I still haven’t read The Golden Compass, but I’ve been reading a lot about it because of the religion controversy. I found a couple of interesting and helpful links to help us think about the books as literature, and that might help to inform a Christian's response to the anti-God theme.
Pullman’s trilogy is a retelling of Milton’s Paradise Lost, which means it is a retelling of the Genesis story of creation and the fall of man. Everyone seems to agree that he is an amazing storyteller, gifted with the ability to create imaginary worlds with lively and engaging detail.
Alan Jacobs, a literature professor at Wheaton College, described reading Pullman’s trilogy as “an enormously seductive experience. As you come to trust in the author’s ability to make a compelling and fascinating world, it becomes harder and harder to mistrust that author’s leadership and direction in moral matters.” He suggested, “Readers who love to enter the imaginary secondary worlds are tempted to turn off their moral and spiritual discernment so that you’re not disturbed in your immersion in this world.”
As the trilogy progresses, Jacobs said, the storytelling becomes increasingly polemical, as though it’s more important to the author to make his argument against God, faith, and all things spiritual than it is to let his characters live and breathe. “If you begin to suspect the moral tendency or direction that the book is taking,” Jacobs said, “the imaginative wholeness of the vision becomes less compelling to you as well.”
There’s tons more interesting material in the interview with Jacobs on Mars Hill Audio, in case you want to check it out. I love the fact that he quotes a song by The Who when he’s discussing Pullman’s apparent belief that the way to human freedom is the abolition of authority: “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss,” from Won’t Get Fooled Again. “That’s the lesson of the disappointed revolutionary,” Jacobs asserts. Anarchy always ends in tyranny.
Another helpful source is this post on Jeffrey Overstreet’s blog, The Looking Closer Journal. Overstreet wears, among other hats, the Christianity Today movie critic beret.
P.S. Props to my friend gveach on LibraryThing who pointed me to the Alan Jacobs interview.