Location: Wisconsin, United States

I am a convert to the Catholic Church after serving in ordained ministry for more than nine years in another denomination. I hold a bachelor's degree in history, a master's degree in historical theology, and another in systematic theology, and am currently working (very slowly) on my doctorate. I work in Christian Education and Formation and teach at the University level. I am blessed with a wonderful wife and eight great kids! When I'm not studying, reading, or blogging, I enjoy eating and drinking! Like Bilbo Baggins, I have been specializing in food for many years, and my table has a high reputation!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007


Faithful readers . . . (all six of you! :-) )

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 Pullman who loathes the Narnia cycle, calling it “one of the most ugly and poisonous things I've ever read”. In other words, the author has written an “anti-Narnia” in which the concepts of good and evil are reversed and moral relativism is rampant. What is especially disturbing is that “His Dark Materials” trilogy is being aggressively marketed to pre-adolescent children and young teens – the same audience as Narnia.

Because of Pullman’s militant atheism, the movie treatment of “The Golden Compass” has toned down the anti-religious, anti-Catholic bias tremendously. Frankly, the production company was afraid of a financial disaster if the novel had been more literally adapted. Nevertheless, the concern remains. Just as the writings of JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis enjoyed a re-birth of popularity following the release of the film treatments of their respective novels, it can be expected that sales of “His Dark Materials” (and related merchandise) will receive an equal boost. If this occurs, we can only expect that the blatant message presented in the novels will become ever more blatant in future films.

Finally, I would encourage parents to use the occasion of this film release as an opportunity for a “teaching moment” about our Catholic faith and identity. We have the first and primary responsibility for the education of our children, and it is we who have the ability – and credibility – with our children to teach right from wrong; good from evil; that moral decisions are not relative; and that “the ends do not justify the means”.

Papa Z

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Blogger stlouismb said...

Thanks for your comments. I have been meaning to read the first book to get an idea of its flavor. I won't waste my time now.

Did I read somewhere that they placed an endorsement from the USCCB in their ad for the movie? Do you know anything about that?

Merry Christmas to you and your family (and 5 other readers)

Mike Baldwin

9:20 AM  

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