The Golden Compass

When Amy and I went to see Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix last week, there as a very cool trailer for a movie coming out in December called The Golden Compass. Based on a book by Philip Pullman, this is a story that has been on the edges of my radar for several years due to the comments of my friend Jeffrey Overstreet. All I remember him saying was that we Christians were being typically dense by fighting over Harry Potter’s world when the real danger was to be found in Pullman’s trilogy, beginning with The Golden Compass, a trilogy referred to in total as His Dark Materials.

So between Wednesday and Saturday, I read The Golden Compass.

I also recently read The God Delusion, by Richard Dawkins, as well as took another gander at What the Bleep? Down the Rabbit Hole, that funky little film about quantum physics alternately fascinating and slightly ridiculous, depending on who is being interviewed at the time. And then two other books: 101 Things You Don’t Know About Science and No One Else Does Either, by James Trefil, and God and the New Physics, by Paul Davies. Inadvertently, I was prepared for Mr. Pullman.

Which is why I kept laughing all the way through it. But don’t get me wrong, I didn’t laugh because it was ludicrous or offensive. I laughed because regardless of how my cosmology differs from Pullman’s, my hat is definitely off to him. Pretty cool stuff, and so, so blatant.

Imagine atheism as religious faith with Science being the Word of…well, who? Anyway, think of quantum physics as the revelation text somewhat analogous to the gospels. Maybe Newton is the Old Testament, and in quantum physics, the savior has arrived. Maybe there’s an epistle in there touting a “soulful” popular psychology, writings echoing perhaps (I’m not terribly well read in psychology) a couple of guys popular in the 90’s–Thomas Moore (Care of the Soul, Soulmates), James Hillman (The Blue Fire) or Sam Keen (Fire in the Belly). Now imagine that you want to get the story of no-god out there in order to save the world from the idiocy of the various theisms afflicting (like diseases) poor nuts like us Christians.

Hmmm, says Pullman. What was the best book of the 20th Century? Lord of the Rings. And there’s that whole Narnia thing, all that Christian allegory business. Hmmm….

What if I were to write a rip-roaring tale of adventure in a fantasy world built on the gospel of quantum physics? What if I could create a mythic structure to penetrate, to slip past their rational barriers (well, I don’t think he’d use the term rational–I don’t think atheists like Pullman think religious people have much rationality about them), to seize their imaginations, positing a world of glory and redemption that is simply different, more truthful than the obviously barbaric thing they currently enjoy. And the children, oh yes, the children. Let’s target the kids by putting the excruciating journey of growing up at the center of the tale (so beautifully done), get the quantum story into their imaginations, and by doing so, we’ll rescue them from the religious Gobblers who cut their souls from them every damn day. They shall know the truth, and the truth shall set them free.

Great, great, great, from his point of view, and tough, tough, tough to pull off.

But…make no mistake, he’s done it.

Let me be honest about my point of view. I’m pretty fascinated by the whole particle-wave thing, potentialities, entanglement, the mind-body problem and all that. Quantum physics is pretty mysterious, from what I can gather. What is reality, what is a human being, who is God–all these questions are compelling, and faith in Christ does not preclude me reflecting deeply on the nature of the scientific conversation (what I can grasp of it) and its relationship to the revelation of God through Jesus and the Bible. I suppose I’m of the school that says all truth belongs to God, and it’s truth we’re after. It’s Truth He wants us to be chasing, because it is His.

I’ll take on Pullman more fully after I’ve made it through the next two books. But here’s my major curiosity: Pullman’s world so far is a pretty straightforward place, if not a little crowded. (Do daimons take up any room?) It’s a moral world, for sure–compassion, love, justice. (He even capitalizes Dust (great, just great), and as usual, the universe has a will and pushes things almost like a god–hmmmm….) As I say that, I want to go back and read more carefully, because I think there are some attempts to hold on to “morality” while cutting the legs out from under it at the same time.

Anyway, read the trilogy, watch the film, but don’t go in eyes closed. This man hates the church, says it openly, and in this book and the ones to follow, we are the bad guys.

…bears in armor, O boy…

5 Replies to “The Golden Compass”

  1. Jeff,

    I thought “The Golden Compass” was the best fantasy book written since “The Lord of the Rings.”

    I still do.

    But then I read the sequel, and while it was full of great writing, the story started to turn strange and troubling.

    And then I read the third one, and oh boy… it was heartbreaking. Characterization suffers. The story loses its way. And the characters start speechifying about how Christianity is a lie. The climax amounts to an audacious act of giving God the finger.


  2. The on-line trailer was enchanting, reminding me of some of the old classic sci-fi movies which mixed their science with their fantasy: lazy zeppelins floating over chromed cities, men in aerodomed hats, an updated spin to Fritz Lang’s Metropolis.

    Now there is hesitation. I don’t want to have the pleasure of my entertainment ruined by an undertone of anti-religious bigotry. I pays me money, I wants to be dazzled, not bamboozled.

    Oh, confusion!

  3. “It is the Alethiometer. It tells the truth. As for how to read it, you’ll have to learn by yourself.”

  4. I love this series. I love the Lord of the rings. I like The Chronicles of Narnia.

    All have a subtle message.
    I love them anyway.

    Books are books.

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