A few years ago, a movie entitled The Golden Compass was released to theaters. From New Line Cinemas, the same company that produced The Lord of the Rings trilogy, it featured an all-star cast and won popular success, especially with youthful audiences. Although we have not seen the movie, we are issuing this warning to parents because we do know the content of the book that the movie is based on. Parents should be aware that the book blatantly attacks a Biblical world view.
The Golden Compass is first in the fantasy trilogy known in the United States as His Dark Materials, by British author Philip Pullman. I myself am a lover of the fantasy genre, and I am convinced that it is a valuable source of beneficial reading material for children. A few fantasy series, like The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis, build on the Christian theme of sin and redemption. Others, like J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, while not overtly Christian, contain powerful moral themes. His Dark Materials is not in either category.
It is not my intent in this forum to engage in literary criticism, nor do I have space to provide you with a detailed synopsis of the book. In simplest terms, His Dark Materials is very much like a modern reworking of Milton's Paradise Lost, the story of the rebellion and fall of Satan, the rebel angels, and mankind. In this version, however, the villains are the Authority (God) and His minions (the Church). The Satanic figures (a complicated fellow named Lord Asriel and his cronies), while not entirely sympathetic characters, eventually emerge victorious. The real hero of the story is the new Eve, an eleven-year-old girl named Lyra, who ultimately defeats the Church and saves the universe from catastrophe by once again choosing experience, as Eve chose sin. If this seems somewhat hard to believe, the following quotes from the books may shed some light on the subject.
Playing the Serpent
Much of the most blatant anti-Christian dogma contained in the series is found in the second and third books. In the second book, The Subtle Knife, we find statements like this one uttered by the witch Ruta Skadi, a sympathetic character:
"Sisters," she began, "let me tell you what is happening, and who it is that we must fight. For there is a war coming. I don't know who will join with us, but I know whom we must fight. It is the Magisterium, the Church. For all its history—and that's not long by our lives, but it's many, many of theirs—it's tried to suppress and control every natural impulse. And when it can't control them, it cuts them out.
"They cut their sexual organs, yes, both boys and girls; they cut them with knives so that they shan't feel. That is what the Church does, and every church is the same: control, destroy, obliterate every good feeling. So if a war comes, and the Church is on one side of it, we must be on the other, no matter what strange allies we find ourselves bound to."
Another sympathetic character is Mary Malone, an ex-nun who serves as a sort of mentor for Lyra and Will (the other child-hero of the series). In The Subtle Knife, we find her communicating with Dust, a mysterious spiritual force that congregates around conscious beings who have reached an age of self-awareness. The following are excerpts from their conversation:
"But what are you?"
"And did you intervene in human evolution?"
"Vengeance for—oh! Rebel angels! After the war in Heaven—Satan and the Garden of Eden—but it isn't true, is it? Is that what you "
"Find the girl and the boy. Waste no more time".
"You must play the serpent."
Later in the book, Will has a conversation with a man he later learns is his father. His father says,
"There is a war coming, boy. The greatest war there ever was. Something like it happened before, and this time the right side must win. We've had nothing but lies and propaganda and cruelty and deceit for all the thousands of years of human history. It's time we started again, but properly this time .
"The knife," he went on after a minute. "They never knew what they were making, those old philosophers . They had no idea that they'd made the one weapon in all the universes that could defeat the tyrant. The Authority. God. The rebel angels fell because they didn't have anything like the knife; but now "
In the third book, The Amber Spyglass, Will is befriended by two rebel angels. One of them makes it very clear whom they are fighting against.
Balthamos said quietly, "The Authority, God, the Creator, the Lord, Yahweh, El, Adonai, the King, the Father, the Almighty—those were all names he gave himself. He was never the creator. He was an angel like ourselves—the first angel, true, the most powerful, but he was formed of Dust as we are The first angels condensed out of Dust, and the Authority as the first of all. He told those who came after him that he had created them, but it was a lie. One of those who came later was wiser than he was, and she found out the truth, so he banished her. We serve her still."
He goes on to speak about the afterlife.
"And what happens in the world of the dead?" Will went on.
"It's impossible to say," said Baruch. "Everything about it is secret. Even the churches don't know; they tell their believers that they'll live in Heaven, but that's a lie."
In the following passage, another character named Mrs. Coulter catches a glimpse of the Authority (God) from afar.
He wasn't easy to see, because the litter was enclosed all around with crystal that glittered and threw back the enveloping light of the Mountain, but she had the impression of terrifying decrepitude, of a face sunken in wrinkles, of trembling hands, and of a mumbling mouth and rheumy eyes. The aged being gestured shakily at the intention craft, and cackled and muttered to himself, plucking incessantly at his beard, and then threw back his head and uttered a howl of such anguish that Mrs. Coulter had to cover her ears.
Later in the book, the author describes God's demise.
He was so old, and he was terrified, crying like a baby and cowering away into the lowest corner.
Demented and powerless, the aged being could only weep and mumble in fear and pain and misery, and he shrank away from what seemed like yet another threat.
The old one was uttering a wordless groaning whimper that went on and on, and grinding his teeth, and compulsively plucking at himself with his free hand; Between them they helped the ancient of days out of his crystal cell; it wasn't hard, for he was as light as paper, and he would have followed them anywhere, having no will of his own, and responding to simple kindness like a flower to the sun. But in the open air there was nothing to stop the wind from damaging him and to their dismay his form began to loosen and dissolve. Only a few moments later he had vanished completely, and their last impression was of those eyes, blinking in wonder, and a sigh of the most profound and exhausted relief.
Toward the end of the book, Mary Malone tells Will and Lyra,
I used to be a nun, you see. I thought physics could be done to the glory of God, till I saw there wasn't any God at all and that physics was more interesting anyway. The Christian religion is a very powerful and convincing mistake, that's all.
True to her role as the serpent, she remembers a time when she was battling temptation:
I thought, "Will anyone be better off if I go straight back to the hotel and say my prayers and confess to the priest and promise never to fall into temptation again? Will anyone be the better for making me miserable?"
And the answer came back—"no. No one will. There's no one to fret, no one to condemn, no one to bless me for being a good girl, no one to punish me for being wicked." Heaven was empty. I didn't know whether God had died, or whether there never had been a God at all.
After hearing her story, Lyra and Will fall in love, and the reader is made to endure a description of these two young children, not yet in their teens, kissing passionately. As a result of their decision to choose experience, the universe is saved.
My hope is that by including so many quotes it will be clear that I am not pulling one or two isolated statements out of context. Keep in mind that all of these quotes are from a series of books that is targeted at nine to eighteen-year-olds, available in the children's section at any Border's or Barnes and Noble's.
Beware of the Christians
The author, Philip Pullman, makes no effort to hide his purpose in the books. He wants them to be a proselytizing influence for atheism and secular humanism. He has said that he "wanted to give a sort of historical answer to the, so to speak, propaganda on behalf of religion that you get in, for example, C. S. Lewis." In a lecture back in March 2000, he publicly stated that "of all the dangers that threaten us at the beginning of the third millennium—the degradation of the environment, the increasingly undemocratic power of the great corporations, the continuing threats to peace in regions full of decaying nuclear weapons, and so on—one of the biggest dangers of all comes from fundamentalist religion." He then went on to single out Christian conservatives in the United Sates as being one of the gravest dangers, along with the Taliban in Afghanistan.
It's Just Fantasy, Isn't It?
Some Christians would respond to all of this by saying, "This is just fantasy. It's not real, so what's the big deal?" True, His Dark Materials is a fantasy trilogy. However, it is fantasy in which at least some of the characters are real. Pullman leaves no doubt who his villain is when he calls him "The Authority, God, the Creator, the Lord, Yahweh, El, Adonai, the King, the Father, the Almighty." These are all names of our God and Father. Some of you have children of your own. Let us imagine for a moment that someone wrote a fantasy novel and decided to use you as one of the main characters. Imagine that throughout the book it described you as an evil, lying, manipulative, senile, foolish tyrant. Imagine also that the book was written by someone who had publicly declared his disdain for you. Would you want your children to read such a book? Would you want them to enjoy it?
There is a principle governing the reading of fiction, and fantasy literature in particular, that Samuel Taylor Coleridge called "the willing suspension of disbelief" and J.R.R. Tolkien called "secondary belief." It means that the reader must willingly lay aside his natural disbelief in its fantastic elements and accept its premises as true. While this is a valid aesthetic principle, I would suggest that for a Christian there is no such thing as the willing suspension of loyalty to God. Even when reading a book or watching a movie, we must never lay aside our love for God and our indignation at attacks against His character. Those of us who are bought with the precious blood of Christ cannot simply put Him out of our minds and pretend that He does not exist for as long as we want to entertain ourselves. If we do, even for a short time, we are in danger of becoming like the fool who has said in his heart, "There is no God" (Psalm 53:1).
As I said earlier, much of the worst content in His Dark Materials is not found in the first book. If you actually go to watch The Golden Compass, it is entirely possible that afterward you will be left thinking, "I don't see what all the fuss was about." There is little doubt that the most virulent anti-Christian content of the books has been eliminated from the movie, but its innocence on the surface only makes it more dangerous, for two reasons. One is that even though words like "the Church" and "God" will probably be gone, the movie will retain underlying themes that are deliberately anti-Christian. Indoctrination that is difficult to recognize is all the more seductive and effective. The second danger is that after watching the movie, children will want to buy the books. Since parents may not notice any problem with the movie, they will likely give their permission.
There are many excellent reasons why children should not watch this movie. Philippians 4:8 commands us, "Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things." But "these things" are missing from Pullman's world. He challenges our ultimate truth, the truth of God's goodness. Also, his concept of morality is often the reverse of Biblical morality.
If you take your children to the theater and something comes onto the screen that you do not want them to watch, how will you protect them? Extracting them from the theater without making a scene will be difficult. You will have to silence their expressions of disappointment and fight your way past a row full of irritated people. All this will take at least a couple of minutes, and by then your children will already have seen what you did not want them to watch in the first place. When all is said and done, you will have accomplished nothing except to create in your children an appetite for the unwholesome.
As you walk to your car outside the theater, your children will likely treat you to some embarrassing questions:
"Daddy, can we buy that book?"
"No, son, the book is bad. It turns people against God and Christians."
"Then why did we just watch the movie?"
What will you say?
© 2012 Wesley Rickard. All rights reserved.