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.