Round-Table Discussion on The Golden Compass
- Thursday, December 06, 2007
SM: Because it is engaging, and it is seductive. The 'religion' of the world Pullman wrote is nothing new. It’s natural, pagan, primal. It’s the love of self and human knowledge. In many ways this book isn’t much different from The Da Vinci Code – an enemy Church bloodthirsty with power has subjugated truth and all the innocents of the world, who should be left to undo that innocence on their own and to their own benefit.
It's tragic this is being called children's literature, because there are such deep themes and mature situations. But don’t blame Pullman; his point would be that that’s exactly the point. In his world, the absolute worst thing you can do to a person of any age is separate them from their soul, which, the implication is, you do by telling them about anything that you - and not they - deem is in their best interest, including telling them they are too young to experience this material or even preaching salvation to them. It's okay for the soul to crave whatever it craves, because this is freedom, leading to knowledge, leading to wisdom. That’s why the trilogy makes the point that Adam and Eve did a good thing when they ate of the fruit, and why daemon-less people appear as horrifying ghosts or zombies, tragic victims of those who have made a decision for them (a metaphor for adults inculcating kids with religion) without their consent.
And though the answer is decidedly "no," it's been valuable for me to at least consider the question, "Is that what I'm doing to my kids?"
SJ: Yes, back to being the Body of Christ… this isn’t just a story, but a conscious attempt by Pullman to paint a picture for our culture of something dear to us. What he paints is appealing. It plays very much into our Western culture.
MK: His message over and over again is that there is a need to fight for freedom from the oppressive and authoritarian church. In the second book, The Subtle Knife, the author’s view is made clear through one of his “good guy” characters: “… every church is the same: control, destroy, obliterate every good feeling.” I would love to have a conversation with Pullman explaining how we find joy and freedom in relationship with Christ.
SJ: He's angry at a Church that doesn't fully exist.
What do you want CW readers to be aware of?
SM: Seeing this first movie isn't likely to do anything bad to people, including older kids. None of the kids in the theater seemed too disturbed; I just believe there are much better choices we can help them make than to see it. And I won't discount what I mentioned earlier about spiritual warfare in the book. Even if you find the film tame by comparison to what you had been led to expect, be aware that this story is going somewhere, and it does involve the death of a God character (an impostor who is feeble and weak), the destruction of the Church and anything that would have authority in life, and the tremendous importance (to Pullman and his characters) of sexual awakening.
SJ: They need to be aware of Pullman's worldview. I think we've all decided that you can not read this separate from his worldview. His worldview seeps into every character, every situation. He confuses good and bad quite a bit.
MK: The prevalence of darkness, sexual elements, portrayals of violence, mysticism, new age, morality turned around... I don’t see how this could ever be read as a simple story for children. Parents should also be aware that one of the main themes of this series is physical pleasure.
Putting the anti-Church issue aside, if I had seen this movie as child, the darkness and violence would have frightened me. Parents need to be prepared to handle the mark this will leave on children.
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