Saturday, December 08, 2007

A few things I found while researching "The Golden Compass" (while waiting 17th in line for the book to be free at our local library). All of the quotes below are from secular sources. (I intentionally avoided Christian Reviews.)

First - the story line:

"In Pullman's trilogy, Lyra is the new-age Eve, and Will is the modern-day Adam. God is a wizened spent force of an "Authority". And "The Fall" is to be celebrated as the defining moment of mankind, rather than the source of all worldly evil. Little wonder that His Dark Materials has been denounced by some religious zealots."

What did Pullman have to say about his book?

"Pullman, though, expected more. 'I've been surprised by how little criticism I've got. Harry Potter's been taking all the flak. I'm a great fan of J.K. Rowling, but the people - mainly from America's Bible Belt - who complain that Harry Potter promotes Satanism or witchcraft obviously haven't got enough in their lives. Meanwhile, I've been flying under the radar, saying things that are far more subversive than anything poor old Harry has said. My books are about killing God.'"

His inspiration?

"As a teenager, he fell in love with Paradise Lost. 'Books I and II, when the angels have just been thrown into Hell after the war in Heaven. They plot a terrible revenge, to destroy, subvert and ruin the new world God has made.'"

His message?

"Essentially, the trilogy is about the transition of innocence to experience, the triumph of knowledge over ignorance. When we're introduced to Lyra, we're told the inflexible church authorities in her world are anxious to stem the spread of 'Dust'. Only later do we find that Dust is good - 'the totality of human wisdom and experience' is Pullman's description. It's the religious zealots trying to prevent the spread of wisdom who are the bad guys, even if they wear clerics' robes."

Fantasy or reality to Pullman?

"Pullman has been compared so many times with Tolkien and Lewis, it galls him. 'Despite the armoured bears and the angels, I don't think I'm writing fantasy," he says. 'I think I'm writing realism. My books are psychologically real. So I would be most flattered if I was compared to George Eliot, Jane Austen or Henry James.'There's a pause, and the tinkle of a wine glass. "But I don't expect anybody will."'

His motivation for writing the books?

"Pullman has not been shy in the past about verbalizing his beliefs — or, some might say, nonbeliefs — and his intentions in writing the 'Dark Materials' novels.
The novelist has said they are in response to C.S. Lewis' 'The Chronicles of Narnia,' the popular children's fantasy series of which 'The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe' is the first book — written by Lewis to teach Christian ideals to kids.
'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."

What do atheists think about the book/movie?

"In spite of complaints about the forthcoming film, Pullman fans and atheists are still excited about the exposure it will give his novels. They say the American literary market is sorely lacking material for those who don't believe in God, and they scoff at the idea that the series is hazardous to children.
'Philip Pullman and I would say it is religion that poisons everything,' said Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the atheist advocacy group the Freedom From Religion Foundation, and a co-host of Freethought Radio, a talk show that recently went national on Air America Radio.
Gaylor said her now-18-year-old daughter read the 'Dark Materials' books 'over and over' when she was a middle-school student about the same age as the heroine.
'What this book is about is casting off Church authority,' Gaylor said. 'I think it's very, very positive. There should be something for freethinking children. It's a very good yarn.'"
"We knew from the beginning that the producers of this film intended to leave out the anti-religious references. We think this is a great shame " (Terry Sanderson, National Secular Society)

What Pullman says about himself:

"Blake said Milton was a true poet and of the Devil's party without knowing it. I am of the Devil's party and know it."

What's his take on the daemons?

"T]he story I was trying to write was about real people, not beings that don't exist like elves or hobbits. Lyra and Will and the other characters are meant to be human beings like us, and the story is about a universal human experience, namely growing up. The 'fantasy' parts of the story were there as a picture of aspects of human nature, not as something alien and strange. For example, readers have told me that the dæmons, which at first seem so utterly fantastic, soon become so familiar and essential a part of each character that they, the readers, feel as if they've got a dæmon themselves. And my point is that they have, that we all have. It's an aspect of our personality that we often overlook, but it's there. that's what I mean by realism: I was using the fantastical elements to say something that I thought was true about us and about our lives.""I think [my dæmon]'s probably a magpie or a jackdaw, one of these birds that pick up bright shining things and doesn't distinguish in terms of shininess between the diamond ring and the KitKat wrapper - just as I don't distinguish in terms of 'storyness' between Shakespeare and Neighbours.""[Y]ou don't have a choice in what your dæmon will become. There are many who would like to have a lion as a dæmon, and end up with a poodle! But if I did have a choice, I'd choose a raven. In North American mythology a raven is a trickster. And a storyteller is really just someone who tricks you into believing in their story. So I'd be happy if my dæmon were a raven."

Does he think he's teaching anything?:

(His Carnegie acceptance speech)"All stories teach, whether the storyteller intends them to or not. They teach the world we create. They teach the morality we live by. They teach it much more effectively than moral precepts and instructions."And furthermore:"[T]he act of true reading is in its very essence democratic. Consider the nature of what happens when we read a book - and I mean, of course, a work of literature, not an instruction manual or a textbook - in private, unsupervised, un-spied-on, alone. It isn't like a lecture: it's like a conversation. There's a back-and-forthness about it. The book proposes, the reader questions, the book responds, the reader considers. We bring our own preconceptions and expectations, our own intellectual qualities, and our limitations, too, our own previous experiences of reading, our own temperament, our own hopes and fears, our own personality to the encounter."

An off-subject quote about Creation Science:

"As for disgraceful betrayals of wisdom such as the pretense that there is something called "creation science" and we ought to give it equal time in schools with proper science --- I'm ashamed to belong to a human race that is so sunk in abject ignorance and willful stupidity."

What he thinks about religion:

"The religious impulse – which includes the sense of awe and mystery we feel when we look at the universe, the urge to find a meaning and a purpose in our lives, our sense of moral kinship with other human beings – is part of being human, and I value it. I'd be a damn fool not to.
But organised religion is quite another thing. The trouble is that all too often in human history, churches and priesthoods have set themselves up to rule people's lives in the name of some invisible god (and they're all invisible, because they don't exist) – and done terrible damage. In the name of their god, they have burned, hanged, tortured, maimed, robbed, violated, and enslaved millions of their fellow-creatures, and done so with the happy conviction that they were doing the will of God, and they would go to Heaven for it.
That is the religion I hate, and I'm happy to be known as its enemy."

About his belief or disbelief in God:

"I can see no evidence in that circle of things I do know, in history, or in science or anywhere else, no evidence of the existence of God.
So I'm caught between the words 'atheistic' and 'agnostic'. I've got no evidence whatever for believing in a God. But I know that all the things I do know are very small compared with the things that I don't know. So maybe there is a God out there. All I know is that if there is, he hasn't shown himself on earth.
But going further than that, I would say that those people who claim that they do know that there is a God have found this claim of theirs the most wonderful excuse for behaving extremely badly. So belief in a God does not seem to me to result automatically in behaving very well."

His thoughts on truth:

"I'm for open-mindedness and tolerance. I'm against any form of fanaticism, fundamentalism or zealotry, and this certainty of 'We have the truth.' The truth is far too large and complex. Nobody has the truth."

On Adam and Eve's sin in the Garden:

"The general theme, the general gist of the whole book is that the famous story of the Temptation in the Garden of Eden and the Fall of Man so-called, when Eve gave way to the temptation to eat the fruit of knowledge and tempted Adam to eat it as well, that this traditionally [has] been presented as being a very bad thing and Eve was very wicked and we all got covered in sorrow and sin and misery from then on as a result of this .. well, I just reversed that. I thought wasn't it a good thing that Eve did, isn't curiosity a valuable quality? Shouldn't she be praised for risking this? It wasn't, after all, that she was after money or gold or anything, she was after knowledge. What could possibly be wrong with that?"

What does he think we should reference for our guidance?

"We don't need lists of rights and wrongs, tables of do's and don'ts: we need books, time, and silence. 'Thou shalt not' is soon forgotten, but 'Once upon a time' lasts forever."

His take on "The Kingdom of Heaven" and "The Republic of Heaven":

"[The republic of heaven] stands for a sense of community. It stands for joy. It stands for a sense that the universe and we together, have a common meaning and a common destiny, and a purpose. It stands for connectedness between these things. All these things are so important, so fundamental to what keeps me alive that I don't want to be without them. I don't want to do without heaven, but I can no longer believe in a kingdom of heaven, so there must be a republic of heaven of which we are free and equal citizens - and it's our duty to promote and preserve this."

What are the key values in the Republic, rather than the Kingdom, of Heaven?

"Firstly, a sense that this world where we live is our home. Our home is not somewhere else. There is no elsewhere. This is a physical universe and we are physical beings made of material stuff. This is where we live.
Secondly, a sense of belonging, a sense of being part of a real and important story, a sense of being connected to other people, to people who are not here any more, to those who have gone before us. And a sense of being connected to the universe itself.
All those things were promised and summed up in the phrase, 'The Kingdom of Heaven'. But if the Kingdom is dead, we still need those things. We can't live without those things because it's too bleak, it's too bare and we don't need to. We can find a way of creating them for ourselves if we think in terms of a Republic of Heaven.
This is not a Kingdom but a Republic, in which we are all free and equal citizens, with – and this is the important thing – responsibilities. With the responsibility to make this place into a Republic of Heaven for everyone. Not to live in it in a state of perpetual self-indulgence, but to work hard to make this place as good as we possibly can."
"I find it impossible to believe (in God). However, the corollary of that is that if there is no kingdom of heaven, we must have a republic of heaven. We can't have another king. We mustn't have another king. Worshiping the wrong thing is going to lead to trouble, so we have to have a republic, by which I mean that we ourselves in this world here in the physical universe where we know we live have got to make it as much like the traditional idea of heaven as we can.
By which I mean it's a place where we're connected to other people by love and joy and delight in the universe and the physical world. And we have to use all the qualities we have -- our imagination, our intelligence, our scientific understanding, our appreciation of art, our love for each other and so on -- we have to work to use those things, to make the world a better place, which it sorely needs making."

It appears as though Mr. Pullman is singlehandedly trying to disassemble the heirarchy of God's design for man. God's design to have man under Christ, who is seated at His own righteous right hand. Mr. Pullman's message is clear: Organized religion is poison. Seek your own wisdom and follow it.
Many people have said that his book is just a story of Good versus Evil. My question is: Who is good in his books? And, who is evil?
Mr. Pullman hopes to "undermine the church" - a direct quote. How does he intend to do that? By sitting home watching re-runs of Neighbourhood? No. He's written a book, and at the most opportune time, he has released one of them in the form of a mesmerizing movie - aimed at children and their weak or unsuspecting parents.
I have more to say on the issue. Scriptures that come to mind. But, I'll let it rest for now. Marinade in it.

Sounds like I'm 17th in line at the library for a real winner.