Information on

“The Golden Compass,” Philip Pullman, and “His Dark Materials”

 

Christians are expressing concern about the movie “The Golden Compass” that opens December 7, 2007.  Some are calling for a boycott of the film.  “The Golden Compass” is based on a book of the same name written by author Philip Pullman.  (“The Golden Compass” is the first book in a trilogy that goes by the name “His Dark Materials.”)

 

During the last two months, I have read the three books in “His Dark Materials;” I have read other books by Philip Pullman; and I have read everything I could find on the Internet about Philip Pullman, “His Dark Materials,” and the movie. 

 

My purpose in assembling this information is to assist Christians in forming an educated opinion about the books, the author, and the movie. Should you wish to conduct your own research, the list of links at the end of this article may prove helpful.

 

Several of the emails that I’ve seen concerning “The Golden Compass” refer to an article at the Snopes.com Web site. Snopes.com is a Web site that provides information about urban myths and rumors.  You can read the Snopes.com article on “The Golden Compass” here: http://www.snopes.com/politics/religion/compass.asp. 

 

Some of what is on the Snopes.com page is true; some is merely personal opinion. For example, the Snopes.com page says that the movie “The Golden Compass” is based on a series of books. That statement is true.  The Snopes.com page also says the books have anti-religious themes. That statement is opinion.  In my opinion, the books do have anti-religious themes, however, the author, and others, have said they do not consider the book to be anti-religious.

 

Some of what is on the Snopes.com page goes beyond opinion into the realm of speciousness. For example, one person says that Philip Pullman’s objective is to kill God in the minds of children and that Philip Pullman despises C.S. Lewis.  Both of these claims appear to be distortions of what Pullman has actually said. Although Philip Pullman has made it clear that he despises The Chronicles of Narnia, he has also said that he respects C.S. Lewis.

 

Points to consider:

 

  1. The god in “The Golden Compass” is not the God of the Bible. The god in “The Golden Compass” is the first created being. The being that represents himself as god in “The Golden Compass” did not create anything. He is a false god who lied to those who were created after him by claiming to be the Creator.  In other words, the god of the “The Golden Compass” is more like Satan than the God of the Bible.
  2. “The Golden Compass” is set on a world in another dimension. The world is like ours in some ways and very different in other ways. The church in “The Golden Compass” is extremely powerful and is guilty of murder and many other atrocities. As Christians, we cannot deny the historic fact that the Roman Catholic Church in our world has been guilty of murder and other atrocities in the past.
  3. People have claimed that the two main characters of “His Dark Materials” have sex. Nowhere in the books does it say that they have sex. In point of fact, the books say only that the main characters kissed. In at least one interview, Philip Pullman has denied that the two main characters had sex. <Note: since posting this article to the Web, I have been told that the version of the “The Amber Spyglass” published in England includes material omitted from the US publication that more strongly suggests that Will and Lyra did have sex.)
  4. Some of the uproar over the books seems to be a reaction to statements attributed to Philip Pullman in various interviews he’s given over the years.   Please keep in mind that journalists are notorious for misquoting the people they interview. Just because an article quotes someone doesn’t mean the quotation is true.
  5. One of the complaints against Philip Pullman is that he said that His Dark Materials is “about killing god.”  He appears to have made this statement in an interview with the Sidney Morning Herald (read it here: http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2003/12/12/1071125644900.html).

    When he said “His Dark Materials” was about killing god, Pullman was explaining why he was surprised that his books had been less controversial than the Harry Potter books. Just because a book is about “killing god” does not, in and of itself, make the book good or bad.  If the god that is being killed is not the real God, is the book bad? Even if the book is about killing the real God, it does not necessarily mean the author hates God or that the book is bad; after all, you can truthfully say that “The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe” by C.S. Lewis is also about killing God.
     

In conclusion, it didn’t take much research to realize that Phillip Pullman desperately needs a Savior. A proper Christian response to this situation includes praying for Phillip Pullman and his salvation. Also, if you are fortunate enough to find yourself discussing “The Golden Compass” with unbelievers, you have an opportunity to point them to the real God, our Savior Jesus Christ.

 

Philip Pullman Speaks for Himself

Below are some of the things that Philip is quoted as saying in various articles. Philip’s words are in italics.

 

On Killing God

http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2003/12/12/1071125644900.html

Pullman, though, expected more. "I've been surprised by how little criticism I've got. Harry Potter's been taking all the flak. I'm a great fan of J.K. Rowling, but the people - mainly from America's Bible Belt - who complain that Harry Potter promotes Satanism or witchcraft obviously haven't got enough in their lives. Meanwhile, I've been flying under the radar, saying things that are far more subversive than anything poor old Harry has said. My books are about killing God."

 

http://books.guardian.co.uk/news/articles/0,6109,773058,00.html#article_continue

The Guardian Unlimited quotes Philip as saying

Pullman, whose grandfather was an Anglican priest, and who stopped believing in God as a teenager, said: "I am all for the death of God.

 

Philip is supposed to have said this during a debate on morality in fiction at the Edinburgh international books festival at the weekend.  I was not able to confirm the accuracy of this quote <Al>

On Sex in “His Dark Materials”

http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2003/12/12/1071125644900.html

“…he rejects the critics who have accused him of advocating underage sex.

"Nowhere in the book do I talk about anything more than a kiss. And as a child, a kiss is enough. A kiss can change the world."”

On Whether “His Dark Materials” is anti-religious

http://www.philip-pullman.com/pages/content/index.asp?PageID=118

Finally: is “His Dark Materials” anti-religious, or isn't it?

Religion is something that human beings do, and the story is on the side of humanity. The feelings of wonder and joy and awe that human beings have always felt in the face of nature and the mystery of our lives have sometimes taken religious expression, and sometimes poetic; and sometimes they've been expressed in writing about science. I think I tried to give those feelings expression in the form of a story. He that hath ears to hear, let him hear. That's what the story is for.

As for what it's against - the story is against those who pervert and misuse religion, or any other kind of doctrine with a holy book and a priesthood and an apparatus of power that wields unchallengeable authority, in order to dominate and suppress human freedoms. In Lyra's world, that power is wielded by a mighty and corrupt church, which differs in some ways from the church in our world just as the everyday lives of the characters do. In our own world, that sort of power has been wielded at various times in the name of religion as well as in the name of 'scientific' atheism. It's wielded politically, and it's wielded culturally; sometimes it`s a religious police force that beats women who aren't wearing the correct dress, and sometimes it's a cowardly press, cringing in front of corporate power, that cackles and jeers whenever it sees something it thinks it's safe to criticise.

On the Purpose of “His Dark Materials”

http://www.thirdway.org.uk/past/showpage.asp?page=3949

Many of the commentators in the media have seen you as a conscious antidote to C S Lewis, seeking to do for a moral atheism what he did for Christianity.

Yeah, well, it’s largely nonsense, of course.

 

What is your purpose in writing your books?

My intention is to tell a story – in the first place because the story comes to me and wants to be told.

On Religion

http://www.philip-pullman.com/pages/content/index.asp?PageID=12

Some of the articles and talks I've written are to do with the subject of religion, which I think is a very interesting one. The religious impulse – which includes the sense of awe and mystery we feel when we look at the universe, the urge to find a meaning and a purpose in our lives, our sense of moral kinship with other human beings – is part of being human, and I value it. I'd be a damn fool not to. But organised religion is quite another thing. The trouble is that all too often in human history, churches and priesthoods have set themselves up to rule people's lives in the name of some invisible god (and they're all invisible, because they don't exist) – and done terrible damage. In the name of their god, they have burned, hanged, tortured, maimed, robbed, violated, and enslaved millions of their fellow-creatures, and done so with the happy conviction that they were doing the will of God, and they would go to Heaven for it.That is the religion I hate, and I'm happy to be known as its enemy.From time to time I have a new thought on the subject. When I come up with something worth writing down, I'll put it here.

On Christianity

http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn/A23371-2001Feb18?language=printer

"I'm trying to undermine the basis of Christian belief," says Pullman. "Mr. Lewis would think I was doing the Devil's work."

 

http://www.fish.co.uk/culture/features/pullman_interview.htm

But would you say that your books have an anti-Christian purpose? Mary Malone in The Amber Spyglass, an ex-nun who has lost her faith, says that Christianity is a very powerful and convincing mistake.
Well, Mary is a character in a book. Mary's not me. It's a story, not a treatise, not a sermon or a work of philosophy. I'm telling a story, I'm showing various characters whom I've invented saying things and doing things and acting out beliefs which they have, and not necessarily which I have. The tendency of the whole thing might be this or it might be that, but what I'm doing is telling a story, not preaching a sermon.

It's not just Christianity I'm getting at. The reason that the forms of religion in the books seem to be Christian is because that's the world I'm familiar with. That's the world I grew up in and I knew. If I had been brought up as an orthodox Jew, I would no doubt find things to criticise in that religion. But I don't know that world as well as I know Christianity.

On Believing in God

http://booktalk.guardian.co.uk/WebX?14@296.oIXreoZzlur@.ee9d102/54

I see no evidence for his existence, but of course that's not to say that he doesn't exist; I simply haven come across any yet. Furthermore, in my view, belief in God seems to be a very good excuse, on the part of those who claim to believe, for doing many wicked things that they wouldn't feel justified in doing without such a belief.

 

On his web site, Philip Pullman says he doesn't know if there's a God or not.

http://www.philip-pullman.com/about_the_writing.asp

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.

On Hating God

http://news.bbc.co.uk/cbbcnews/hi/chat/hotseat/newsid_1777000/1777895.stm#question9

Why do you hate God so much as it appears in your books?

Philip: Well, it is not that I hate God, it is just because I don't believe in God, it is just that I think the people who do believe in God and persecute the people who don't believe in God are thoroughly dangerous, that is the way I would put it. People who have got an idea of God that makes them want to persecute other people for not believing their idea of God, they are the dangerous ones, people who say we have got the truth and the truth is in the Bible or the Koran or the whatever it is and we know the truth, and we are going to kill everybody who doesn't believe things that we believe, that is a dreadful state of affairs and it is an unfortunate part of human nature that it seems to be attracted to this sort of extreme certainty and arrogance and so much so that they want to make everybody else believe the way they do and kill everybody who believes different. And I think that is the dangerous thing and those are the people I mistrust and fear and would fight against willingly.

List of Articles on Philip Pullman and "The Golden Compass":

  1. Snopes.com: http://www.snopes.com/politics/religion/compass.asp
  2. The Sidney Morning Herald interview:
    http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2003/12/12/1071125644900.html
  3. Christian Research Institute article on HDM (Possibly the best Christian article I could find about Pullman and HDM)
    http://www.equip.org/site/c.muI1LaMNJrE/b.2730421/k.B701/DK120.htm
  4. http://www.fish.co.uk/culture/features/pullman_interview.htm
  5. http://www.firstthings.com/article.php3?id_article=2181
  6. http://arts.guardian.co.uk/features/story/0,,1165873,00.html
  7. http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn/A23371-2001Feb18?language=printer
  8. http://www.hisdarkmaterials.org/news/his-dark-materials-movies/tests-of-faith-over-compass
  9. http://www.churchinhistory.org/pages/leftpane/reflect-lit/pullman/bigread&biglie.htm
  10. http://www.alma.se/templates/KR_Page.aspx?id=3131&epslanguage=EN (A lecture by PP in Sweden.)
  11. http://www.e-n.org.uk/p-3103-Christian-thinking-about-Philip-Pullman.htm
  12. http://www.theculturalgutter.com/sciencefiction/his_dark_ending.html
  13. http://www.verumserum.com/?p=1499

 

Best regards,

Al Margheim