Friday, April 24, 2009

The Golden Compass review.

After thinking about my friend Robert's resolution to read 2 books a month, I noticed that I think I read 2-3 books a month. That's more than the movies and video games I go through combined. Although that's a little sad, it is parenthood. So...against every fiber in my soul that tells me this sounds like school...I am writing book reviews. It doesn't matter how old they are, I just like to share opinions.

The Golden Compass

I was drawn to this book mostly because the Catholic Church has issues with it, and I like to see for myself how bad it really is. For example, I rather enjoyed The Da Vinci Code because I felt that it was totally fiction, yet a good mystery. But I am glad I read it because now I have a good reference for all those who doubted their whole experience of faith because of it.

The Golden Compass received a similar warning, and personally I agree to an extent. The first book of His Dark Materials challenges the idea of soul, destiny and reason in a way that is meant to dispute Church teachings. I should note that although I think everyone who reads this blog already knows it, I come to this topic as a man of Catholic faith and therefore am biased in favor of the Church.

So I read the book with one thought in mind: how damaging could one book be? After only reading one book of three I can say that I believe the author Philip Pullman's goal is to attack the Church and therefore could be damaging depending on how it all ends. (This review is meant for those who have either already read or don't plan on reading this book.)

The story begins before it begins with a quote from Paradise Lost considered to be one of the finest piece of literature in the English language. A book that I surprisingly remember from College! Paradise Lost re-tells the tale from a different perspective of the Fall of Man in the Garden of Eden giving us a more detailed look into the interactions of God, Adam, Eve, and especially Satan. The themes of reason, knowledge, destiny and sin are certainly shared by each story.

The Golden Compass takes place in Europe, but not our Europe. More like an alternate universe how things could have turned out with some big differences. One such is the massive "unnamed" religion called The Magisterium who control pretty much everything and persecutes scientists. Listen, sure the Church made some mistakes in the field of science. Sorry. Has a few hundred years healed any wounds?

The biggest difference are Daemons. Daemons are a personal companion each human has. These daemons take the form of an animal and share a unique connection straight down to shared emotions. You can tell what kind of a person is if their daemon is a dog, weasel or even a snake. The daemon represents the soul. While I'm sure the Church objects to it, I don't really mind. I think people need to recognize what affects their souls a little more, and the presence of daemons sort of does that.

Then there is this mysterious Dust. (SPOILERS) Dust is likened to a proton or electron, but nobody knows what it does. What is known is that Dust is attracted to adults, yet does not settle on children until adolescence. Therefore, the Magisterium deduces that this Dust represents original sin and the loss of innocence and must be eliminated. Leading members of the Magisterium try to halt "puberty" by splitting children from their daemon. Essentially stating that the Church will do outrageous acts to prevent sin, even hurting children.

A third part of the story revolves around destiny and knowledge. It is clear to us and all characters that the little girl protagonist Lyra has a special and profound destiny....but we don't know what that is. Except that it is special and profound. But there is also this notion that there is power in knowledge...not the power we were taught in school. There is power in information that can be learned so great that the Magisterium will crush you from obtaining it. To the point that at the end of the book Lyra decides to go forth on her journey with the thought "if the everybody thinks it is bad, maybe it is really good!"

To recap: The Magisterium is controlling knowledge to support its theories to the point it will make unnatural sacrifices to obtain it. The fact that this Dust (ie sin) is deemed bad means it is probably good. And your soul is no more than a furry little companion on your journey. It is no wonder the Church opposes this book.

I am of the opinion that while the story is captivating, it is the attitude of the book that disturbs me. The way that knowledge is glorified and the soul and faith is minimilized really doesn't sit right with me. I plan on finishing the series, but right now my assessment is The Golden Compass is a one-sided story of how many Atheist view the Church and wisdom.


Amy said...

I haven't read the books, though I did see the first movie, so I cannot say much about it from my own perspective. I do know that Philip Pullman specifically wrote the books to undermine Christianity, and in particular to counteract The Chronicles of Narnia. Phooey on that! Anyway, several Christians that I know who have read the books say that, thankfully, he fails in his attempt because the only people whose faith will be challenged by the books are people who are already skeptical or against Christianity. I guess I should read them for myself!

Ian said...

I've read all the books, and my enjoyment of them plummeted with the last book. I consider myself to be more or less agnostic, and even to me The Amber Spyglass struck me as being quite heavy-handed and unsubtle in its criticism of the Magisterium/religion/whatever you may call it. Just a warning. I greatly enjoyed the first two books, however.

There are a couple transcripts of discussions that Pullman had with the Archbishop of Canterbury that you may want to seek out, but they may have spoilers for the later books in the trilogy.

Ricky said...

I've heard the third book is where it all hits the fan. I do plan on reading them all. Then I should check out that transcript. But I think Amy is right (for all books and entertainment) that any topic will only affect your faith if your faith can be shaken in the first place.

My parish's namesake - St. Anselm - was the Bishop of Canterbury even though be was born in Italy and became a monk in France.