Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Pullman Is Right

I hope you can all stomach one more post about Phillip Pullman and his His Dark Materials books. This'll be the last one... probably.

Unlike many (most?) of Pullman's critics, I've actually read his books, a course of action I strongly encourage to anyone who seeks to say anything at all (good or bad) about them. And after giving it some deep, serious thought, I've come to the following conclusion: Phillip Pullman was right.

Well... he's right about some things, and these things he's right about are pretty doggone important. To wit, let me go way out on a limb and say I agree with Pullman that despotic, dogmatic tyranny is wrong. In fact, it's evil. And when it's done in the name of God, it's doubly evil.

See, the bad guys in the His Dark Materials trilogy are truly bad (controlling, destructive, hurtful, etc), even if their garb is ecclesiastical. Their downfall can only be applauded by people who believe in love, grace and freedom (particularly the "truth shall set you free" type of freedom).

So, Christians should have no fear of these books or this upcoming movie. Despite Pullman's efforts or intentions, his books aren't about killing God. Don't let him or anyone else tell you otherwise. They are about opposing an unloving, ungracious, merciless organization which seeks only to control and destroy. According to his critics, Mr. Pullman thinks that's what the Gospel is about. He supposedly thinks that's what Christians are really like (but I'm not going to take his critics' word for it). Nonetheless, Christians should probably go out of our way to prove him wrong... and should probably also acknowledge we may have contributed to making him think that way (if indeed he does).

But here's the ironic twist. Despite his distaste for C.S. Lewis, Pullman actually ends up illustrating one of the principles in CSL's The Last Battle. In that book, a character (Emeth) ends up in Aslan's heaven, despite having served the evil vulture-god Tash. Aslan explains to him that the good he did was actually in Aslan's service, (I don't recall the exact line). Lewis is drawing a parallel to Jesus's parable about the sheep and the goats, I believe (where the sheep did not even realize they were serving Christ). So, while Pullman may have set out to write a story about killing God, he ended up writing a book which affirms the importance of grace, love and self-sacrifice, in opposition to control and destruction.

Perhaps there's hope for Mr. Pullman after all...


Catherine said...

Wow, this is a fantastic review. Thanks for your thoughts - I've been looking around the web to see what bloggers are saying about the books. I just posted mine as well here if you're interested. I'd love your feedback!

Gabe said...

Wow Dan! That was very good.

The Dan Ward said...

Thanks, you two! Not often I get two comments, both starting with the word "Wow."


Mark said...

despotic, dogmatic tyranny is wrong

No argument here on that point. But I think Pullman goes beyond generally opposing such tyranny. His stories portray the Catholic Church (not Christianity in general, but Catholicism in particular, code named the "Magesterium") is despotic, dogmatic, and tyrannical. Hmmm... not the Church that I know. A hierarchy of authority does not equate to tyranny, especially in an organization that was founded by Christ and is dedicated to the Gospel. "Love God, love your neighbor, respect life" - yeah, that's soooo oppressive. Better rally the kiddies to fight against the awful group that espouses these beliefs before anyone else starts following their teachings.


While I would probably be better suited for this discussion if I had read his books, I'm not in any rush to waste my time doing so.

Perhaps there are some redeeming qualities hidden between the anti-theistic lines, if so, good for him. Thankfully I don't need to be his judge.

I do like your point: "Christians should probably go out of our way to prove him wrong". Amen!

The Dan Ward said...

You're right, Marko (as usual). I always have to chuckle when people equate Catholicism with Christianity (or religion, or theism), as if it was the only game in town.

I suppose I'd find Pullman's books more offensive if he was even a little bit close to the real nature of the Church or God.

I mean, come on. Criticize God for being too weak to do anything, or for having the power to do things and choosing not to do them... but don't criticize Him for both being weak and for not being sufficiently active. Criticize the Church for not doing enough good... but not for having no interest in good at all.

He can criticize the ocean for being salty or for being wet... but not for being dry and small. As soon as we write about the terrible, small, dry ocean, we're not talking about the ocean anymore (even if we call it The Ocean or the Deep Blue Sea).

Life is short. I enjoyed The Golden Compass, but if you're looking for something to read, read Chesterton's novels instead. :)