The Golden Compass Revisited

I mentioned in an earlier post that I would let you know more about the book The Golden Compass after I had read it. You may recall I said there was a good possibility that I would read it long after the movie was released. I finished the book last night.

As far as the movie is concerned, it may be somewhat of a moot point. It has been out for a month or so now and received only fair reviews. Most critics say that the movie gets lost in the details and special effects. It has been panned as “over-reaching” in an attempt to cover every aspect of the book. The viewers have voted with their pocketbooks as well. As of yet, it has not even reclaimed the money it took to make it. Speculation is that there will be no sequel.

I would not count Hollowood out though. And beyond that, video sales in three months may put it way over the top. Which brings me back to the purpose of this post… the content of the book.

I wanted to read this book and see what the hubbub was all about. As a piece of literature, I found it well written and engrossing. It has a very good pace, similar in style to that of the Harry Potter series. No section is too long and it leaves you wanting more each time. It was an enjoyable read.

As to the accusations of anti-Christian themes, I would say there is some merit. Philip Pullman, the author, has been associated with comments ascribing the purpose of the book (and series) to be the gentle corruption of the church in the mind of young people. If there is truth to this, I would say this book certainly plants a seed for that root.

A strong tool for this, I believe, is the constant use of the singular term “daemon.” In the series, every human is endowed with an animal form that encompasses their essence, or spirit. It cannot be separate from them without pain and eventual death. These animals speak to the human and the major part of the storyline revolves around them. It is the near constant use of the word daemon that slowly rankles my skin. I, as most other Christians, have strong negative feelings associated with the term demon. Pullman uses this term as an object of affection, something to be desired. He makes his daemons extremely attractive and lovable. By itself, this is not something to damn the book (pardon the pun), but I believe it is somewhat insidious by its repetitive nature.

The book takes place in an alternate universe, a common theme among science fiction and fantasy writers, which allows Pullman great leeway in his factual reporting. He uses this tool to make corrections to what he sees as an an ineffectual church system. The story takes place in the mid 19th century, after the last Pope, Pope John Calvin (which is a statement unto itself), has been deposed and the Catholic church has been replaced by an intellectual/scientific oriented organization called the Magesterium. They are set up as the villain throughout the book. The church is the bad guy, or at least one of the bad guys (there are several).

Again, this alone is not so bad. In some ways I even agree. The problem comes in that there are so many small jabs at Christianity throughout the book, you feel like you’ve been sucker punched when you hit the last fifteen pages.

It is here, in the last chapter of the book, that Pullman’s true nature seems to rise to the top. I’ll not reveal the ending, in case some of you wish to read the book, but the actions taken in the final few moments and the conversation that is recorded between the two major “bad guys” takes away any doubt as to Pullman’s intentions. In all honesty, I was prepared to write a review basically saying, “what’s the big deal?” until I read the final chapter.

Yes, it takes place in an alternate reality. Yes, the church that is so lambasted in the end was a replacement for the church that we know. But it does not feel that way. He even goes as far as re-writing and quoting scripture to fit his alternate reality and twisting theology to take away any personal responsibility for sin.

Final tally: A good read for a mature, intellectual and grounded believer. A dangerous read for non-believers (who would not catch most of the subtlety anyway). I would not recommend it for children (Pullman’s stated target).

I can only imagine what books two and three are like. I have heard they are not as veiled as the first. I will not be reading them. ~Gary


  1. >Hey Gary,Glad to know someone who finally read the book and could confirm what most on the internet are saying.Joel saw the movie and said it was mediocre at best. He would not waste money on buying the DVD when it comes out.Thanks for the input.

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