His Dark Materials

Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy (The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass) have been getting a lot of attention. Many Christians are up in arms over the anti-Christian and supposedly atheistic theme of the the trilogy. Now that the first novel, The Golden Compass, is a major motion picture the rancor has increased.

Why are these Christians so upset? It’s simple – they’re right in the thought that Pullman’s His Dark Materials is intended to be both anti-Christian church (anti-Catholic to be more specific) and atheistic. Generally reliable sources confirm that Pullman wrote the works to promote atheism in the same way that C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia promoted Christianity. Pullman’s trilogy is in admitted fact a reworking of Milton’s classic 17th-century poem Paradise Lost into a children’s tale.

I’m Pagan so the anti-Christian church theme doesn’t particularly bother me. I’m not thrilled with the atheistic message contained in the works, but I feel that intelligent readers can see more of the author’s bitterness and disillusionment than of any basis for denying the existence of some form of divinity.

That doesn’t mean I believe that His Dark Materials is suitable reading material for children and many young teens. I firmly believe that the works were egregiously miscategorized. The material is these works is far too complex, dark, and grim for children.

The villains are on par with any of literature’s worst and the books show the actions of those villains with garish details – acts that make the most hideous techniques employed at GITMO pale in comparison. This, combined with the near constant failure, setback and grief that the young heroes experience despite their best efforts, makes the books unsuitable in my opinion for younger readers. I don’t think that children need to read stories that unrelentingly highlight that all plans can fail and that sometimes there are no good choices.

To sum it up – I thought the books were a good read – for adults!

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14 Responses to “His Dark Materials”

  1. Christy Says:

    Enjoyed the analysis.

  2. jonolan Says:

    Thank you! I was a little behind the blogsphere curve on posting about Pullman’s works but I wanted to read them and formulate an informed opinion before posting.

    The books are very well crafted and are an engrossing read, though sometimes in the manner of a trainwreck. I just don’t think they’re truly suitable for the vast majority of the age group they are marketed for.

  3. Christy Says:

    I haven’t read them; I’ve heard that they are well crafted and engrossing but I would obviously need (and want) to read them to formulate an opinion. Right now, I’m reduced to having to trust others who have read them, but from what I’ve heard from you and many others, I have to agree that it sounds as if they are mis-marketed.

  4. Engr. Dr. Says:

    I’m a Christian, but I had no opinion about the series despite the hype. But your review makes me want to read it. Btw, have you tried reading George RR Martin’s works? I think this series would have the same unpredictability and cynicism as with GRRM’s A Song of Ice and Fire.

  5. jonolan Says:

    I’ve read and watched some of GRRM’s works, but haven’t read the A Song of Ice and Fire series as of yet.

  6. Alexski Says:

    I agree. I have read those books – thought them amazing and I always thought it weird that they were always placed in the young teenager section in all the book shops I go into.
    I do think they are too complex for younger teenagers. When I first read them I got confused by the third book.

  7. jonolan Says:

    Welcome, Alexski!

    Yeah, the Dark Materials’ classification as Young Adult Reading always confused and concerned me.

  8. aafke Says:

    Maybe a little late: I’ve read the a few years back, and I consider them defenitely adult reading material. A good read, but I really think I would have found them very disturbing and depressing as a teenager . I don’t get the fuss that is made over them, and the movie. What if it is atheist? Is it likely that the watching of a watered down hollywoodversion of a book will turn a whole generation into atheists? Silly.
    And especially weird coming from religious faiths that keep telling everybody that they know the only truth and that their version of the truth will triumph in the end. You’d think that with such security behind you, you wouldn’t have to bother about hollywoodmovies.

  9. jonolan Says:

    Many Christians in America get all “up in arms” over anything secular or atheistic – especially something His Dark Materials, which is very anti-Church as well as anti-theist.

    The media portrays a situation in the US where Christianity is in a fight for its very existence, so I can understand the fear and hype over these books and movies. I agree with your opinion as opposed to theirs, but I can understand the basis of their opinions / fears as well.

  10. Odale Says:

    You have spoken my concern (and many other Christians) precisely; the movie (among many other things) was aimed at children. In one article, a mother said her daughter got through the first book and showed no interest in the others because they were so depressing. Another facet is the anti-authority message, and we have enough of that with which to struggle!

    My nephew has the books, as well as the Harry Potter series (he keeps me in the loop). Between what he reads and other activity he has engaged in, he is now professing to be an atheist. I just keep loving him, as I believe Jesus does, too. He’s 24 and responsible for his own decisions but those are the things we are taught in scripture to avoid for that reason—apostasy. I realize some “of us” are overzealous and insecure about losing believers, but that’s pure concern about eternity. It is for me, anyway. I am resolved, however, that each comes to an age of accountability (not neccessarily chronological) and as much info as is available, I am not going to debate, cajole or condemn.

    On the other hand, what kind of person would I be to know the truth in the Bible and not care what happens to others and at least try to “spread the good news”? To those who blatantly misuse and abuse Jesus’ name as false prophets, leading sincere followers astray and keeping others out, ‘woe to them’.

    One pertinent point (to me). I wouldn’t spend a dime or the time supporting P.Pullman because he has such a nasty attitude of, “I’m miserable and I want everyone else to be miserable!” I think the poor man needs serious intervention!

    Thanks for your candor, Jonolan! πŸ˜‰

  11. aafke Says:

    Hum, I must have missed the very anti-church, atheist bits. I should probably read them again. But then I didn’t find them very cheerful.

    I respect everybody’s concerns, but I still don’t see how a piece of fiction, let alone a movie, can have a real influence on ones most fundamental beliefs.
    Odale: I can’t believe that just reading fiction changed your nephews beliefs, there must have been other influences.
    How can anybody take Harry Potter seriously? OK, I have tried in my infancy to take off on a carpet, but I did realise that my chance of succes was minimal. HP is just an amusing story, not an attempt to change religion.

    I loved the chronicles of Narnia, when I re-red them a couple of years ago I noticed things like: Oh, girls can’t do that, or: ”Queen Lucy (mega-cool chick) is almost as good as a man, or at least as a boy.” I found this insinuation of womens inferiority deeply disturbing, and my first thought was: ”My children are not going to read this. But then I red them as a small child, and never noticed it. It never made me think that I couldn’t be a dragonslayer when I grew up.

    I think ones upbringing and given, or natural, morals and ethics are much stronger than fiction, or movies.

    PS: I think like Odale thinks about Pullman, about the fairytales of HC Anderson: they are evil, mysoginist, and an attempt to torture children. I hated them as a child and they made me very unhappy. That man is a childhater. Give my (future) children Harry Potter anytime! (Not H D M)
    Actually, they would get the books of Diana Wynne Jones; they are better than HP.

  12. jonolan Says:

    I too doubt – as I inferred in my post – any work of fiction’s ability to change anyone’s core beliefs. Those same works though, might shape some beliefs a bit though by altering a child’s aspirations or coloring their world view a bit.

    That’s where parents should come into the picture. Children hopefully do not exist in a vacuum, without counsel or support.

  13. geneo Says:

    I agree wholeheartedly — definitely adult reading. Just too dark for children. I thought he made pretty good use of Milton throughout, but I remember thinking while I was reading them that he was mainly using all those allusions to Paradise Lost to seem literary and to gain a sort of academic legitimacy for his work.

    I’m an aspiring pamphleteer myself, and I don’t think these books are terribly effective as subversive literature, because Pullman’s agenda is too transparent throughout. A moderately educated reader can see exactly what he’s up to. I think a lot of the “Christians” who objected so strenuously to this hadn’t actually read it. I think it was mainly a case of a few people doing it for the publicity and a lot of well-meaning (from their perspectives) ignoramouses joining in.

  14. jonolan Says:

    Welcome aboard, geneo! I have to agree that Pullman was far too heavy-handed to make his books effective propaganda.

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