Title: Shedding Light on His Dark Materials
Author: Kurt Bruner & Jim Ware
Publisher: Tyndale House
In many ways, Phillip Pullman stands among the great fantasy writers of this century. Like C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, this best-selling author of the His Dark Materials series uses spiritual themes to convey well-written tales of life in imaginary worlds. He lives in Oxford, England and has taught (part-time) at Oxford’s Westminster College.
Like The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Pullman’s first book in the series, Northern Lights (released as The Golden Compass in the United States) opens with a young girl hiding in a wardrobe. And, both the Narnia series and Pullman’s series include children facing adult moral choices, talking animals, religious allegories and parallel worlds. The fate of those worlds is also very much at stake in both of these series.
But the similarities between Pullman and these renowned Christian writers end there. A supporter of the British Humanist Association and an honorary associate of the National Secular Society, Pullman’s works have been seen by some as a direct rebuttal of the Narnia series, in fact. And Pullman has denounced Narnia, calling it “religious propaganda.”
It is not surprising that Pullman’s writing is therefore controversial among Christians. He has found support from Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, but alienated others, including bestselling British author and journalist Peter Hitchens. So with this book, Shedding Light on His Dark Materials, best-selling authors Kurt Bruner and Jim Ware (Finding God in Lord of the Rings) attempt to debunk some of the mystery.
They begin with praise for Pullman’s writing, as well as his skill at provoking thought about spiritual issues. They then provide a succinct comparison between Pullman, Tolkien and Lewis before launching into the specifics of his work.
Each chapter of their investigation is dedicated to one of Pullman’s themes. They cover everything from “Other Worlds” and “Daemons” to “Family”, “Angels” and “Magisterium,” to name just a few. Each chapter also begins with a brief excerpt from Pullman’s writing, which places the theme of the chapter into context, before comparing it with Christian theology.
At just 164 pages, the book is not lengthy, but it is extremely comprehensive. Bruner and Ware cover a tremendous amount of ground, and they do so with thoughtful analysis which highlights parallels to the Christian faith whenever possible. Make no mistake, however. These authors, much like Pullman, are very educated scholars. And while their writing is as good as their research, the average reader may have trouble following their arguments, due to their highly complex nature.
In other words, fantasy readers will no doubt be intrigued by this book. But the average parent hoping to make sense of what their child is reading may find themselves a little overwhelmed by the finer points of Bruner and Ware’s discussion. Then again, Pullman isn’t an easy to author to comprehend, by any standard. So to make such an effort would simply be in keeping step with a child who is already navigating some tricky literary terrain—hardly a bad thing.