I hate these discussions. It drove me crazy with Harry Potter, and now it is following the Golden Compass. Personally, I am late to the show for this controversy. I didn't even know there was one until my sister said something, and I only finished reading the Golden Compass last night. I really enjoyed the book.
Golden Compass, originally published as The Northern Lights in the UK, is the story of Lyra Belacqua, a little orphan girl growing up in Jordan College in Oxford, with her daemon, Pantalaimon. In the world of His Dark Materials, every Human has a daemon, and only the witches can be any great distance from them. Shortly after saving her uncle from an attempt on his life, Lyra is taken from the college and placed in the care of the villainous Mrs Coulter after her friend is taken by the Gobblers. After she learns that Mrs Coulter is one of the Gobblers, she runs away from home to find her friend.
The story is an exciting adventure story with many well placed fantasy elements. It opens with a quote from Milton's Paradise Lost from which the series takes its name:
…Into this wilde Abyss,
The Womb of nature and perhaps her Grave,
Of neither Sea, nor Shore, nor Air, nor Fire,
But all these in thir pregnant causes mix't
Confus'dly, and which thus must ever fight,
Unless th' Almighty Maker them ordain
His dark materials to create more Worlds,
Into this wilde Abyss the warie fiend
Stood on the brink of Hell and look'd a while,
Pondering his Voyage...
The controversy is over whether or not the books are anti-religious or anti-God. The Telegraph explains the trilogy:
Pullman doesn't believe in God, or so he has said countless times. He is also vehemently opposed to organised religion - in His Dark Materials, the church and clergy are malevolent, child-destroying forces of repression. The trilogy is in part a reworking of Milton's Paradise Lost with two children, Lyra and Will, taking on the quest to save the world and fighting the war in heaven. Only this time, the fates are reversed. Lyra and Will overturn the established order. Their worlds are redeemed, and God, who turns out to be only a wizened old man encased in a life-support machine, crumbles to dust (Telegraph).
Or viewed from another angle:
Boston University Professor Donna Freitus is a Catholic and claims the book is completely opposite of what most think.
"It's this story of salvation and awakening to God not the death of God. It's not God at all who's dying. It's the first angel. A corrupt angel who has ruled with an iron fist," Freitus says (WIStv).
I have only read the first book, but I am not sure that it even matters which view of the books is the one the author had in mind as he wrote. I am a Christian. I am a Catholic. And so far, in the first book, I have not seen anything contrary to my faith.
Honestly, the first book in the series is the only one that is important to the current controversy since it is the one the film being released on Dec 7 is based upon.
In Golden Compass, the oblation board is the enemy, but is that the same as saying that the church is evil? Not, necessarily. Devotion to any institution or person is always a dangerous thing. The actions of the Oblation Board are a perfect example of how blind devotion to any human institution leads to harm.
The plot of the Golden Compass is about how we must fight not to loose our soul. So unless your church teaches you that you must loose your soul to achieve salvation, then this book is not against your religion; but if you believe in standing up for what is right, loyalty, and keeping your soul from harm, it is not.
I fully expect that as the story unfold, Lyra will have to continue to fight against the false god who is against the soul. I anticipated that from the first lined of the book evoking the image of Satan believing he is God.
I loved Pleasantville and Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, both films about defeating a false god to liberate humankind, so if that is the over arching plot, you would have to have a weak faith or a tyrannical deity to fear that your faith would be challenged. The God I believe is would never instruct his ministers to harm children.
In the end, this is a work of fiction about a heroic young girl fighting against unimaginable horrors to save the people she loves. The shocks are non-stop, and poor Lyra is constantly being challenged by putting her trust in people that disappoint and betray her. It is a perfect opportunity to sit your children down and tell them to never trust anyone just because they hold a position of power or authority. Even people that work for the most noble institutions are capable of doing the most horrible things. Tell them to trust their hearts, and always do what is right, regardless of who is telling them to do the wrong thing.
"The church has to stand for something. We have to stand for something. If someone has an agenda that goes directly against what we stand for, it's a pretty easy decision for us," says Bird (WIStv).
So stand up, but if you feel that you have to defend an institution that kidnaps kids to separate them from their souls, causing pain and suffering everywhere they go, I think that says something more about how you view your religion. I am a Catholic and a Christian. I do not take anything from a fictional book that includes a religion by the same or similar name to the one I practice that does not act at all like the one I belong to seriously, especially because the book is set in a fictional other world where bears talk, witches really fly and the Calvinist somehow control the papacy. The moral lessons Lyra learns are valuable to people of all faiths or of no faith at all.
Personally, I cannot wait to read the next book and watch the movie.