Re-Reading The Golden Compass

28 November 2007 · 12 comments

During our Thanksgiving road trip to bend, we listened to the audio version of The Golden Compass. Kris and I have both read the book several times, but since the film is coming out soon, we decided to refresh our memories.

Tiffany enjoyed the book so much that she insisted on borrowing my iPod so she could finish it on Saturday. (Tiff, Kris has finished the second book now, if you’re interested.)

When we got home, I decided to search for information on the film, which opens on December 7th. What I found made me worried. I was initially excited for the film, but recent trailers have me wary. I’m afraid the girl who plays Lyra may not be a good actress, and I’m afraid that the film may be over-produced. This clip does nothing to allay my fears:

Can you say “wholly invented” and “made from whole cloth”? This scene has no relation to the book. I am baffled. The following episode is a little better, combining two scenes from the book:

I’ve continued to listen to the book during my commute. I always forget how slow it starts. It’s leisurely, and doesn’t seem to be heading anywhere. But by the half-way point, you come to realize that everything that has been mentioned before is important, that story elements have been accumulating like a snowball. It’s quite effective story-telling, actually.

In fact, there’s an extended section about two-thirds through the book (starting with “the lost boy”) that is one of my favorite passages in any book. (I’m speaking of Tony and his fish, of course.) I only wish the rest of this trilogy held up to that last half of The Golden Compass. There are moments of brilliance throughout — including the dirigible chase near the end of The Subtle Knife — but I think that things eventually go flat.

Apparently there’s an uproar about the movie in certain parts of the Catholic church. They don’t appreciate that the series ultimately takes a dim view of religion. I never understand why religious people get hacked off at this stuff, especially in the U.S. What about freedom of speech? And why feel so threatened? Christians make up a vast majority of this country’s population. Why is it okay to have thousands and thousands of books that depict atheists in a poor light, but a single series that questions organized religion (and Catholicism in particular) is taboo? Give me a break.

1 dave in bend November 28, 2007 at 10:19

Well….Christians may have a legitimate beef here. The Snopes.com article about this uproar cites a 2003 interview that Philip Pullman held where he stated “My books are about killing God” and in a 2001 interview he said he was “trying to undermine the basis of the Christian belief.” So it really shouldn’t be a surprise that there is some controversy surrounding this. I don’t really think the author went out on a limb though, attacking Christianity is relatively safe. Imagine if he had attacked Islam, he’d probably have to live his life in hiding, much like Salman Rushdie. Will I be seeing the movie or reading the book? Nope. Is it because of the authors statements about God? Yes, although I don’t consider myself particularly religious, it irks me that this movie, given the context in which the author puts it, is released and advertised as a movie to see during the holidays. I just don’t think its appropriate.

2 Josh November 28, 2007 at 10:38

Things do not look promising for the quality of this movie based on the IMDB entry: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0385752/

Check out the Trivia section, too. Example: The director rejected Tom Stoppard’s 2003 script in favor of adapting Pullman’s book himself. WTF???? Who the Hell does this guy think he is?? What kind of towering arrogance does it take to believe he can do a better job than Tom Fucking Stoppard?!? Even *Stoppard* isn’t that stuck on himself!

And Dave in Bend: the IMDB trivia also states that neither religion nor God are mentioned directly in the movie. Any references to them are supposedly buried in euphemism. My own opinion on the matter of anti-God messages in literature is this: If you feel your religious beliefs are *threatened* (not you, personally, as you’ve stated you are not particularly religious — the general “you”) by the mere scribblings of another human being, then the foundations of your belief are pretty fucking shaky to begin with, in which case the problem is with the reader, not the author.

But I’m kind of a jerk that way. ;)

3 dave in bend November 28, 2007 at 11:10

Ironically, I’ve been reading that a lot of fans of the original book are upset with the revisions made to the book for its transition to the big screen. I gather that it was re-written to target huge corporation institutions instead of huge religious institutions. Also, what kind of balls does it take to reject a Tom Stoppard draft in favor of ones own hackneyed scribblings? One more point, in the interest of keeping an open mind, I actually would read the book. The movie, besides the points I brought up previously, just doesn’t look all that interesting to me. It really seems like an attempt to grab the “Lord of the Rings” demographic, just as “Chronicles of Narnia” tried to do last year. So apparently the movie studios are mining away stacks of fantasy novels, without regard for content, and passing them off as holiday fare. Oh how I would have loved to been a fly on the wall at the meeting where the writers informed the producers of “Golden Compass” that the big Christmas movie they were paying for was written by a man who “wanted to kill God”. The look of sheer panic on the studio execs faces would have been priceless!

4 Nikchick November 28, 2007 at 12:51

I’ve been staying away from the advertising for this movie because I want to go see it with an open mind but I did watch the two clips here. Like JD, I was very excited to see what seemed like a good quality production of a book I enjoyed and I approved the casting choices when it was first announced…but that scene they made up in the dining hall is appalling. I think it changes some of the fundamental premise of the story.

I’d heard that Christian groups were up in arms over this movie but I’d also heard the producers of the film were going out of their way to downplay any “killing god” references (which, frankly, I never saw in the trilogy anyway but which the author was obviously gleefully willing to play up).

As for the complaint that such fare shouldn’t be sold as a “holiday” movie, I say BAH. Plenty of people in the United States aren’t Christians (even though Christians totally dominate) but their kids are still out of school for two weeks during the “winter” holidays. Even if you’re not celebrating Christmas, families have kids they need to entertain. It’s not a “Christmas” movie! It’s not even a “holiday” movie! It’s a “movie it’s safe to bring your family to during the school break” movie.

I think the comparison to Narnia is a good one, because regardless of what the authors of the original material might have intended it’s all just talking bears and pretty princesses. Narnia’s lion may have symbolized Jesus Christ but as far as my child was concerned he was just a talking lion on the side of the good guys.

5 mac November 28, 2007 at 17:03

Nik, I totally agree with you on your symbolism point. A symbol isn’t a symbol unless you’re able to recognize it as one!

6 Scott in SoCal November 28, 2007 at 20:53

I got an e-mail about this a while ago from a Fundamentalist friend in Minn. He was all up in arms about how the movie was merely a commercial for the books and their is currently a campaign amongst not just Catholics but other Super Christians (the ones with tights and capes) to boycott the movie because it encourages misguided parents to buy the rest of the series for their kids for Christmas, which is supposedly a “think for yourself” sort of anti-religious story. I still consider myself Protestant, which is to say I am defiantly not Catholic, and I am in awe at the lack of faith of those that would protest a movie even if it says children should worship Satan (which they should by the way, because all children are evil). How weak must someone’s beliefs be that they are afraid of atheistic views? Your relationship with God is your own.

On a lighter note the animation is just like that of Narnia (same company I think), which I am not that crazy about. Their stuff smacks too much of the Hallmark original series crap you see on TV. God Bless.

7 asdf November 30, 2007 at 07:22

I’m not a big fan of preachy literature, but from the sound of it the literature isn’t blatantly so and the movie isn’t funded and produced by atheist disciples. It’s not like a production of The Fountainhead funded by the Libertarian National Committee. Of course I’ll wait for the final reviews to see whether it’s worth seeing.

Is all science fiction and fantasy heretical if it doesn’t explicitly mention and accept the existence of a single benevolent creator? Rather limits the genre.

8 mrs darling December 2, 2007 at 13:55

It should come as no surprise to anyone who knows me that I will not be taking my children to see this movie. In the end, so the critics tell me, the children rise up and kill God. I have no idea how this is beneficial in any way to our kids.

9 asdf December 3, 2007 at 06:44

“In the end, so the critics tell me, the children rise up and kill God. I have no idea how this is beneficial in any way to our kids.”

Movie is different than the book. The movie ends with a girl saving a bunch of children with a magic bear and flying off into the sunset on a balloon.

10 Mom December 3, 2007 at 19:41

There is an article about “The Golden Compass” in this week’s Time Magazine, in which the author, Philip Pullman, explains that it’s simply a story, and he is a storyteller. I’m not likely to read the book or see the movie, (although I did sort of listen to it with Kris, J.D. and Tiff on the way to and from Bend for Thanksgiving), but I’m not going to campaign against it, either, like some of my Christian friends. I feel that if Christians are secure in their faith, they have nothing to fear from this book or Harry Potter books or any other obvious works of fiction.

11 mrs darling December 4, 2007 at 20:44

I dont think Christians are fearing this movie. It’s not fear we feel. It’s a great sadness that the movie industry and society are promoting this type of movie. We are only getting the word out because as Christians we are called to holiness and godly living. Fear isnt the factor. Holiness is. It’s all about teaching our children to walk in the way of the Lord. In order to do that we have to draw lines in the sand and in the theatres.

12 BillinDetroit December 11, 2007 at 21:18

“Why is it okay to have thousands and thousands of books that depict atheists in a poor light, but a single series that questions organized religion (and Catholicism in particular) is taboo? Give me a break.”

I call “Ignoratio elenchi”

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ignoratio_elenchi

First … where are these ‘thousands and thousands’ of books that depict atheists in a bad light? I haven’t seen them … not since the ‘manger scenes’ were thrown off the courthouse lawn … and the Ten Commandments thrown out of court.

I would ceratinly reject the writings of the ‘far right Christians’ as being the drooling of the demented. Jesus said that his people would be ‘no part of the world’ and it is hard to take a far-right political stance without subscribing fully to the systems of this world. Beyond what is outlined in Matthew 6:10, it’s hard to argue in favor of a ‘Christian’ taking a political stance at all. Jesus certainly did not.

Second, how did you come to the conclusion that this ‘single series’ is the only attack that Christianity is under?

For starters, I direct your attention to:

http://www.islamic-awareness.org/Bible/Text/Mss/criteria.html

http://www.nobeliefs.com/index.htm

http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2004/juneweb-only/6-14-41.0.html

http://www.daylightatheism.org/2007/10/is-america-a-christian-nation.html

DAGS for ‘atheist’ and you will have plenty of material before you can get the word spelled out. So, J.D., while you and I agree on a number of points, I cannot agree with you here.

And as for the guy with the potty mouth … well, I am accustomed to think that a man who resorts to invective does so because he has run out of reason. With the possible exception of responding to a hammered thumb, you can never make any point with profanity that you could not make politely … except to outline the reasons why you are not worth listening to.

It is possible to say that “Christians totally dominate”. It is possible also to make the numbers dance backward from that point, because there is no single definition of “Christian” and no centralized accounting made of them.

I would not recognize many who claim to be Christian as actually being one … my Bible says not to fly halfway around the globe to kill someone. Others would dis-own me for refusing to get into the plane. They call us cowards for not fighting. They will call us cowards as long as we live … but they will never buck the trend and stand up for “Thou shalt not murder”. Now THAT takes guts … as long as you live.

I really think that if “Christians” just sat the next couple of wars out, things would be a lot quieter around here. Then, if we could get the Muslims to do the same, we would have roughly 1/2 of the worlds population sitting on the sidelines, recognizing that (the Deity) has NOT declared a holy war … that the Mullahs and SBC and SCLC leaders who say otherwise are full of it.

Frankly, if the religious leaders and politicians think we need war all that bad, let ’em fight each other. I’ll close with a short quote from one very brave man … a Muslim with the courage of his convictions.

Salman Rushdie:

Fundamentalism isn’t about religion. It’s about power.

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