I read Phillip Pullman’s trilogy His Dark Materials last year. I bought it because I read a review in The New Yorker that made it sound very compelling. As a seminary graduate with a stinkload of debt and not much income, a review has to be pretty compelling to get me to buy a hardcover book.
But I was not disappointed. The trilogy, which includes The Golden Compass, was a great read. The main characters, especially Lyra, are written with depth. The central characters pursue “the good,” but they are not pastel portraits. They are flawed, real characters with quirks and fears. Because Pullman creates an entire alternate reality, not dissimilar to what Tolkien did with Middle Earth, there are lots of strangely fascinating events in all of the books. The Subtle Knife, the second book of the trilogy, is one of the coolest narrative treatments of alternate realities I’ve ever read.
The books deal directly with Pullman’s bete noir – theocracy. There is an very good interview with Pullman online where he discusses the book with a Christian film reviewer. Mr. Pullman is a materialist. He is terribly sharp. He does not understand or believe in “spirituality.” I love Jesus like a fool. I consider myself Evangelical. For the Love of Heaven, I went to Fuller Seminary. That does not mean I can’t read his book, and enjoy it for what it is, a very thoughtful and well written piece of literature. As my husband pointed out yesterday, Jesus was kind of critical of theocracies himself.
Because The Golden Compass was made into a film (largely geared towards kids), the book and its author have been discussed quite a bit in the public arena of late. I feel some of the stuff I’ve heard on Christian radio and seen on the Internet is the modern equivalent of book burning.
Why do this? What if the whole book really is an indictment of religion, a blueprint for materialists? Are we not capable of reading literature and hearing what it has to say about us without having to tear down the author and the work? If you believe in God and in the risen, glorified Jesus, I think your faith should be resilient enough to withstand and even HEAR frank commentary or criticism. If I could, I would invite Mr. Pullman over for dinner to get to know him, and let him get to know us.
I read the trilogy and enjoyed it. My faith was not shaken by it. Indeed, it was not even stirred by this book. The book had nothing to do with my walk with God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. That’s what I read the BIBLE for, people. Or Annie Dillard. Or Henri Nouwen. Or Dallas Willard. Or Larry Crabb. I’m not sure what people who want Christians to stay away from literature and films that portray the church in a negative light are trying to accomplish. But it wears me out.
We serve a savior who died in humiliation on a cross, who washed his disciples’ feet and cried out for justice. Not a savior who asked us to build intellectual walls against those who see things differently than we do, or who asked us not to read certain books. I’d like to remind my brothers and sisters who are “boycotting” this book/film of one teeny, tiny injunction that the Bible mentions once or twice. Don’t be afraid.