Saturday, December 22, 2012

His dark materials -- a Saturday reprise

(This post originally appeared in December 2007).)

The thought police are at it again. This time it is the new fantasy film The Golden Compass, based on the first volume of Philip Pullman's trilogy, His Dark Materials. Hollywood and Mr. Pullman are accused of trying to turn our good Christian children into -- gasp! -- atheists. I haven't seen the film, but I read the book and it is indeed subversive. It comes down against any institution that seeks to impose doctrine and root out heretics. Be brave, be curious, and think for yourself, the book suggests. No wonder the Possessors of Truth are hot and bothered.

Why all this adult interest in the fantasy literature that engages children? The Narnia Chronicles get a pass because C. S. Lewis was a Christian. The Lord of the Rings barely slips under the wire with a Catholic author. I don't know what J. K. Rowling's religion is, but the Harry Potter books and movies ruffle feathers because they supposedly traffic with the Evil One himself. Philip Pullman is a self-confessed atheist; oh, dear, we must keep him out of the neighborhood.

Back off, grownups. Expose your kids to a variety of ideas that elevate the human spirit and let them find their own way in the world. His Dark Materials has shades of Milton's Paradise Lost and William Blake. Shall we chop those classics from the curriculum too? I'd be proud if my 11-year old child or grandchild had the pluck and cunning of Lyra, the heroine of The Golden Compass.

Nullius in verba. Take no one's word. That was the motto of the Royal Society and the beginning of modern science as we know it, just sixty years after Giordano Bruno was burned at the stake for thinking unorthodox thoughts, and twenty-seven years after Galileo was made to kneel before the assembled princes of the Church and renounce his belief that the Earth goes around the Sun.

And now the self-appointed guardians of faith and morals are at it again, urging parents to keep their kids away from an author who dares to affirm nullius in verba. Kick ass, Lyra. Go, girl.