The Great Golden Gripe – Part 2 Friday, Dec 21 2007 

As mentioned in my previous post, Mr. Pullman believes the fantasy writing of authors such as C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien to be subversive to the minds of young readers, steeped as their creations were in the Judeo-Christian moral tradition. In order to save these impressionable minds from the danger of Christian inculcation, Mr. Pullman created the His Dark Materials trilogy. However, rather than attempting to create a world in which non-traditional values replace those of Christianity, Mr. Pullman also attempts to explicitly attack those values of which he does not approve. This leads to an imperfect creation, as too much text is lost in his anti-Christian polemic.

Many of the ideas that Mr. Pullman uses for the setting of his fantasy world are quite unique and interesting. Having the setting of the first novel be an alternate universe that resembles the early twentieth century of our own universe is an excellent idea, as it gives his readers a familiar setting that is still different enough to encourage excitement with the universe. Other good ideas are: daemons, Gyptians and armored bears. This last is, in fact, one of the most loved aspects of the novels (see The Golden Compass board game, in which the entire purpose of the game is to get to the fight between the bears to see which side wins). Strangely, save for the Daemons belonging to Lyra and her parents, each of these creative elements is distinctly lacking from the second and third novels. Why does Mr. Pullman not focus on the creative aspect of his work?

The answer is that he spends too much of his time giving his readers reasons to dislike Christianity in general and the Church in particular. Mr. Pullman’s polemic is mostly done through his characterization of the church and the god they serve. In these books, the villains, without exception, belong to the church. God is characterized as a tyrant who desires nothing more than slavish obedience, and to do his will he has established the church (or something like it) in every possible universe. Though Mr. Pullman never identifies Christianity specifically within his books, the ecclesiastical language that he uses leaves the reader no choice but to identify the church in Lyra’s world with the Christian Church in ours. Having offhandedly identified the Christian Church as the set-piece villains, he then gives the young reader innumerable reasons to hate it (kidnapping children, separating them from their souls, and occasionally killing them are just a few of the offenses performed by the church in Mr. Pullman’s novels).

One of the problems that this characterization creates within Mr. Pullman’s literature is that he fails to adequately supply an alternative. If Judeo-Christian values are unacceptable to Mr. Pullman, it is difficult to determine from these books what he will accept. By the end of the novels, Mr. Pullman has focused so much on destroying God and the church that the alternatives he offers seem like weak replacements (teach everyone to pursue wisdom and live in harmony together? Why? For what purpose?). Mr. Pullman should have learned his lesson from the Chronicles of Narnia, in which C.S. Lewis wastes not so much as a sentence in attacking other points of view, but instead writes page after page of Christian theology turned powerful fantasy. Instead, the effect of having Mr. Pullman’s creative energies focused on obliterating his opponents’ values rather than on extolling the virtues of his own creates a moral hinterland in which the reader finds very little substance for substantive thought.

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The Great Golden Gripe – Part 1 Wednesday, Dec 19 2007 

The Golden Compass has just recently been released in theatres the world over, to less than stellar reviews. However, despite its lackluster box office blues, it has garnered quite a bit of press, particularly within Christendom, due to the anti-theistic leanings of the author, Philip Pullman. I have recently been asked by a few different people to express my opinions on these books, and so I thought that it might make a worthy topic for my first couple of blog posts here on WordPress.

For those of you who may not have read the books or seen the movie (I fall into the latter category, but plan to rectify that soon enough), the Golden Compass is the story of Lyra, a young orphan girl being raised by the scholars of Oxford University in a world not entirely unlike ours at the beginning of the 20th century. There are, however, a few differences. The first is that each person’s soul is physically manifested in the form of a sentient animal companion called a daemon. Second, there are armored bears that can talk. Third, the church is the sole power and authority in this world, and it is evil.

This last point is of the most importance to the works from a literary standpoint, as it is the quality of this world upon which all of the action of the trilogy hinges. The church is doing bad things, and Lyra sets out to stop them, and ultimately ends up killing “god”. Philosophically, this point is also important: the wrongdoing of the church is the first manifestation of the heavy anti-Christian polemic that saturates the rest of the trilogy. As it turns out, part of Pullman’s motivation in writing this trilogy was to provide a kind of counter-point to the openly Christian Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis. Apparently, Pullman views the readily evident Christology of the Narnia books as subversive to the minds of young readers, and wanted to offer them an alternative world based upon non-Christian values. In this, he largely fails, for the following reasons:

1. His work is destructive, not constructive.
2. His version of the Christian church is a straw man that is so out of touch with the reality of the Christian church, that it is relatively easy to knock over. The same is true of his conception of God.
3. He fails to account for the goodness and morality of his characters.
4. He fails to account for the person of Jesus Christ.

These are my main philosophical criticisms of this trilogy. There are literary criticisms to be made as well (character development is poor, as is story pacing, and the climax of the entire trilogy is so lame that one could miss it if they skipped a few lines of text), but I won’t delve too deeply into those.

I’ll start with my first point in my next post.