Preacher-Man Phillip Pullman 

John C. Wright's review of His Dark Materials begins,

"My respect for this author just hit bottom. Philip Pullman, author of The Golden Compass, hits back at critics who accuse him of peddling 'candy-coated atheism'. 'I am a story teller," he said. "If I wanted to send a message I would have written a sermon.'"

From there Wright shows, from the perspective of the storyteller, just how much of a sermon Pullman wrote. 


"Plots and characters and themes make promises. Prophecies in epic fantasy stories are blatant promises. When you are told that there is a prophecy that one and only one knife can kill Almighty God, and that one little boy is the one to do it, it breaks a promise to have God turn out to be a drooling cripple who dies by falling out of bed.

"Character development makes a promise. If you start your series with a selfish little girl who tells lies, the climax of her character arc must be when she either gets a come-uppance for being a liar, or when she reforms and starts telling the truth. If you give her a magic instrument that only she can read called an Alethiometer, a truth measurer, it breaks a promise to have simply nothing at all come of this."

"You see, the problem with the message method of storytelling is that you have to stop the story to preach the message. The STORY here required that God be an evil Tyrant, as evil  (at least) as Sauron the Great, as cunning as Fu Manchu, as mad as Emperor Nero. The story required an all-powerful Goliath to be fought and overthrown by the bravery of a boy with a knife. The MESSAGE required that the Christian God be depicted, not merely as a tyrant, but as a false and shallow and idiotic creature: the Wizard of Oz, nothing more than a puppet-head and a loud voice controlled by a scared little carnival man behind the curtain."

In case it's not clear, what the STORY required is not what Pullman gave us; he delivered the MESSAGE (the sermon) instead.

"What are the characters in this book fighting for? Not for love, I take it: no couple ends up together, not even (I kid you not) the sodomite angels Baruch and Balthamos. When the Dust settles, the demons seem to be in charge of the universe, and they order all the inter-dimensional windows to be closed, except the window allowing the ghosts in the land of the dead to choose oblivion. For freedom? There is no one in chains at the beginning of the book who is freed at the end. For truth, justice, the American way? Again, there is nothing in the books to lend any drama to any of these concepts. Lyra is a liar (hence her name) but no lies are overthrown, no truth is revealed during the plot; Asrael is the Lucifer figure who ends up sacrificing himself, if not like Christ, at least like a man throwing himself on a hand-grenade, to push Metratron into the Pit of Non-Hell, where their ghosts will fall for all eternity; perhaps the American way was supposed to be their cause, as Americans prefer Republics to Monarchies, but the only political institution the "Republic of Heaven" turns out to support is the University. Huhn? Next to the basilica, the university is the quintessential Christian institution and invention. I assume we are not talking about Trinity College or Saint Mary's. Was anyone fighting for the ugly wheeled elephants? These creatures were allegedly innocent, but seemed pointless and repugnant on every level. Where they being threatened by the Church in some way? Was the Church trying to horde the Dust in a fashion that harmed someone, somewhere? Pullman is not clear on this point, or maybe I missed it. The book does not seem to be "for" anything, merely against Christians in general and the Catholic Church in particular. 

"The problem is that the atheist message is boring and undramatic: life's a mechanical process and then you die."

Read the whole review, and keep it in mind the next time you hear Phillip Pullman say all he cares about is telling a tale. He's telling you a tale.

Hat tip to Philangelus

Series Overview

The Golden Compass and "Killing God"--Not An Urban Legend
Coming Soon To Your Child's School: Hostility Toward God and Church, Heavily Promoted
Once Again, How Can This Be Legal?
On Christianity, the Arts, and How To Have a Disagreement
Original Sin Is the Source of Truth? (The Golden Compass)
Death of Divine Authority—Pullman's Agenda on The Golden Compass
"I'm Trying to Undermine the Basis of Christian Belief"  
"Democracy of Reading" or a Hidden Agenda? (Phillip Pullman)
Strongly Recommended: Jeffrey Overstreet on The Golden Compass
A New Bearing on The Golden Compass
Rehabilitating The Golden Compass's Religion?
Preacher-Man Phillip Pullman 

Posted: Fri - November 30, 2007 at 01:46 PM           |

© 2004-2007 by Tom Gilson. Permission is granted to quote up to two paragraphs of any blog entry, provided that a link back to the original is included or (in print) the website address is provided. Please email me regarding longer quotes. All other rights reserved.

Weblog Commenting and Trackback by
Web Analytics Web Analytics