Bookmark and Share
My Photo


    Opinions expressed on the Insight Scoop weblog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Ignatius Press. Links on this weblog to articles do not necessarily imply agreement by the author or by Ignatius Press with the contents of the articles. Links are provided to foster discussion of important issues. Readers should make their own evaluations of the contents of such articles.


« Cardinal Dulles on the history and future of ecumenism | Main | J.P. Moreland: Evangelicals are "over-committed" to the Bible »

Thursday, November 15, 2007


Rich Leonardi


You might be interested in a contrary point of view that was circulated last week. I penned a critique on my site:

As I read the books the first time, I began to be very uneasy with this portrayal of the church. There is no pope in this church, no priests, no sacraments, no pastoring. But there’s no doubt that it is meant to be a version of the Roman Catholic Church, and I struggled with whether the books were actively anti-Catholic and anti-Christian. But as I kept reading and thinking, I realized that crucial elements were missing from the “church” of Pullman’s books: Salvation, forgiveness, redemption, love, and the Good News of Jesus Christ. Without these elements, it can’t properly be called a Christian church of any kind.

The “church” of the novels is a kind of caricature of the excesses of the medieval Catholic Church, which in some of its darkest hours forced Galileo to recant his astronomical observations and tortured suspected heretics during the Inquisition (sometimes by waterboarding them). The Roman Catholic Church has since acknowledged its error in the Galileo matter and apologized for its treatment of the Jews and others in the Inquisition, as well as enacting substantial Reformations over the last several hundred years. While I recognize in it some of the trappings of the Catholic Church of long ago, Pullman’s “church” is no more like the Church I know and love than Stalinist Russia is like the U.S.A.

With this realization, my doubts were put to rest and I could enjoy the product of an extraordinary imagination at work. The series is not meant for small children — I wouldn’t recommend it for readers under about age 12, and doubt many children younger than that would understand or enjoy the books. If you are a parent and your child wants to read them, I recommend that you read them, too. You won’t be disappointed, and they will offer great fodder for discussion.


Thre is a Facebook group warning parents etc about HDM. It has an exhaustive set of links (90% Catholic). Lots of things like the statement of the Bishop of Austin and the pernicious work of Scholastic Books. Already 700 members!

Please join and encourage others to join as Facebook is a GREAT way to reach young adults with this msg! (they don't read blogs like old farts like me!!)
Boycott film "The Golden Compass" and Pullman atheistic "His Dark Materials

I will publicize the booklet when it becomes available!!

Sandra Miesel

Pullman's "Church" does have sacraments, including pre-emptive absolution for sins not yet committed. Did you miss the derogatory references to the real Catholic Church in our world, voiced by an ex-nun turned atheist? Did you miss the Gnostic reversal of roles in the Fall? Or that loss of primal innocence is good? Or Pullman's dismal afterlife? etc. etc.

Pullman's treatment of organized religion is indeed crude as a Jack Chick tract but that's hardly the only thing objectionable about these books. Reading them was like having poison slowly dripped into my veins.

Rich Leonardi


In the event it's unclear, the excerpted 'grafs are from the critiqued article, i.e., they're not mine. Here's my critique:

The writer makes an interesting point, and cautions that these books are unsuitable for (small) children, but in the end she seems to be saying, "Pullman's wrong about the Church; therefore, he can't really be talking about the Church." There's a gap in logic buried somewhere in that line of reasoning. As to whether it's "great fodder for discussion," it reminds me of one of Mark Shea's quips during The Da Vinci Code debate, when defenders said the book was a conversation starter. "Your mother's a whore." "How dare you!" "At least now we're talking about her." And beyond Pullman's characterization of the Church is his depiction of God (as a feeble, conniving fraud.) Pullman has said unequivocally that these books are intended to persuade children of the merits of atheism. I'm willing to take him at his word.

Doug Kimball

James, I agree with Vere and Miesel - best not to boycott this film, lest we add more free publicity to a film we might wish were ignored. Let's work instead to be discerning parents and encourage films like the recent Amazing Grace and The Lord of the Rings films to be viewed as an alternative to this one.


I guess my definition of boycott simply means avoiding paying $$.

"2. to abstain from buying or using: to boycott foreign products.

The facebook group is not about loud picketing, trying to ban the movie etc. It is simply a quiet group that spreads info/links to folks so they don't want to go the movie. I can't change the title now, but perhaps I would have called it "Learn the true agenda of HDM".

Anyways, the group is there for folks and the links ARE useful!

And Bella etc is promoted!

Carl Olson

James: A good clarification. When it comes to Pullman, I'm pro-boycott (that is, don't give him ANY money) and anti-picketing (that is, don't create the kind of furor that feeds the media and thus rewards Pullman and Co.).

neverslo Hidalgo

Having read the books, I can't wait to see this film. As someone who has recently decided to jettison Christianity, I'm going to make sure my children see it as well.


"Having read the books, I can't wait to see this film. As someone who has recently decided to jettison Christianity, I'm going to make sure my children see it as well."---neverslo Hidalgo

I am surmising here, but I guess you would read a blog like this one as a kind of reverse recommendation. Interesting.

Carl Olson

Having read the books, I can't wait to see this film. As someone who has recently decided to jettison Christianity, I'm going to make sure my children see it as well.

A revealing way of validating the criticisms of Pullman's work that Vere, Miesel, and others are making.

MMajor Fan

Because children are not being properly formed in their faith and foundational belief in God all fictional works have become problematic, although especially the ones we have discussed. Think for a moment historically. When children are properly grounded in faith in God they could read some hair raising "Grimm fairy tales" for example without taking them literally and becoming warped. Likewise the works of the early "science fiction writers," like Jules Verne and so forth, could be read and enjoyed without having one's faith warped or undercut. LOTR was written by Tolkien against such a backdrop, where Christianity was still properly formed in children and held into adulthood by the prevailing culture so that fantasy works could be read and appreciated without putting the soul of the child or adult in jeopardy. But with a blast of secularism all of that foundational context has been lost and verily destroyed. Children who are properly formed in the faith and who sustain their faith should, in theory, be able to read or view anything and discern it as a thought provoking work of entertainment (and their taste would not run to the extremes in it, as they would discern that a witchcraft or anti-Church mentality does not map to their reality of balance and faith, so they would tend to avoid the worst of the worst). But today children in general are not raised in such a cradle of faith formation, both from family and society at large, so virtually all secular fiction is a threat to them because they are so plastic in their spirituality, if they possess it at all. Worse, the anti-Church fantasy genre is a tempting fill to the vacuum. If one does not believe that one is special and loved as unique in God's eye, then one wants to fantasize that one is special and unique like Harry Potter.

Sandra Miesel

First it was all magic in fantasy that was bad and now it's all secular fiction? Dear me, Beatrix Potter will have to join L. Frank Baum in the trash bin, not to mention more recent writers.

LOTR wasn't written or marketed for children. When the first American edition made it a publishing sensation in 1965, its most passionate readers were college students, a few of whom would be attracted to neo-Paganism as a result. I had a ringside seat and published my first Tolkien analyses in 1968. And if all children and families were so well-formed in the Faith back in the Good Old Days, why did the 60's happen?

I'm not going to rehash the HP arguments but why are some people so upset at Harry's "specialness"? It originates in victimhood as the son of murdered parents consigned to abusive guardians. He's turned into the child of prophecy by the enemy bent on destroying him, even though he's a mediocre magician at best. HP fits a common fairytale of the lowly outsider turning out to be a hero or a lost princess by the character revealed in a critical test.

Pullman's trilogy started and finished earlier than HP. THE GOLDEN COMPASS won the Carnegie Medal a year before before Rowling published her first novel in a tiny print run in 1997. No Carnegie for any HP volume. It amuses Pullman no end that religious people trained their artillery on Rowling while he flew under the radar. Let's pick our targets better, shall we?


Ditto what Sandra just said.

And the release date for "Pied Piper" is mid-December? Yikes!!! I ordered it already from Ignatius, hoping it would be shipping within a week or so. I'm putting together a presentation for parents and tweens, about the books and film, which I'll hopefully put on at several local parishes/CCD programs, etc. I was really hoping to have the pamphlet to draw from, but mid-December will really be too late for my purposes... :-(

Sandra Miesel

Fear not. Carl and I will have articles in the December CATHOLIC WORLD REPORT and I have a pair coming up for OUR SUNDAY VISITOR. The NCREGISTER has a story in the current issue up at their website. I think a little googling would provide you with enough material for your presentation. Also, you can get long plot synopses forall the books from wikipedia which should indicate what some of the problems are.

Gene Branaman

I'd like to direct everyone to Christian film critic Peter Chattaway's blog Film Chat & link to an interview with Chris Weitz, director of The Golden Compass, dated 11/15 & titled "The Golden Compass - a quick update." Weitz talks about the adaptation process of TGC & how it will affect future (if any) films in the franchise. Very interesting. Those who've been following the adventures of turning these books into films over the past 5 years most likely won't be surprised by what Weitz has to say about the anti-Christian content of Subtle Knife & Amber Spyglass & how it will be reflected in subsequent films. The worst is still to come, if the other films get made.

Here's the URL to Mr Chattaway's blog:

He's been very careful about what he says regarding the religious elements of the books & how they'll be changed in the film versions so I found this quote from Weitz to be especially telling: "I realized that the overt stating of some of the themes in “The Northern Lights”/”The Golden Compass” would never — this is important to make clear — never EVER get across the goal line. There isn’t a wide enough audience for that — yet." (Emphasis mine.)

And this: "I will not be involved with any 'watering down' of books two and three, since what I have been working towards the whole time in the first film is to be able to deliver on the second and third films. If I sense that this is not possible, there’s no point my continuing to work on them. . . ."

In light of what he manages to say while trying not to say too much, I find it interesting that he feels it's "ridiculous" of so-called "extremists" to say he is "pursuing any sort of atheist agenda" in making this film. Your words belie you, Mr Weitz.

Also, Carl, I totally agree with you: Boycott but don't picket. Very important.

Thanks to Sandra & Peter for the book! Can't wait to read it.


Wow! Great find, Gene! That is going in the presentation.

And Sandra, thank you for the other article sources-- I'll poke around. I think I'm going to have to hold my nose, though, and actually read the darned books from the library, because you know someone will ask during q&a, "So, have you actually read them?" I haven't tried arsenic, either, come to think, but I'll trust the expert opinion that it's poison...

Sandra Miesel

Well, say a prayer before your reading sessions. The nastiest stuff in GC is in the last three chapters, which the movie dropped. I'd read the synopses first and then pick out the worst chapters to look at. You definitely ought to look at the last section of AMBER SPTGLASS, from the point where the kids set out for the land of death to the end.

Blessings for trying to warn your parishioners.

MMajor Fan

Sandra: "LOTR wasn't written or marketed for children."

Remember the movie cartoon of LOTR released November 15, 1978? I do.

It contained the catchy tune as Orcs march, "Where there's a whip there's a way." Still gives me the giggles. Just a little trivia pertinent to the subject.

Sandra Miesel

Obviously, I was talking about the LOTR books. The awful cartoons were something else.

Sue Sims

While I agree with most of what has been argued here (apart from the apostate's comments), I must, alas, take issue with Mr de Vere's comment:

'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."'

As an English teacher in a English grammar school (pupils aged 11 to 18 selected by ability), I've actually found a large number of my students at the lower end of the age range reading His Dark Materials and recommending them to their friends. For all his distressing beliefs and aims, Pullman does write well, particularly in the first book of the trilogy: the middle one's not so good, and the third one is pretty awful, but it doesn't matter to young readers, who have by that stage been hooked and want to know what happens.

However, there is one compensation. Lewis's ideas of smuggling Christian themes 'past watchful dragons' mostly hasn't had a lot of effect on the students I teach, none of whom seem to realise that Aslan is Christ, or recognise any of the other Christian motifs. Equally, when I talk to them about Pullman, none of them are aware of the atheist propaganda. I'm not saying it's harmless, merely that we probably overestimate the amount of harm it will do.


I have read the complete trilogy as has my seventeen year old eldest child. She found them "awful". Her reasoning is this.... that most kids today are unaware of any spiritual matters, they live in a vacuum, so when Pullman shows up talking about "daemons" and how wonderful they are, kids will be attracted to that. I, too, hate how God, church, spiritually is perverted, inverted whatever you want to call it. "Perception is reality".... and if this is the only "reality" that young people read they can be influenced by it. His Dark Materials are dark... and dangerous for those who are poorly grounded in their faith.

The comments to this entry are closed.

Ignatius Insight


Ignatius Press

Catholic World Report


Blogs & Sites We Like

June 2018

Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
          1 2
3 4 5 6 7 8 9
10 11 12 13 14 15 16
17 18 19 20 21 22 23
24 25 26 27 28 29 30
Blog powered by Typepad