Round-Table Discussion on The Golden Compass
- Thursday, December 06, 2007
Note: If you intend to read these books or see this movie, please consider this your warning that spoilers lie ahead.
Last week, our editorial staff realized that we were not very well-versed in all the talk about The Golden Compass film or Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy of which this film is the first part. So as a team we purposed to read the first book over the weekend and then attend the advance screening of the movie Monday night. Since then, we've spent more time in fascinating discussion over what we've encountered than actual work. What we intend to do is provide honest, useful feedback for Crosswalk users that dovetails with what others have already written, while also presenting what really stuck out to us from both literary and Christian backgrounds.
For the uninitiated, The Golden Compass is about a pre-teen girl, Lyra Belacqua, who grows up without parents on the grounds of Jordan College in Oxford under the care of scholars. She is wild, fanciful, and rough around the edges. While hiding in a wardrobe (sound familiar?) she witnesses an attempted murder, as well as conversations about something called “Dust” (a metaphor for sin/experience) and a city in the sky beyond the Northern Lights.
Lyra finds herself caught between two strong but morally ambiguous adult influences – her father Lord Asriel, who she believes to be her uncle, and her mother Mrs. Coulter, who purports to be just a well-accomplished woman of the world in need of an assistant. In Lyra’s world, every individual has a constant companion called a “daemon” (pronounced “demon”) that is always beside them in the shape of an animal, and which represents the individual’s soul, intellect, identity – everything special about them. Touching another person’s daemon is taboo, so intimate is the relationship. Lyra and her daemon Pantalaimon, who can take the shape of many animals (daemons of adults have “settled” into one permanent form) team up with gyptian boat people; a Texan balloonist; witches; giant, talking, armor-wearing polar bears; and other children on a journey to the far north. Guiding her is the golden compass, called an “alethiometer” (lit. ‘truth measure’) that shows her the answer to any question. Opposing Lyra is a church entity known as the Magisterium.
Our round-table discussion about the experience of reading and watching The Golden Compass features the following participants:
- Sarah Jennings, Crosswalk Family editor. Her responses to the book and film were unavoidably informed by her family-focused work here at Crosswalk, her degree in English, and her Catholicism.
- Shawn McEvoy, Crosswalk Faith editor. He has a Master's degree in English, is a fan of the fantasy genre, and a married father of two young children.
- Meghan Kleppinger, Christianity.com editor. She found herself approaching the book from the theological perspective, using her background as a Bible study teacher. She has worked in public policy, which informed the ways she was on the lookout for issues that affect children.
So what sticks out the most to you about this story?
MK: I expected it to be trickier. I thought I would have to search for proof that this story attacks Christianity. The way Philip Pullman weaves his agenda into the story is somewhat subtle but his anti-church view is quite blatant in his language and imagery. It challenged my mind, but certainly not my faith. The discussions that came out of it were stimulating, but I don’t think any of us left questioning God’s existence or our own salvation.
SJ: The language he uses, the paragraphs where he addresses the Christian faith are very clear. Referring to the Church as "The Magisterium" instantly struck me as a Catholic. The story will go for long stretches of just great story, but then a paragraph will stick out and hit you.
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