November 25, 2007
This weekend marked the 148th anniversary of the publication of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species By Means of Natural Selection, which first saw the light of print on November 24, 1859. You can mark the occasion over here or by reading this cartoon, which boils the creationist hysteria against Darwin down to its bare essence.
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The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has announced the winner of the Worst Book Title contest. I’ll leave you to discover the winner here, but in a field with finalists like Letting It Go: A History of American Incontinence and Everything You’ll Need to Remember About Alzheimer’s, you know it’s got to be baaaaad, baby.* * * *
Is Philip Pullman an anti-religious writer, or merely one who’s anti-Church? Kevin Drum starts a long, comment-laden argument by opining that whatever one may think of His Dark Materials, religious parents are correct to worry about the three-part epic. One commenter is right on the money when he likens the books to Harlan Ellison’s novella “The Deathbird,” which posits that man has been worshipping the wrong god all along, and shows Satan coming to rescue humanity from a cruel and insane deity. I would say that if I were a blinkered, authoritarian parent obsessed with junk-food religiosity, His Dark Materials would read like a curare-tipped stake aimed at my heart. My problem with such people is that their response is not to say, “My kids can’t read this,” it’s to say, “Nobody’s kids can read this.” Any world that’s big enough to accommodate Tim LaHaye’s repugnant, subliterate Left Behind series can spare some room for Philip Pullman. And after decades listening to fundies cry wolf about Satanic influences in everything from Kiki’s Delivery Service and The Wizard of Oz to The Lord of the Rings and the entire Harry Potter series, I think it’s pretty amusing to see them confronted with a writer who really is on the offensive against everything they stand for.
While I’m interested in seeing the film version of the first book, The Golden Compass, I have to confess I found the other two books, The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass, pretty stiff going. I admire Pullman’s ambition and range — quantum physics and deicide alongside talking polar bears and flying witches — but of the three books, I thought The Golden Compass (or Northern Lights in the U.K.) was the one that truly satisfied as a story, rather than simply as a vehicle for Pullman’s argument.