Amazing Review for the Golden Compass – by a 14 y/o

(Another reason I’m thrilled that we’re home-schooling Jacob!)


The internet is buzzing with emails about a forthcoming movie starring Nicole Kidman based on The Golden Compass by British author Philip Pullman. After doing some independent research for a possible gracEmail review, I discovered that my friend Sam Snyder, age 14, not only had read the entire trilogy of which The Golden Compass is the first book but also had written a review. The third son of my long-time friends Eddie and Leah Snyder, Sam is home-schooled, well-read and insightful. I have great confidence in Sam’s analytical skills and judgment, a confidence confirmed by long conversations the two of us enjoy from time to time over Saturday morning breakfast at a nearby restaurant.
* * *The Golden Compass (His Dark Materials trilogy)
by Sam Snyder

His Dark Materials was written by Philip Pullman, a fairly aggressive atheist who portrays his views in his books, in which God as a supreme being not only doesn’t exist, he’s marketed as the bad guy. What a paradox. In Pullman’s universe, God was simply the first being (an angel) to appear after a pseudo-Big Bang. He convinced the angels who formed after him (I use the lowercase to note that in Pullman’s world, he isn’t really God) that he was their creator, and they should bow to him. He soon removed himself from the universe, preferring to let another govern — a man who became an angel.

If you ask me, this is a lot like the Christian view of Satan (or the Wizard of Oz, if you prefer a more benign character). Satan was the highest angel in Heaven, before he persuaded other angels to rebel with him. Every falsehood has some grain of truth in it, and this is one in Pullman’s. The main difference is that Pullman’s version is an idealized one in which humans are the highest, the most powerful, not supernatural beings. (A note: contrary to the rumors flying across the Internet, the characters in this series do not kill the individual styling himself God. He dies of old age in their arms, possibly a metaphor for Pullman’s own loss of faith. Pullman did say “My books are about killing God,” which may be where the misconception originated.)

Pullman doesn’t completely deny the existence of the church. His imaginings of the church portray a dystopian holdover of the Spanish Inquisition — no freedom of thought, no freedom of speech, and every part of daily life is dictated by the Pope, who, along with most other key figures in politics (yes, the pope is a politician), doesn’t actually believe in God. All scientific studies are examined closely by the church, and if something is found that goes against the church’s doctrine, the scientists involved are silenced. One of the main characters is surprised to meet someone who was free to leave a nunnery when she stopped believing in God. Interestingly enough, some members of the clergy have lauded this aspect of the book, calling it a warning of what the church could become.

Another point: Pullman’s created world is a multiverse, every universe its own distinct existence. One of Pullman’s characters marvels that all of it was created randomly — and there’s the rub. By Pullman’s own argument for the nonexistence of God, that it was created randomly, he inadvertently and contradictorily presents a striking argument for God’s activity in Creation, namely, that it’s too complex to be random. Another character wonders about human consciousness, and is told it, too, was random. As my mom has said to my brothers and me on numerous occasions, “Once is okay, twice is obnoxious.” If an argument doesn’t work the first time, why use it again? The array of the products of human consciousness in His Dark Materials is again proof that it’s too complex to be the product of a bunch of atoms randomly tossed together.

To sum it up, Pullman presents at his strongest a weak argument for atheism; at his weakest, proof of God’s existence. This is not to say that his writing is completely see-through. Younger children under the age of ten or so should probably not be encouraged to read the series (if they would even be interested — the writing may be difficult for them).

Postscript by Edward — My friend Mary Charlotte Elliott, who taught Middle School reading for 20 years, suggests: “I hate the premise of these stories, but I think we make a serious mistake when we give all kinds of free advertising to something like this by campaigning against it. Kids have been ignoring that series for years! The movie will be a flash in the pan unless we help it out and give it credibility by stirring up controversy.”
Copyright 2007 by Sam Snyder and Edward Fudge.


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