The Golden Compass revisited

I am the type of person that will trust what someone tells me, but will have to research it out for myself. I don’t like hearsay to be the final word on truth. That is why I (get ready to gasp in disbelief…) READ The Golden Compass by Phillip Pullman. I had heard so many different things about what he included in the book that I had to read it for myself to see what was true or exaggerated.

Yes, I know I posted about this movie/book when word first started to spread. You can read that post HERE. I stand on what I previously said about being wise in the choices we make and only meditating on the things of God. However, I admit that I got caught in the boycott hype; since then I’ve thought a lot about this movie/book series since October when I first wrote about it, and I’ve come with some new thoughts.

There is a reason that so many non Christians view Christians as “out of touch” or “in their own little bubble”: many times we are. We completely separate ourselves from good art, literature, or other entertainment based on if it is “Christian-based.” To be honest, there is a lot of “Christian-based” forms of entertainment that are boring or poor in quality. I have tried to read Christian fiction many times and never make it through the book because of weak plots, shallow characters, and forced dialogue created by the author as a way to preach the Gospel message but instead makes sloppy writing.

If we base what we watch, read, or listen to on whether the author, actor, writer, or anyone involved is an atheist, then we will miss out on many wonderful experiences and art. Not only that, but if we completely boycott someone solely based on religious belief, we will be sending the message that we are judgmental & unloving towards anyone who thinks differently than we do; strengthening the atheist’s belief that God is not needed and that Christians are a joke. Of course, I’m not talking about “art” or “entertainment” that is completely dangerous to our spiritual lives (i.e. pornography). We must use wisdom in what we allow into our lives and the things we meditate upon.

And a question…if we boycott Philip Pullman’s novels/movie based upon his religious beliefs (or lack thereof), why are we not boycotting everyone else that is an atheist? What makes Pullman different than many of the actors you watch on TV, the director’s whose movies you pay big bucks to view, or the writer’s whose articles you read? The only difference is that Pullman is more vocally outspoken on his thoughts (much more than many Christians are about the Truth). If we were to boycott them, we would never watch television, go to the movies, read the newspaper or magazines, listen to the radio, etc. And, yes, even many Christian media outlets employ people who are atheists, so we’d have  to boycott those as well.  But, I digress…
I started reading The Golden Compass with a critical eye; looking intently for the anti-God messages. Quickly, I became engrossed in this wonderfully written, highly adventurous story. It is considered a Children’s book, but its complex sentences and advanced vocabulary easily make it more in the higher level high school/adult literature. With the exception of the last few chapters of the book, many of the metaphors and symbolisms would easily slip past a child’s mind, and they would not grasp any of the deeper comparisons with the church (the negative force in Pullman’s fictional world).

Here are a few negative things I found:

  • Lyra (the main character, a young girl) sneaks into the wine cellar with a friend and gets drunk. She admits that she likes it.
  • There is imagery of a beheaded man and description of grotesque killings.
  • There is a small bit of uncomfortable intimate moments between Lyra’s parents; also a description of their past which includes adultery, revenge, and murder.
  • An explanation of the church’s history of castrating boys so that they could keep their tenor voices for entertainment purposes.
  • Pullman quotes the Bible…correction…he misquotes the Bible to fit into this imaginary world where people have daemons (physical representations of a person’s conscience and emotions).
  • Sin is portrayed as something that makes people come alive, and that without it we would all be soulless and boring. It is something that the Church wants to destroy, but the good characters are fighting to keep it.

Are these reasons to not read the novel (and the other 2 books in the series)? I won’t say yes or no…that’s a choice that each person has to make on their own.  I will, however, end with this quote (emphasis is my own):

“These books are a gripping account of a story that is familiar in our culture: organized religion is bad and dangerous, self-reliance & heroic work are good and redemptive.  For many readers, this story will ring true.  Many others will realize that Pullman’s God is not the God of the Bible, who ‘abounds in steadfast love’ & insists on justice for the poor.  These are not reasons to censor or shun Pullman’s powerful, enjoyable & imaginatively rich series, but they are reasons to argue with it.”   (Higgins & Johnson.  “The Enemy Church: Pullman’s Agenda in ‘Compass’ & Beyond.”  The Christian Century.  28 – 31.)

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11 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Roland Thomas Gilbert
    Feb 07, 2008 @ 05:04:04

    Indeed. In our effort to “protect” and “shelter” ourselves from the world, we alienate ourselves in the process. As Christians, we may not be “of” this world, but we are certainly still “in” it … and need to be cognizant of what’s around us [good, bad, and ugly]. Great thought-provoking insights. Thanks for going the extra step and doing your own homework.

    Admittedly, I haven’t followed all the hoo-ha about The Golden Compass. Neither have I read the book nor seen the movie. BUT, I do agree with the principle you present. It applies to SO many situations.

    Reply

  2. Andrew Clarke
    Feb 07, 2008 @ 06:37:15

    I have a suggestion. You say you have never finished a Christian book. Would you care to try “Outcasts of Skagaray” and see if you find it readable, that is gets the reader in, and the dialogue is realistic. I would like your opinion. I take your point about some Christian writing being cheesy and too obviously didactic, That can also happen with secular writing that is intended to fill a market niche rather than being written with conviction. As for Pullman’s book, the issue some people take with it is that it attacks Christianity. A Jew may resent anti-Semitism, and a Christian react with a cold shoulder to what attacks his or her beliefs.

    Reply

  3. Josh Thomas
    Feb 07, 2008 @ 13:05:31

    I recently read The Golden Compass, and posted on it, but from the lighter perspective of being less sensitive to Pullman’s agenda. I have only completed the first book, but i picked up on some things that might make the book more palliative to Christians.
    This book is based in large parts on concepts from Milton’s Paradise Lost. (note the quote in the beginning, many of the names are taken from Milton)
    In Paradise Lost, Satan comes off much more alive, dynamic, and interesting than any other character in the book. Sin is an actuating force. But that doesn’t upend God’s plan for redemption inasmuch as that sin, like beer, glitters, but still exacts it’s price.
    Its very possible that you can’t read the whole His Dark Materials without having to swallow an Anti-God Message. I don’t believe so. But it’s definitely certain that you can read the Golden Compass with the assurance that it’s no less “Christian” than Paradise Lost, one of the most seminal works of modern Christianity.

    Reply

  4. Jaybrams
    Feb 07, 2008 @ 14:16:21

    great follow up. Thanks for sharing.

    Reply

  5. lmparks
    Feb 07, 2008 @ 15:36:03

    All good thoughts, gentleman.
    Josh, thanks for sharing the comparisons. I’ll go check out your blog when time permits (I’m actually running late for work…something that happens when I get on the internet…)
    Andrew, I happily oblige to try “Outcasts of Skagaray.” Bear with me, though, on the length of time it takes me to read it, as I have a stack of books I’m in the process of reading already.
    I acknowledge, too, that the main reason many people boycott Pullman’s books is because they’re an outright attack against Christianity. But why are Christians so shocked at this? Christ warned that there’d be people who persecute and speak against us; He says to “love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 6:44). Paul emphasizes this in 1 Corinthians 4, “Being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we endure; being defamed, we entreat.” Never does Christ say to lash back or boycott those people…in fact, we are to pray for them, treat them kindly, and reach out to them (‘seek’ those who are lost). Plus, if we really have faith in our mighty God, we know that He is the victor, and no one, not even a medal-winning author is going to change that.

    Reply

  6. Karen Ball
    Feb 07, 2008 @ 19:10:22

    Interesting thoughts, and I think, Josh, you’re right on target with what we’re supposed to do with those outside the faith who attack us: love. Pray. Reach out.

    I am interested though–as someone who has edited, acquired, and written Christian fiction for over 26 years; who has worked for 4 major Christian publishers and freelance edited for many more–to know what “many times” means in your attempts to read Christian fiction. Have you tried five novels? Ten? Dozens? Were any of them recent offerings? As Mr. Clarke pointed out, Christian fiction hardly has a corner on the market of fiction that doesn’t cut it. Secular fiction abounds with novels lacking in depth or craft. Of course, our call as Believers in Christ is to write with excellence, and if we’re not doing that, we need to hear it. But I do wonder why those who feel free to paint Christian fiction with a broad and critical brush seldom address the lack in secular fiction. The message is almost always that secular fiction is better; Christian fiction is dreck. Seems a bit of reverse prejudice to me.

    Nor do I find, most of the time, that these critics have read current Christian fiction. Not to say we don’t have books published in the Christian market today that could benefit from a good editor, or from the writer spending more time on his or her craft. But it does concern me when I see someone who is obviously intelligent and studied make the kind of out-of-hand dismissal you’ve made. Please recognize that there are many people out there dedicated to making Christian fiction not just good, but great. I’ve worked with and read dozens of novels just this year, and not one was as you described. The authors worked first to create a great story, and then to tell that story from a Christian worldview. And did so with skill and craftsmanship.

    I understand you haven’t found books that you consider quality, but surely you recognize that doesn’t mean such books aren’t out there. I guarantee you they are. Quite a lot of them, in fact. And they are written by authors with a call to ministry as sure and true as you own..

    I can, if you like, give you a list of quality Christian fiction, fiction that has received critical acclaim in both the Christian and secular arena. But more than anything else I want to ask you, as a man of reason, to reconsider broad, critical statements about other’s offerings to God’s work. Yes, of course, state the truth. If a book doesn’t work for you, say so. Just please be as cautious about being judgmental and unloving in this area as in the others you identify so well in this post.

    Thanks.

    Karen Ball

    Reply

  7. lmparks
    Feb 07, 2008 @ 23:35:28

    Thanks, Karen, for your thoughts.
    I don’t know exact numbers of novels I’ve tried, but usually it’s a couple throughout the year (recommended by friends). I’ll admit that many of them are sometimes romance or drama (the sappy-kind of drama), which is just not my cup of tea to begin with. I also do not deny that secular literature has its share of junk writing…I just happened to be thinking of the Christian entertainment when I was writing that paragraph. I apologize if I offended anyone in the Christian literature realm; I know that there are hard-working people, like yourself, who are dedicated to creating great Christian literature; I have friends who write Christian fiction, and I know how hard they work at their art. I am not against Christian literature. I just haven’t found any that interest me, YET. And, I admit, it’s been a short while since I picked up a Christian fiction book…maybe it’s time to try again…

    Oh, and I am a woman of reason… 🙂

    Reply

  8. Karen Ball
    Feb 08, 2008 @ 01:04:06

    A woman of reason! Even better. 🙂

    And yes, I’d encourage you, if you enjoy fiction, to give today’s novelists a try. There’s some amazing writing out there.

    Peace to you today.

    Karen

    Reply

  9. Jaybrams
    Feb 08, 2008 @ 15:16:42

    Karen,

    You’re point about Christian novels rears its head in the music industry all the time. We have a local Christian rock station that catches a lot of flack because 50% of it is horrible… yet, when i ask what station these critics listen to, they often tell me they jump from dial to dial, depending on what is on… in otherwords, just as much, if not more of the music played on “secular” stations is horrible as well…

    but then again, i dont read much fiction at all… i love it, just don’t make the time for it right now. I’d be interested in a list of these novelists that are great… (email or as a comment here).

    Thanks.

    Reply

  10. Karen Ball
    Feb 08, 2008 @ 23:09:49

    Here you go.

    First, I recommend any novel written by Francine Rivers, especially her Mark of the Lion series or REDEEMING LOVE. Powerful, life-changing fiction.

    If you enjoy more literary fiction:
    Authors Vinita Hampton Wright, Jane Kirkpatrick, and Charles Martin are a good place to start

    If you like thrillers:
    Try authors Brandilyn Collins or Ted Dekker

    If you like contemporary novels:
    Try Randy Alcorn and Angela Ewell Hunt

    If you like relational novels:
    The Moon in the Mango Tree, Pamela Binnings Ewen
    The Perfect Life, Robin Lee Hatcher

    If you like suspense:
    novels by T. Davis Bunn, Kristen Heitzmann, and, of course, you can always check out my books.

    If you like historicals:
    Check out books by BJ Hoff, Tracie Petersen, Lisa Tawn Bergren, and Liz Curtis Higgs

    If you like the lighter side
    Try authors Susan May Warren, Kristen Billerbeck, Judy Baer, and Penny Culliford

    That should at least get you started.

    Karen

    Reply

  11. Trackback: The BBC Book List « Me on Mission

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