Tuesday, December 4, 2007

The Golden Compass

I saw the trailer when I went to see Beowulf. I knew that there were some concerns about the novels upon which it is based being ferociously anti-Christian. The trailer looked pretty impressive; someone spent a lot of money on creating an alternate universe with a very odd mixture of technology and style that resembles late Victorian, but at the same time, clearly is not.

Anyway, I've seen a few critical comments about the books, and that the movie is an attempt to package a fiercely New Age, anti-Christian perspective into a form that would be appealing to children (kind of like liberals learn from Big Tobacco and create the New Age equivalent of Joe Camel). There's a very articulate and entertaining criticism of The Golden Compass's novelistic origins over at the Right Coast which is well worth reading in full. A few excerpts that I thought especially insightful or amusing:
There really isn't any way you can tell a story which involves the Church (called the "Magisterium" in the book, which is the Catholic canon legal term for the teaching authority of the Church, and for the doctrinal content of what is taught) kidnapping children, taking them to a sinister medical facility/concentration camp in the arctic, and performing bizarre and mutilating experiments on them, and not have it be anti-Catholic. But it is not as if this is any big secret, either. Pullman has averred that his His Dark Materials trilogy is about "killing God," who turns out to be an old senile man much in need of offing.

Now such reliable organs as The L.A. Times are coming out to say it is just more of the same old Catholic intolerance and bigotry that is protesting against the depiction of the Church as a bunch of crazed Nazis. Pullman has helpfully elevated the debate by calling offended Catholics "nitwits."

One might complain that had an author written a book about an alternative universe in which thinly disguised Jews tortured children, and, say, manipulated the world through their control of finance, the MSM would find more to protest about. But in today's climate, especially in the UK, one wonders whether even that would do more than get a few rabbis exercised and earn some positive reviews from the BBC. (Catholics used to complain that anti-Catholicism was the Antisemitism of the intellectuals, but this was before the intellectuals went back to antisemitism.)
He goes onto to point out that Pullman, the author of this series of novels, is part of a grand European tradition:
The main point of this post, however, is to point out an irony. The villains in the Golden Compass and sequels are the Catholic-Nazis -- a fair characterization of the book's point, since anytime you have villains running concentration camps with medical experiments, that is psychic charge you are invoking. But in fact, if you want to experience the flavor that contemporary fascism would have when translated into first rate children's literature, you cannot, in my view, do better than Pullman's series.

To be fair, I am not saying Pullman is some sort of neo-Nazi. I think his invocation of fascist themes and memes is probably unconscious. It is just that similar jobs tend to call forth similar tools. The European fascists generally and the Nazis in particular very much wanted to cut off the influence and ultimately destroy the Judeo-Christian God and the Church in particular. They had political reasons for wanting this, but also ideological and (weirdly) religious reasons. Not all of the Nazis were devotes of the occult, but many of them were, and the ones who were not very much understood the importance and power of building a fascist mythos which could motivate and inspire people. To put together their ideology, the Nazis pulled out of the great cesspool of European ideas a lot of nasty things that would have been much better left alone, but among them was the idea that Christianity, which they saw as nothing more than a kind of Judaism, severed people from their inner Nature spirit, their pagan, let's run through the woods naked sort of thing. When Pullman has the Church taking children to camps to sever them from their daemons -- their animal- embodied-soul-mates that every whole person in his alternative universe has -- he is just parroting in kid lit form the old canard you could have picked up in a hundred disreputable places in Bavaria or Vienna in the 1930's.
The trailer shows us that in this alternate universe, every person has an animal spirit guide that accompanies him everywhere. As one of the commenters over at The Right Coast points out:

I, for one, am fairly sure we all do have a personal demon. I'm also pretty sure it's not a pet, and it's a bad idea to try to get in touch with it. One of my principal personal demons is Drink, and he is not a cuddly fellow at all.
UPDATE: I found an article The Atlantic (about as establishment liberal as they get) that gives a bit more about Pullman's objectives, and compares it to other fantasy movies:
In the past, Pullman has expressed mainly contempt for the books on which the other movies were based. He once dismissed the Lord of the Rings trilogy as an “infantile work” primarily concerned with “maps and plans and languages and codes.” Narnia got it even worse: “Morally loathsome,” he called it. “One of the most ugly and poisonous things I’ve ever read.” He described his own series as Narnia’s moral opposite. “That’s the Christian one,” he told me. “And mine is the non-Christian.”

Pullman’s books have sold 15 million copies worldwide, although it’s difficult to imagine adolescent novels any more openly subversive. The series, known collectively as His Dark Materials, centers on Lyra Belacqua, a preteen orphan who’s pursued by a murderous institution known as “the Magisterium.” Or to use the more familiar name, “the Holy Church.” In its quest to eradicate sin, the Church sanctions experiments involving the kidnap and torture of hundreds of children—experiments that separate body from soul and leave the children to stumble around zombie-like, and then die.

The series builds up to a cataclysmic war between Heaven and Earth, on the model of Paradise Lost (the source of the phrase his dark materials). But in Pullman’s version, God is revealed to be a charlatan more pitiable even than Oz. His death scene is memorable only for its lack of drama and dignity: The feeble, demented being, called “the ancient of days,” cowers and cries like a baby, dissolving in air. The final book climaxes, so to speak, in a love scene that could rattle the sensibilities of an American culture that tolerates even Girls Gone Wild, because in this case the girl is still a few years away from college. (More on this later.)

No comments:

Post a Comment