though in the later books, there might be something. In the third book, they come upon God, and he’s a wimp, and they kill him. He’s not the God we know. He’s some other god. So I don’t know what you’d say about that. I’m not too fond of the god they find in the trilogy either.

    So let’s say there is something negative. You can say, ‘I’m not going to support this kind of work. I’m not going to purchase a ticket,’ or someone might say, ‘I want to know everything there is to know about it. I want to be able to speak accurately about it, and how my beliefs differ from what is on the screen.’ I am certainly more of the second kind. I want to read Bertrand Russell’s Why I’m Not a Christian, I want to read Sigmund Freud’s The Future of an Illusion, and be able to discuss how and why I might disagree with them.

    I don’t think Christians have anything to fear from Freud or Marx, and certainly not Philip Pullman.

  11. What a sanguine view of human nature Mr Brown has. That’s what’s of far more interest to me than the Pullman movie.

    Whether Christians have anything to fear from Marx should be asked of Christians who have lived under Marxism; but that today’s emotionally abandoned, pierced, hooked up, tatted, kids have much wisdom, experience, and discernment at their disposal strikes me as a dubious proposition. Even today’s adult electorate are suckers for straw-man and other bad arguments, and most Christians find it difficult be be effective in defending, say, the real Magisterium against the drive-by contempt of the zeitgeist.

    “I suppose if evil is glorified and depicted as cool or fun or exciting, they have a point there.” The problem of art glorifying antisocial behavior or downright evil is older than Plato and has been much discussed over the centuries. But does Mr Brown believe that attempts by authors to use their imaginations to undermine God and morality, as in Pullman’s case, are doomed to fail if the story is well executed? There are serious persons among us who believe that the entertainment industry’s sympathetic treatment of, even occasionally glee about, rebellion, degradation, and sin has done measurable damage in our society. I remember as a child when Bonnie and Clyde was controversial because it glamorized crooks; now nudge-and-a-wink portrayals of cannibals, murderers, addicts, and perverts elicit scarcely a yawn; and as for sexual transgression, there really isn’t such a thing anymore–porn is mainstream and pornographers like Larry Flynt are movie heroes.

    Mr Brown’s argument reminds me of Tirian’s worldview at the beginning of the Last Battle–he takes for granted his friends’ ability to see the truth and defend the good and beautiful. He thinks he can count on the help of those who, if they aren’t exactly on one’s side, at least have a vested interested in defending one’s side when push comes to shove.

    But if the baleful 20th-century showed us nothing else, it gave example after example of how old assumptions and sureties are systematically destroyed as Tashlan begins slouching towards the stable.

  12. By permission, I am posting an excerpt from Dr. John F. Whitmire, Jr.’s response to our e-mail about the Golden Compass and how he presents such a text in the classroom.

    Steve Elmore
    C.S. Lewis Foundation

    Begin Quote:

    Statements like the following (which I realize is not yours, but certainly seemed to me to be endorsed by the foundation without any
    disclaimer) have a tone that looks rather like an attempt to put the audience into a position of suspicion regarding the motives of the film, filmmakers, author, etc. — rather than a charitable consideration of its relevance to me and my society: “It’s ironic that the distributors of The Golden Compass hope their film will make more money by opening in the Season of the birth of the One who is the basis of Christian belief.” That line couches the discussion in advance, it seems to me, in the realm of some ostensibly money-hungry anti-Christian Hollywood producers, despite your stated call for discernment on the part of the audience. Or, put in the language of some philosophical literary theorists, the email seemed to perform a slightly different message than the one you were apparently calling for.

    My own position, which I take to be in the spirit of Lewis’ apologetics, is not to attempt to be perfectly *unbiased* in the presentation of a text, which I don’t believe is possible in any case. One always has a certain bias, in the non-pejorative sense of an angle of entry, to any text. I do think it is counter-productive to approach a text, however, at least in the first instance, with a hermeneutics of suspicion rather than one of charity: hence I attempt to make as compelling a case as possible for whatever text my students are currently reading, whether Christian, Jewish, Hindu, atheistic, etc. My vocation is to teach them to think through arguments, and giving them scarecrow versions of arguments doesn’t help them develop that capacity. If Lewis is right, and there are indeed better arguments for the Christian position than others, then this ought to become apparent in a consideration of the merits of the positions themselves.

  13. I have never read any of Philip Pullman’s literature nor, as I write, have I seen ‘The Golden Compass’ movie. And as I am not a professional writer or film critic I don’t think I ever shall. Good story telling (for the thick skinned Christian) his ‘Dark Materials’ trilogy may indeed be, but I remember seeing Pullman being interviewed on television by Melvyn Bragg a couple of years ago. And no matter what the theme or style (anti-religious or otherwise) of whatever literary work he creates, past, present or future, I know I could never enjoy anything that had originated from an individual who delivered, during that interview, such blatantly dishonest nonsense. Particularly with regard to the comments he made about the work of C.S.Lewis.

    I had never seen or heard of Pullman before Bragg’s interview (which I had stumbled upon by chance whilst flicking through the TV channels), but what became clear and very significant to me, as I listened to him, was that Pullman’s deliberate misrepresentation of the Narnian children’s series (which several people, including Peter Hitchens, have commented upon), and which Pullman referred to as ‘repulsive’ (you could almost see the veins standing up on his neck as he literally spat the word out), did not stem from ill-informed ignorance, but from something that came from deep within him. Something that he claims does not exist but most certainly does – his own spirituality. Something, in Pullman’s case, that is clearly warped.

    I do not think I am being narrow minded by saying that, for myself, as an amateur and occasional online commentator, and consequently never obliged to read anything that is not for my own pleasure or for my own, yes, ‘spiritual’ nourishment – to pick up any book, knowing it had originated from the heart, head and hand of an individual such as Pullman would render it impossible for me to enjoy.

    Before reading Peter Hitchen’s article, and as I have found out more about Philip Pullman over time, I had already come to the conclusion that Pullman does actually believe in the soul and human spirituality. I suspect that he believes in it very strongly indeed and is, in reality, obsessed with it. From the intensity of his social and anti-religious commentary this seems blatantly obvious to me even without reading his fiction.

    Peter Hitchens writes in his artcile,

    “Pullman uses quite a lot of religious ideas, or supernatural ones.

    The ‘daemons’ which appear as talking pets are described at the beginning of the film as visible souls.

    Souls? Souls imply eternal life and a judgement beyond this world, surely one of the main things atheists wish us to cease to believe in”.

    I believe that Philip Pullman is actually frightened of what human spirituality actually means for himself and for us all in the medium and long term. Human spirituality represents something that will always, in the end, thwart absurd secular ideals and political fanaticism, which in Pullman’s case is represented by such things as moral relativism and feminism. Human minds can be brainwashed to provide assent to almost any absurd lie – for a period. Human spirituality ensures that a sell-by-date will always be stamped on it’s ‘packaging’.

    Hatred and denial are thus the feeble and ultimately futile weapons of this quite dreadful and, if truth be told, secretly anguished human being.

    Lastly, In an interview with a Washington Post reporter in 2001, Philip Pullman openly stated, “I’m trying to undermine the basis of Christian belief.”.

    Pullman believes he is liberally minded, forward thinking and consequently claims that he loathes dogma. Vehemently anti-Christian idealism uses dogma of the most repressive kind. And, as far as Pullman’s anti-Christian message is concerned, such attacks, in various forms, have been going on for two thousand years, and are thus very, very old stuff indeed.

    Pullman, the books and the movies, represent just one more of history’s countless anti-Christian crusaders (who have always failed and always will), wearing just another style of armor – be it wrapped around a polar bear or nay.

    Peter C. (Liverpool, UK)

  14. My earlier comments, in must be explained, were a response I made on the website of a British newspaper to an article written by the journalist Peter Hitchens – a conservative, Christian thinker and, yes, the brother of the extreme left wing atheistic writer, Christopher hitchens, who lives and works in the United States. You Americans have my deepest sympathy!

  15. To this observer, published works, films, etc. that are put out there in the hopes of reaping financial rewards are fair game for us critics! If the producers do not like our bias, too bad. In fact anything out there that seeks to peddle deception over truth; or that which is not reason over that which is, deserves what it gets.

  16. my daughter-n-law pointed me to Pullman’s trilogy a few years ago, as being deeper than the Narnia books. I found it an engaging story. Yes, it was about power, & the church in it was not what the church, to my understanding & belief should be, but then the church in this world…, & at times wielded a lot of power. In the last book, when ‘God’ appears, as wimp, as mentioned by others, I was disappointed. The writer’s imagination produced something tawdry. (The sci-fi book “Computing God” is wonderful till near the end when actions of the god bring a weak ending.)
    I have since re-read all the Narnia stories in order. They may be short & lack complexity of a mechanical kind, but they are far deeper, & heart-warming without being sentimental.
    It’s ridiculous to want to keep kids from reading Pullman’s trilogy. Let them, then ask them what they thought of it, in comparison with other fantasy books, including Harry Potter (which I find delightful) & Lewis & Tolkien. treat them like reasonable persons & see what results.

  17. I’m encouraged by the number of responses that suggest Christian faith can withstand stories like Pullman’s. Considering how our Lord suggests that the gates of Hell itself shall not overcome Christian Faith, Pullman’s (admittedly intriguing) work seems small potatoes in comparison.

    Blessings!

  18. I’m late to weigh in on this, but as I read the above comments I’m reminded of JFK’s statement that “The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie — deliberate, contrived and dishonest — but the myth — persistent, persuasive and unrealistic.”

    This movie is apparently a purveyor of some popular myths about the Christian church, and the corruption of authority structures in general. Believing as I do (and as Lewis did) in the power and spiritual relevance of the imagination, I think the debate about this movie should center less around rational arguments embedded in it, and more around the subversive power of this medium. Myths often hide out in a person’s belief system even if they run counter to it, and film can challenge or confirm them without ever engaging a person’s rational processes.

    To me the most reasonable response is simply not to view it. It hasn’t gotten great reviews; the subject doesn’t interest me; I don’t want to support the endeavor financially. And I’m capable of responding to any misunderstandings about Christianity that may arise in conversations with others who’ve seen it, without having to sit through it myself. (I have a Bible and a sin nature, and those are the basic tools needed.)

    Making a hubbub of boycotting it seems counterproductive. Boycotts are more eloquent when they’re quiet and uncoerced.

  19. Hi all, I just recently found a few other resources on The Golden Compass that fit into this discussion.

    One is from Michael Ward and answers some of Pullman’s attacks on C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia. It’s in pdf form and can be viewed/downloaded at http://www.planetnarnia.com/michael-ward/writing.

    Another is from Edward Higgins and Tom Johnson and can be found at http://www.christiancentury.org/article.lasso?id=4223. This article claims that the His Dark Materials trilogy contains worthy, even Christian, themes, despite the claims of many.

    And a third article from Stephanie Paulsell compares the worlds of Pullman and Lewis, showing that there are many similarities in the two author’s visions, especially when it comes to their views on childhood and the function of storytelling/narrative. You can find it here: http://www.christiancentury.org/article.lasso?id=4206

    Again, we at the Foundation do not specifically endorse these resources, but are providing them as part of the discussion.

    Thanks! Steve Elmore

  20. Thank you for this good discussion! I love thoughtful comments by intelligent Christians on an excellent, and excellently awful, work of fantasy. I’ve written a review here: http://iambicadmonit.blogspot.com/2007/12/golden-compass-review.html.

    I really loved the movie. And I really love the books. I don’t think polemic destroys them as fiction, although I do agree that it undermines them. I believe that reading the books, watching the films, and taking students (about high school age, I would say) to watch the film and have a conversation are all valuable activities for “Mars Hill” types of Christians. In my review I discuss some specific dangers of the first film that should be pointed out to younger audience members, but that are by no means reasons to stay away. The movie is beautiful, the books are brilliant. Enjoy!

  21. Forgive me if I am mistaken, but isn’t discussing the “impact” or “influence” of a movie as members of a Christian forum a bit of a metaphorical book-burning? It seems to me that as Christians we should be going after people’s hearts, since that is what Jesus did, rather than forming opinions about trivial issues. It is not, and has never been a Chrisians calling to police what other people see or do. We so often seem to forget that it all comes down to a personal choice for each and every person. No one has ever been condemned for making or watching a movie, and I find that reason enough to lay this, and many other such topics, to rest. It is only wounded pride which causes us to become offended by the statements and arguments of the faithless. God is perfectly capable of defending Himself. All that we need do is to help spread His love.

  22. I will try to be very brief. I have read all three books of the “His Dark Materials” trilogy, and while not getting into any details may make comments that some would regard as “spoilers.”

    For a Christian believer, perhaps the most disturbing element of atheism is not that it is anti-God (we see that one coming a mile away and are pretty prepared for it) but that it is anti-human. Because for the believer a human person is something unique, mysterious, miraculous, and created by God with an eternal destiny, atheism must by definition be putting forth a radically different conception of what it means to be human.

    As I read these novels, I had the uneasy feeling that the characters Pullman portrays were not “real” people. Of course, in a merely bad novel one gets that feeling simply because the characters are not well realized. But in this case it’s different, it’s as if Pullman is consciously, though surreptitiously, trying to invent a new kind of humanity, one without all the “baggage” of being the loved creation of the Judaeo-Christian God. What most of us would recognize as morality, for one. Most of the characters are not immoral, exactly, or even amoral. But their morality appears arbitrary and capricious, and does not rule out such things as lies, thievery, or cold-blooded murder. It is based on something the author refuses to divulge. It also creates a curious but distinct disorienting feeling of the “what’s it all about?” variety. Although there are a succession of gripping scenes in which we root for certain characters to survive, we can never quite discover what it is we’re supposed to be “rooting for” on the grand scale, unlike The Lord of the Rings, Narnia, or even the Indiana Jones saga, for heaven’s sake.

    As human beings, we are very good at criticizing and even discarding the meaning and destiny which are given to us by God. But we are very, very bad at inventing something to replace them. All of our attempts to do so seem to go badly awry, e.g. mediocre novels, cults, totalitarian societies. We simply do not have it in us to create Heaven. But we can certainly come up with several varieties of reasonable facsimile of Hell.


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