This past summer I’ve been hearing about this book called “The Golden Compass” by Philip Pullman and how it is ‘Anti-Christian’. When I heard it was going to be a major motion picture, I figured that it would be quite the topic for conversation, so I bought the book and gave it a quick read over the last week or so. I would challenge you to also read the book and not just take my word for it. And if you are a parent, it’s that much more important to read the books your children are reading. Let me say from the beginning, if you don’t want the ending ruined in any way, you shouldn’t read this review. In order to clearly explain things, I will have to give away plot lines.
“The Golden Compass” is a book geared towards children, as that is where I had to go at the Barnes and Nobles I bought it at. It is the first in a series of three books called “His Dark Materials”. It is written by a strong atheist in response to “The Chronicles of Narnia”. The book won the Carnegie Medal for children’s fiction in the UK in 1995, and in 2007 it was selected by judges of the Carnegie Medal as one of the ten most important children’s novels of the past 70 years. (info from wikipedia) The third book in the series won the Whitbread Prize in 2001, the first children’s book to do so. And more recently the first book made it on Al Roker’s book reading club’s book list. Needless to say, these books have won quite the popularity, and the movie coming out will only encourage children to flock to read the books.
Like I said, Pullman is a very avowed Atheist and even said in an interview with a newspaper in Sydney, “My books are about killing God.” That is in fact, what he does in the third book, where a character that is obviously the allegorical character for God. The books and the movie have been condemned by the Catholic League. I would imagine that the movies themselves will ‘tone down’ anti-God rhetoric found in the book. Otherwise the studios would be running far too much of a risk of alienating and severely offending a majority of its intended audience. I should also say here that the movie is rated PG-13, as I would imagine with many of the violent battles and tense situations.
So what is in the book, you ask? Let me first lay out the plot. The setting is a basically a parallel dimension to our world. It has most of the same geographical locations, with a large portion of the book set in London. But this world has witches, talking bears, and every human has what he calls a ‘daemon’. These daemons are small animals that are basically the human’s souls or spirit, but live outside of the person. The reflect the personality of the person, and until a child hits puberty, they can shift depending on the situation the person finds them in. A large portion of the book focuses on the relationship between humans and their daemons.
A very significant plot line that much of the criticism springs from is the fact that society is run by The Church. The Church in the book is obviously modeled after The Roman Catholic Church. They run everything in society and anyone who encourages thought contrary to the Church is condemned, locked away, or even killed. This is a good place to mention that religious figures are generally treated with contempt and distrust in the book. Main characters make habit of mocking them. It ma be subtle, but the anti-religion clamor reaches a climax at the end of the book.
The main character is a young 11 year old girl named Lyra . She has been raised in Oxford at Jordan College and hardly acts as they say a girl should act. She is the good natured kid who is always running around, hanging around with kids she shouldn’t be, going places she shouldn’t go and generally causing problems around campus. There are definitely some behavioral problems that Lyra exhibits that seemingly go uncondemned. Throughout the book she uses foul language, although the author never actually writes a foul word. It just tells the reader that she used every foul word she knew. There are other points in the book where she is drinking hard alcohol or smoking and no one condemns the behavior of an eleven year old.
The main plot is that there are some people that are kidnapping children and it is Lyra’s job to find out why they were taken, where they were taken to, and help rescue them. The child kidnapping hits home with Lyra, as one of her best friends and partner in crime is suddenly missing. She sets off on a mission that takes her on adventures she’s never experienced and makes relationships that go deeper than any she’s previously had. Along the way she begins to discover exactly what’s going on, and what the nature of ‘dust’ is. ‘Dust’ is spoken of throughout the book, and as her journey progresses, she finds out more about it. What they know is that this ‘dust’ is a particle that cannot be broken down and appears naturally. Oddly, researches have found that the ‘dust’ is not drawn to children, but only to adults.
This pushes an organization to study the ‘dust’ and what it is, how it works, and when it attaches to humans. This leads them to kidnap the children in order to study them. They effectually torture the children, and most that are put through the procedure end up dying. As she finds out, the Church is behind the people kidnapping, studying, and torturing. It is not until the last few pages that the bomb, though, is dropped. The Church believes that the Dust is Original Sin. They believe when a child goes through puberty, that they no longer have the ability to reject the ‘dust’. And if they can somehow figure out how to keep this from happening, the Church wil have defeated Original Sin.
For those of you who don’t know what Original Sin is, it depends on your doctrinal position. Most would say that it is the sin nature passed down from Adam. The Catholic Church believes infant baptism erases this Original Sin. So, the Church, in the book, is sacrificing the lives of countless innocent children to figure this out.
One of the greatest dangers of this book is the seed of fear and mistrust of Christianity that it would plant in the minds of children. It is written from an atheist perspective, and I’m sure Pullman would say exactly what countless other Atheists have said: The Church is responsible for more deaths, tragedy, and suffering than any other organization, and all in the name of “God”. This is almost a main tenet of modern atheism. What they don’t tell you are the countless lives lost to atheist tyrants such as Pol Pot, Marx, Stalin, Slobodan Milosevic, Lenin, and Mao Tse-Tung. All were dictators. All were tyrants. All were atheists.
Now, obviously, this isn’t to say that all atheists are cruel, tyrannical dictators with hearts set on mass murder. But their heritage is hardly innocent. The fact is that all men are capable of doing such atrocities, and just because something is done in the name of God doesn’t mean that God approved of such a practice or even that they were genuine believers in God.
My last warning about the book is that it contains some very graphic and tense situations. Comparisons to “The Chronicles of Narnia” are inevitable, and having now read both, I can say with assurance that this has much more blood and gore than “Narnia”. There is talk of people who bore holes in the heads of people, eating the guts of children, the crushing of heads and tearing off of limbs, and similar behavior. Probably the most traumatic moment in the book has to do with what they do at the experiment station. I don’t want to talk about it, as that would ruin part of the book, but I don’t think it is at all appropriate for young children to read. It has very tense situations and subject matter that a pre-teen shouldn’t necessarily be reading.
Besides that, I have to say that the book was very readable, and I can see how it won awards, although it’s anti-God, pro-Atheism stance probably helped it out in that area. I found it a generally entertaining book that read quickly. From strictly a literary point of view, I can see that it is probably going to be a very entertaining movie.
So what should the concerned Christian parent do. If you have any questions, read the book for yourself and use your own discernment as to whether you want to allow your child to read it. I think we too often just dismiss things because we don’t agree with them, and maybe it would be good to discuss the danger points with your child. Our society is quickly being more and more influenced by the new Atheism and voices such as Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins are becoming louder. Do you teach your child to put their head in the sand, or should we seek to discuss these things with them. This may be a good opportunity to teach them discernment. Read through the book with them and teach them to read with discernment. Obviously, this would only be for youth that can discern. But it may be a valuable exercise in their spiritual maturity.
If you’re interested, here’s the trailer for the movie. Speaking of just cinematic quality, it looks pretty good. All I have to say is from the moment I was introduced to what Nicole Kidman’s character would be, I knew she would play the part perfectly.