Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Golden Compass: A movie worth missing?

The Golden Compass, the movie starring Nicole Kidman, will be hitting the theaters December 7th.

A children’s fantasy film that stars Nicole Kidman and features a little girl on a quest to kill God has some Christian groups upset over what they believe is a ploy to promote atheism to kids.

The movie, “The Golden Compass,” is adapted from the first novel in a trilogy called “His Dark Materials” by English author Philip Pullman, an outspoken atheist. Critics fear that the film, due out in December, will encourage children to read the anti-Church series.

It is claimed that the movie is based on a series of books with anti-religious themes. Check out Snopes. They say it is true.

Peter Hitchens has this to say:
Pullman’s stories are crammed with the supernatural and the mystical, and take place mainly in alternative worlds, most captivatingly of all in an Oxford recognisably the same place while utterly different. But while Narnia is under the care of a benevolent, kindly creator, Pullman’s chaotic universe has no ultimate good authority, controlling and redeeming all. God, or someone claiming to be God, dies meaninglessly in the third volume of his trilogy. There is life after death, but it is a dark, squalid misery from which oblivion is a welcome release. Pullman puts forward a complex theory of man’s true destiny, and his stories are a powerful epic that everyone should read. But many who buy these books for children and grandchildren would be surprised, and even shocked, if they knew just how vehemently Pullman despises the Christian Church, and how much he loathes his dead rival, Lewis. He is, in fact, the Anti-Lewis.

He has described the Narnia Chronicles as grotesque, disgusting, ugly, poisonous and nauseating. Yet, as Michael Ward, an expert on Lewis, has pointed out, Pullman’s saga begins just as Lewis’s does with a girl hiding in a wardrobe and finding more than she bargained for. It is almost as if he wants to turn Narnia upside-down and then jump on it. While Lewis portrays rationalist atheists as comically ghastly and joyless, Pullman depicts priests as evil and murderous, drunk and probably perverted, and the Church as a conspiracy against happiness and kindness.
As with all things, parents have the say in what their children read or watch on television or at the movies. This movie may warrant a check before letting the little ones see it on the screen.

HT: Read Tom Gilson's post on this movie and how it is coming to your schools.

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Maxine said...

Oh my, how depressing. Thanks for telling us about it. I never heard of this author or his series or the movie.

David said...


I have read the trilogy. Every characterizaton of the work and of Pullman's views mentioned in the email going around--the one quoted by Snopes--is true.

I actually enjoyed the books, BUT note this: I enjoy arguing with people. :-) I argued with Pullman's viewpoint all the way through the books. He did make it oh so easy to do, as his atheism is not an atheism of sturdy principle but one of childish pique: "Those mean religious people persecute me with the very idea of a conscience!" seemed to be his point of view. *heh*

Add to his vehement anti-religious (and given the characters in the books, predominantly anti-Christian) POV, it's a real shame that he tells a story very, very well, for the most part--enough to make me stick it through (although, again, I did have the incentive of arguing with him all the way through :-))

Here's the dread thing: my wife, who is a public school elementary/middle school librarian, noted to me that the book is rated with a reading level for seventh grade. Having read the entire opus, I can say with certainty that not one out of a thousand seventh-graders, probably not one out of ten thousand, has the background--the cultural/historical literacy, primarily--to argue with Pullman's POV, or even recognize its power to manipulate their feelings as they yield a necessary suspension of disbelief to allow the story to flow. Then again, its classification as suitable for seventh-graders does have three small advantages: it's less likely to find its way into many elementary children's hands and... the stats on reading (gathered in recent years by none other than Scholastic ) indicate that reading for pleasure tails off sharply around sixth grade. Lastly, given the reading difficulties fostered by public schooling, in the real world, seventh graders are likely to be stymied by the convoluted plot, the vocabulary and the concepts. IOW, I strongly suspect its actual readership to be much lower in its target age range than the publishers might lead one to think.

All this quite apart from the essential, contradictory nihilism that flows through the books, no matter how Pullman strives to lend his characters some dignity, some morality. (Dignity and morality unhinged from ultimate authority are simply impossible.)

For literate adults (and by "literate" I most certainly do not mean "able to puzzle out the words and string them together" as it has commonly been dumbed down to mean), the books (The Golden Compass; The Subtle Knife; The Amber Spyglass) can provide much thoughtful reading--not so much for the actual content of Pullman's didactic argument against religion in general and against Christianity in specific but for an intriguing look into the mind of an oxymoron: a creative atheist. That his creation is a derivative "anti-Narnia" is no detraction from the fact that any creative work by an atheist is such an ironic affirmation of the Creator. *heh*

All the awards the trilogy have won are simply another example of pseudo-intellectuals stroking their own egos. I suspect the books will not have the lasting power of Lewis' tales for children, nor their wide appeal in years to come. A side-by-side comparison of the two ouvres does not do Pullman any favors.

Cindy Swanson said...

Coincidentally, I just blogged about this the other day! I read David's comments with interest, since he has actually read the books.

If my kids were still little, there would be no question..we would NOT be reading the books or seeing the movie.

Tom Gilson said...

Keep your eyes open for this showing up in your kids's schools. The Scholastic publishing company is promoting it heavily as a curriculum resource!

Barbara said...

David, it's good to know that everything we are hearing about this movie is true. I haven't read the books, but just hearing about this movie is enough for me not wanting to see it.

Cindy, my children are grown, but I have grandchildren (5) from ages 9-18 1/2. Hopefully, they will not be seeing this, either.

Tom, thanks for that bit of information. I'm going to link to your article within the post. I think others need to read the information you have on this.