Nov 6, 2007

Which direction will ‘Golden Compass’ point audiences?

by Stephen Nelson

    This winter, “The Golden Compass” arrives in theaters, and so far it has been met with chilly accord because of its anti-Christian message. The film is an adaptation of the famous children’s novel of the same name by author Philip Pullman, a proclaimed atheist.         Many critics have found his story to be an utter rejection of Christianity. In fact, the story is an antithesis of Christianity.
    Pullman’s story in its entirety is entitled “His Dark Materials.”  The “Golden Compass” is the first installment.  The story revolves around the brazen orphan, Lyra Belacqua, and her attempt to save the children of Oxford from the villainous Ms. Coulter.
    The characters exist in a different world, parallel to the world of the reader where humans can take the form of animals, called daemons. The daemons talk and think just like their human counterparts. Talking, armored polar bears, flying witches and warring airships are elements that will draw in audiences, especially children. 
    Pullman’s eloquence is at its best with clever pseudonyms for things that co-exist in both Lyra’s world and the readers.  Religious allegories for the Catholic Church exist in the form of the Magisterium, an authoritative governing force that controls the law. 
    But to the casual reader, these religious undertones will be overshadowed by much of the fantasy action.  The allegories grow less subtle with each installment of the trilogy.  In the final installment, Lyra and her friend, Will, together travel to their universe’s heaven to kill “The Authority.”
    Pullman is quoted in many interviews that the “His Dark Materials” trilogy, is an anti-Narnia series for children.  In the “New Yorker” article “Far From Narnia,” Pullman is quoted saying that the C.S. Lewis’ “Chronicles of Narnia” are “morally loathsome.” Pullman will not win brownie points with Christian parents or fans of Lewis’ Narnia for such a comment.
    Much of the religious material might not even make its way into the film.  According to the United Kingdom’s Observer, “The original story’s rejection of organized religion, and in particular the historic abuse of power in the Catholic Church, has been altered to avoid offending followers of the faith in the UK and in America.”
    Nicole Kidman, who is Catholic, portrays the villainous Ms. Coulter. She told “Entertainment Weekly” that she doubts the movie will have anti-Catholic material in it. “I wouldn’t be able to do this film if I thought it were at all anti-Catholic,” said Kidman.
    If the filmmakers of  “The Golden Compass” only make one installment of the trilogy, children and adults most likely will be fine, as the film adaptation has eliminated most of the anti-religious elements.
    According to most reviews, the last two books of the trilogy, “The Subtle Knife” and “The Amber Spyglass,” would be more difficult to make with eliminating religious themes.
    Bill Donahue, president of the Catholic League, has called on Christians to boycott the film.  Donahue said that Pullman’s trilogy “was written to promote atheism and denigrate Christianity, especially Roman Catholicism.”
    In a press release issued by the Catholic League, Donahue said, “Even though the film is based on the least offensive of the three books, and even though it is clear that the producers are watering down the most despicable elements—so as to make money and not anger Christians—the fact remains that the movie is bait for the books.” 
    Donahue feels that reading books like “The Golden Compass” can damage the reader’s spirituality.
    Calling to boycott the books and the movie may be too drastic of an action, as Pullman’s trilogy is complex in both rhetoric and religious imagery.
    Instead of making a fuss and rallying Christians to protest, taking Pullman’s points and discussing their falsities in a rational and logical way seem a more practical approach.

Contact Stephen Nelson at

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