Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Is Anyone Still Talking About The Golden Compass?

It's kind of tricky writing a review of a book that's been out for 12 years already, has been reviewed a jillion times, has been made into a movie, and has raised the hackles of the religious right, left, and middle. But I promised, so here's my take on The Golden Compass:

It's good. It's a good story, fantastically imaginative, with complex, believable, sympathetic characters. The action and adventure scenes were particularly taut and gripping. I haven't seen the movie, but the story definitely has potential for transfer to the big screen.

If I hadn't been aware of all the religious ruckus that the trilogy (His Dark Materials by Phillip Pullman) has stirred up, I would not have made any connection to issues of faith. This might be different in the later books--Alan Jacobs of Wheaton College and Jeffrey Overstreet of Christianity Today definitely think so. Overstreet says, "...my favorite characters began to lose their personality and color, as Pullman’s agenda became more important than characterization."

The first book has the power to pull you into wanting to read the next book, and the next--except for one thing: somewhere around chapter 21, with about 40 pages left in the book, I started to get confused about the story and the characters. The story-telling seemed to shift somehow, and suddenly I wasn't sure who was good and who was evil.

Also, and perhaps most importantly, the emphasis on exposition in these last three chapters seems forced, seems to break the "show, don't tell" rule of story-telling. To tell the truth, this annoyed me enough that I probably won't read the next two books, unless I need to in order to have conversations about them with my kids.

And that brings me to my final point about the Dark Materials trilogy: I agree with Overstreet that believers need not fear or boycott these books--but it's always a good idea to talk to your kids about the ideas and messages that they're taking in, and to help them think critically.

This is true whether they're reading articles in Ms. magazine, a health textbook at school, or popular fiction by a talented atheist with an agenda.


Terri B. said...

I too really enjoyed the first book, for the most part. There are images from the trilogy that will stay with me forever. The author isn't terribly overt about agenda until book 3, at which point I thought he did himself a great disservice as an author -- the way he took his own great story and switched gears to go into agenda mode made him seem very petty.

E. Peevie said...

Thanks for checking in, Terri. I wonder if atheist or non-Christian readers also see this switch in Pullman's writing from storytelling to proseletyzing (sp?) in the later books.

Brian said...

I'm a Christian and I LOVED this trilogy. Like Terri said, though, Pullman does kind of make the mistake of "overplaying" his hand in book three. Actually he makes the same mistake that I think a lot of CHRISTIAN authors make. He stops telling his story periodically to preach. But it's only a couple times that he does this.

And here's what I tell people who are afraid about these books being ABOUT killing god. That would be like saying the book "Alive" is about eating people. No, that's one aspect of it. But actually, the two main characters, the kids, never actively engage in this "war on God." In fact, it's the ADULTS in the trilogy who are mounting this war, adults who have proven themselves time and again not to be dispicable characters who aren't to be trusted. But the book is ABOUT so much more deeper and purer things. It's about friendship, love, making the hard choices of life (be with the one you love or save the universe for example).

I'd still recommend reading the other books. I think the story is abosolutely beautiful and worth the few lame asides Pullman makes in order to preach his anti-God message.

E. Peevie said...

Brian, well, maybe I'll give the next book a try. BTW, I like your blog. E.P.