Thoughts to Ponder are my musings regarding community, things of the Spirit, and living as a Christ-follower. I don't offer the words of a professional or an expert; just a fellow traveler and explorer. Please don't take my musings more serious than I do. I've discovered a long time ago that I do not hold the keys of knowledge or wisdom. If I did, I misplaced them somewhere...typical.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Of Dumbledore and Dark Materials

J. K. Rowling has done a number on those fans of hers who are among evangelicals.

She outed Dumbledore.

Gracious me. Rowling, would you please quit talking? After all, this is a fictional character who really doesn't exist. His imaginary sexual orientation is not relevant to the plot in any real way. It might have stimulated her creativity in writing, but really: who cares?

Now Rowling has potentially alienated an entire group of people who have staunchly defended her among their friends! Way to go.

Now having said that: What do I think about Harry Potter now? It is still a fantastic series and I still whole-heartedly recommend the books to anyone who enjoys a good read. I might recommend people to avoid reading interviews with Rowling...

[Later addendum: my friend Tom Riley passed a few links to me regarding Rowling and Dumbledore. These are delightful and I recommend them heartily: "Author's Intent: Taking the Story More Seriously than the Author", "Dumbledore is not Hetero-", and "Dumbledore is not Gay". Enjoy.]

I have been asked about the upcoming movie based on the book The Golden Compass which is the first of a trilogy entitled His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman. Many Christians are very disturbed by rumors that Pullman is an atheist (which is true) who is actively promoting atheism among children through his books (you'll have to decide that).

Full disclaimer: I have yet to read Pullman's books so I cannot claim to speak with any authority on the content. However my oldest daughter has read the trilogy and my youngest daughter has read the first book. Here are some observations.

First, Pullman claims not to be attacking Christianity per se. He is attacking institutionalized religion which takes control of nations and abuses its power to destroy the lives of others. In this sense he equally opposes the Taliban as well as abusive Christian sects (which unfortunately do exist). Certainly, I have no problem in criticism of misguided, abusive religion.

However, according to the online encyclopedia, Wikipedia:

"Institutional religion is criticized by some of the characters. For example, Ruta Skadi, a witch and friend of Lyra's calling for war against the Magisterium in Lyra's world, says that 'For all of [the Church's]'s tried to suppress and control every natural impulse. And when it can't control them, it cuts them out.' Skadi later extends her criticism to all organized religion: 'That's what the Church does, and every church is the same: control, destroy, obliterate every good feeling.' (By this part of the book, the witches have made reference to how they are treated criminally by the church in their worlds.) Mary Malone, one of Pullman's main characters, states that 'the Christian religion…is a very powerful and convincing mistake, that's all.'"*
These are quotes from the book. And these are supposed to be the good guys! Quite frankly, even though they could easily be out of context, it is hard to imagine what context there could be where these statements could be understood as positive. Granted the Magisterium is a fictional organization in a parallel universe and it is clearly a parody of Christian religion. (I do wonder though if Christians would have been quite as upset had Pullman used an Islamic-like religion as the basis for his Magisterium.)

Thirdly, even though Pullman strenuously objects that his novels are not particularly a knock on Christianity and even though he takes umbrage with with accusations he is promoting atheism among children, has quoted a pretty damaging interview with Pullman from the Sydney Morning Herald in 2003. Pullman is quoted as saying about the trilogy, "My books are about killing God." It seems Pullman wasn't too worried about how controversial his books were until he signed a movie contract! Until then the content of his books were pretty much under the radar of religious poeple. Is his recent vigorous defense related to potential income? I couldn't say, but one can't help but wonder.

I have also heard an English professor from Wheaton, IL who has pointed out in Pullman's fantasy world there are no gray areas (unlike Harry Potter). You are either totally evil or totally good. The Church (aka Magisterium) is always depicted as totally evil (again, I only have this professor's word on it, I haven't read the books). In this sense the book does not give a "realistic" look at the concepts of evil and good--but instead a very slanted, immature, and incomplete view.

So, what is my take and what is my recommendation? First off, if you are a parent I do not recommend you buy any book or send your child to any movie unless you are willing to talk with your child about it. The problem is not Pullman or his books. The problem is so many parents stay oblivious to their children's worlds. We are the parents! We need to be reading what our children read and watching the movies they watch! Should your child go see the movie The Golden Compass? If you will go with them and watch it, and then discuss it: why not?

Should your child read His Dark Materials?

I can't speak for you or your children. As I said earlier, my oldest daughter Brittany has read the trilogy and my youngest has read the first book. Although I hadn't read the books I was familiar with them and we have discussed the underlying themes. My oldest daughter tells me she was able to separate reality from fiction, but she clearly saw Pullman's antagonism toward religion in general and Christianity in particular. (She found his polemic quite off-putting). These books have provided opportunities for me to discuss with my daughters the importance of critical thinking, understanding the motives of writers, and the nature of good and evil. The opportunity to discuss these issues is a good thing.

I have no problem with parents saying: No, I really don't want my child reading these books. I can certainly appreciate that stance and I completely sympathize with the concern. That is your call as a parent. For some it will be a very wise call to make. You know your child better than anyone else. Some material may not be appropriate due to your child's emotional maturity.

Having said that, I have no problem with children reading the books if their parents will familiarize themselves with the books and will open lines of dialogue with their children. [Don't lecture and preach, though. Listen and discuss.] If you don't intend to do the hard work of dialogue and research--then maybe you need to seriously reevaluate your parenting style.

As with all opinions expressed here, I reserve the right to change my mind!
*Note: I understand Wikipedia is not the best source in the world for research. But I have had a chance to peruse through a copy of His Dark Materials and can vouch for this dialogue.

1 comment:

pboston said...

Thank you for sending this, Darryl...and what timing!
Before the movie came out, I had not heard much about the trilogy. When I started to hear the "anti-theological" buzz, I decided to read the trilogy. Well, imagine my surprise to find that all three books were in the SGC Library! I immediately checked all three of them out and started reading them... As I quickly made my way through the 1st two, I continued to read and hear of what was to come in the last book, so I had to fight off that urge to just yank them off the shelves and somehow "lose them", but I committed to reading all three, so I did...besides, I was curious!! Well, I just finished the last one right before Christmas. My stomach literally ACHED when I was done (and still does when I think of what to do with these books now that I'm finished with them). I would have to agree with the Wheaton literature professor on nearly EVERY point he makes. It scares me....
For now, the books are still checked out to me (and they will be until I decide what to do with them). I don't always follow the rules (I know, you're shocked at that statement), but since most 6th graders aren't REALLY "young adults" anyway, I might just be justified in my decision to move them from the SGC library up to the JH library. I will not be going to the theater to see the movie...but if any of you run across the DVD, I'd love to borrow it (since I'm not too thrilled about making any financial contributions to anything associated with the author now).
Too harsh you say???? Just glad I have the choice... :)

Y'all have a good week,