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His Dark Outrage
November 30, 2007 10:29 AM   Subscribe

A very interesting commentary on The Catholic League's boycott of Phillip Pullman's fantasy childrens novel, The Golden Compass. Nicole Kidman disagrees that the story is anti-catholic.

The Golden Compass is the opening story in the His Dark Materials series.
posted by butterstick (93 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

 
"It goes like this: If your ancient, authoritarian, immutable belief system is truly threatened by a handful of popular novels, if your ostensibly all-powerful, unyielding creed is rendered meek and defenseless when faced with the story of a fiery, rebellious young girl who effortlessly rejects your stiff misogynistic religiosity in favor of adventure, love, sex, the ability to discover and define her soul on her own terms, well, it might be time for you to roll it all up and shut it all down and crawl back home..."

That's effing fantastic.
posted by bluishorange at 10:33 AM on November 30, 2007 [24 favorites]


Even if you accept the fact that they're not killing the actual god, the books promulgate the gnostic heresy. There's no way the Church is going to accept the books.
posted by empath at 10:36 AM on November 30, 2007 [1 favorite]


Why can't Pullman's stories just include a nice talking lion who is really Jesus?
posted by brain_drain at 10:38 AM on November 30, 2007 [18 favorites]


(not gnostic-ist)
posted by empath at 10:38 AM on November 30, 2007


Kidman plays the icy and manipulative Mrs. Coulter in the movie, which is based on Northern Lights, the first volume of author Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy.

HAH.
posted by delmoi at 10:39 AM on November 30, 2007 [2 favorites]


Hasn't MeFi done religion enough today?
posted by proj at 10:39 AM on November 30, 2007


Because nice talking lions who are really Jesus are no match for commando squads of armored bears.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 10:40 AM on November 30, 2007 [24 favorites]


I had actually not heard of these books before (or only peripherally). But with all the brou-ha-ha from the religious nutjobs, I figured I had to check it out. I mean, an atheist writes a book that (the haterz say) destroys religion? And there's sex? I'm there!

Thanks for bringing it to my attention, religious nutjobs!
posted by DU at 10:41 AM on November 30, 2007 [6 favorites]


(I loved Narnia as a kid, though. But maybe it would be too heavy-handed today.)
posted by DU at 10:41 AM on November 30, 2007


All I need to know is that this movie features dirigibles and armored polar bears.

On that basis alone I conclude that this is the greatest movie ever.

Even if you accept the fact that they're not killing the actual god, the books promulgate the gnostic heresy. There's no way the Church is going to accept the books.
posted by empath at 1:36 PM on November 30


And yet, the books have been out for years, but they're only calling for a boycott now that a film adaptation is being released. Do they not think Catholics read?

I support the boycott. I hope everyone who supports the Catholic League boycotts the film, and I hope the film is a huge success despite it. This would demonstrate that the Catholic League has no power or influence, and can be safely ignored.
posted by Pastabagel at 10:45 AM on November 30, 2007 [7 favorites]


(I loved Narnia as a kid, though)

I did, still do - I treat it like any other fantasy novel - including the one about some kid from Nazareth who got nailed to a hunk a wood and came back a few days later to pay for all the imaginary sins commited by humanity because his invisible sky daddy wanted it so.
posted by jkaczor at 10:49 AM on November 30, 2007 [1 favorite]


The books are great, by the way. Like Pastabagel said... dirigibles... armored polar bears. Weeeee!
posted by brundlefly at 10:50 AM on November 30, 2007


Fantastic essay in the first link. It always saddens me a little to see a book I love turned into a film, but I think the sacrifice might be worth it in this case.
posted by malaprohibita at 10:50 AM on November 30, 2007 [1 favorite]


Do they not think Catholics read?

Well, talk to William Tyndale about that.
posted by aramaic at 10:52 AM on November 30, 2007 [1 favorite]


I just want to point out that the Catholic League in no way speaks for the Catholic Church.
posted by drezdn at 10:55 AM on November 30, 2007


Is this the same Catholic League whose president Bill Donohue said (after Mark Foley alleged that a clergyman molested him in highshool): "After all, most 15-year-old teenage boys wouldn’t allow themselves to be molested. So why did you?"

Yes?

Then fuck them and any opinion they might have.
posted by MikeKD at 10:55 AM on November 30, 2007 [18 favorites]


And yet, the books have been out for years, but they're only calling for a boycott now that a film adaptation is being released. Do they not think Catholics read?

This is pretty much the same thing that happened with The Da Vinci Code, isn't it? I suspect that no book appears on their radar until it's made into a movie, less because they don't find books offensive than because they don't generally bother reading books.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 10:55 AM on November 30, 2007


I'm not afraid of his books or the movie, but I have no desire whatsoever to support him financially.

In other words, this bunny disapproves.
posted by konolia at 10:56 AM on November 30, 2007


Great books; hoping for not-crap movies.

Oh, how I hold out hope.
posted by parki at 10:59 AM on November 30, 2007


Wow, does that guy from SFGate have an axe to grind or what?
posted by oddman at 11:01 AM on November 30, 2007 [2 favorites]


This Atlantic article is an excellent examination of the movie and how Hollywood made sure that the anti-religion stuff was obfuscated out. Great interview bits with Pullman in there.

These are great books for those that haven't read them. Unless of course you are a member of the Catholic League...then you can boycott them and act like they don't exist.

Even with how they mainstreamed it, I think this is likely going to be a movie worth seeing.

LOL, Nicole Kidman doesn't think the story is anti-Catholic. Girl, it's *explicitly* anti-Catholic.
posted by mcstayinskool at 11:01 AM on November 30, 2007 [2 favorites]


I'm not afraid of his books or the movie, but I have no desire whatsoever to support him financially.

In other words, this bunny disapproves.


Have you read the books1 or do you just frown at whatever your priest/minister/rabbi/shaman labels tabu?

1If you don't want to support the author financially, your town may have a library, unless your local conservatives have cut taxes to the point you can't afford one.
posted by DU at 11:07 AM on November 30, 2007


The books are amazing. I really should reread them, as I had a bit of trouble following them the first time.

That's my only (not really) criticism of the books - they have been marketed as kid's books, but they are very complex and difficult to read kid's books. The best readers will love them because they are complex - but many kids won't be able to follow the plot or complex world creation.

The structure and writing do reflect Pullman's philosophy - he doesn't believe in dumbing things down for kids, or from keeping things from them, which is obvious from the theme of the stories. But at the same time, I don't know if they will ever be as popular as something like Harry Potter, though they are far superior - but not as accessible.

As for the books being anti-religious, well, yes, they are. They are anti-organised religion and anti-fanatic religion, though not anti-faith (several sympathtic characters are shown to be quite faithful, and there are many moments of beautiful mystery). I never really thought of them as anti-Catholic, but that's because I think I just assumed that the Magisterium was the Anglican Church, but no, it was based in their Rome, wasn't it? They are also pro-sex, which is seen a a beautiful coming of age, even when outside of marriage. I could see why most of these would offend some people - if I were a conservative religious person, I would probably not really like the books.

But they are amazing.
posted by jb at 11:08 AM on November 30, 2007 [1 favorite]


That's effing fantastic.
posted by bluishorange


'nuffced!!!1 amirite?
posted by gtr at 11:10 AM on November 30, 2007 [1 favorite]


Wow, does that guy from SFGate have an axe to grind or what?

I saw this comment before clicking on the link; I could tell from that description alone that the author was Mark "you can have my dildo when you pry it from my cold dead hands" Morford.
posted by Challahtronix at 11:12 AM on November 30, 2007


sorry - just looking at the Wikipedia article, which notes that the books were marketted to young adults - which I think is appropriate for the reading level. But I think that because Harry Potter was written for the 8-12 set, a lot of people started talking about Pullman's novels as if they were too. The themes (esp the bits about growing up, entering puberty) are just the sort of thing that would have really touched me when I was 11-12, but the vocabulary and plot are both pretty high level.
posted by jb at 11:13 AM on November 30, 2007


I was surprised as hell to see His Dark Materials on the shelf at Wal-Mart in close proximity to such such religious fare as Dr. Dobson's "The Strong-Willed Child (and how to crush him)." I get the feeling they might be pulling an America: The Book on this one before too long. Can't have kids thinking for themselves, now!
posted by JHarris at 11:14 AM on November 30, 2007


(from the article) "any open-minded and attuned and humor-licked and spiritually aware and intellectually curious and sexually alive human worth her moist, wine-massaged soul"

Ew.
posted by Laugh_track at 11:16 AM on November 30, 2007 [2 favorites]


I came to this trilogy via this New Yorker article, which is a stellar read in itself. I immediately found the books in my local bookstore and read them all three cover to cover non-stop. Excellent series.
posted by hecho de la basura at 11:17 AM on November 30, 2007 [3 favorites]


That essay is impressively difficult to follow.
posted by specialfriend at 11:19 AM on November 30, 2007


Hey waitaminnit, Mark Morford wrote this? Pretty cool, I stopped reading him when his usual hyperbolic style start to give me headaches. This seems a bit subdued for him.
posted by JHarris at 11:19 AM on November 30, 2007


The Atlantic Monthly article is great, wish I had seen it earlier. However, a SPOILER ALERT would've been nice for those who haven't read these.
posted by butterstick at 11:25 AM on November 30, 2007


I came to this trilogy via an excellent question in AskeMe. Book one was really good, book two is kick ass great and the third one kinda sucked. And the trilogy is most definitely anti-organized religion, which is fine by me. I like how Pullman dealt with God in the story. In fact, I was hoping that he would go into more detail on how all that happened.
I can't wait to see Iorek Byrnison on the big screen. Coolest bear ever.
posted by NoMich at 11:29 AM on November 30, 2007


The books are fantastic. If they frak up the movie(s) I'm going to...do....something. Rant, probably.

(I saw a preview for the movie of Susan Cooper's book The Dark is Rising, and it looked awful! So I poked around on the Web and discovered all the dreadful shit they'd done to the book to make it a movie, and I ranted about that for a while. Fortunately, the previews of the Golden Compass look pretty alright.)

I handsold a ton of these when I worked in an indy bookstore and people would come in in a "I want something like Harry Potter" funk. I'd warn them that these weren't their kids' Harry Potter, but they really really had to read them. I must've sold a couple hundred copies of the first two in the trilogy.

I'm hardly surprised that the Catholic League and other conservative Christian groups are advocating a boycott. The books are explicitly anti-authoritarian, and that sometimes comes through as explicitly anti-capital-G-God. They are not, however, anti-spirituality, or anti-faith. I didn't think so, at least. I read an interview with Pullman a while back, and he was quite clear that he'd "borrowed" a lot from both Milton and Blake.

Pullman's site has all kinds of interesting things on it.
posted by rtha at 11:30 AM on November 30, 2007 [2 favorites]


It was this AskMe question.
posted by NoMich at 11:30 AM on November 30, 2007


Iorek Bynrison!
posted by malaprohibita at 11:32 AM on November 30, 2007


crap
posted by malaprohibita at 11:33 AM on November 30, 2007


The Catholic League is Bill Donohue. He speaks for no one but himself and he's a horrible little troll that no adult should pay attention to.
posted by 2sheets at 11:33 AM on November 30, 2007 [3 favorites]


Wonderful books. I just bought the "His Dark Materials" set, having originally read library copies, so I can re-read them. Do I recall correctly that there's a mefi member named Serafina Pekkala, after one of Pullman's witches? I wish the movie version hadn't been sanitized -it's just as Dawson says, we are way too polite and sensitive to believers in invisible supernatural sky-beings.
posted by Hobgoblin at 11:34 AM on November 30, 2007


Pullman is interviewed in the latest Humanist Network News podcast.
posted by McLir at 11:36 AM on November 30, 2007


Philip Pullman, the author of the "His Dark Materials" trilogy, had originally wanted Jason Isaacs to play Lord Asriel, Nicole Kidman to play Mrs. Coulter and Samuel L. Jackson to play Lee Scoresby.

How awesome would that have been? "I want these motherfucking agents of the Magisterium off this motherfucking balloon!"

And yeah, nthing those who comment that they're not really children's books. They're not; they're for young adults/teenagers, imo. And they are explicitly anti-religious, given that they are a rewriting of Paradise Lost.
posted by jokeefe at 11:36 AM on November 30, 2007 [3 favorites]


Of course the books are anti-Catholic, but all of that will be sanitized long before it reaches any innocent god-fearing moviegoer.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 11:37 AM on November 30, 2007 [1 favorite]


I have to say, the third book came pretty close to ruining the series for me--without spoiling anything, I'll just say that I thought it was forced and manipulative to an extreme. Not that big a deal for most fantasy series, but for a book I loved as much as the first one to end as cheaply as the third one...

When I read it I declared that Phillip Pullman was Not Invited to Tea. I mean, you know. Not that I'm having Tea anytime soon... not that he'd come if I did invite him... But I'm not.
posted by Squid Voltaire at 11:43 AM on November 30, 2007


Dear God that essay pissed me off. Axegrinding is right.

I didn't like His Dark Materials that much, probably because I read it over the course of two weeks and lost the flow of the story. Loved Narnia as a kid, reread it for an English Essay and almost didn't get through the last book for all the religious in-your-face ness.

I can sort of see why the Catholic League (and other groups in the past, I suppose) protest a book based on ideological reason. I mean, fiction is in many sense a form of social commentary for saying things that are best said subtly. Not propaganda, by any stretch of the imagination, but still.

The thing is though, freedom of speech is a largely accepted concept in western society (we'd like to think/hope/dream) and as long as your message isn't hatespeech or just completely batshitinsane-while-taking-yourself-too-seriously, you're allowed to go ahead and say it without couching it in 400 pages of intricately woven prose. Fiction can be vessels of social commentary, but it can also be just a story. And while I'm not denying whatever underlying message there may be to His Dark Materials, the audience it's being marketed to isn't exactly in a position of influential power whereas the parents who do have some sway aren't as likely to indulge in the same books their kids are - unless said books are brought to their attention by angry campaigners with an agenda and really loud megaphones. So really, boycotters, what are you trying to accomplish? I don't imagine the numbers of boycotters will have a significant impact on movie revenue, given the rabid fanbase of His Dark Materials, and you're merely bringing these books even more into the foreground. *shrugs*
posted by Phire at 11:46 AM on November 30, 2007


rtha: for the love of all things worth loving, I was SO angry when they turned The Dark Is Rising into a movie and completely freaking butchered it. MAN. I only saw the trailer, and just.... WHAT THE FUCK HOLLYWOOD??? I loved that series and reread them over and over and it was quite possibly the only piece of assigned reading I did for class that made me want to go and read other books in that same series. Grr.
posted by Phire at 11:50 AM on November 30, 2007


Are they still going to refer to the animal companions as daemons for the movie?

Oh and speaking of butchering film adaptations, I think I'm going to burst a blood vessel during one of these I am Legend commercials.
posted by JaredSeth at 11:52 AM on November 30, 2007


2sheets, the Catholic League is mostly Bill Donohue, but also a board full of partisan Republicans like Dinesh D'Souza.

They are 100% devoted to partisan causes. They don't speak for the Catholic Church, they don't speak for religious people.

They stick the word "Catholic" in their name because it allows them to squeal bias when people don't do what they want them to do, not because of any particular religious beliefs. They're as Catholic as the NRA.
posted by ibmcginty at 11:55 AM on November 30, 2007 [5 favorites]


I just finished The Golden Compass two nights ago and yeah, it kicked ass. Hopefully, the media will try to set up a grudge match between these films and Narnia, because these stories will kick C.S. Lewis's ass. The four Pevensie kids get their introduction playing hide and seek in places they shouldn't. Lyra Belacqua gets hers leading mudfights against the town children and lying to every adult she meets... who will kids be more drawn to? Aslan is basically an anthropomorphised schoolteacher, while Pantalaimon is Lyra's peer. The main message of the Narnia books, to me, was the inevitability of justice, while the main message of The Golden Compass, at least (to me), was the importance of doing what you think is right regardless of what anyone else tells you. If the adolescent appeal of the underlying stories has anything to do with how well the films are received, His Dark Materials will be more popular by far.
posted by gsteff at 12:01 PM on November 30, 2007 [3 favorites]


Of course, the Narnia books appear to be much more widely read than His Dark Materials, so I'm probably full of it.
posted by gsteff at 12:08 PM on November 30, 2007


Once again the Catholic League has brought my attention to something I might have otherwise missed. My kid has the first book (unread, too busy with The Vampire of Dawson's Creek or whatever the hell it is, God love her.), I'll see if I can get through it this weekend, it looks good. Thanks Catholic League, your sweaty-faced prudery is better than any NYTBR cover piece.
posted by Divine_Wino at 12:17 PM on November 30, 2007


My excitement for this movie knows no bounds - although I haven't actually looked at any clips in depth. I'm going into it based on my blind love of the books.

Like many others, I find it interesting that the series is just now being noticed by the Catholic League (although I never saw it as specifically anti-catholic, just anti-religion in general) when it's been around for many years.

Frankly, as a kid who was nominally raised Catholic, and went to Catholic school all my life, if I had heard the Catholic League saying they were against a book it would just have driven me to seek it out.
posted by aclevername at 12:18 PM on November 30, 2007 [1 favorite]


It will be interesting to see how the filmmakers approach the third book in the series. Pullman moves the gnosticism and anti-Christianity from the subtext to the main stage in "The Amber Spyglass," somewhat warping the plot and characters in the process. (Interestingly, C.S. Lewis, Pullman's bête noire, made virtually the same misstep in the conclusion of his own landmark children's fantasy).

All of this raises the possibility that director Chris Weitz (or whoever ends up adapting the story) may actually improve "Spyglass's" narrative when he elides its gnostic content. (Of course, it's even more possible that he could end up with an attenuated and incomprehensible mess).
posted by Iridic at 12:20 PM on November 30, 2007 [1 favorite]


I'm hoping the movies are good. I was a little disappointed reading the trilogy, though. I actually found it lost a lot of dramatic force when Pullman dragooned his characters and plot in service of driving. his. anti-organized. religion. point. home. Especially in the last volume.

Now, I probably largely agree with him in principle; what I'm saying is not a variant of "atheism/science is faith just as much as religion." Not at all. But as a matter of literary technique, I think when an author starts treating his/her character more as means to a philosophical end, there's often trouble ahead. See, e.g., Narnia in part, Ayn Rand, etc. The books too often fell into this trap, I felt. At the same time, the underlying story had a lot of compelling things going for it, and a movie adaptation could actually improve things, as far as my complaint goes.

On preview: damn you, Iridic!
posted by chinston at 12:28 PM on November 30, 2007 [1 favorite]


I read an interview with Pullman a couple of years ago where he spent most of the time ripping Lewis and Narnia. He really came across as pompous and yet jealous of Narnia's success.

And the more I've heard of these books, the more I've thought he's like the stereotype of the pompous artist who doesn't understand subtlety. And I just don't like those types.

I mean, I hated American Beauty because I felt like they were trying to HAMMER HOME IMPORTANT POINTS EVERY FIVE SECONDS WITH HAMMY OVERACTING AND DON'T YOU GET IT THAT THE NAZI NEIGHBOR IS GAY DON'T YOU DON'T YOU DON'T YOU?

Of course, Lewis was guilty of being a pompous, tweedy sort who spent too much time hammering home important points, though not as much in Narnia as in Perelandra. But even then, you could read Narnia straight through and miss most of the religiosity.

The master of subtlety in religious fantasy, though? Tolkien. If you know what you're looking for, you'd find that Lord Of The Rings is as pro-Catholic as the Pullman trilogy is anti-Catholic. It's just that most people don't know where to look for it, even if it's in plain sight.
posted by dw at 12:30 PM on November 30, 2007 [3 favorites]


Do they not think Catholics read?

Oh, but they do.
posted by Terminal Verbosity at 12:36 PM on November 30, 2007


It took me a couple of goes to get into these books after being lent them by a friend who highly recommened them. Once past the initial mistake that it was going to be yet another school-for-wizardry type thing I found them excellent.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams praised a stage adaptation of the books and suggested they should be welcomed because they got children thinking intelligently on big spiritual issues. He engaged in a public debate with Pullman "to discuss the meaning of religion in art and literature."
posted by Abiezer at 12:48 PM on November 30, 2007


Where is the source on Catholic organizations being behind the banned book Wiki link above? My guess is that fundamentalist/Pentacostal groups are far more interested in bookbanning than Catholics.
posted by Roach at 12:51 PM on November 30, 2007


Do they not think Catholics read?
Oh, but they do.


Indeed, each and every one of those books was challenged by a Catholic. Maybe even the same Catholic.
posted by Iridic at 12:51 PM on November 30, 2007


Oh, but they do.

That's funny...I don't see the word "Catholic" anywhere on that wiki page. Do I need to upgrade my browser?
posted by gnomeloaf at 12:53 PM on November 30, 2007


The early reviews haven't been that great, so far.

I personally couldn't get through the second book, though I enjoyed the first book a great deal.
posted by empath at 12:54 PM on November 30, 2007


Phire - did you hear the radio (NPR, probably) interview with the...director, I think, about the Dark is Rising movie? He talked about how they had to make Will American in order to not make it seem like another Harry Potter-type movie, and they had to make one of his brothers eeevul because...well, what he said was that nothing really happened in the book, and in movies things have to Happen, so they had to make Will a fighty mcfighterson kind of character. I almost threw the radio across the room.
posted by rtha at 12:54 PM on November 30, 2007


The master of subtlety in religious fantasy, though? Tolkien.

Truth. But I still loved the shit out of the Dark Materials books. Fuck the Churches, all of them. Let's give them something to protest about.
posted by everichon at 12:57 PM on November 30, 2007 [1 favorite]


Have a care, Mike of W City, your comment smacks of heresy. Should you persist in profaning that which is sacred, condign punishment of fifty lashes should cure you of your folly.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 1:06 PM on November 30, 2007


Fascinating. I've seen the movie and didn't think too much of it. Sounds like the books have a lot more going for them.
posted by muckster at 1:07 PM on November 30, 2007


Hmmm, I just realized that the books are a perfect example of how something can be highly moral, yet anti-religious. No wonder the Catholic League is dizzy.
posted by malaprohibita at 1:21 PM on November 30, 2007


[a few comments removed - metatalk is a good option at this point]
posted by jessamyn at 1:34 PM on November 30, 2007


You have to remember that we are dealing with a book. Well, multiple books, technically. It is a work of fiction. It is just a long, somewhat disjointed story sprinkled with some interesting, challenging, and far-fetched ideas. It has characters who have magical powers. It is not to be taken too seriously. It is just a book.

So why the fans of this Book feel so threatened by Pullman's books is beyond me.
posted by flarbuse at 1:42 PM on November 30, 2007 [2 favorites]


I am so fucking excited for the movie. I know it will be an overproduced Hollywood mega-movie, but come on, armored bears! Fuck yeah! Can I say fuck again? Hell fucking yes! I fucking can! I am that fucking excited!

(I loved the first two books, but haven't yet read the third.)
posted by arcticwoman at 1:54 PM on November 30, 2007


Hmmm, I just realized that the books are a perfect example of how something can be highly moral, yet anti-religious. No wonder the Catholic League is dizzy.

Admittedly I haven't read them, but they sound like they're highly moralizing, yet anti-religious. Now that's a difficult feat to accomplish.

But screw Bill Donahoe. The man was on TV just about 24/7 defending the Church during the pedophilia scandals. It was all "my Church right or wrong." Blind to the reality that the bishops had brought it on themselves. Blind to the reality that the mandarins in the Vatican encouraged the bishops to suppress the truth and just keep shuffling the pedophiles from parish to parish.

The Catholic Church needs a thorough scrubdown with bleach and lye. Maybe once B16 kicks it there will be a John XXIII type reformer to come in and clean house. But given the history of the Church, that reformer won't be elected in my lifetime.
posted by dw at 2:11 PM on November 30, 2007


Admittedly I haven't read them, but they sound like they're highly moralizing

Really?

the story of a fiery, rebellious young girl who effortlessly rejects your stiff misogynistic religiosity in favor of adventure, love, sex, the ability to discover and define her soul on her own terms

If that's your idea of moralizing, then we could do with a hell of a lot more of it.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 3:14 PM on November 30, 2007


God's judgment cometh and that right quickly.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 3:15 PM on November 30, 2007


Nicole Kidman, an avowed Catholic who was married to one of the biggest scientologists in the world...

...wait, whoa, the Nazi neighbor was gay? Then why was Kaiser Sosei still talking at the end when he got shot?
posted by Smedleyman at 3:34 PM on November 30, 2007


He wasn't a Nazi, he just experimented with Nazism when he was college-aged.
posted by kirkaracha at 3:44 PM on November 30, 2007


For those interested, a good interview here with Pullman and a writer from Christianity Today magazine.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 3:51 PM on November 30, 2007 [1 favorite]


> I came to this trilogy via an excellent question in AskeMe. Book one was really good, book two
> is kick ass great and the third one kinda sucked.

Book one was wonderful, non-stop inventive (who could possibly not like giant polar bears in armor) but later on there are more and more stretches where I went "Get on with it already" and the ending is a mess. Pullman's widely self-proclaimed atheism, together with his inability to tie up the series finish without a load of Vishnu-Recycles supernaturalist mystical handwaving, leave me in a very pleasant LOLATHEISTS mood every time.


> They are also pro-sex, which is seen a a beautiful coming of age, even when outside of marriage.

At age about twelve, be it noted.

posted by jfuller at 4:04 PM on November 30, 2007 [3 favorites]


dw: "you could read Narnia straight through and miss most of the religiosity."

Maybe you could, but my 6-year-old nephew couldn't. Lewis was hardly subtle. Remember in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe when Aslan offered himself as a sacrifice to save the other sinners? Remember, oh, the whole text of The Last Battle? It was basically Sunday school in furs.

dw: "Admittedly I haven't read them...."

Ah, that explains it. Pullman has miles on Lewis when it comes to subtlety. Miles. Maybe not in interviews, but certainly in the books. And that's not to say that the HDM books are terribly subtle... just that Lewis wasn't.
posted by dilettanti at 4:16 PM on November 30, 2007


Squid Voltaire writes: I have to say, the third book came pretty close to ruining the series for me

Agreed. I enjoyed the trilogy immensely for many of the reasons mentioned, but the third book is the weakest. Granted, he has to wrap things up, but I honestly felt like he kind of went off of the rails and lost sight of his narrative goals for about half of it. (No surprise, it's also the longest of the three).

So I'm kind of excited about the movie. (Sam Elliot as the dirigible adventurerer Lee Scoresby? Hell frickin' yeah.) But to take the "anti religiosity" or whatever the hell you need to call it out sounds like a bad idea.

I mean, if you really want to understand all of what Pullman is getting at, you'd have to be prepared to debate the figure of Satan in Milton's Paradise Lost, and how many scholars still get into tiffs as to whether or not we're supposed to sympathize with him and his rebel angels and, if we do, wasn't Milton, the most god-fearing of god-fearing men, really inciting heresy?

But I don't think the Catholic League or its most virulent members are that literate.

(And here's a self-link to a Michael Moorcock essay that gets into some of the Tolkien/Lewis Christian lite fantasy vs. the British young guns who came later, fwiw.)
posted by bardic at 4:33 PM on November 30, 2007


(I meant to agree with jfuller as well regarding his assesment of the third book. Still, worth checking out IMO. Hopefully the movie will be as well.)
posted by bardic at 4:34 PM on November 30, 2007


> you'd have to be prepared to debate the figure of Satan in Milton's Paradise Lost, and how many scholars
> still get into tiffs as to whether or not we're supposed to sympathize with him and his rebel angels and,
> if we do, wasn't Milton, the most god-fearing of god-fearing men, really inciting heresy?

I'm sure he didn't set out saying "I'll write an immense unrhymed verse epic that will make people sympathize with the Devil, BWWAAAAAHAHAHA." But clearly that's what he accomplished--Satan has all the best lines, while God makes you shiver, and not in a good way. My guess is that (whatever his formal intentions were) Milton the Christian apologist, who wanted to justify God's ways toward man, lost out to Milton the storyteller, who just wanted to write a good, compelling story, and found that Satan made a much better romantic lead--too juicy to resist. (Obviously most of that could happen subliminally and is something it wouldn't be hard for a writer to kid himself about.)
posted by jfuller at 6:56 PM on November 30, 2007


Milton is very unorthodox to say the least in his De Doctrina Christiana, which he called his "dearest and best possession" but never published. He wrote, "I have focused my studies principally upon Christian doctrine because nothing else can so effectually wipe away those two repulsive afflictions, tyranny and superstition, from human life and the human mind." In Hill's Milton and the English Revolution (where I cribbed that quote from), Milton is shown as interacting in a heretical milieu, and was a proponent of polygamy and divorce. Coupled with his own association with rebellion and the overthrow of a sanctified order, I wouldn't discount him having a conscious purpose in his portrayal of the Satan.
posted by Abiezer at 9:15 PM on November 30, 2007


Word for word, Mark Morford's prose style irritates me more than Ann Coulter's. I want to edit him with a chainsaw and a wire brush.
posted by ottereroticist at 9:37 PM on November 30, 2007 [1 favorite]


I haven't read the HDM series but something that struck me is that in Lewis and in Lord of the Rings, in addition to the religious symbolism, an even more fundamental notion is the existence of absolute good and evil that transcend human good and evil. But on the other hand, in the Harry Potter I've read, it's entirely human good and human evil - the bad guys are bad because they're consumed by their own greed and viciousness, rather than being servants or tools of a deeper darkness.

So I'm curious, what's the story on that aspect of good and evil in the HDM books?
posted by XMLicious at 10:40 PM on November 30, 2007 [1 favorite]


That's my only (not really) criticism of the books - they have been marketed as kid's books, but they are very complex and difficult to read kid's books. The best readers will love them because they are complex - but many kids won't be able to follow the plot or complex world creation.

Many, many books for kids and young adults have complex themes and other elements that most people--adults very much included--won't grasp. It doesn't make them adult books.

I often see, with Harry Potter and other children's books that become popular with all ages, both sides of this argument. People who don't like the books try to insult the people who read them by dismissing them as "kiddie books." The people who do like the books validate this by saying oh, well, you know, they're not really kids' books because they're complex and a lot of adults read them, and so on. But the truth is: the fact that they're kids' books makes them at least one thousand times more important.

I disagree that the "best" readers will love it for its complexity. It's the characters, their story, and the incredible skill and heart with which it's told that make this a truly Great Book. Honestly, I don't know how he does it. On page one, I don't even know what a daemon is. But by the time we meet Tony Makarios...well. I don't know how he does it. But I do think you have to love the story first to even care to look for the deeper complexities. And you certainly don't have to be an adult to see the brilliance in this story.
posted by lampoil at 9:41 AM on December 1, 2007


Heh, the Catholic League is a key innovator in the fastest growing industry of the United States: outrage.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 1:29 PM on December 1, 2007


I'd be interested on their take on LeGuin's Earthsea Trilogy (well, "interested" is overstating it, more I'm wondering how it escaped their notice). The final book, The Farthest Shore, is a long, eloquent, magnificent denunciation of the idea that through salvation one can achieve immortal life in heaven-- obviously a keystone of Christian doctrine. The Christ figure is called Cob, and is a pathetic, misled, selfish creature who by offering the people of Earthsea the delusional promise of life after death is causing the natural laws of the world to fall apart, society to crumble, magic to stop working, the joy of life to vanish. You want subversive? You couldn't get more philosophically or religiously subversive for middle America, I think...
posted by jokeefe at 1:56 PM on December 1, 2007


I think it's funny/notable/interesting that every book that appears in the news because some faction of catholics/christians finds it offensive in some fashion has been read by the priest at the catholic church where I work in the summer. Harry Potter? He loves the series. Da Vinci Code? He's read that and Angels and Demons and enjoyed both. Golden Compass? I'm 90% positive I saw it on his bookshelf while dusting one day. If I'm mistaken, I'll give him my copy, because I'm certain he'll love the series.
posted by CitrusFreak12 at 4:57 PM on December 1, 2007


I was a librarian in a Catholic school when the Golden Compass came out. I must have bought four or five copies and STRONGLY encouraged my more advanced students to read it; it was rarely on the shelves. Ten years later that school board has pulled the book off the shelves to review it (over the objections of the librarians). It has made them the laughingstock of this area. As soon as it is back on the shelves (because I really don't think they will keep if off) I'm donating a bunch of copies to the local Catholic schools. Because of the publicity in this area over the ban the book has been incredibly popular and the local libraries and bookshops can't keep it in stock.
posted by saucysault at 6:01 AM on December 2, 2007


The Catholic League? How many Crusades have they won lately? I see no occupied middle eastern colonies. I see no massed ranks of dead Moors sent to God for judgement. Instead they crusade against children's books? Dilettantes.
posted by meehawl at 11:37 AM on December 2, 2007 [1 favorite]




Yet again it's presented that Catholics are scared of a somewhat popular, explicitly anti-Catholic book series for teens, when in fact they are merely and justifiably offended. Which is a great reason for a boycott. One I personally will not be participating in, I'll be seeing this movie. The story of the books is entertainingly subversive, it's just too bad the movie will be emasculated.
posted by erikharmon at 8:57 AM on December 5, 2007


The movie is depressing- it's impressively faithful to the book, as films like these go, and yet it still sucks. The kid, Kidman and Iorek Byrnison are very good though.
posted by gsteff at 8:11 PM on December 8, 2007


I've been meaning to post a mini-review in this thread since I saw the film. I realize no one will notice it now... I saw the movie last weekend. Visually it was just great, but that's about it. I guess I agree with gsteff.

If I wasn't familiar with the books, I really doubt I would have bought (or understood!) the characters motivations. I don't mind that they cut up the timeline for the sake of the movie, but I thought it was too much "go here!" "now go here!" "don't stop, let's go here!". Wish it could've caught its breath some.

I had a couple specific, and possibly minor, complaints:

The music! too! much! swelling! especially during the final battle scene, but I'd noticed it earlier. I hope I'm not getting old, but it was just too damn LOUD. I can't believe I typed that.

The opening voice-over! Wh tell the audience what the alethiometer is? Wouldn't the film have been more engaging if you'd DISCOVERED that as it progressed?

The alethiometer itself - the effect of the 'visions' was cool, but the compass itself looked a little cheesy when certain symbols lit up.

And there's nothing to say about the ending. Well, OK, it was pretty hard to take. Instead of setting up a cliffhanger, let's all nap against a bear!

The Atlantic writer, Hanna Rosin, has a review of the film.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 7:16 AM on December 12, 2007


Many, many books for kids and young adults have complex themes and other elements that most people--adults very much included--won't grasp. It doesn't make them adult books.

lampoil: I agree with you. I remember loving and understanding a great many books with very complex political, social and historical themes. In fact, I have a growing collection of children's and young adult science fiction which would perfectly illustrate your point.

But I wasn't actually talkinig about themes so much as vocabulary and especially plotting/world explanation (and the lack thereof). In Britain, reviews, etc seemed to be talking about the books as if they were meant for eight year olds, and I was thinking about how my ten year old cousin (not a great reader, but perfectly average for her middle class, educated suburb) was having trouble reading Narnia, and His Dark Materials is just much more challenging on a pure reading level (themes, etc, aside). You were just fine with Northern Lights, but I nearly put it down because I (at age 28) was having trouble following the plot in the beginning. I'm glad I kept going, but it wasn't something I slipped into easily (as one does with most books written for 8-12 year olds).

But the I realised that I had made a mistake (and perhaps the mistake of a few radio reviews/discussions I heard) - Pullman's books were intended for a Young Adult (more 11-12 and up) audience, not the young 8-12 audience I thought, and that made more sense with the work. Harry Potter is aimed at the younger age group, which may be part of the reason that the 11 year old Harry is really right for an 11 year old, but the 15 year old Harry doesn't seem 15 at all (he's much too "kiddish").

Of course, that doesn't mean Pullman's books still aren't a challenging read - I think the average 12 year old would still find it somewhat challenging to read them. I think that good readers sometimes overestimate the average reading ability, even of children doing well in school. I was raised in a reading family, but my cousins, whose marks were higher than mine were at the same age, did not have parents who read as much, and they could not read what I had at their age. And I have to think that they are still somewhat better than the "average" reader (being quite good in school). Most people in the developed world still don't read that fluently or well. (Perhaps I've also gotten "dumber" in my reading as I've gotten older - with less time to do so, I don't challenge myself as much and my muscles have probably weakened).

I do think that the Pullman series is much better than Harry Potter, but I don't think they will ever be the break out hit the Potter books were - for their difficulty, and for their themes. Harry Potter is a series of simple adventures which add up to a sort of bildungdsroman, and provided the sort of easy but exciting read which has a very broad appeal. There is a place for both types of books, of course.
posted by jb at 3:43 AM on December 18, 2007


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