I’ve been a casual observer of the fomenting furor surrounding me here in the Bible Belt concerning the movie The Golden Compass. I’m bothering to write about it because there are so many points that need making, but I don’t hear anyone in these parts vocalizing them. Also, the issue revolves around things dear to my heart: fantasy literature and, tangentially, C. S. Lewis.
Let me begin by admitting that I have neither read Pullman’s series nor seen the movie, though I’ll do the latter at least. Nor am I greatly familiar with Pullman’s position on everything involved. I’ve read two news articles on the controversy in order to get a handle on the issues, and then there is my experience of people’s perceptions and comments. Together, they lead me to say: ARRRRRG! Give me a break!
First and foremost, of all the provocative things Pullman is reported to have said, his criticism of C. S. Lewis is a frontrunner for stirring up the Christian right.
“I loathe the ‘Narnia’ books,” Pullman has said in previous press interviews. “I hate them with a deep and bitter passion, with their view of childhood as a golden age from which sexuality and adulthood are a falling away.” He has called the series “one of the most ugly and poisonous things” he’s ever read. (http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,305487,00.html)
Keep in mind that I respond as one who nearly participated in the lynching of a close friend that had the audacity to say C. S. Lewis was the worst theologian ever. That said, if I may be so bold as to speak for brother Lewis, he himself would read Pullman and watch the movie. He would do this because intelligent, informed response is always approprite, and ignorant, reactionary critique is unacceptable, whaterver the issue. I am sick to the point of fatigue at the number of people I have heard swear off the movie because of a fifth-hand report of the “problem,” having read nothing nor even bothered to question what is really at stake. This sort of defensive insecurity is absurd and certainly not worthy of Lewis’ profound exerpience of and dialogue with atheism.
I’ll address head on the anti-religion theme purportedly propagated by the story. Pullman denies such an agenda for himself, and the movie production was explicitly cautious about those parts of the story that might be perceived as anti-religious, toning down the story in the process (http://abcnews.go.com/Entertainment/Story?id=3970783&page=2). Get informed and get over it, or call him a liar, but don’t act as though he and the movie are on the attack.
Many still argue that Pullman’s atheism is blatantly promoted in the story, and the oppressive ruling power in the story–ultimately God–is obviously analogous to the church. Even if this is so, I find the boycott response to be completely silly. What is at risk here? In the first place, the boycott acts as though there are not scores of movies–usually watched by the same group presently up in arms–operating with the same assumptions. For that matter, all those who desire not to “support” the movie will need to take a total hiatus from movie-watching if they are to avoid “supporting” movies that assume, portray, exalt, and otherwise inculcate non-Christian beliefs and values. I dare say that we do not typically watch movies or read books in order to “support” the creators’ messages. That’s simply not the point. In the course of being entertaining, interesting, artful, etc. artists very rarely promote Christianity. If someone determines that to be reason enough for a boycott of their art, I’d encourage them. I would simply ask for a little consistency.
On a different level, what risk is there in dealing again with common literary motifs, such as the death of God or the corruption of power-mongering religious insitutions. They cause us to think–something I fear many would prefer to avoid if possible. Or is there truly a fear that Pullman will manage to brainwash children with his story? I can hardly believe people are thinking this way, though the evidence is overwhelming. My first question, then, is what in the world are these kids being taught, that any single movie could produce such a result? Is this movie to be the sum total of their religious training, or is there the possibility of, say, parents talking with them about the ideas generated? Is there no context of faith in light of which the movie can be both qualified and enjoyed as a piece of art? I simply cannot imagine what is so threatening here; particularly if, as I suspect, Pullman’s view of Christianity is skewed. If the church or God actually acted like his story suggests, I’d want to do away with them too. It’s a wonderful lesson about what the church should not be and a wonderful contrast with who God really is.