Wednesday, April 19, 2006

An Atheist Fantasy? Philip Pullman's "His Dark Materials" Trilogy

Does there exist such a thing as atheist literature? Other than just the legions of novels in which God is not relevant and hence is not mentioned?

As soon as I heard about Pullman's critically-acclaimed trilogy His Dark Materials -- and heard it billed as a series of atheist fantasy novels -- I was intrigued as to what an atheist fantasy novel might be like, so I immediately went out and got myself copies of the three books and read them.

Boy was I surprised!

This trilogy makes it hit home to me that atheism really is the absence of religion -- not some sort of homogeneous belief system -- since it was essentially the opposite of what I expected.

Just guessing off the top of my head, I would have predicted that a typical atheist fantasy would follow the lines of the "Wizard of Oz," in which the characters think that there is some sort of magic going on until they discover the little man behind the curtain.

This story's premise is that the supernatural legends of the Bible are essentially based on fact, but that in the Great War in Heaven, it turns out that Lucifer and company were the good guys and the only reason we think otherwise is because history is written by the victors.

This idea is kind of interesting theologically. If God is all-powerful, should we just take his word for it that he's all good? After all, a lot of people believe that the God who orders ruthless genocide in the Old Testament is the same God who inspired Matthew to write "By their fruits ye shall know them." (Matthew 7:20). I can almost picture believers arriving in the afterlife and having God point out these two parts of the Bible and say, "Look, I spelled it out right here in black and white. And you still believed me that I was the good guy? Hello???"

Aside from that point, if you kind of squint and look sideways at Pullman's premise, he gives a bit of a nod to science and skepticism by positing a sci-fi explanation for magical mysticism involving sentient dark matter. But even so, his magical, mystical universe -- in which shamanistic magic works, consulting the I-Ching yields concrete, factual information, and people's ghosts live on in the underworld when they die -- seems to me like the antithesis of the type of universe I would attach to word "atheist" to.

His treatment of Christian believers is not terribly nuanced -- they're the bad guys, and all either crazed fanatics or cynical power-mongers. Interestingly, he's willing to portray innocent, sincere belief on the part of adherents to tribal religions. Why not? In Pullman's universe, the supernatural powers of such religions actually work, so it's pretty rational.

Theology aside, however, Pullman has written an exciting adventure. Pullman creates a rich array of forces that are alternately competing and forming complex alliances.

It's hard to avoid comparing this series to the Harry Potter series since both focus on a kid raised as an orphan, living in a tradition-steeped British school, and destined by prophecy to perform some crucial act.

Some of the main differences are the following:

Harry's adventures are a little more linear than the adventures of Pullman's principal character Lyra. By that, I mean that while Lyra is the center of the action, she is surrounded by a network of other players whose adventures are vital to the story. The Harry Potter series follows more of the superhero/battling champions model in which essentially all of the important actions are performed by Harry and a small band of characters closely surrounding him.

The situation and motivations of the surrounding players are very well developed in Pullman's series. I particularly liked the scene in the first book of the trilogy in which the gypsy leader has gathered all of the gypsy clans together to convince them to follow him into battle. As he takes questions from the floor, people raise all of the different objections that one would realistically expect his people to be worried about, and he persuades them by taking their concerns seriously and arguing his position in an honest and reasonable manner. It's kind of a surprising scene for a gen-Xer like me -- totally unaccustomed to the idea that a politician might be capable of uttering anything other than snow and spin. It's not unusual in sci-fi/fantasy to have an archetypical "good king" character, but it is unusual to see him roll up his sleeves and get into the nitty-gritty of logistics, and -- what's more -- actually answer to his people directly regarding his decisions.

Another difference is that Pullman not only raises his questions and mysteries little by little, he also answers them little by little, unlike Rowling who tends to set up mysetries gradually in her Harry Potter series and then answer them all at once. I kind of liked Pullman's subtler approach on this -- for a couple of the middle novels in Rowling's series, I was sorely tempted to just skip the climactic battle part and just go straight to the end bit where Dumbledore explains everything.

One weakness to Pullman's series compared to Rowling's however is that Pullman gives his characters essentially no down-time. It's nonstop action, adventure, voyages, battles, and immediate threatening danger. Depending on your tastes, you might see this as a strength. However, I feel it limits the range of characterization possible, i.e. Pullman's characters are defined in terms of their bravery, loyalty, prowess in battle, and almost nothing else. It also means that the novels are deadly serious from start to finish with essentially no humor to vary the mood.

Even so, Pullman does a good job of developing the affectionate relationship between his two main characters Will and Lyra. Still, I feel like the fact that the development of their relationship took place in the context of an incredible nonstop adventure is part of the reason why (possible spoiler warning) it wouldn't have made sense for the author to allow Will and Lyra to live together happily ever after.

After spending the entire getting-to-know-you phase of their relationship rescuing and being rescued from mortal enemies and battling alongside armored bears, could they seriously move on to a life of just doing mundane couple things? Could they sit around and watch a movie together on T.V.? Or fight over who's wasting too much time on the Internet? Or have her pick up some new socks and underwear for him when she goes out shopping? Of course not -- that would be absurd! They battled alongside armored bears together for heaven's sake!

The one last point I found a little confusing was Pullman's treatment of sexuality. If I read the books correctly, it would appear that a big part of the premise is that the dark matter is something of a personification of sexuality and that -- even though the church sees it as evil "original sin" -- in reality it's good and not bad.

I say "it would appear" here because none of this is really stated directly. That's the confusing part. It seems to be something of a mixed message along the lines of "sexuality is not bad, however it is so taboo that it cannot even be mentioned directly and can only be referenced in cryptic circumlocutions."

I assume that the author is trying to keep it clean because it is intended for teens, however, there are a lot of sci-fi/fantasy novels for teens on the market that are a lot more explicit than this, so if he's not capable of talking about sexuality frankly, I kind of wonder why he made it such an important theme in his trilogy.

By my reading, I'm fairly confident that the reader is meant to understand that Will and Lyra have sex in the end, even though it is far from being stated directly. One thing that is really 100% clear, however, is that there is no way they could possibly have had any contraception. Now I know you're saying "Chanson, that is so like you to ruin a tender, romantic moment by worrying about such crude and mundane logistics!" And it's true that it really is a very tender and romantic scene. However, that very attitude of "Let's not mess this up by embarrassing ourselves by openly discussing what we're doing," is exactly the attitude that gets a lot of young people into serious trouble.

I also found it a little sad that Lyra's passage into womanhood is signaled by a new sense of modesty instead of continuing to be comfortable with her body, but I guess that's probably realistic.

All in all, I would say this trilogy is definitely worth reading if you like exciting, nonstop adventure and don't mind a premise where the Christians are the bad guys. But if you're planning to give it to your teenagers, maybe supplement with a Judy Blume book or something to fill in the blanks.

Published in the Utah Valley Monitor April 07, 2006.


Cyn Bagley said...

Hey... I read Pullman novels about five years ago or so when they first came out. He is a fabulous writer... They were trying to sell it as a young adult series in Germany... but I believe that it is really for adults.

Rebecca said...

Sounds interesting. I'll have to check them out. I've heard of them, but had no idea what they were about.

C. L. Hanson said...

Cynthia -- That was my impression as well and essentially that of another review I read, however I got an interesting bit of contrary evidence just the other day.

On Saturday, when I was in the English Bookshop buying Natalie Collins' book, there was an American family ahead of me talking to the bookseller. Among them was a kid who looked maybe 12 who was telling his mom how much he liked this particular trilogy. The mom said that she liked the first one but couldn't follow the other two. So the kid said that she could read them again and he'd explain them to her. :D

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure if the Dust/Dark Matter particles are direct representations of sexuality. Rather, I think they, like sexuality, are a result of coming of age or "growing up." In my mind they represent the creative potential of rational thought. But you're right, Pullman definitely suggests that sexuality is bound up with that whole process. Maybe he's implying that repression of sexuality tends to correspond to the stifling of creativity.

Anyway, thanks so much for your very balanced and thoughtful critique of the books. I'm a big fan of the series and I'm hoping that the forthcoming film adaptation will do it justice.

I'm also a big fan of the Harry Potter books and enjoyed your side-by-side comparison of the two. I agree that the breakneck pace of the last two books skews the character development a bit. But I suppose it's a balancing act between creating a rich narrative and creating a bloated one. Rowling's "Order of the Phoenix" is a prime example of this. "Phoenix" is possibly my favorite in the Potter series for its deliberate pacing and thick description, but many readers find it unwieldy and tedious.

Anyway, time to look through the rest of your blog. :)

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Seth!!!

You're right that I'm oversimplifying by saying the dark matter is a personification of sexuality. This point is definitely ambiguous.

The main thing that made me connect it with sexuality is the fact that he seemed to be saying that the dark matter is essentially not attracted to children, and there is a particular stage in life (that appears to line up pretty neatly with puberty) when the dark matter arrives to everyone more or less all at once. This lines up better with the acquisition of sexuality than with the acquisition of rational thought or even of other qualities of adulthood and coming of age (which would be more gradual and vary more from one person to the next).

Additionally, the church associates the dark matter with "original sin." My own preferred literary interpretation of the Adam and Eve story would be closer to what you're saying, namely a metaphor for humans having developed an awareness and a capacity for rational thought that other animals don't have. However the book's wink-wink-nudge-nudge references to the particular "temptation" that Eve will face in the garden really looked like he was talking about sex...

Thanks for the compliments and insightful comments!!!

C. L. Hanson said...

p.s. regarding the film version:

I heard a rumor that all of the negative portrayal of religion was going to be cut out of the story. Is there any truth to that?

Cyn Bagley said...

Ah... I had a professor in biology who believed that creativity was really sexuality. He believed that if you suppressed sexuality that you could write better, etc. He felt that if something was really important to you that you would stop have sex while you were doing that project.

Anonymous said...

chanson wrote:
"...and there is a particular stage in life (that appears to line up pretty neatly with puberty) when the dark matter arrives to everyone more or less all at once."

This also seems connected to the Mormon concept of "age of accountability", but I think 8 years is a preemption by 2-5 years rather than cutting it too close. Better to commit them while they are young and impressionable rather than risling the almost certain failure of waiting until they are truly capable of making a thoughtful, mature-minded, "dark material" type of decision. IOW, before they are truly accountable for their thoughts.

I enjoyed the review. Thanks, CL. I probably won't read the books because I had my fill of fantasy with Orson Scott Card (which I really dug at the time) and now have become not really interested in fantasizing about alternatives to fantasies, if you know what I mean. Though the concept of the fractional host of heaven being right while the majority were wrong rings true to experience...and the Lucifer as object of oppression and conspiracy is intriguing.

Reminds me that I've heard that Lucifer apparently means "light bearer" and I think I recall Carl Sagan saying someting about "deamos" being the Greek equivalent of "Science" or light of learning, which Greek word is also the root of "demon"...which says much about the long conflict between upstanding, moral-majority type religious folk and those evil practitioners of human enlightenment. So I can really see where Pullman gets this idea and that it's not so off the wall as a religiously educated mind might think.

Thanks for cracking-open the door of the mind just a little more.

Anonymous said...

I don't know what the current state of the screenplay is, but yes, I do remember reading something a while back regarding portrayal of the Church. The original director (who has since been replaced), asserted that the Church in "His Dark Materials" is merely a metaphor for any authoritarian repressive establishment. So yes, it seems that the explicitly anti-Christian elements of the story may be toned down, although I can't see how they'll be eliminated altogether. I do hope that the underlying ideas and themes emerge more or less intact.

I thought the Narnia filmmakers handled the religious issue fairly well. They didn't pander to the Christian community by dwelling overmuch on the allegory of Aslan, but neither did they secularize the film. They represented, fairly well I think, Lewis's original intent as a storyteller.

The New Yorker recently published a highly illuminating article on Pullman, which can be found here.

Anonymous said...

From the article that Seth links to:
"Pullman said, shows that “we can learn what’s good and what’s bad, what’s generous and unselfish, what’s cruel and mean, from fiction”; there is no need to consult scripture."

...on second thought, maybe I will read this series...with my kids!

Anonymous said...

I would have loved reading this as a kid. I wouldn't have understood many of the themes and metaphors, of course, but the beauty of the books is that they can be read and enjoyed on many levels. And yes, I would definitely call this a highly moral tale.

C. L. Hanson said...

Cynthia -- Was that biology professor a BYU prof? lol

Seth -- That is so funny, that is exactly the article that made me want to read Pullman's work. In fact, I had never heard of him or his work until I read that article in The New Yorker.

The thing that jumped out at me was his comparison of the themes in his own work versus the themes expressed by Tolkien and Lewis. After that, the clincher for me was this quote:

<< Pullman once told an interviewer, "I am the servant of the story." He added, "The story made me do it. That was what had to happen. If I'd denied it, the story wouldn't have had a tenth of its power." >>

<< In the speech, he speculated on the possible origins of this "very clear and strong" sense he has that there is, inherently, "a right shape and a wrong shape" for any given story. >>

This seems like an obscure point, by it kind of jibes with my own ideas about a story having a natural structure to it. This quote is also part of the reason why -- in my review above -- I jokingly explained why the story obligated Pullman to deny the characters a "happily ever after" ending.

Reading that article I figured I'd probably enjoy these books, and I was right!

As far as the screenplay is concerned, I have to admit that in the first book I kind of got that same sense that there was nothing in the story that really required the oppressive organization to be specifically a church. However, taking the three novels together, I think it would be difficult to do any reasonable retelling of this story with the religious components cut out.

Watt -- Yes, definitely read these with your kids. As Seth points out, they'll get some things reading them as youngsters and other things reading them later. Or, if you don't have time, just buy them and leave them lying around the house, and maybe your kids will read them and explain them to you just like that helpful kid I overheard in the English bookshop the other day. :D

If you're looking alternatives to fantasy (I gather you were hinting above about alternatives to the fantasies promoted by religion), you might enjoy my novel Exmormon. (Indeed maybe you would like to read it and then post about it on your blog!!! ;-) ) It is also a "coming of age" novel and an example of atheist literature, but aside from that, it's stylistically the polar opposite of Pullman's...

This is so cool!!! I've got my usual exmo blog friends discussing literature with a real Pullman fan from Oxford!!! This sort of thing is what I love about the Internet. :D

Anonymous said...

He wrote a short follow-up story called "Lyra's Oxford" which takes place some time after the events of His Dark Materials. Needless to say, it lacks the scope of the novels, but is still a fun little story in its own right. I got it as an audiobook from iTunes. I can highly recommend all the HDM audiobooks by the way. They're narrated by Pullman himself and feature a full cast of actors playing the various roles.

I read the books before I came to Oxford, and it's fun to come across locales that figure in the books. I'm at Trinity College, which is right across the street from Exeter where Pullman studied and after which Jordan College is modelled.

You know, I'm ashamed to admit that I've never read Paradise Lost the whole way through. When I find some free time I'll need to hunker down and give it some thorough attention.

Whew, anyway, I could discuss fantasy literature all day. :)

C. L. Hanson said...

I think they had a copy of "Lyra's Oxford" over at the English bookshop. Maybe I'll go pick it up... :D

Cyn Bagley said...

Hanson... oh no... it was Dr. Hakym from UMUC European division. Really funny. We liked to talk biology. ;-)

Anonymous said...

CL, I ordered the first two hardback editions. I like the subversive approach to introducing children to literature that you suggest...:)

And I'll take you up on your challenge to read exMormon then post on it. I'll drop a link when the post is up.

C. L. Hanson said...

Excellent plan, Watt!!!

I am heartily in favor of it... ;-)

Anonymous said...

Took me awhile, but this is me responding to your comment/review.

I feel like one of your main points is that he focuses too much God to be an atheist & that the second main point is about sex. So I'll take them one, two.

I agree that he focuses way on God and, since by the end he does a Nietzsche-esque God-is-dead riff, I can forgive him that. His characters successfully consult the I Ching which is not very conducive to convincing someone that there is nothing out there but us. So, despite his atheist or humanist leanings, I have to agree with you: this book supports spiritualism but not so much atheism. He's stated that he likes to think of the "Church" in his books as being a metaphor for "dogma" of any kind, but I think that argument breaks down when one goes further and reads of the "Republic of Heaven". I'm not even sure what a socialist approach to religion would look like. Terry Prachett has a great explanation of gods: that they grow stronger or weaker depending on the number & strength of their believers. From that kind of a definition, I could look at the Republic of Heaven as being a wish for a god that is more subject to conscious thought than the other way around; but that's an agnostic argument at best.

As someone who came out of a religious background, then, his approach to "atheism" mirrors my own. But it's an imperfect atheism at best and in-name-only atheism at worst. Personally, I feel like I have to believe that there's "something else", but have no problem saying there's no god. This kind of a work-around might work in the context of his universe, but that doesn't make him a better atheist. I'm sure Dawkins could give him a lesson or two about atheism.

With regard to sex: It's very veiled, if there at all. He says they "lay together all night" or something along those lines and that could really mean any number of things. The adult/biblical exegete in me read "lay" as "to know" in the biblical senses. But it may have merely meant that they slept in each others arms, in which case their young love is never consummated. I agree with your disgust at the lack of contraception/discussion of contraception. Part of that I chalked up to the fact that it was "fantasy", but I don't know what I might have thought about it had I read it when I was a kid. I find it pretty disturbing that, if it was sex, it happened at the exact time that they both hit puberty. Yes, that's technically when it's first possible, but one wonders if either of them were prepared for that. In terms of contraception, I partially don't expect to have it in any book (esp. any fiction book) and I partially chalked its lack up to "fantasy", for which I can clearly make many allowances. They don't even have the same kind of soul, are they really going to be able to successfully have children? What kind of soul would their child have...?

I read it also as a children's book, for which I can be okay with a lack of sex as well as a lack of contraceptive information. It's written, in my mind, toward the same kind of age group that reads HP (and I approve of most of your parallels), which could span all sorts of ages but includes very young, precocious children. Now, I cannot use my own experience in sex ed for many things (I lived in a hole for most of my life) and when I was reading at the level where I might have picked this book up, I was waaaaay to early for contraceptive information/discussion. But I was reading books at that time that included some heavy scifi/fantasy sex, some of which included information & some of which did not. Again, I can easily forgive a lot of the "fantasy" genre. I'm not certain where I stand on the issue of contraception in books, but I would probably say that its presence is never worse than its lack. So I can concede to you the point about the sex although I'm not certain yet whether I agree with it.

I loved your review & the discussion that followed, thank you!

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey xJane -- thanks for taking the time to write such an insightful response!!!

I agree with you that Pullman seems like something of a spiritualist, and that that isn't necessarily in conflict with being an atheist. Many Buddhists are atheists, for example. I've learned quite a bit about the range of atheist experience and philosophy since I've taken up reading atheist blogs.

Regarding sexuality, I felt like he gave a lot of strong hints that they had sex: The dark matter that represents "original sin" starts to collect around young people just as they hit puberty. Then there's all this talk about how Lyra will face Eve's temptation and that the physicist/nun would be the serpent that tempts her -- then what the nun does is tell her about romance and sexuality. Then Will and Lyra are making out when the curtain goes down on them, and the next time we see them, they're "no longer children." So I think he's saying that they had sex, but saying it is such a way that if you don't know about sex, you'd have no idea that it was even in there.

I agree that the reason he was so cautious about sex was that this book is for kids/teens and inhabits basically the same space as Harry Potter in that respect. But I just read a very interesting discussion about this here that makes me that much less willing to accept a complete taboo on sexuality for adolescents while allowing plenty of graphic violence. Personally I've always preferred "speculative fiction" that deals more with speculation about how relationships and sexuality might be different in the given fantasy/alien culture, and not at all about the battles.

Again thanks for the interesting discussion points!!! :D

Cultural Enigma said...


I've been reading this blog as my mother is a born again Southern Baptist and is warning EVERYONE not to see the movie...and so on...through a series of inbox email bombs.

So - being the insolent child I am - I researched. THere is indeed an email going around that states that this movie and the trilogy are written by a British Atheist Author who in the end of the book writes that God is killed. That this story was created solely to "kill God in the minds of children".

Hm. I got the audio book and listened for myself. So far I've gone through the first book and don 't think this is the case. I do think that it's a separate view, and I consider myself a believer in God. I don't hate the book. I'll explain why:

1. First and foremost, ITS FICTION. This always makes me laugh. At no time does Harry Potter attend Church, nor does the young Eragon, if I'm not mistaken. But neither does Kay Scarpetta, the main character of a police series from Patricia Cornwell.

Second, if you truly believe - and you have faith and feel you have reared your children the best you can, then you should have trust and faith that they'll make a decision you like no matter what "dark materials" they are presented with. That's absolute proof that you have faith.

Third, if I'm not mistaken - and I"ve only gone through the first book - wasn't this story set in a time where the Church WAS doing things that we would now consider bad? I find I have a hard time with the Church as it is now, in it's "Vatican II" or whatever. I don't like that some old dude in robes who can't marry or have relations with a woman gets to tell me I'm not allowed to use birth control. Back when this was set - the Church was very involved with helping to wipe out history and rewrite it. Would you like an example? The Philippines. There used to be a whole other language written there. I'm quite sure there was a civilization there before the Spaniards got there - and I'm also quite sure there were stories that could have been, should have been, passed down to generations today. Yet I ask anyone in MY family to tell me old stories, myths and such - and no one can remember one. Sad. But they can each tell me who their Catholic School teacher was.

So - I will say that as someone who believes in God - I love this story. My children are getting the benefit of a different view, a different opinion.

I will continue to read them and will even take my children to see the movies.

And everyone who is scared of this bit of literature is a closed minded fool in my opinion. It's not written as fact, it's written as fiction.

Ok, finally off with my dragon and on to church. lol.


C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Trai!!!

I think that's the right attitude. Personally I wrote about the atheist aspects because that's what I was curious about when I read the books (the author is indeed an atheist according to his interviews). However it is a complex story that can be interpreted various ways. As you see here, I didn't find the story particularly atheistic. The bottom line is that it's fiction, and it's set in a fantasy universe.

I just looked through some picture books the other day of the visuals of the film, and wow, it looks spectacular!!! There are a lot of imaginative fantasy elements in this story that naturally lend themselves to the big screen.

Anonymous said...

My problem with Will and Lyra's sexual liason is their ages. Pullman seems to have a really hard time establishing or sticking to elapsed time (Will spends one night on the mountain when Lyra is abducted, but by the next morning she's been gone for two weeks or more?). As best as I could figure at the time Lyra couldn't have been older than 12 or 13 at the absolute most, and Will was at least 15, which seems kind of problematic.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Anonymous!!!

That is a very good point. I can believe that a fifteen-year-old boy and a twelve or thirteen-year-old girl might be willing and able to have sex, but it does come off as a tad questionable, doesn't it?

That's probably why Pullman was so careful to close the curtains on the scene and pretend he had no idea what was going on... ;^)

Cultural Enigma said...

Dear Lord in Heaven (Yes I meant to put that), I've got that stupid email in my inbox AGAIN. Now I'm going round and round with other so called "Christians" about the faith thing...


*phew* Sorry about that. didn't mean to shout. IT's just aggravating.


C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Trai!!!

Are you talking about some sort of standard email warning Christians not to see the film? That's too bad. The last thing you need is more spam. ;^)

Cultural Enigma said...

Here ya go:

This is TRUE!! ---Flo

Regarding The Golden Compass

October 31, 2007
Bryan Cutshall
Church Trainer

Regarding The Golden Compass


Yesterday, I was handed a children's book by a staff member who said, 'I think you need to see this.'

The book is published by Scholastic and is part of a collection of books. The book I was given is called The Golden Compass. This children's book is one of the most alarming things I have ever read. What makes it worse is that a movie based on the book premieres in December. Both the book and the movie introduce atheism to children. The story ends with Adam and Eve killing God.

THIS IS A MOVIE THAT WE MUST PROTEST AND OPPOSE AS CHRISTIANS. Please educate yourself on this by checking out the links I have provided below and help me spread the word. Do not remain silent on this issue. This is a time for the family of GOD to stand together.

Dr. Bryan Cutshall
Senior Pastor, Twin Rivers Worship Center
Founder and CEO, Churchtrainer, Inc.

Focus on the Family has several notices written about it. You can click on this link to see one of them:

You can also read more about it below.

I checked this out at; unfortunately, it's true... There will be a new children's movie out in December called 'The Golden Compass.' The movie has been described as 'atheism for kids' and is based on the first book of a trilogy entitled 'His Dark Materials' written by Phillip Pullman. Pullman is a militant atheist and secular humanist who despises
C. S. Lewis and the 'Chronicles of Narnia.' His motivation for writing this trilogy was specifically to counteract Lewis' symbolisms of Christ portrayed in the Narnia series.

Clearly, Pullman's main objective is to bash Christianity and promote atheism. Pullman left little doubt about his intentions when he said in a 2003 interview, 'my books are about killing God.' He has even stated that he wants 'to kill God in the minds of children.' It has been said of Pullman that he is 'the writer the atheists would be praying for, if atheists prayed.'

While 'The Golden Compass' movie itself may seem mild and innocent, the books are a much different story. In the trilogy, a young streetwise girl becomes enmeshed in an epic struggle to ultimately defeat the oppressive forces of a senile God. Another character, an ex-nun, describes Christianity as 'a very powerful and convincing mistake.' In the final book, characters representing Adam and Eve eventually kill God, who at times is called YAHWEH. Each book in the trilogy gets progressively worse regarding Pullman's hatred of Jesus Christ.

'The Golden Compass' is set to premier December 7, during the Christmas season and will probably be heavily advertised. Promoters hope that unsuspecting parents will take their children to see the movie, that they will enjoy the movie, and that the children will want the books for Christmas. Please boycott the movie and the books. Also, pass this information along to everyone you know. This will help to educate parents, so that they will know the agenda of the movie.

The Golden Compass

A movie to avoid

We need to get the word out about this movie -
it is coming out in December - an atheist produced it,
it is marketed for children and in the end they kill God.
Send this to everyone you know.

C. L. Hanson said...

Aha, so that explains where all the rumors about Adam and Eve killing God, etc., are coming from. Thanks for the info!!! :D

Anonymous said...

I read these books for the first time about four years ago, and twice after that, but it wasn't until now that I researched anything about the trilogy on the internet, and I'm really, really surprised that everyone has had a different interpretation of dust than I have. I had thought it was abundantly obvious that dust is supposed to symbolize rational thought, as in the battle of science against religion. Sure the book is filled with magic and imaginary things and spiritualism--but that's all just part of the story, all just symbols and interesting things to imagine and play along with. Lyra is supposed to be the second EVE, and what did Eve do? She bit the apple. She gave us knowledge. She gave us sin, though too. So I guess after reading this and other articles about the trilogy I'm going to expand my view of dust to be the imaginary manifestation of every kind of sin (including sexuality)AND knowledge. And you should too. (Still, though...primarily knowledge.) Also, I totally didn't get that Lyra and Will had sex, yet people keep saying that it was alluded to...oh well. I guess I need to go back and reread that bit.

Unknown said...

Hey Seth,
Just pointing this out, I pretty much agree with all of your statements about this series. I also agree that Dust, Shadows, Dark Matter, etc. have something to do with sex and sexuality, but Will and Lyra did not have sexual intercourse. Mr. Pullman describes frenching, but no actual sex. Just pointing that out.
PS: Pullman does believe that readers should interpret things themselves, a quality which many good authors have.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Sonic and erh!!!

I agree that Pullman left the question of sexuality open and a little ambiguous. A whole lot of readers are confused as to what precisely Pullman meant, which is why this post has been getting a few hits a day lately just on search queries of the form "Do Will and Lyra have sex?"

Yes, it's possible to interpret the dust as symbolizing rational thought. I personally think its even more reasonable to see it as symbolizing sexuality, though, for the reasons I outlined in my response to xJane (a few comments above this one).

It's also true that he didn't come out and say that they had sex. However, I feel like it was strongly implied, and my reasons for thinking that are also outlined in the same paragraph (my comment response to xJane). I think the main reason he didn't state it directly is that he wanted it to go over the heads of children who are too young to know about sex: for them this point is practically invisible.

At the same time it's true that it is possible for the reader to read the scene and conclude that perhaps they didn't have all of sex. Still I think it's very clear that Pullman meant for sexual intercourse to be a possible interpretation of that scene. I don't think one can reasonably argue that he never meant to suggest it to the reader as a possibility.

Anonymous said...

Actually the kids did something even more intimate and explosively taboo than having sex: They touched each other's (physical manifestation of) "souls". In the girl's more fantasy-like universe every person has a "daemon", a small critter companion for life who is never more than few feet away from you (unless you are a witch). If you die, your daemon dies immediately. And it is an absolute sacrosanct taboo -- greater than incest, cannibalism, necrophilia, or anything else in our culture -- to touch another person's daemon. Completely unthinkable; would never even occur to you to imagine it. But the novel says that during their romantic time under the tree, they stroked/petted each other's cat-like daemons. Almost certainly the only two people in the multiverse ever do so. Having sex would be quaint in comparison. I don't know how to indent so I'll do another post if you are interested in more.

Anonymous said...

To continue from above: Virtually no one in the multiverse knows what would even happen if you kill another person's daemon directly. It turns out only prepubescent children can physically survive the horror, and they end up as a lobotimized quasi-zombies with no will of their own or any capacity for independent thought. The evil church-like organization in the girl's universe is kidnapping children "who won't be missed" (such as gypsies) and killing their daemons with a guillotine-like device to create obedient followers and to harness the energy created. The trilogy is engrossing, humane, and as easy to read as C.S. Lewis, but it's safe to say it's awfully "controversial" for a US audience.

Carla Schmidt Holloway said...

I thought about reading them, but I heard this one quote that totally turned me off, that Pullman wanted to murder God in the minds of children. Might not even be true, but I just decided then not to read them. Not because I think I should only read pro-Christian literature or some nonsense like that, but that kind of hostility toward any belief system is just not something I feel warrants attention, for me personally.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Carla!!!

It's true that's an off-putting remark. I'm not sure what he meant by it.

Joy Hill said...

So, technically, Dust/Dark Matter is what is created when matter becomes aware of itself. So, yes, sexuality is part of that, but so is contemplation, debate, intellectual discussion, etc.

solerso said...

The common,but of course not universal, Atheist faith in technology, in "progress" (for example Atheists frequently conflate "progress" and "evolution") is actually a machine fantasy, and as such, should be thought of as a belief system. Atheism per se is not. I believe modern Atheism is a cynical response to a culture which is no longer functioning, much as late Medieval Diabolism and "Satanism" was.

solerso said...

The common,but of course not universal, Atheist faith in technology, in "progress" (for example Atheists frequently conflate "progress" and "evolution") is actually a machine fantasy, and as such, should be thought of as a belief system. Atheism per se is not. I believe modern Atheism is a cynical response to a culture which is no longer functioning, much as late Medieval Diabolism and "Satanism" was.