The Harry Potter phenomenon is the biggest thing to happen to children's literature in decades. And plenty of ink has been spilled arguing about the underlying worldview of these books.
But right behind Harry Potter on the bestseller lists are the books of another author whose worldview is perfectly clear--and that's the problem. Philip Pullman's "Dark Materials" trilogy illustrates that stories may be used for ill as well as good, and reminds us of the importance of having a well-developed worldview critique.
Philip Pullman is a teacher and a storyteller who delights in capturing kids' imaginations--and he's very good at it. His fantasy series, the "Dark Materials" trilogy, has been translated into 21 languages and has sold more than a million copies.
Some have compared this English author to J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis--and there are parallels. Not only are his stories immensely popular, he lives and writes in Oxford. What's more, he's very conscious of the relationship between literature and worldview. For him, children's stories are about questions like: "Where did we come from?" and "Where do we go?"
By all accounts, Pullman's trilogy is quite sophisticated: Even adults are attracted to the way he weaves together elements from "Star Wars," quantum mechanics, John Milton, William Blake, and other literary sources.
But that's where the similarities end. As Pullman himself puts it, Tolkien would have "deplored" his writing and "Lewis would think [he] was doing the Devil's work." Why? Well, by his own admission Pullman is writing stories to "undermine the basis of Christian belief."
Are these stories a challenge to the Christian faith? Yes, they're a direct assault. But they are also utterly transparent.
Think about it. Pullman claims he's trying to undermine Christianity. But the Christian faith doesn't appear in his novels. The god he depicts is feeble, not omnipotent. The religion he describes is petty and malicious, not the faith that inspired almost every significant humane and charitable endeavor in Western culture.
Pullman is using Christianity as a straw man to make his case. But no matter how flawed and incoherent these books may be, they are still dangerous. Just as writers like C.S. Lewis used stories to "smuggle" Christian theology into readers' minds, secularists like Pullman slip misinformed prejudices into the minds of unsuspecting--and uncritical--readers.
Obviously I don't recommend that your kids read these books. But their growing popularity makes it likely they'll run into them. So you need to take the occasion of these books' popularity to sit down and explain these issues to your kids. Preparing ourselves and our kids to respond to books like these forces us to hone our own worldview.
What's more, Pullman's books will likely be on the same shelves with tales of Narnia and Middle Earth. You've got to be sure that your kids and grandkids can distinguish the counterfeit from the real thing.