Tolkien would not be pleased.

At the beginning of the trailer for The Golden Compass, New Line boasts about its wildly successful Lord of the Rings franchise. (Interesting, since their president has nothing good to say about Peter Jackson, and won’t let him make The Hobbit.)

As the trailer opens, we see the Ring of Power.

And then, to promise us something of equal importance, New Line displays the One Ring transforming into the “aletheometer,” an instrument in The Golden Compass that supposedly “tells the truth.”

The implication is obvious. The stories, says New Line, stand on equal ground.

How fascinating.

The first is a story that is illuminated by the Christian faith of its writer. The second is a story that was written with the intent of encouraging children to reject the Christian convictions of C.S. Lewis (and, by association, Tolkien too). One stands in glory. The other was crafted to discount the foundation of the first. “I suppose technically you’d have to put me down as an agnostic,” said Philip Pullman to The Telegraph. “But if there is a God and he is as the Christians describe him, then he deserves to be put down.”

So, yeah… this trailer demonstrates just how blind New Line is to the nature of its own product.*

I do find it ironic that the trailer includes a character telling young Lyra that she was “meant” to have the aletheometer, as if that’s a good thing. When the trilogy culminates with the heroes siding with the villains and ganging up on God (at the end, Pullman decided to cloud the issue a bit, but by then his agenda has become painfully clear) to murder him, who, then, “meant” for her to have it? If they don’t mean that it’s God’s will, what higher power are they appealing to? Philip Pullman’s trilogy concludes with a re-staging the fall of humankind in the Garden of Eden as a triumph of the highest authority of all… the human will. If anybody “meant” for Lyra to do anything, it would have to be the God that her fellow heroes kill in the end.

The Lord of the Rings reveals, resonates, grieves, and offers hope. It affirms the benevolence of “a greater will at work” than our own, and observes that without that heavenly hope, humankind is doomed to fail. It works through the power of myth, and through suggestion.  His Dark Materials, on the other hand, makes its agenda clear by having its characters come right out and say things like “Christianity is a lie.” Its occasionally enthralling flourishes of imagination are ultimately done in by obvious anti-Christian propaganda, and a frightening glorification of that rebellious impulse within the human heart. It categorizes all concepts of authority into That Which Must Be Overthrown… thus elevating our own unstable and flawed will to the level of God.

Heaven help those who don’t see the difference.

As I work on my own fantasy saga, I sincerely hope I am not distracted by any particular agenda… beyond telling a good story, that is.

* Hmmm… wait. Maybe the studio folks *do* understand their product after all. Because the Ring of Power was the tool of the enemy… the symbol of pure evil, the symbol of our wicked lust for power. And ultimately, it *is* the Ring of Power that the heroes of Pullman’s series embrace.)(Hat tip to Peter Chattaway for the link.)

For more on Philip Pullman, his novels, and his views, check out any of these pages:

The Telegraph

The London Institute for Contemporary Christianity

 “Pullman Don’t Preach,” The Oxford Student

Facing the Challenge

The Spectator

Peter Hitchens

Pegg Kerr


The Constant Reader

The Guardian

Regina Doman’s review

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • The ring fading into the so-called aletheometer proves it to be in fact, a pseudometer. The one ring promised a lie in place of the truth as well. If anything, Pullman’s worldview affirms exactly what the biblical worldview affirms of his own fallen state. Ironic. You think he would avoid the Christian myth altogether and instead affirm some eastern philosophy. Instead he proposes the absurd notion of a pan-psychic dust as some vague universal pneuma of self-awareness. A “dark material” as vapid as his pathetic imagination. He is at core a materialist, yet, arrogantly projects the idea of fate and “soul” in contradiction to his feeble understanding of reality.

    He betrays the glory of Milton in his agnostic love of Milton. Someone should buy him a copy of the Summa Theologica. He needs a noetic baptism.

  • Bruce Byfield

    I agree that equating the two is ridiculous.

    However, your categorization of Pullman makes me wonder if you have even read it. The idea that “the trilogy culminates with the heroes siding with the villains and ganging up on God to murder him” is wrong on several accounts. The trilogy is too ambiguous to talk in terms of “villains” — the main characters side with those who are morally ambiguous, but still preferable to those who manipulate others and have a lust for power. They do not “gang up”; they are outnumbered. And, in the end, they find that their opponent is not God, who is depicted as frail and doddering, but his Regent.

    If you have read it, I suspect that your dislike of his sentiments make you incapable of appreciating the trilogy. While you may deplore Pullman’s sentiments, he is not just a propagandist for atheism any more than Tolkien is a propagandist for Catholicism. Both are skilled writers before anything else.

    Personally, I happen to disagree with Tolkien’s religion and sympathize — although not share — Pullman’s position. However, personally, I would be ashamed if I were ever to say that Tolkien was therefore a bad writer and Pullman a good one. In both cases, their philosophies are something separate from their artistic talents, and I don’t see why you can’t dislike one and appreciate the other at the same time.

  • i4detail

    Oh. Here you are. And here I thought you were just being unusually unproductive over on the other blog; thanks to Peter for pointing me over to the new page.

    Just a warning; don’t get dugg; wordpress goes down in, like, five seconds if you get dugg….

  • petertchattaway

    New Line has been pretty consistent about courting the “faith” market, on films like The Lord of the Rings, The New World, and of course The Nativity Story. I am curious to see whether they will try to reach the “faith” market on this film, too, perhaps the way that Sony did with The Da Vinci Code. But I don’t think The Golden Compass and its contents are as well-known in American churches — or in America, period — as The Da Vinci Code, and without a controversy to “manage”, the studio might not see the point in wooing the “faith” market.

  • How fascinating. Sounds like the same brand of genius marketing that made Bridge to Terabithia look like an action movie.

    I think this raises a good point about the amorality of marketing. It’s not that the studio can’t see the difference between HDM and LOTR, but that they know by emphasizing their similarities they can get butts in seats.

    I’m actually curious to see the movie, because the books are so intellectual and abstract that I think a lot will have to be stripped away in order to make them play as stories. I wonder if they’ll be so bold as to come right out with the anti-Christian stuff in today’s “coddle the Christian” studio environment. All the studios are trying to court the evangelical audience, even the ones that haven’t yet set up explicit “faith” divisions–even New Line.