A Christians Review of “The Golden Compass.”
I must warn the reader, that this review of mine, will not be unlike my other reviews. I may feel the need to discuss certain plot twists, and expose unforeseen conclusions in order to more clearly describe my general inclination toward this story. I will try to limit these spoilers, more for the sake of the readers enjoyment than any courtesy I feel the author may be owed. If you read this review further, I hope that my disdain for the man will make itself known in the same blatant way that his own disposition against all things ecclesiastical has, in like manner revealed itself.
This book gets a single star, out of a possible 5 star rating on the Shotgun book/movie scale, and that is being quite generous on my part.
“The Golden Compass” is the first book in the “His Dark Materials” trilogy, written by Philip Pullman. I first heard of the book one Saturday evening, as a friend and I were attending a local theatre, and there in the main lobby was an unusual poster. The poster showed a small girl, standing beside a large polar bear, who interestingly enough, was wearing armor.
I love fantasy. I’m always delighted when new movies arise from the cesspool of Holly Wood in this particular genre. As an added bonus, I saw that Nicole Kidman had a role in the film! I made a mental note of the movie, and went on about my evening.
Later, I was informed via email by various Christian friends, and family, that the movie was based on Pullmans book, and that Pullman was supposedly a big Atheist of some sort, that his book was written in yet another attempt to subvert children away from the faith of their families, and drag them into the pit of secular humanism.
Tragically, such a thing is commonplace today, so I didn’t doubt for a minute that they were right. Since the emails have been floating around, a certain consensus has arisen among the Christians out there. One, they all are saying that the movie has been toned down from the book, so as to be less offensive to Christians. Two, they are saying that the author, Philip Pullman has made many outright anti-Christian statements. He is apparently open about expressing his desire to rid the world of Christianity.
Now, I’m not sure where, when, or under what circumstances these comments were made, and I also am not too highly interested in Mr. Pullmans personal character. What I will be focusing on here, is the nature of his book, and what I believe the main message to his intended readers, (children around the age of 11) will be, and also how this might filter over into the theatrical adaptation of the story.
There is no doubt in my mind after reading this book, that it is indeed Mr. Pullmans intention to create a general bias or even a loathing against the Christian worldview in the minds of his intended audience. He does this in many subtle ways, and to comment on them all would take up more space than I presently have to devote to such a task. I will then, for the sake of brevity, focus on two of the main ways in which I believe Pullman tries to convey this message.
The first attack on the general Christian worldview comes through the main character of the book, Lyra. Lyra is an eleven year old little girl, who accompanied by her ever present “daemon” (a shape shifting familiar spirit) passes the long boring days at Jordon College in Oxford, by cussing, fighting, smoking, stealing, and waging all out warfare on other children. It is of course, all in good fun, and somehow, we are to get the impression that Lyra really is a good girl.
An eleven year old girl, smoking, and cussing is not cute. These attributes are not qualities to be desired in a hero of a book. It is almost as if Pullman is glorifying these aspects of Lyra’s nature, and chooses to write them into the story, despite the fact that they in no way add to Lyras character development in the slightest. It comes off as an attempt by Pullman to essentially, “thumb his nose” at the Christian parent who, Pullman knows good and well, would find such character traits undesirable.
Lyra at later points in the story, is rescued by quick thinking, and a kind heartedness (especially towards Iorek Byrnison, the big armored polar bear that she befriends.) One of her playmates at Johnson college in Oxford is kidnapped by the mysterious General Oblation Board or “Gobblers” and it is out of her desire to save him, and rescue her imprisoned uncle, that she sets her heart on a rescue mission to the North. This fierce determination and seeming kindheartedness on her part strangely pops itself into the story when actual character development is needed, and Pullmans prior notions of a cussing, prankster type street urchin, are strangely forgotten.
It is my view that Pullman glorified these undesirable traits through the actions of Lyra, in an attempt to “thumb his nose” at Christian parents reading the story. They lend no credible support to her overall character development. “Mommy, if Lyra can do such things, then why can’t I?” The morality of the Church then, is to set itself against the wishes and desires of the child.
So it begins.
How exactly does bad character flaws make this different than other books who have glorified those same things, or worse? If Lyras undesirable character traits were all that were wrong with this book, then I would probably be wasting my time writing such a review.
Before pointing out how Mr. Pullman attempts to paint the Church into the antagonistic role that he sees it as fulfilling, it will be wise for me to show how this attitude is not original to Pullman. I believe this attitude is displayed in many other popular children’s books, like “Harry Potter” by Rowling, and “The Bartimaeus Trilogy” by Stroud.
This attitude is one that has been displayed by Atheists, and anti-Christians for years.
Atheist writer, Mary Anne Evans (1819-1890) better known as George Eliot, in her essay “Evangelical Teaching” wrote against a popular Christian contemporary Dr. Cummings. In her essay she describes Christians the following:
(The Christian who becomes an evangelical preacher will find) ” it possible to reconcile small ability with great ambition, superficial knowledge with the prestige of erudition, a middling morale with a high reputation for sanctity. Let him shun practical extremes and be ultra only in what is purely theoretic: let him be stringent on predestination, but latitudinarian on fasting; unflinching in insisting on the eternity of punishment, but diffident of curtailing the substantial comforts of time; ardent and imaginative on the premillennial advent of Christ, but cold and cautious towards every other infringement of the status quo.”
In other words, she would find the man to be a big hypocrite, with ulterior and selfish motives!
We can see Frederick Nietzsche gives us a hint as to what these ulterior motives are in this quote from his Ecce Homo:
Why would Christians attempt to deceive people in the way that Nietzsche and Ms. Evans insist? I don’t have the space to give the quotes to support this statement, but, I will say that in general, it comes down to an evil desire by the Christians to control others in some sort of totalitarian type manner. (See Michael On fray’s “Atheist Manifesto.” )
Thus, it is only natural in the mind of the Atheist, that the Church would want to hinder, impede, or stop any attempts by man to expand his mind. Be it through science, philosophy, or reasoning of any sorts, the popular Atheist is expecting the Church to oppose him!
This fear is made manifest through the writings of many of today’s popular children’s authors. We can see this attitude of “fear” being displayed by the Dursleys in Harry Potter, or the humans in Stroud’s Bartimaeus Trilogy! Look at the movie, “V for Vendetta” and how the evil Christian totalitarian regime had dominated the future!
Such fear, misrepresentation, and bias is apparent in the Golden Compass. It shows itself especially towards the end of the book, specifically in chapter 21, when Lyra finally confronts her uncle in an attempt to save him, only to find that he isn’t the great man she thought he was. Throughout the book, Pullman slowly reveals more and more about the way his fictional universe works. It all seems to center around a mysterious substance known as dust. Lyra is fascinated by this “Dust” and only in chapter 21, when she confronts her “uncle” are the secrets of Dust finally revealed.
In this fictional world, the Church controls everything. There is no longer any pope, (the last being Pope John Calvin.) All attempts to investigate Dust further, are considered criminal, or at least distasteful by the Church, and in true Christian fashion, they form an Inquisition to deal with those pesky free thinkers out there who wish to discover more about this substance. (Lyras uncle being one.) Not only this, but Pullman uses portions of the book of Genesis in his story, to show that Dust, in theory, is really particles of original sin.
With the revelation that Dust is really particles of original sin; with Lyra coming to the conclusion at the very end of the story that, Dust, really is good, (since the Church, her uncle, and the evil Ms. Coulter all say it’s so bad;) Mr. Pullman brings together a delightful tale of a girl and her daemon, on a quest to discover the source of original sin, only to find that sin, really isn’t a bad thing, and the Church in general is the evil one! (The church is so horrible in fact, that it cuts off daemons from their owners, which is apparently the same as castrating young boys so that their voices will forever remain high pitched lending more soprano’s to the Church’s Choir.)
YOU tell ME if that is a worldview that you want your children being indoctrinated into!
I don’t see how the movie version can ignore the fact that the evil Christian church holds sway over Lyra’s universe, given that the fact is central to much of the plot. I can only hope that they make Lyra’s character more presentable, focusing on her more heroic qualities, and leaving out all together her less reputable ones. Maybe they’ll surprise me?
All in all, the story itself featured some great moments. The best being a complete brawl between two giant polar bears towards the end of the book. Pullmans way of romanticizing what seems like an early 1900 era England, (combined with a few slight technological advances from today) I also found charming at times! It was these aspects which earned him a single star, although, I cannot overlook his blatant bias against the Christian worldview, or his apparent resolve to strip children of their own precious faith, (which is something only a member of the General Oblation Board would consider heroic.)