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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Books & Movies: The Golden Compass

*** My Dilemma ***

Despite the intriguing previews, I've been avoiding The Golden Compass. I'll admit that I got caught up in the controversy surrounding this film; I was put off by what I heard but I really didn't give it much thought beyond that. See, I was off the hook because kiddo didn't want to see the movie anyway, hence I didn't have to do any research into it.

On the other hand, I've heard so many good things about Philip Pullman's books (the series is called His Dark Materials) from other bloggers, and I really think I'd like them if I read them.

*** The Movie ***

Last week kiddo and I saw a another preview for The Golden Compass on DVD we both decided we wanted to watch it. So we did. Here's a preview for you, in case you haven't seen it yet:

I have to say I really enjoyed it. The world created in the movie was fascinating and unique. Being a huge Fantasy lover like I am, encountering a complete and original world was a bonus for me.

Kiddo liked it too but he wasn't as into it I expected (unlike this other movie). Several times he got up to play with his Legos, although he continued to watch the show while he played. I think it was a bit over his head in parts. And since I didn't know the story I couldn't explain it to him along the way.

Kiddo had a hard time understanding the Magisterium. I tried to explain it as a group of people being in charge of the world. Those people are making rules for everyone else to follow that aren't good rules, rules that give more power to the people in charge. I'm not sure I did a good enough job with my explanation, but not having read the book - and having to explain based on only the first 30 minutes of the movie - I didn't have a lot to go on.

During the movie kiddo really liked the idea of the animal "friends" (as he called them). But when we discussed the movie later that night he said that people's souls living in animals was "weird". He couldn't articulate his thoughts any better than that but I got the distinct impression that it just didn't "feel" right to him.

I very much enjoyed the movie, but I don't think it was a great one in kiddo's opinion. There are some things that bother me about the direction (I've heard) that books take though. What it comes down to is that I'm going to have to read all the books in His Dark Materials series. I can't make a decision about it's "appropriateness" without doing that.

*** An "Expert" Opinion ***

A friend of mine interviewed Philip Pullman and presented a paper in grad school on the religious themes in his books. Since I'd consider her an expert I decided to ask her about the books from a Christian perspective. Oh, did I mention that her husband is a pastor? I'd say her opinion is an educated one. :) Here are some excerpts from the email she sent me:
It can certainly be read as an anti-christian challenge of God. But i think most people get more upset about the crazy stuff that the atheist author says in interviews than what's actually represented in the text. He IS an atheist, who has said some INSANE things and who believes that Christianity is a vile "opiate of the masses." But his trilogy can be read multiple ways - just like Harry Potter does contain witchcraft which scripture says we should avoid but simultaneously presents many christian attributes, like salvation, love, etc. (see Connie Neal's The Gospel According to Harry Potter). [Heather's note: Don't you just LOVE a friend who turns you on to MORE books?! And for the record, I have NO objections to the Harry Potter books.]
Pullman does not get into the challenging of the Authority until the end of the 2nd book. ... The Authority is only called God ONCE in ... the 3rd book. The Authority is also called the government, the king, the education system, etc. Pullman specifically challenges all Authority, not just that of organized religion. Many readers focus on the religious aspects of the Authority because a character in the 2nd book, Mary Malone, is a disillusioned nun who becomes interested in researching dust. I read them several years ago ... and I thought of Lyra & Mary Malone as Martin Luther - challenging the corrupt medieval Catholic Church until the Catholic Church itself underwent a counter-reformation. Now if i re-read it today after hearing all of the hoopla since the movie came out, I may see it differently because I'd be looking specifically at the religious aspects of the book to see if his critics are correct. But I didn't see that much of a challenge years ago when I read it.
I really appreciate her input on this. Based on what I now know, I will definitely read the books BEFORE watching the next movie. I think that's the best way to be able to answer kiddo's questions and understand for myself what this series is all about. Besides, I think I liked it more than he did anyway.

I REALLY enjoyed the movie of The Golden Compass and will definitely watch it again. I can't wait to read the books!


bermudaonion said...

I've read the book, but haven't seen the movie. My son said the movie ended way too early - they didn't include the end of the book.

Anonymous said...

The Dark is Rising is a series by Susan Cooper. The Golden Compass is the first in the Dark Materials Trilogy.

Heather J. said...

Oops! DUH. Imagine me smacking my head if you please. Thanks to my Anon. commenter above I went back and corrected my post to reference that actual name of Pullman's series. Thanks!

Amanda said...

Great post! My husband and I watched the movie and I thought it was pretty good. After reading the book I'll be reading the other two books. They are good fantasy but I still wonder if children really understand some of it. There were some big words in it. I read a paragraph to my husband and even he was like "what?". But as a Christian I just take it as fun fantasy. I guess you could take it as really ant-Christian if you want to but I read it as young adult fantasy. Interesting post, thanks!

Ann said...

My husband and I both recently finished reading all three books of the series, and enjoyed them. I hope readers will just appreciate that this is a good fantasy story, and not over-analyze them for religious purposes. Have fun, and appreciate the author's creativity.

Plays with Needles said...

Hi Heather! Jack and I both read the books and watched the movie. We kind of have a rule together that we won't watch a movie unless we've read the book -- that way we can critique how well the screenplay was done.
We really enjoyed the books and the movie. Though you might expect us to say that we liked the books better. As for the "offensiveness" of the books, Jack and I talked about it at the time...unless you were going to read the books looking to take offense, you wouldn't be offended. The author creates a completely different world with different rules and governing mores...those of us used to fantasy find this compelling and understand that the author is free to take liberties with what is acceptable in today's society. We didn't understand the hoopla frankly though Jack pointed out that the most likely offensive area was that there were demons and that they housed the souls of the characters (I noticed your son picked up on that too!) All this being said, Jack enjoyed the books but they're not on his top ten favorites of all time...However, The Dark is Rising series is on his favorites list...isn't it funny, that little slip??

And, BTW, we NEVER NEVER agreed with the anti-Harry Potter sentiment!!

I liked reading your "expert's" opinion and love the idea of the Gospel According to Harry Potter.

Anna said...

I've heard about the anti-Christian criticisms, but that's not why I haven't read the books or watched the movie. I never understood those comments about Harry Potter, which I absolutely loved! I'm not against seeing the golden compass movie or reading the books, they just haven't interested me. I enjoyed this post, though.

Diary of an Eccentric

Anonymous said...

i feel honored to be quoted on your blog!

"the expert"

Teresa said...

I read this series before the controversy got going and before hearing anything about Pullman's ideas. I absolutely loved the first book. It really is a great work of fantasy, and the whole daemon thing didn't trouble me at all. I thought it was cool, actually :-)

But the third book did cross the religious offensiveness line for me. There's a scene where God/the Authority himself appears that I simply couldn't read in as anything other than a blatant attack on God. If others read it differently, or can set it aside, good for them, but it really bothered me and left a bad taste in my mouth about the whole series.

The third book was also pretty boring and philosophical, like Pullman got too interested in his ideas to care about the story. Too bad, because the first book was so great.

amy said...

Hi Heather!

I read His Dark Materials last year before I went to see the movie and loved the books! I actually felt a little let down after hearing so much of the controversy that was going around about the release of the movie. I didn't find anything in the books that attacked christianity, at least in my opinion. They were just a great fantasy series.

I hope you like them!

Dame Violette said...

I loved all three books - the entire series is up there with my absolute favourites of all time - including Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis, whom we all should know was a christian!

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