Saturday, January 19, 2008

'the golden compass'

We ended up not seeing the movie at the theaters, movie tickets costing what they do, but we hope to rectify that fault when the movie comes out on DVD. A friend of mine out here who saw the movie called it one of the best he's seen since "Fellowship of the Ring," and since we've lent him Natahsa's copy of "Measure for Measure," he's going to lend us his copy of the DVD once he buys it.

I will say we've read the first two books of the trilogy, in no small part due to the ironic endorsement of those opposed to the movie, and we've enjoyed it immensely. Pullman is exploring deep themes in his work, about the nature of the soul, knowledge, God, faith, authority, innocence, and plenty else. I just checked out "The Amber Spyglass" from the library, and we probably will start it tonight. (Though maybe not. We're also watching "Tin Man.")

I can understand why some Christians find the book offensive. Pullman essentially subverts the entire Edenic myth into a fall upward, toward greater knowledge and maturity; and his depiction of the church is dishonest, taking its worst moments and traits and putting them forth as examples of the church at its best. He ignores the church's work for peace, women's rights, equality, education and child welfar in favor of its dark record of colonialism, subjugation, castration, and so on.

But in doing this, he actually is doing the church a great favor by forcing us to confront many of the things we have done (and may still do) but have never really come to terms with and made recompense for. Like any good book -- and "His Dark Materials" is a very good trilogy, despite the weaknesses in its writing and in its science-- it points us Truthward, and can stir the soul toward a better understanding of our own sin, greater repentance, and even greater commitment to doing what is right.

I could go on, and I'm sure I will, since it's a deep book and I'm still trying to process everything we've read, but there is one irony that amuses me immensely: A number of the people in the book claim a measure of moral superiority over the other parties. The Magisterium claims superiority because it is the leadership of the church, and thereby privy to an understanding of the Authority that allows it to commit unspeakable acts against children and other people in pursuit of a higher good (just as the church in our world often has done); those opposing the Magisterium just as frequently reveal themselves to be as capable of cold-hearted indifference when they pursue the greater good.

One final thing for now: Pullman's trilogy is essentially a well-written critique of authoritarianism, specifically of the religious sort. And when "The Golden Compass" came to the theaters, the first response of several outspoken religious authorities (and, I'm sure, many of less prominence) was to tell their followers not to see it -- exactly what the Magisterium would have done in Pullman's imaginary world.

I'm sure that's an irony Pullman has enjoyed immensely.

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