Round-Table Discussion on The Golden Compass
- Thursday, December 06, 2007
SJ: Pullman makes it very difficult. There are so many things that are incompatible with or misrepresentative of Christianity that it drowns out any Christian themes. While Lyra is sacrificial, she's also very selfish and wild. She's very selective in who she sacrifices for and why. Some of the Christian themes can be very confusing because they never really explain what 'good' is. The gyptian characters just seem to be 'naturally' good, in their spirits of the water way, just because of who they are. Why are they so good?
SM: One of my favorite books is Epic by John Eldredge, in which he discusses how we so love stories because they're ripe with elements of the greater story we're a part of. So even if I were to read Harry Potter, or other stories that some Christians don't necessarily love (and countless hundreds that they do), I could still find some of the great themes of the overarching Biblical story. Here, I had a hard time doing that. It's the first book I've encountered that just really turns everything on its ear. There is redemption in the return of the Bear King Iorek Byrnison, there is seeking for truth, there is loyalty, and there is familial care - though not through the typical family.
What's your conclusion?
MK: I keep thinking of the verse in 1 Corinthians that reminds us that just because something is lawful or permissible, doesn’t mean it is profitable or edifying. It’s not necessarily wrong to watch or read The Golden Compass, but it will make an impression and there are issues readers need to be prepared to examine and explain.
The truth is that you cannot read the book or leave the movie unscathed. I’ve been telling friends, “I’m reading it so you don’t have to!” That being said, I believe it can also be great a tool and discussion starter for informed adult readers. For the work we're doing at Crosswalk it's been beneficial, but we went in prepared and with a purpose.
For parents trying to decide for their children, I don’t think it’s worth the risk of harming young hearts and minds. There are plenty of other exciting stories that are edifying, honoring, and appropriate for children.
SJ: Pullman attempts to enlighten his audience by redefining good and evil. I think if you decide to engage this story, decide to see the movie and read the books, you might want to ask a question the editors here at Crosswalk have asked repeatedly: “What would the world look like if Pullman’s vision became our reality?” I don’t think we’d find the kind of freedom Pullman envisions, but instead we’d be slaves to our own weaknesses and to those who assert their power and passions. It doesn’t take a theologian to imagine that ugly world. Pullman really fails to realize the Church already has a solution to our bondage – one that’s been securely in place for 2,000 years. I stumbled on a timely quote from Pope Benedict's latest encyclical where he talks about the personal nature of God, found in Christ, and I think it really hits on the difference between Christian faith and Pullman’s ideas. Benedict says, “If we know this person [Christ] and he knows us, then truly the inexorable power of material elements no longer has the last word; we are not slaves of the universe and of its laws, we are free."
SM: It really is a well-timed quote that might as well have been written in response to The Golden Compass. What you will see in the first movie that isn't in the first book is a more obviously antagonistic Church. They even introduce a character, Fra Pavel of the Magisterium, who doesn't appear in the book, to do a bad thing one of the other characters does in the book. What you will not see in the movie that does appear in the first book, as Meghan referenced earlier, is the last few chapters. In these, a horrible act is done to achieve a path to another world, and much of Pullman’s philosophy is explained. But it's also interesting to ask in any work of fiction which character speaks with the author's voice. We all agreed that in The Golden Compass that character is Serafina Pekkala, Queen of the Witches. Which says something interesting in its own right... So be warned, but don't be afraid. Remember you know the truth. Let this book make you wonder about through just what means you came to know the Lord, and what sin is, and just why you needed one to save you from the other. One school of theology says you need God to save you from sin; another suggests you need sin to save you from God.
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