Movie Mom

Movie Mom


More thoughts on “The Golden Compass”

posted by Nell Minow

goldencompasslyra.jpg
Very worthwhile readings on “The Golden Compass” and the controversy:
In the LA Times, Laura Miller talks about the emailed claims that author Philip Pullman is anti-relgion.

Snopes lists this particular rumor as “true,” presumably because the e-mails use a few genuine, if cherry-picked, quotations from Pullman’s writings and press interviews. But that doesn’t keep the whole thing from being fundamentally ridiculous.
Most preposterous, of course, is the idea that anyone would make a $180-million movie with the purpose of tricking children into reading a seditious book. What self-respecting kid ever needed that much encouragement to ferret out whatever the adults are trying to hide?
Also — whoops! — no one’s been hiding “His Dark Materials.” To date, 15 million copies of Pullman’s books have been sold worldwide. “The Golden Compass” won not only the 1995 Carnegie Medal, a prize awarded by British children’s librarians, but also the “Carnegie of Carnegies,” as the public’s favorite book in the prize’s 70-year history. The final novel in the trilogy, “The Amber Spyglass,” won the Whitbread Book of the Year award in 2001, the first children’s book ever to do so. It’s safe to say that copies of the trilogy reside in every decent children’s library in the nation. If there is indeed a “deceitful stealth campaign” afoot to lure children to Pullman’s books — as William Donohue, spokesman for the Catholic League, insists — it’s remarkably short on stealth….I first met Pullman in England, at an annual lecture sponsored by a trust dedicated to the furthering of religious education. I buttonholed Simon Pettitt, an Anglican priest and the trust’s chairman, to marvel at this; his counterparts in the United States, I said, would never have invited a figure like Pullman to speak at a flagship public event. And yet, Pettitt is no renegade. Rowan Williams, the archbishop of Canterbury, has enthused about “His Dark Materials” and participated in an onstage discussion with Pullman when a stage version of “His Dark Materials” was produced by the National Theatre in London.
“In America,” I told Pettitt, “religious groups gain political advantage and rally their followers by presenting themselves as embattled. Actually listening to the other side is tantamount to admitting you’re not really being persecuted.” With a look of mild pity, he replied, “In order to come to views, you don’t just listen to people you agree with. Education is a good thing, and, therefore, so is openness to different views.”
Although Pullman has some vehement detractors among Britain’s Christians, the liberal clergy there have more often valued his books for tackling the great questions of existence: life, death, morality and humanity’s role in the universe. They regard his fiction as a springboard for discussion, the kind of discussion that does sometimes lead people to embrace God. They recognize him not as an enemy but as an ally in a society increasingly colonized by the vapid preoccupations of consumer culture.

And the Economist’s UK magazine More Intelligent Life has an interview with Pullman. He talks about his experiences as a teacher of middle-school-age children and how that helped him develop the character of 12-year-old Lyra. And he talks about his reaction to the fundamentalists who call him anti-religious:

Pullman says that people who are tempted to take offence should first see the film or read the books. “They’ll find a story that attacks such things as cruelty, oppression, intolerance, unkindness, narrow-mindedness, and celebrates love, kindness, open-mindedness, tolerance, curiosity, human intelligence. It’s very hard to disagree with those. But people will.”
How will he respond to those attacks? “A soft answer turneth away wrath, as it says in my favourite book.” (Proverbs 15:1.) So he won’t argue back? “It’s a foolish thing for the teller of a story to answer critics. If you’re putting forward an argument, you can argue back and demonstrate why your argument is better than theirs. But if someone doesn’t like a story you’ve written, what are you going to say? ‘Well, you should’?”

And here Jeffrey Overstreet, who reviews movies for Christianity Today Movies, gives his view:

He’s not really undermining Christian belief as he thinks he is; he is undermining the abuse of authority, something altogether contrary to the gospel.
No, don’t be afraid. The gospel will survive the publishing phenomenon of Pullman’s trilogy, His Dark Materials, without so much as a scratch. It’s not worth getting all worked up about it.
If Pullman’s work shakes up people’s faith, then their faith was poorly developed to begin with.

Overstreet also refers readers to two other reviews from Christian critics, Steven D. Greydanus and Peter T. Chattaway.



  • Tom

    Ms. Minow,
    You choose to give Laura Miller your first and most extended billing. As a result, the endorsement furthers the general viewpoint of the secular liberal elite that seeks to closet displays of traditional religion (particularly Christianity) in favor of expressions based on nothing other than one’s own personal desires.
    Miller comments: “…a few genuine, if cherry-picked, quotations…”? You’ve got to be kidding? It is quite amazing that anyone, religious or otherwise, would defend Pullman as not being anti-religion, particularly Christianity, personally or in context of the Dark Materials trilogy. There are so many comments by sympathetic characters and so much evil wrought by the “church” in his books that it should not even be a point of discussion.
    Of all the examples, I will only cite one, for now, that comes from the sympathetic former nun. Now a scientist, she feels she doesn’t have to consider “good” and “evil”. This seems to be the same thought process that Dr. Mengele used to conduct his ghastly human experiments. The character goes on to explain how Christianity is “a powerful and convincing mistake, that’s all.” Her new found “freedom” includes throwing her crucifix into the sea.
    Once again, if you do not fall into lockstep with the prevailing secular liberal opinion, you are ridiculed. It’s fascinating why you are so quick to not only defend Pullman’s right to his blatant attacks but to glorify them and are so against allowing the Catholic Leagues (who is not part of the Church) to state their opinion.
    When the “Passion of the Christ” movie came out and the Anti-Defamation League issued, in many persons’ view, an inaccurate FAQ titled: “Things Teens Should Know About Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” and an equally inaccurate and skewed FAQ titled “ADL and Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ”, you offered no contrary perspective or suggestion that Abraham Foxman is lacking perception as you do with William Donahue.
    This seems to be a double standard and just support for a particular perspective under the guise of discussion.
    Regards,

  • Nell Minow

    Tom —
    I addressed some of these points in my response to your other comment. Here are the rest:
    Q: You choose to give Laura Miller your first and most extended billing. As a result, the endorsement furthers the general viewpoint of the secular liberal elite that seeks to closet displays of traditional religion (particularly Christianity) in favor of expressions based on nothing other than one’s own personal desires.
    A: I’d prefer to refrain from name-calling. I liked what Laura Miller wrote. I am not supporting anyone’s opnions but my own, however. I support the depiction of religious belief and practice in media and generally comment favorably on it when it appears.
    Q: Miller comments: “…a few genuine, if cherry-picked, quotations…”? You’ve got to be kidding? It is quite amazing that anyone, religious or otherwise, would defend Pullman as not being anti-religion, particularly Christianity, personally or in context of the Dark Materials trilogy. There are so many comments by sympathetic characters and so much evil wrought by the “church” in his books that it should not even be a point of discussion.
    A: As noted in my other response and in my commentaries on this site, there are many people who interpret Pullman’s work as deeply spiritual. I might feel differently about it if the bad guys in the movie were in any way representative of any religious practice, but they are not. They are power-mongering literal soul-destroyers who want to turn people into brainless zombies.
    Q: Of all the examples, I will only cite one, for now, that comes from the sympathetic former nun. Now a scientist, she feels she doesn’t have to consider “good” and “evil”. This seems to be the same thought process that Dr. Mengele used to conduct his ghastly human experiments. The character goes on to explain how Christianity is “a powerful and convincing mistake, that’s all.” Her new found “freedom” includes throwing her crucifix into the sea.
    A: This all takes place in a parallel universe and the church in question is a through-the-looking-glass distortion. There have been many instances in real life of churches of all denominations that have been run by people who did not adhere to the principles and beliefs they espoused, so it is not an unprecedented idea. Neither is “killing” God in His human form.
    Q: Once again, if you do not fall into lockstep with the prevailing secular liberal opinion, you are ridiculed. It’s fascinating why you are so quick to not only defend Pullman’s right to his blatant attacks but to glorify them and are so against allowing the Catholic Leagues (who is not part of the Church) to state their opinion.
    A: Who is being ridiculed? I am not sure what you are referring to here. I have not ridiculed anyone. If I were “defending” his “attacks” I would have to agree that Pullman was attacking Christianity. I am not in any way an expert on Christianity but it was not hard to find people — here on Beliefnet — who are committed Christians and find the books consistent with and supportive of Christian theology. The Archbishop of Canterbury has said he thought reading the books could lead to constuctive dialogue. Please do not assume that I support the movie because I am anti-religion. I am very much pro-religion in practice and in portrayal in the media.
    Q: When the “Passion of the Christ” movie came out and the Anti-Defamation League issued, in many persons’ view, an inaccurate FAQ titled: “Things Teens Should Know About Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” and an equally inaccurate and skewed FAQ titled “ADL and Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ”, you offered no contrary perspective or suggestion that Abraham Foxman is lacking perception as you do with William Donahue. This seems to be a double standard and just support for a particular perspective under the guise of discussion.
    A: Did you read my review of the film? Your statement is inaccurate. I am sorry you did not find it worth your time to do some research before making a false accusation. I am happy to respond to your questions and concerns but would appreciate it if you would not jump to conclusions, name-call, or accuse me of something I did not do.
    Thanks again for taking the time to write. I really do appreciate your willingness to engage on these issues.

  • Sunset

    First off, I would like to thank you for that article. It’s the first bit of common sense I’ve read in a long time. Amidst all the anti-statements, it’s nice to see a constructive one that can spur healthy discussion.
    I may be young, have read the books, went to see the movie twice, and I’m Christian myself; but that doesn’t mean I hate the series. It is, in my opinion, good literature/movie and an interesting story.
    I would like to comment on a few things, as there was a lot I agreed with.
    “If there is indeed a “deceitful stealth campaign” afoot to lure children to Pullman’s books — as William Donohue, spokesman for the Catholic League, insists — it’s remarkably short on stealth….I first met Pullman in England, at an annual lecture sponsored by a trust dedicated to the furthering of religious education.”
    I find it ridiculous, as you do, that people seem to consider that there’s an agenda to trick children. Literature, to me anyways, is meant to entertain and broaden the scope of the imagination, allowing for an open mind on differing ideas. Pullman is merely creating a world in which he symbolizes many things that he believes in. It’s really no different then someone telling their child about their views on something – such as religion, etc.
    I would probbaly add to the last statement of your quote that I feel Pullman must at least have an open mind towards education, while sticking to his own beliefs, if he attended a trust fund furthering religious education. Right wing religious people seem to think that all athiests are narrowminded; but I know and have friends that are very open-minded. It’s sad that a lot of right-wingers miss the point that he has an open mind on any education.
    “It’s safe to say that copies of the trilogy reside in every decent children’s library in the nation…”
    I’m not sure about that if you’re referring to the US. I heard in the States (I’m not American) that the books were pulled out of a bunch of school libraries so we’ll have to see what happens with regards to that. I don’t know if there’s still ongoing debate or not, since I don’t live there.
    “With a look of mild pity, he [Simon Pettitt] replied, ‘In order to come to views, you don’t just listen to people you agree with. Education is a good thing, and, therefore, so is openness to different views.’ ”
    That just sums up my entire opinion on life. No one gets anywhere if they’re closed minded to things. I find it’s important to learn all sorts of views, even if they’re contrary to your own. That way you get a broader understanding of the world around around you and how people think. Books, like “His Dark Materials”, are great because they broaden those views.
    “Pullman says that people who are tempted to take offence should first see the film or read the books. “They’ll find a story that attacks such things as cruelty, oppression, intolerance, unkindness, narrow-mindedness, and celebrates love, kindness, open-mindedness, tolerance, curiosity, human intelligence. It’s very hard to disagree with those. But people will.’ ”
    To add to that: someone posted on a forum that he/she had met Pullman at a book signing and asked him this very question – about whether he was trying to offend religious individuals with the books. (This person was a fan of the books, by the way.) He answered him/her by saying that the books included many metaphors he wanted to present and he wasn’t outright trying to offend people, even though he knew people would be angered.
    Sure the books are anti- Christian and all; but they are important in presenting many ideas/metaphors to people.
    ” Pullman: ‘But if someone doesn’t like a story you’ve written, what are you going to say? ‘Well, you should’?” ”
    I got a good laugh out of that one. At least he has a sense of humour.
    But I do want to address this statement:
    “Jeffrey Overstreet: No, don’t be afraid. The gospel will survive the publishing phenomenon of Pullman’s trilogy, His Dark Materials, without so much as a scratch. It’s not worth getting all worked up about it.”
    No, it’s not worth getting worked up about; but, is it just me, or did that sound very insecure? I mean if your secure in what you believe, then it really shouldn’t matter what will survive longer.
    “If Pullman’s work shakes up people’s faith, then their faith was poorly developed to begin with.”
    Agreed. I’ve said that for a while.
    “I might feel differently about it if the bad guys in the movie were in any way representative of any religious practice, but they are not. They are power-mongering literal soul-destroyers who want to turn people into brainless zombies.”
    Just to clear this up, in the novel, The Magesterium is the Catholic Church. I think that’s where a lot of people get mad. I don’t but people have a tendecy to take this too seriously.
    I think the Church though is just a metaphor for two things. First, if you look at history there were times when the Church abused it’s power. I consider it a metaphor for abuse of authority. Secondly, this happens in a parellel universe so it’s more of a what-if story – kind of warning against an abuse of any authority (religious or non). that’s just my opinion though.
    Nicole Kidman (Mrs. Coulter), who is a Catholic, even outright said she didn’t consider that to be anti-religious or she wouldn’t have taken the role in the movie.
    “There have been many instances in real life of churches of all denominations that have been run by people who did not adhere to the principles and beliefs they espoused…”
    Not really much to say here except: Well said.
    “If I were “defending” his “attacks” I would have to agree that Pullman was attacking Christianity.”
    It is true he was attacking Christianity; but I would say that he’s attacking the more right-wing sides of religious institution. I could be wrong; but that’s my take on it. Not that I’m trying to justify anything; but either way it’s still good literature, IMO.
    Sorry that was so long.

  • Nell Minow

    Sunset, thank you so much for this very thoughtful and informative comment. Your entire opinion on life and mine are the same — and we agree that no faith is worth very much if it is so fragile it cannot be defended against an intellectual challenge, some rude remarks, or some genuine curiosity. If we do not think for ourselves, we cannot make a choice to believe or a choice to do the right thing.
    Don’t apologize for writing a long comment! Every word was of value. Many thanks again and I hope you will visit and post here often.

Previous Posts

A Trailer for A Movie You'll Never See: Moonquake Lake with Mila Kunis and Rihanna
"Moonquake Lake" has a lot of star power behind it -- "LEGO Movie" directors Chris Miller and Phil Lord and stars Mila Kunis, Ashton Kutcher, and Rihanna. And it looks....intriguing, some sort of "Twilight"-style supernatural teen romance. It just isn't real. "Moonquake Lake" is a movie with

posted 3:54:43pm Dec. 17, 2014 | read full post »

New Additions to the National Film Registry: 2014
The Library of Congress has announced this year's additions to the National Film Registry. 25 “culturally, historically or aesthetically” significant titles are added each year, under the terms of the National Film Preservation Act. The films must be at least 10 years old. The Librarian makes

posted 12:34:12pm Dec. 17, 2014 | read full post »

Black Reel Awards Nominations 2014
One of the great pleasures of this time of year is voting for so many of my favorite filmmakers as a part of the Black Reel Awards. Thanks, as ever, to Tim Gordon for allowing me to participate. I think it is fair to say we had more and better choices this year than we ever have before. Here are

posted 9:14:29am Dec. 17, 2014 | read full post »

A Hannukah Version of "Shake it Off!"
[iframe width="560" height="315" src="//www.youtube.com/embed/NoHp2Rq8sMI?rel=0" frameborder="0"]

posted 8:00:41am Dec. 17, 2014 | read full post »

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
Visually stunning, capably presented, and utterly unnecessary, this final in the six-movie Tolkien cycle is just for the fans.  I think even Tolkien himself would cry "no mas" at this p

posted 5:47:22pm Dec. 16, 2014 | read full post »




Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.