Words to remember

"Never doubt in the darkness what you believed in the light."

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Of Man's first Disobedience and the Fruit of that Forbidden Tree

It appears that the furor over the Golden Compass is ramping up. Well, it's about time, says I. I can still remember back to the release of the Passion of the Christ, in which all kinds of calls to boycott the movie emanated from the usual suspects (the one Jewish fellow I know who did see the film pointed out "Well, unless Pilate's middle name was Moshe or Shlomo, I don't think it makes much sense to say that the movie makes it look the Jews killed Jesus"- well put.) The tandem phenomenon of Pullman's attack-dog fans coming out and blasting "religious zealots" and "religious fanatics" is, of course, inevitable, but instructive. There's a good discussion of the particulars here.

As much as I can understand and share the impulse to upbraid the film and the books for their anti-Christian message (and we have to face it, even if that message is muted in the film, or is subtle, it is still there- it still informs the major themes of the story, if it can be said to have one other than a rather boringly cliché adolescent resentment of authority in any form), I think some of the best pieces about the hack and his clunky trilogy focus on its literary shortcomings.

To rant a bit, the one name that always comes up in reviews about Pullman's fantasy, aside from the obligatory reminder of how much Pullman loathes (read envies) Tolkien and Lewis, is Milton. The name of the trilogy is in fact a phrase listed from that poet's corpus. What is annoying is when Milton is invoked thematically in explaining the book. The characters in HDM and Pullman himself share but one similarity with Paradise Lost, and that is that they all buy into Satan the Literary Figure's promises of knowledge, enlightenment, and the ability of mankind to set out on his own. But Satan's grand gestures and semi-heroic qualities are altogether absent from Pullman's work. His heroine is a brattly little compulsive liar. Well, so was Satan, but he came off in such a way that I wanted to smack him across the mouth a lot less than Lyra.

It is that two-pronged strategy that will bear the most fruit here: emphasize the anti-Christian aspects of the film and books with the people who would respond negatively to it: that is to say, be sure that this message is getting out in churches and parishes (not during Mass or services, necessarily). Our Baptist brethren are models in this regard, as their ability to get the message out among their churches about films to see or not to see is, so far as I know, incomparable. It is also never a bad thing to be able to say with our Protestant and Orthodox brothers and sisters "See? One more thing we agree on." (sotto voce: "Now come back home!") But among the more secular moviegoers and wishy-washy Christians, be sure to point out that as a work of fantasy and fiction, it's pretty second rate. Mentioning the chip on the shoulder Pullman bears towards Lewis and Tolkien wouldn't hurt, either; the Narnia movie and the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy both enjoyed immense popular acclaim, so a blowhard who comes out and waxes irate about how "infantile" and stupid those two stories are would rightly garner some suspicion on the part of moviegoers who found those tales beautiful, moving, and altogether enjoyable.

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