The Golden Compass (and other Dark Materials Books): Part 1 – Who is Philip Pullman and Why are Christians So Mad at Him?

And so it begins. As you should know if you’re a parent or other generally culturally-aware person, the movie The Golden Compass is coming out very, very soon. In fact, some people are touting it as this holiday’s “Narnia” movie (it’s not, by the way). It looks really, really good. The special effects look marvelous and the actors are pretty, the shooting looks fantastic… definitely looks like a must-see, especially for younger folks. And those of you out there who have watched the trailer and clicked the link (and maybe a little culturally-removed) are thinking, why the hubbub on this blog? Well, let’s learn a bit about Philip Pullman.

I don’t know the man personally, first up. I know that his books have won a LOT of big awards – Carnegie Medal, Parents’ Choice Gold Award, Whitbread Book of the Year Award (the first time a children’s book won this particular award), and the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award (the world’s biggest children’s literary award). Mr. Pullman is from Oxford, England. He has an odd writing style – each day he handwrites 3 pages, no more, no less. He always ends the last sentence on the 4th page (or writes an additional sentence) so that when he begins writing the next day, the page is already “beaten.” He does not believe in writer’s block. You can sometimes tell as you read his stories where he started and ended for that particular day, as occassionally his tone changes dramatically. Not sounding very threatening yet, is he?

Here’s where the problems start. Many Christians have taken the stance that Mr. Pullman is anti-God, anti-religion, etc. And to tell the truth, he pretty much is. Hold your reactions back, there’s more. Don’t judge yet. In a big interview on his page, this is what he said:

His Dark Materials seems to be against organised religion. Do you believe in God?

I don’t know whether there’s a God or not. Nobody does, no matter what they say. I think it’s perfectly possible to explain how the universe came about without bringing God into it, but I don’t know everything, and there may well be a God somewhere, hiding away.

Actually, if he is keeping out of sight, it’s because he’s ashamed of his followers and all the cruelty and ignorance they’re responsible for promoting in his name. If I were him, I’d want nothing to do with them.”

We won’t go into the honesty of the end of that remark, though I did find it important for people to hear it. A very honest statement for a writer to make. Many people in the spotlight try to hide their feelings about these things so as to keep their fanbase as large as possible. Mr. Pullman puts it right out there in the open. In fact, as I read the first two books in the trilogy, I had difficulty deciding exactly what his take on spiritual things were. It was truly a figuring-it-out-as-you-go experience. Things could be taken many ways. I’ve heard some Christians arguing that Mr. Pullman is attempting to subvert our young minds with his anti-God theories. Here’s his take on it, also from the same interview:

“Your books deal with many of life’s big questions? God, the church, good and evil, love? and you are not afraid to challenge your young readers. Is that a conscious aim when you sit down in front of a blank sheet of paper? Do you think children’s writing has a duty to pose difficult questions?

No. The only duty it has is best expressed in the words of Dr Johnson: “The only aim of writing is to help the reader better to enjoy life, or better to endure it.”

I know that a person’s word only goes so far. In fact, just a few years back, he was saying much stronger opinions on his own books. He was admitting his books were about killing God and undermining the basis of Christian belief.

So… now what? That’s a good question. I will be posting more about his books in the next few days, so you can better ascertain for yourself what you think about the upcoming film, the topic, etc. But here’s my stance. Be ready, because I can imagine that many will not agree with me:

I think that this film is going to be a huge triumph. I know that many schools have children reading these books for classes. I feel that even if you have a child who you refuse to take to the movie, they will either see it with friends (now or later) or will hear all about it at school. I also do not believe that anyone with true faith in Christ will allow a fictional book about a fictional land (however much it may look like our world at times) to dictate their own beliefs about God. I believe that many points that the books make are valid: that any form of religion in a dictatorial state is bad, that people cannot be forced to have faith, that free-thinking is incredibly necessary (especially if you are ever going to find Christ and form a true relationship with Him), and that good will conquer evil in the end. I feel that if you have problems with the things people are saying about the books, that you look at the areas of your life where this problem has occurred before. Often, Christians don’t like what other religions teach (or we don’t understand them), so we read and research. Many Christians disagreed with the Harry Potter books and movies due to the witchcraft element, so we look for the Christian themes we can squeeze out of them and better equate ourselves with them to be able to be in conversation. Much of Christianity did not like the Da Vinci code because it seemed to undermine religion and basic beliefs of Christ, so we made sure to read and study so that we could better converse with others about the topics and be sure about our beliefs. Why should this be different? This trilogy is going to invade our culture, no matter what (it already has, really). Why run and hide and refuse to look at this movie, these books? Watch the movie, read the books. If you truly believe that these things will influence others in their religious beliefs, then you had better be sure that you are very ready to offer a clear, opposing view to balance it all out. And be careful when you read it to not judge the author too harshly. We, as Christians, have done many terrible things in the name of Christ in the past and, if we stand on our Christian pedestal, no helpful conversations will ever occur.

And now, I sit back and wait for the hatemail. 🙂  Just kidding. Don’t worry folks, I will have more info (quotes from the books, theories, etc.) to share with you shortly. I figure this is a good place to stop today though, because I know the longer the post, the less likely anyone will read it all.  🙂


~ by Erica Ares on November 30, 2007.

One Response to “The Golden Compass (and other Dark Materials Books): Part 1 – Who is Philip Pullman and Why are Christians So Mad at Him?”

  1. interestingly enough both our world and their was made by dust….

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