02 December 2007

His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman

Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials series has many of the characteristics of a children's science fiction series: the main characters are under 18, parent-child relationships are a subplot, disobeying authority figures is a thematic element, animals are able to communicate with humans, etc. But there is one thing that really sets it apart from other children's series: it's an atheistic text. Blatantly so. A large part of the series's plot is the war between those who support 'the Authority' a being who has been pretending to be the creator and hence the ruler of the universe and those who support Asriel, the father of the main character who is attempting to overthrow this authority (Asriel is the good guy here). Another plot within the series has religious authorities after Lyra, the main character, because they believe she is the reincarnation of Eve and they want to ensure she makes the correct choice with her temptation.

The deep criticism of religion present the series is right there for everyone to see. The three books in the series were published in 1995, 1997, and 2000. Minimal, if no, backlash. But now that the first book in the series, The Golden Compass, is premiering - watch the religious fanatics go hog wild. Awww, aren't they cute when they get all huffy? So far, my favorite condemnation of the movie (who cares about books) is that the movie will "hook children into Pullman's books and a dark, individualistic world where all religion is evil." First, I would be thrilled if the movie made children read the series. Yay for reading! Second, while many of the characters are individualistic in that they are strong individuals capable of independent thought and proponents of free will, major themes in the movie revolve around the need for team work and the duty we all have to sacrifice parts of the self for humanity. Third, teaching children (and adults for that matter) to question religious doctrine, to question authority, should be a main goal in all our lives.

So their condemnation of the book is my praise of it. Another religious critic denunciates the movie because it is "selling atheism to children." Well, it's about time. We've been "selling religion," specifically Christianity, to children for thousands of years. Oh wait, did I say selling? I meant shoving it down their throats with a giant spoon and a lot of whipped cream. A spoon full of sugar helps the medicine go down and all that. Let's help our children reach their own decisions about Life, the Universe, and Everything (check out Douglas Adams) by presenting them with multiple perspectives.

And in the end, while the book has atheistic philosophies, some religious critics have said that the book is actually a theological treatise condemning, not God, but those who use power to corrupt. Others have said it is a wonderful book which could help us to see the elimination of the old, patriarchal, conservative Father-figure God and rethink God in a new form.

Who knows? I would just be happy if people read the book and thought critically and independently about the philosophies present: theology, religion, authority, hylopathism, quantum physics, interpersonal relationships, coming of age, diversity, self-sacrifice, free will, and on and on and on.

Buy  |  Borrow  |  Accept  |  Avoid


  1. I read these books when I was in junior high, but with the upcoming movie I ought to read them again. It would probably be a great example of how changing ourselves (growing up) can change our perception of a book.
    As for individualism and atheism, your post couldn't have come at a better time. I'm currently in the middle of a book by Christopher Hitchens called "god Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything." I'll have to post something about it when I'm finished.

  2. What a lovely title for a book. It certainly captures my attention. And you definitely should make a post about it on your poor neglected blog. ;)


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