The Books are Dark, but the Movie May Not Be

File this under Waiting to See. I gather that several people have seen the Snopes article on the upcoming movie, The Golden Compass. The outcry is that the movie will be as atheistic and anti-church as the books are, but I don’t know that to be true yet.

Months ago when we first talked about this, I remember reading the spiritual themes of the movies would not be like the books. That belief is backed up by this EW article, in which Catholic actress Nicole Kidman says, “The Catholic Church is part of my essence. I wouldn’t be able to do this film if I thought it were at all anti-Catholic.” The article reports, “Conspicuously absent, for instance, is any reference to Catholicism; instead, the malevolent organization that snatches children to surgically remove their souls is referred to in the movie only as the Magisterium.”

So the movie may not be the atheist tract some are thinking it is, regardless what the author says about the books. It is the movie coming out in December, not the books, which have been around for several years, so (perhaps this is a point too technical) Pullman did not write the movie just as Tolkien did not write the adaptation of The Lord of the Rings. Scriptwriters adapted both works for the big screen, which means there will be differences.

So will the movie be a hateful diatribe? I don’t know. The books are another matter. Note this summary from a 2001 story in Crisis Magazine:

That is because Lyra is, as Mrs. Coulter learns from a witch she has tortured to death, Mother Eve reincarnate, destined to bring about a redemption from original sin.

Pullman’s treatment of the Catholic Church in his fantasy-Oxford world is at times imaginative (he names one of the popes John Calvin the First). But it is also unflattering. Mary Malone, a physicist introduced late in The Subtle Knife, says, “I used to be a nun you see. I thought physics could be done to the glory of God, till I saw there wasn’t any God at all and that physics was more interesting anyway. The Christian religion is a very powerful and convincing mistake, that’s all.” What is a seven-year-old to make of that?

Note also the blasphemous quotation at the beginning this article. For a lengthy consideration of Pullman’s writing, see this Touchstone article by Leonie Caldecott, in which she calls Pullman “anti-Inkling.” She sums up the books (not the movie) this way:

Pullman may be a spellbinding magician painting an awe-inspiring scenario of hugely ambitious scope, but I suspect that in His Dark Materials he is trying to remodel the universe to his own taste. It is a kind of Luciferian enterprise to try to do in his story what Sauron tries to do in The Lord of the Rings. Or indeed to believe one can co-opt this power for good, as those whom the Ring has tempted, like Boromir, or even Frodo at the end of his quest, try to do.

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