Wednesday, November 28, 2007

On The The Golden Compass "Controversy"

From time to time, The GreatMoose can be roused from his posting inane dorkiness and useless trivia to post something of life-changing value.

This is not one of those times.

However, it IS a time to provide the The GreatMoose's wisdom to his faithful readers (both of them). If you are unaware, there is a boycott being brought by the Catholic League (NOTE: NOT the Catholic Church, big difference*) against the upcoming movie The Golden Compass. The thing is, they are not really boycotting the MOVIE so much as the are boycotting the author of the books the film is based on, Philip Pullman. The books are known as the His Dark Materials trilogy, which follow the story of "Lyra Belacqua and Will Parry, as they wander through a multiverse of parallel universes and a backdrop of epic events. The story begins in Northern Lights with fantasy elements such as witches and armoured bears. As the trilogy progresses, it acquires allegorical layers of meaning, introducing a broad range of ideas from fields such as physics (quantum physics), philosophy (metaphysics, philosophy of religion and, arguably, a degree of hylopathism), and theology (biblical symbolism)." (from the almighty wikipedia)

The first book (Northern Lights in the UK) is called The Golden Compass in the US, and is the basis for the movie. Now, I haven't seen the movie yet, but I HAVE read the books (or tried too, we'll get to that later), so my comments here will be constrained to them. I got interested in them initially for two reasons:

1) the setting is an alternate universe based on steampunk technology. My faithful readers should know of my deep love for steampunk.

2) Giant frikkin' armored talking polar bears.

So, I dove into the first book. And you know what, it was REALLY good. Not the best I've ever read, but very engaging and had some really inventive ideas. Oh, and it's DARK. It's definitely not the kids' book (and one would assume, movie) that it's being marketed as. I wouldn't let anyone under 13 read it. And it ends in such a way that you almost HAVE to immediately start the next book, The Subtle Knife. Which is not as good, but still readable.

And then there's book 3, The Amber Spyglass. Which could be one of the worst books I have ever read, and I have read some stinkers. Pullman lets his obvious disdain for the the Church overpower his ability to tell a story. Which brings me to the point of all of this: The Catholic League (and one would assume the AFA) are painting the movie (and the stories) as an anti-Christian/anti-God diatribe. Which (until book 3, at least) they are not.

We as Christians tend to make waaaay too big a deal about stuff (I'm looking at YOU, American "Family" Association). I talked with Jodie about this a little bit this past week. Boycotting this we don't necessarily agree with is not the best way to make an argument. Is our faith is SO shaky and fragile, that even the slightest opinion to the contrary sends us into hysterics? (Although in all fairness, we do NOT call for the beheading of people we don't agree with, or strap bombs to our kids and send them to the mall to make a point.) But I digress.

It is my humble belief that the stories are really more anti-organized religion, than anti-God. And the Archbishop of Canterbury agress with me: From wikipedia--"Pullman [the author] has found support from other Christians, most notably Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, who argues that Pullman's attacks are focused on the constraints and dangers of dogmatism and the use of religion to oppress, not on Christianity itself."

Now, having said that, the last book really is almost over-the-top in its church-bashing. He got carried away, and irreparably soured the first two books, which are great reads. To all those who say "Butbutbut, in the third book he kills God!" No, he doesn't. Try reading it again (or at all). What he kills is the angel "The Authority", who is NOT God, but has CLAIMED to be God, and the Church bought it. That's really the whole problem. In the HDM universe, the "Church" believed the lie that "The Authority" was God, and based the whole church on that. Which is actually a quite imaginative scenario. Anyway, I've gone way long on this, just wanted to share an opinion.

In short, if your idea of God includes witches, souls in the form of animals, polar bears who make armor, alternate dimensions, quantum physics, and God himself being carried around in a glass box, then you should avoid the movie (and the books). Otherwise, enjoy it for what it is, science fiction.

Oh, and giant frikkin' armored talking polar bears.

ONE GIANT POINT OF CLARIFICATION: I AM NOT TRYING TO ENCOURAGE ANYONE TO GO SEE THE MOVIE OR READ THE BOOKS. MERELY MAKE A DECISION FOR YOURSELF. I just meant all this to say I enjoyed the books, and they mean something different to me than what the author apparently intended.

ANOTHER EDIT: An article from ChristianityToday saying everything I did but better and clearer. (Thanks, JTapp!)

EDIT IN: An absolutely brilliant article by a Catholic theologian on who the "real" God in the HDM series is. I don't necessarily agree with her on everything (especially the "feminist God" parts), but she makes a good point. Definitely worth the time to read, if this topic even remotely interests you.

EDIT 2: I'm aware that Pullman has said in an interview that his purpose with the books was to "kill God", and while it pains me to see someone so jaded against religion, it still doesn't detract from my enjoyment of the books. Johnny Depp is a pretty vile America-hating scumbag, but dang it, he makes a movie more enjoyable, you know? Oh, and BTW, if that really was his intention, he failed miserably, beause IN THE FRIGGIN BOOK he does NOT kill God! The IMPOSTER God is killed. Eh, whatever.

Ultimately, this whole post is just a rant, and worth exactly what you paid for it.


JTapp said...

Supposedly, Pullman stated in a 2003 interview: "My books are about killing God," and in 2001 he said he was trying to "undermine the basis of Christian belief."
If someone overtly states something like that then I have to take him at his word.

Read your linked article, and really the whole "God is really a woman and that's what Pullman is saying" stuff is enough to keep me uninterested.

"I loathe the 'Narnia' books," Pullman has said in previous press interviews. "I hate them with a deep and bitter passion, with their view of childhood as a golden age from which sexuality and adulthood are a falling away." He has called the series "one of the most ugly and poisonous things" he's ever read."-- article from FoxNews.

This is also enough to keep me from buying a ticket.

The fact that it looks marketed for kids, just like Narnia, and with your own statement that you'd never let your own kid see it, makes me feel that I don't really want Hollywood to get my money from it.

Greatmoose said...

And that's a good point. It is clearly being underhandedly marketed, and it's certainly not a children's book. I think the point of my rambling was that getting worked up into a boycott0happy fever over a movie (or series of books) is detrimental to the Christian witness. Don't want to support it? Fine. Don't buy a ticket (I won't, cause it looks like a badly made movie).

As far as Pullman himself goes, yeah, I read that, too. The fact that he is wrong doesn't detract from my enjoyment of the story he tells (at least until the end). Heck, Stephen King is a flaming liberal douchebag, by I still love his books. But I can totally support somebody not buy or reading something because they don't agree with the author IF they make that decision on thier own, and not because of some "family values" group. Maybe I need a nap.

JTapp said...

I don't what the boycott is looking like there, but I think sometimes parents need to be told "don't go to this movie unaware." The key word there being "unaware."
It's another thing to say "don't go, don't let your neighbors go, tell everyone you know not to go, because WE said so!" (which I think is the mentality you're railing against).

Awareness is good, discussion about whether we as Christians should use our money to support those things is good. Outright badgering is bad, I agree.

Joshua "Doc" Wible said...

Andrew, I can always count on you to enlighten me on the issues and topics that I hear about in passing, but never think to dig into on my own.

I had heard the "dont go see this movie" stuff, even over Thanksgiving there was "oh have you heard about that new movie, dont go see it." But no reason why, no background, just, we heard it was bad and bashed Christians so dont see it.

Hey, Im a huge fan of the Harry Potter books, and JK Rowling is probably some kind of satanist witch who wants to kill all Christians. But danged if I havent bought each book, seen each movie in the theatre and bought the dvd when they come out so I can watch them again at home. As an objective person I can look past the underlying hatred and enjoy an incredible book series. I dont want to be a wizard more now because of Harry Potter (maybe because of Gandalf, but not Harry Potter....) And I dont want to denounce my Christian faith. They are good books, the movies are good, the stories are spell binding (HA!).

Will I see the Golden Compass? I dunno, looked kinda cheesy to me in the previews. I might Netflix it at some point. But will I tell other people not to watch it? Nah, will I tell them that the original author hates Christians and to be carefull if they do go watch it, sure if I think too.

But in the end, I think one of the biggest problems that we as Christians have is that we cant make up our own minds about things, we have to wait to see what our pastor or whoever has to say about an issue. People, make up your own mind! If you have questions, ask, pray, seek God's wisdom and answers, He knows what you need and dont need. Stop being sheep. Wow, now Im ranting.

Rant........... over.

Thanks Moose for your insightfull blog as usual. Oh, and it was awesome getting to hang out this past weekend.

Greatmoose said...

Indeed, sir! We sure were glad to have y'all over. I think you're exactly right. Sure, our pastors are our leaders in the church, but they are NOT infallible (and to me seem to be increasingly fallible), and bring their own prejudices and preconceptions to everything (which isn't bad in and of itself, just make sure you're aware of it). In the end, something like a movie is not worth getting worked up about. I mean, after all, it's science FICTION and FANTASY. It ain't real, folks.

Anonymous said...

i like your point, doctor, about making up your own mind based upon what you believe God is or is not telling you to do...good call.

Christianity is very interesting in America.