INDIANAPOLIS, Indiana, NOV. 14, 2007 (Zenit.org).- The film “The Golden Compass” isn’t simply about using fairy-tale magic to tell a good story, it corrupts the imagery of Lewis and Tolkien to undermine children’s faith in God and the Church, says Catholic author Pete Vere.
In this interview with ZENIT, Vere and Sandra Miesel discuss the movie adaptation of the fantasy novels written by Philip Pullman. The film, staring Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig, will be released in the United States in early December.
Vere and Miesel are co-authors of the booklet “Pied Piper of Atheism: Philip Pullman and Children’s Fantasy,” to be published by Ignatius Press next month on the topic of “The Golden Compass.”
Q: The first movie of “The Golden Compass” trilogy is being released at Christmas. For those unfamiliar with the series, what kind of books are these and to whom do they appeal?
Vere: To begin, the books are marketed for 9-12 year olds as children’s fantasy literature in the tradition of J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and J.K. Rowling. “If you’re a fan of ‘Lord of the Rings,’ ‘Narnia ‘ or ‘Harry Potter,'” the critics tell us, “you’ll love Pullman.”
Personally, I just can’t see a child picking up these books and reading them. I see them more as books that adults give kids to read.
Having said that, “The Golden Compass” (1995) is the first book in Pullman’s trilogy. The second book is titled “The Subtle Knife” (1997) and it is followed by “The Amber Spyglass” (2000).
Collectively, the trilogy is known as “His Dark Materials,” a phrase taken from John Milton’s “Paradise Lost.” This is appropriately titled in my opinion, since each book gets progressively darker — both in the intensity with which Pullman attacks the Catholic Church and the Judeo-Christian concept of God, as well as the stridency with which he promotes atheism.
For example, one of the main supporting characters, Dr. Mary Malone, is a former Catholic nun who abandoned her vocation to pursue sex and science. The reader does not meet her until the second book, by which time the young reader is already engrossed in the story. By the third book, Dr. Malone is engaging in occult practices to lead the two main characters, a 12-year-old boy and girl, to sleep in the same bed and engage in — at the very least — heavy kissing. This is the act through which they renew the multiple universes created by Pullman.
Another example is Pullman’s portrayal of the Judeo-Christian God. Pullman refers to him as “The Authority,” although a number of passages make clear that this is the God of the Bible. The Authority is a liar and a mere angel, and as we discover in the third book, senile as well. He was locked in some sort of jewel and held prisoner by the patriarch Enoch, who is now called Metatron and who rules in the Authority’s name. When the children find the jewel and accidentally release the Authority, he falls apart and dies.
Additionally, Pullman uses the imagery of C.S. Lewis’ “Narnia” chronicles. “His Dark Materials” opens with the young heroine stuck in a wardrobe belonging to an old academic, conversing with a talking animal, when she discovers multiple worlds. So the young reader is lulled early on with the familiar feel of Lewis.
Nevertheless, Pullman’s work isn’t simply about using fairy-tale magic to tell a good story. He openly proselytizes for atheism, corrupting the imagery of Lewis and Tolkien to undermine children’s faith in God and the Church.
Q: Many Catholics, including William Donohue of the Catholic League, are speaking out against the movie. What should parents know before they let their children watch this film?
Vere: I don’t recommend any parent allow their children to view the film. While the movie has reportedly been sanitized of its more anti-Christian and anti-religious elements, it will do nothing but pique children’s curiosity about the books. I’m a parent myself. My children would think it hypocritical if I told them it was OK to see the movie, but not to read the books. And they would be right.
It’s not OK for children — impressionable as they are — to read stories in which the plot revolves around the supreme blasphemy, namely, that God is a liar and a mortal. It is not appropriate for children to read books in which the heroine is the product of adultery and murder; priests act as professional hit men, torturers and authorize occult experimentation on young children; an ex-nun engages in occult practices and promiscuous behavior, and speaks of it openly with a 12-year-old couple; and the angels who rebel against God are good, while those who fight on God’s side are evil. This is wrong. And while it’s been softened in the movie — or at least that’s what Hollywood is telling us — it’s still there in the books.
Miesel: Furthermore, there’s a great deal of cruelty and gore in the books, not just battles but deliberate murder, sadism, mutilation, suicide, euthanasia and even cannibalism. There are also passages of disturbing sensuality and homosexual angels who are “platonic lovers.”
I agree with Pete. Avoid both the movie and the books. It would be best if people didn’t picket or make a public fuss because that’s just free publicity. If the movie fails at the box office, the second and third books won’t be filmed.
Q: The author, Philip Pullman, is an outspoken atheist. Does this come across in the books and the movie as a secularist position or more in the form of anti-Catholicism?
Vere: It’s not an “either/or” situation. What begins as a rebellion against the Church turns into a rebellion against God. This then leads to the discovery that God — and Christianity — are a fraud.
The 12-year-old protagonists — Lyra and Will — discover there is no immortal soul, no heaven or hell. All that awaits us in the afterlife is some gloomy Hades-type afterlife where the soul goes to wait until it completely dissolves. Thus Pullman uses anti-Catholicism as the gateway to promoting atheism.
Q: The trilogy is being compared to “Harry Potter” and “The Lord of the Rings.” Is there a comparison to be made with either?
Vere: On the surface, yes. You’ve got witches, heroines, strange creatures, alternate worlds, etc. Although for reasons already stated, the real comparison — by way of inverted imagery — is to C.S. Lewis’ “Narnia” chronicles. Pullman, who has called “The Lord of the Rings” “infantile,” has a particular dislike for Lewis and “Narnia.” This is reflected in Pullman taking Lewis’ literary devices and inverting them to attack Christianity and promote atheism.
As Pullman said in a 1998 article in The Guardian: “[Lewis] didn’t like women in general, or sexuality at all, at least at the stage in his life when he wrote the ‘Narnia’ books. He was frightened and appalled at the notion of wanting to grow up. Susan, who did want to grow up, and who might have been the most interesting character in the whole cycle if she’d been allowed to, is a Cinderella in a story where the ugly sisters win.”
Miesel: That nasty quote is factually wrong on both points. Lewis began corresponding with his future wife in 1950, the year the first “Narnia” book came out, and married her in 1956, the year the last one was published. Susan’s problem isn’t “growing up,” but turning silly and conceited. She doesn’t even appear — much less get sent to hell — in “The Last Battle.”
Vere: Thus what we see here is more contrast and corruption than comparison. Also, the work of Tolkien, Lewis and Rowling is primarily driven by the audience. It is the average reader who purchases these works, reads them, and makes them popular.
Pullman’s work, on the other hand, appears to be driven by the critics. The only people I know recommending Pullman’s work are English majors and university professors. I don’t know a single electrician, hairdresser or accountant who recommends Pullman’s work by word of mouth. Thus the books haven’t resonated with the average person to the same degree as “Lord of the Rings,” “Narnia” and “Harry Potter.”
Q: Nicole Kidman, a Catholic who stars in the film, has said she wouldn’t have taken the role if she thought the movie was anti-Catholic. What do you make of this response?
Vere: The film has not yet been released, so I cannot comment on it. However, Christ asks very pointedly in the Gospels: Can a good tree bear rotten fruit? The movie is the fruit of the books and Pullman’s imagination. These are anti-Christian and atheistic at their core. How does one sanitize this from the movie without completely gutting Pullman from his story?
During an interview with Hollywood screenwriter Barbara Nicolosi a couple of months ago, I asked her whether it was possible to tone down the anti-Christian elements for the movie. Nicolosi is the chair of Act One, a training and mentoring organization for Christians starting out in Hollywood.
She had given the question thought. A few years ago one of her friends — an evangelical Christian — had been asked by her agent to pitch on the project, that is, propose to write the screenplay adapting “The Golden Compass” to film.
“We read [the book] and there was just no way we could come in on this,” Nicolosi told me. “Pullman’s fantasy universe is nihilistic and rooted in chaos. You cannot fix that in a rewrite without changing the story Pullman is trying to tell — which is atheistic, angry and at times polemical.”
But let’s suppose it is possible. Let’s suppose Kidman is right and that the movie has been sanitized of its anti-Catholicism. The books remain saturated with bitter anti-Christian polemic. So why promote a movie that will only generate interest in the books among impressionable young children?
For the Christian parent, the movie cannot be anything but spiritual poison to their children — for the movie is the fruit of the book.