Sunday, November 04, 2007

"The Golden Compass": An Anti-Narnia?

There's a movie coming out in about a month called The Golden Compass, based on the novel Northern Lights (a.k.a. The Golden Compass in the USA... what's with these useless 'translations' of British books? First Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Sorceror's Stone, and now this too?)

It seems that some people are worried that the series it comes from, His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman, has an antireligious bias, and have begun refering to it as some kind of "Anti-Narnia". Of course, as we know, one person's pro-religious allegory is another person's anti-religious allegory, so I was interested in looking around to see what I could find about this children's series by an author who has been described as an outspoken Atheist, using his novels to draw children away from God.

So I looked it all up on Wikipedia.

First impression:
Haphazard conglomeration of references.

A Roma (Gypsy)-like culture, called 'Gyptians'? Sentient warrior polar bears? Seemingly random terminology and names that look Norse, Italian, or English, all mixed together? Metatron? Enoch? How eclectic do you want to get?

Second impression:
The series isn't anti-religious per se. It's Gnostic.

The big bad guy at the end of the story is an evil creator-being that makes believe it's a God, violating the true cosmic order that lies behind it? The identification of that 'demiurge' creator with Hashem? I don't see what all the Christians are so worked up about. It seems to be more readable as anti-us. But hey, that's nothing new.


Anonymous rebecca m said...

I've read the books, and enjoyed them. I'm apprehensively looking forward to the movie.

Christians who object to the books do so because in the story, the church is a power hungry group of child snatchers/ mutilators. It's quite evil.

In Gnosticism, the demiurge might often be Hashem, but in these books all religion= church, so it's more a borrowed framework, than about Judaism one way or another.

Ultimately, the books are anti-religious, because it's no new God or divine force that will defeat the demiurge with knowledge. It's ordinary human beings.

As for the mixed up terminology, the basic concept is that the story begins in an alternate universe to ours; a world that developed almost the same, but a little different.

11/04/2007 2:48 PM  
Blogger Nem said...

This is one series that I got into while the books were still being written, so I remember having to wait for books 2 and 3.

The books are anti-religious, as Rebecca M said. While there is powerful spiritual imagery, all the religious authorities are evil and really cruel to children.

I struggled with that a little bit as an observant 14-year-old, but the religious figures and "god" that the book described were so different from my experience of religion that I was able to say, "Gee, I'm glad my religion is not like that." (In retrospect, maybe it put me on my guard to make sure my religion does not become like that.)

The many different creatures, cultures, and terms were somewhat confusing, but there are enough really cool ideas in the series that make it worth reading, in my opinion. (I definitely wanted my own dæmon.)

11/04/2007 8:39 PM  
Blogger Jack's Shack said...

I am interested in seeing the movie.

11/04/2007 10:29 PM  
Blogger Paul Daniel said...

long time lurker (like years) first time commenter. I can't weigh in on the topic since I've never read the series but I just have to say hi. "Hi", I love your blog.

11/05/2007 2:00 AM  
Blogger The back of the hill said...

Aaaaaurghhh! The GNOSTICS are coming, the GNOSTICS are coming!


Actually, the movie I am both looking forward to and utterly dreading is Beowulf. I cannot wait to see how they've bollixed it up.

11/05/2007 2:06 PM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

rebecca m:

interesting... the lack of special knowledge used in defeating the demiurge would seem to disprove my Gnosticism thesis.


how do they pronounce "dæmon"? it's not the same as 'demon', right? maybe 'daymon'?

i like the lesson of "maybe it put me on my guard to make sure my religion does not become like that"... maybe all the worried religious leaders could spin it that way.


feel free to report back, then :-)

paul daniel:

thanks a lot!

the back of the hill:

i'm very disappointed that Beowulf isn't in Old English. other than that, it might be cool.

11/05/2007 2:54 PM  
Anonymous rebecca m said...

I believe I read something where the author explained that daemon is pronounced demon.

As best I can remember, the God figure dissolves of old age. The characters who shift the balance (the battle isn't really about the God figure, since he turns out not to be a real God) do so with love, knowledge, and courage. So I don't think that counts as real gnosis, or special knowledge.

If you ever read the books, let me know what you think on that point.

11/06/2007 12:54 AM  
Anonymous Kylopod said...

I put in the audiotape to the first novel when I was on a car trip with a friend years ago. We got through the whole thing, but to be honest my attention wasn't there. One of these days I'm actually going to sit down and read the book.

It's possible to have an agenda and still produce a valuable work of fiction. I believe that the Narnia series accomplishes that feat. It has Christian overtones, but it can be enjoyed by a person of any faith or lack of faith. I'm not sure Pullman's series has that quality.

I've been told that the first book is a classic, but that the series gets increasingly anti-religious (or at least anti-Catholic) as it progresses. If that's true, then that may be a flaw in the series, regardless of one's personal outlook.

I have enjoyed plenty of books with atheistic overtones (Hitchhiker's Guide, anyone?). It doesn't so much matter to me what the author believes as whether he lets his beliefs interfere with the quality of his work. When an author has an obvious agenda (as opposed to simply a perspective), it tends to make the work seem artificial--and this remains true whether the agenda is Christian, Jewish, atheistic, or anything else. It's to C.S. Lewis's credit that he avoided that quality in his works while pushing serious Christian ideas.

Of course, I'll decide for myself the merits of Pullman's books when I finally get around to reading them. But I do believe this dichotomy holds in general.

11/13/2007 3:20 AM  
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