Things I don’t usually talk about: my faith

Alternate title: my take on Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy.

The books:
Book 1: The Golden Compass, Italian version by Marina Astrologo and Alfredo Tutino, 354 pages
Book 2: The Subtle Knife, Italian version by Alfredo Tutino, 292 pages
Book 3: The Amber Spyglass, Italian version by Francesco Bruno, 454 pages
All three: as published by Salani, hardcover edition.

Before everything else, I have to point out two things. One, I am a believer. Two, I knew what I was going into.

You see, I had first read The Golden Compass sometime around 1997. I could still remember the general storyline, but it impressed me so little it took me 4 years to get to book 2. The Subtle Knife I could only recall a couple of scenes from, and it impressed me even less. I had that nagging feeling you get when you miss the end of a movie or a story, but I never really intended to go back to it. Until now, 10 years later, The Golden Compass came up when I was looking for books set in Norway (which it isn’t, BTW) (but we are going there to look for Northern Lights, so it made sense, in a way), and I had the chance to get all three of them from the library and the time to read them back to back.

So now. So now I am all angry and sad about these books.

I’m sad, because it’s clear that nothing of the true message of God and the Church ever reached the author, even when he was being educated as a Christian. Because most of the message he is conveying — i.e. that humans should build everything that is good, and be “all those difficult things like cheerful and kind and curious and patient”, to create “the Republic of Heaven” in this world — is not so different from what my faith tells me. Except, of course, that the motive behind all that will be different if you believe in God. I’m sad whenever I meet people who are told (and grow up to tell others) that God is a mean and tyrannical being asking you to renounce everything that there is to enjoy in the world. Because that’s definitely not the God I know: the God that created all that is good for us and gave it to us.

And I’m angry, because any theme you want to write about, you have to read up on and know well, but when the theme is the Church it seems that everyone can write whatever they like, no matter how bad. And I’m particularly angry that this is marketed as a children book, and as a fantasy book, and many will read it completely unprepared, not expecting to be thinking about what they believe. I do understand the author has a message to convey, but I feel he is doing so unfairly.

I’m not being disingenuous. I know well that there are atheists and agnostics in this world, and of course everyone is free to believe in what they like. And I know the Church has been wrong and tyrannical and dangerous. But it has also been loving, and saint, and full of Grace, and it’s not right to point out the one aspect and fully misunderstand or misrepresent the other. And because everyone is free to believe in what they like, we should all start by respecting other people’s beliefs.

And I’m sorry about all this, because Pullman is clearly a good storyteller, he created a believable story and (many) believable words. Even without all the theological implications, I found these less than stellar, but still good, readable, enjoyable. I’m glad I finally read the last part of the story. Too bad I feel that the whole work is unfair and disrespectful.


7 comments on “Things I don’t usually talk about: my faith

  1. Yeah, I know how you feel. I was very disappointed, even though I already knew about Pullman’s anti-Christianity bent. It always seems to me that he doesn’t even understand what faith is about, he’s missed the whole point. And I also felt that with the third book, he pulled his story out of shape in order to accommodate his message; he was so busy pushing his agenda that the story really suffered.

  2. @ Joachim: of course there have been abuses in and of religion, but I feel that Pullman has a way of telling one and only one aspect of the whole story, that is completely biased.
    @ Dangermom: yes! Yes! I was so baffled by the ex-nun story, for instance. I mean, I understand he thinks that God does not exist and he wants to convey that message, he’s free to do so (as many other atheist are, whose books I can read and even appreciate, or read and endure), but here I felt like he was cheating…

  3. When I read the first two books, I certainly took the story as about abuses of religion. After all, the church in Lyra’s universe is clearly entirely corrupt, but that isn’t necessarily a comment upon my church or faith. But by the third volume, it’s obvious that Pullman isn’t just saying that. He’s attacking the whole idea of religion, of there being such a thing as a God, of any kind of faith in the spiritual. Because he thinks the entire concept is completely rotten–he’s talked about it at length elsewhere. And hey, he can do that, but I don’t have to agree with him, or think that he served his story well at the end there (which was too muddled to make much sense).

    Oddly, though the books are supposed to celebrate freedom, I think the whole idea of daemons kind of denies free will. Once you hit 12 or so, your daemon stops changing shape, and the permanent shape describes your character–forever. A servant has a servile dog daemon and can never be anything else. A timid person would have a timid daemon, and apparently can never change that trait. I’m not sure Pullman meant to do that, but it seems to me that he thinks people can’t change.

  4. I agree with the first part of your comment completely.
    As for daemons, I’m not so sure. I think that there are some traits of our characters that remain the same and sort of define what we are, and that’s what the daemon would represent. Someone who found the sense of their life in serving would have a servile dog daemon (Lord Asriel’s servant would be that kind of person), but someone who is a servant only as a job, and whose main consistent trait is to be cheerful would have a more cheerful sort of daemon. The stress given to all servants having dog daemons is used to let us understand how the relation works, I guess. And maybe says more about how the author may see the world: I know many who do not consider servants to be on the same level as them, who don’t believe servants have their own life, hopes, fears, emotions. If you see servants in that light, of course you would define all of them only through their job — therefore the dog daemons. Makes sense?

  5. Oh, probably. 🙂 It just struck me as kind of odd. Hm, what is a cheerful sort of daemon? I bet mine would be a butterfly–cheerful *and* distractible. 🙂

  6. Of course, as for odd I do agree.
    Ah, a butterfly daemon! That would be nice! Mine would be something more mimetic… I don’t know, a moth? A stick insect? … an Arctic hare? 😉

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