Recently, I was asked by a local pastor to write a few words on "The Golden Compass". My review has subsequently been distributed to literally hundreds of parishes, schools, and ministries all over the United States. I thought it might be of interest here.
On December 7th, the movie adaptation of Philip Pullman’s novel “The Golden Compass” – the first volume of “His Dark Materials” trilogy – will be released. With the stunning successes of “The Lord of the Rings”, “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe”, and the various “Harry Potter” movies, expectations are high that “The Golden Compass” will also be a box-office hit. Many parents will, no doubt, be strongly pressured by their young children to see the film and will subsequently purchase the novel and its sequels.
At the same time, serious concerns have been raised from a number of sources about both the intentions of the author and of the appropriateness of the novel’s content, especially for persons of faith. As both a parent and as an expert in science fiction and fantasy literature, I was asked to read “The Golden Compass” and to try to address some of these concerns.
First, and foremost, Philip Pullman is an outspoken atheist. He has openly admitted that his books are about “killing God”. Indeed, in the final volume of the trilogy, several characters do “kill God”. The protagonists of the story (pre-adolescent children) spend much of their time fighting off the evil machinations of “The Magisterium” – a thinly-disguised Catholic Church stereotype, complete with priests, sacraments, and even a Vatican Council. Members of the Magisterium kidnap children in order to perform vile scientific experiments attempting to separate the soul (each person’s daemon) from the body. The opponents of the Magisterium (also using a sacrificed child) discover a way to cross between worlds and mount an attack on God.
Next, for someone merely viewing the movie trailer, a “Narnia” type adventure, complete with talking animals, etc, is what would probably be expected. Again, this is deliberate on the part of