Friday, November 5, 2010

The Golden Compass: School of Nietzsche (book series review)

I recently finished the His Dark Materials series, by Philip Pullman, better known as the Golden Compass series, which is comprised of three books:
1. The Golden Compass
2. The Subtle Knife
3. The Amber Spyglass

I had heard all kinds of talk about this series, and being a Christian, most of the hubbub was bad. So of course, in ordinary me fashion I decided to investigate. My favorite kind of fiction is young adult fantasy and it is both my privilege and responsibility to read as much as I can, especially since I am the mother of three children who will most likely be voracious readers like their parents, and also because in my deepest hopes I would one day love to be a writer who contributes to this particular genre.

It is my goal with this post to simply deliver my opinion of this series. Keep in mind I come from the viewpoint of Biblical standard, so if you don't share the same perspective, I pray you will not be offended but simply take into consideration anything I might think in the same way I would do with you.

I will give the positive first :)
I thought this series quite well-written, with much application of modern philosopy, explanation of physics and some nice irony, imaginative and inspiring as far as creativity and plot, and hosting several quite loveable and understandable characters. It was not hard to picture myself as one of the hero or heroine, and the adventurous spirit was contagious. I was also able to gain, by reading these books, a better sense of where atheists are coming from in their belief set.

Now for the negative.
I hated this series. As far as the ideas and content, I was deeply disturbed at what I found. I have not read every award-winning young adult fantasty series out there, but I have read quite a few, and I will say of all those I have read, I felt this series was by far the most dangerous set of books for kids that I have read.

The books start slowly in their ultimate design, which the reader starts to suspect and suddenly becomes wise to: The destruction of God. By men. John Milton's Paradise Lost is frequently alluded to, and these books take up the stance of commending the Fall of man as a stepping stone of progress, instead of a "paradise lost." These works are deeply cynical about any kind of spiritual authority, other than self, and set the church up to be an evil institution intent on controlling everything with rules and punishments. There is none of the beauty of faith in these books. Most of the bad guys are employed by or in cahoots with the church.

While I could go on and on about the specifics, I will stick to the largest theme. God is portrayed as an old feeble angel that became power hungry and had a little more cunning to him than his fellow heavenly hosts, and so he set himself up as The Authority and began dishing out severe rules for all of mankind to follow or not follow - at their own peril. The books are all about the main characters Lyra and Will, being chosen to dispel the myth that is God, destroy Him and His armies, and set up a new worlds system (the book is in the setting of multiple parallel universes) as a new Adam and Eve, without God or any kind of allegiance to anything higher than the physical world and self. The culmination of plot in these books is the war that man wages against God and all His angelic armies. God dies of His own frailties in the end of book three, and is written as a geriatric mute who no longer speaks or understands and seems liable to wet his pants at any moment.

These books are powerful in their ability to render God silly and laughable, unworthy of regard, and in the light of mockery and scorn. They are quite persuasive without seeming to be so, at undermining reverence toward God and anything mysterious that surrounds our knowledge of Him.
I was astonished by the blatantly atheistic and humanistic content in these books. By the end of the second book and in the third, there are multiple bold references in complete mockery calling God by His Biblical names, such as Yahweh and the Ancient of Days,  in jest. The first book is deceptive. It's a good story and you only just start to see the glimmer of Pullman's motive, and so are drawn into the wild, imaginative adventure Will and Lyra and all their comrades are on. It is only when you are hooked and move on to the second book that the confession from several characters of their scorn and hatred for The Authority is revealed. It is sudden and stunning and by then you want to keep reading because you have fallen for the characters.

I believe that by being subtle and well-written this book becomes dangerous. It attacks the existence of God, and it also attacks adolescent belief in God, which I feel is the far more dangerous of the two in this context. How well I know to what extent the fiction I read as an adolescent helped to shape my ideas, morals, beliefs, tolerances, and supposed facts about the world. I feel that if the belief in God that resides in almost any child in whom it is nurtured, and I believe that young faith to be a natural, instinctual response to eternity, is undermined, it sets one up for a life without hope. Without prayer, or the peace that comes in trusting in Divinity, in the Higher Power that is at work, wherever you are in that belief.

I believe Philip Pullman, the author of this series, knows this and pursues the "liberation" of the minds of youth worldwide from that of reliance on God or the belief that He is at least there. Mr. Pullman is a professed atheist, passionately so. While I disagree with his beliefs, there are many writers out there whose beliefs I share in no way, but whose fiction I love for the simple reasons of relevance, application, truth, beauty, creativity, and skill. For me, these books were offensive. I remember reading The Davinci Code (Dan Brown) and never once being offended, because I felt the whole time that while that book could definitely confuse and divide, it was always fiction and more of an expirement in theological history than a soapbox for the author. Pullman's books are a potentially lethal assault on faith in God, period.

I warn against letting your child read these books at a young age. I also caution against letting them read the books by themselves. I would not be surprised if they end up on many public junior high and high school required reading lists, or at least if the first one does. They have won all kinds of awards and accolades.

Good fiction is meant to illustrate that which is true. Sometimes, the story is sad, or gruesome, or difficult to read. But if it is good, it resonates with us somewhere. We find ourselves and our plight, and hopefully, a semblence of the real cure to that plight, in some way, in good fiction. However, when fiction starts to lie and call something fundamentally what it is not, we have reason to be alarmed and counter it. Though I read a lot of controversial fiction, in order to talk about it with others and to know what is being published and revered, I take many of my cues for art and literature from Philippians 4:8, " Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things."

I am in no way a professional reviewer of books, although that would definitely be near the top of the list of my dream jobs :)

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