Thursday, November 08, 2007

The Golden Compass

With the end of Lord of the Rings, all quiet on the Narnia front, and the drawing to a close of the Harry Potter saga, there is a new fantasy series in town: Philip Pullmans 'His Dark Materials' trilogy, all in print, but coming soon to a cinema near you.

The first book 'Northern Lights' has been filmed as 'The Golden Compass'. It's already generating a lot of comment from Christians, I've seen emails saying we should boycott the film, others saying we need to go and see it to grapple with the issues it raises.

The Pullman books are highly religious, but as a kind of photographic negative of Lewis's Narnia (though Pullman states that he didn't write them with this in mind - see an interesting interview with Third Way here.) In Pullmans parallel world, people have souls on the outside of their bodies which take the form of an animal (called 'daemons' by Pullman), and the Church, through the 'Magisterium', is a sinister and controlling authority. God is a weak old man who hides behind the power of the angels and who dies during the 3rd book, which concludes with an invitation to the 'republic of heaven'.

Film is powerful, but just as 'The Passion of the Christ' didn't convert the entire world, and 'The Da Vinci Code' didn't destroy the Christian faith, neither will 'The Golden Compass' and its sequels herald the end of the world as we know it. It is important that we're aware of the material it deals with, and that as Christians we have something more to say than 'ban it!' The books, and the film, deal with spiritual issues. They reach drastically different conclusions to the Gospels, but if people are going to be talking about the human soul, the nature of God, the role of the church, the existence of other worlds, what sin is etc., then this is home turf for most of us. I for one would rather debate than denounce.

We have nothing to fear from these sorts of questions, and if the church we are part of really is different from the way it's portrayed in the books and film, then most sensible people will spot the difference. Either that, or we can say 'come and see what it's really like'. It's only if the church you are part of is recognisably Pullmanesque that you've got problems....

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