Messin’ with the Messiah
November 2, 2007
It’s entirely appropriate (in a way New Line Cinema never intended, I’m sure) that a year marked by some aggressive pushback against the crap piety and junk religiosity inflicted on us by the Bushies should end with the release of a film version of Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass — and just in time for Christmas!
That’s because New Line is pushing the film as the launch for a Lord of the Rings style fantasy franchise, and Pullman’s book (part of a larger epic called His Dark Materials) couldn’t have less in common with the work of J.R.R. Tolkien or his buddy C.S. Lewis, whose Christian fantasy series The Chronicles of Narnia is also getting the Hollywood treatment. In fact, Pullman’s work upends Lewis and Tolkien to create a fantasy epic in which a villainous church is not only determined to keep its subjects ignorant, it is also plotting to steal the souls of children. There’s more going on than that — the Pullman novels are densely imagined and elegantly written, and make considerable demands on the reader — but the skepticism on religion is enough to keep the FreaksNews crowd whining about persecution and anti-Christian bigotry until well into 2008.
Apparently, New Line has taken steps to soften the impact of Pullman’s message, but they won’t be fooling anybody. Pullman himself is characteristically blunt:
“I didn’t read the ‘Narnia’ books until I was grown up,” Pullman said, “and I could sort of see what he was getting at, and he was getting at the reader in a way I didn’t like. The ‘Narnia’ books are full of serious questions about religion: ‘Which God should we worship? Is there a God at all? What happens when we die?’ The questions are all there, but I don’t like Lewis’ answers. I don’t like the fact that he sends the children through these extraordinary adventures, allows them to see and do these wonderful things, and then at the end of the book kills them in a railway accident. They’re all dead, and this is meant to be a great release, a wonderful thing. It seems to me the proper thing to do, the moral thing to do, the Christian thing to do would be to let those children continue to live and do good in the world, having learned something. But no, that wasn’t what Lewis wanted.”
This should keep Michael Medved in column material for the rest of the year. I just hope the movie is good enough to be worth supporting.