Round-Table Discussion on The Golden Compass
- Thursday, December 06, 2007
SM: You know, Narnia is an allegory, too, and Pullman is even writing in open opposition to those stories, but you could read or watch Narnia without caring about the Christian symbology. I personally don’t think you can read His Dark Materials at any level without the atheistic meaning.
SJ: Yes, and Lewis' writing responsibly explores issues of good and evil without pushing an agenda per se. It doesn't appear to matter to Philip Pullman what you're allied with as long as it's not the Church or religion.
What did you like, and what most disturbed you?
SM: Writers often write fiction to give a voice to the voiceless, or those they perceive as voiceless. Pullman is doing that too. John Milton's classic Paradise Lost gave a voice to Satan's side of the heavenly rebellion, and Pullman wants to pick that up and take the next step, even naming the trilogy after a quote from Paradise Lost. It makes for something very compelling, where it is easy to be sympathetic. There are ideas that really resonate within me, like how intriguing it is to think deeply on just what's going on whenever you have an inner monologue with yourself, what sorts of things your soul/that voice inside you can do for you, etc. But at the same time, how disturbing is that, and how humanly glorifying.
Still, those are the same factors many will leave the theater feeling good about, perhaps without even knowing why. Who could dislike the story of the Bear's return to his kingdom? Who wants to suffer seeing children tortured? Tom [Perrault, our Director of Operations,] noticed that when Lyra offers herself as a daemon to the reigning king of the bears (it's a trick; animals don’t and can’t have daemons), it's really a very sensual scene in terms of movement and dialogue, which plays to the concept of the intimate relation between person and daemon.
MK: It was a good story! When I was reading the book I was immediately drawn in. It certainly didn't feel like work! Visually, the film was beautifully made and presented a cast of fun characters with fascinating stories. As for what I found disturbing, I obviously didn’t appreciate the blatant attack on the Church. Considering this is 'children's literature,' I really didn’t like the way it sets the viewer up to want to go into the next two books/movies which are far more blasphemous and sexual in nature. They've presented a nice cute story with likable characters and you find yourself rooting for those we would consider the “bad guys.” If we as adults can get turned around, we need to be that much more concerned for young minds still learning the difference between fantasy and reality.
SJ: I really like a couple things about both movie and book: Again, he's clearly got a gift with words and storytelling. I kept thinking, "Why can't we have more Christians who produce media on this thought-provoking level?" And the book and movie challenged me. But what disturbs me most is how Pullman and New Line Cinema have targeted children for this story. A lot of the themes he presents in the movie and the book have hurt a lot of children. The idea that you're better off only trusting yourself and without any moral boundaries or framework is detrimental. His concept of Original Sin (via 'Dust') is not consistent with the Christian doctrine of original sin!
Can one read or watch The Golden Compass and just be content to locate Christian themes?
MK: If one hopes to, one will soon be disappointed. Lyra's character is willing to do whatever it takes – all the way to self-sacrifice – to save her friends and get an object to her father that she believes he needs. Sacrifice is a great Christian theme, but “whatever it takes” in this story often means lying, disobeying, and taking a variety of other inappropriate measures. Unlike the Narnia books which are abundant with Christian themes, you would really have to search and make a case for them in this series.
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