Given the changes that Chris Weitz is making to the adaptation of Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass, the religious controversy surrounding the film’s release might be more exciting than the film itself. I am exaggerating here and am anxiously awaiting the film’s release. However, until it arrives in December, I will just have to amuse myself with the rantings of fearful conservative Christians. This article from the LA Times, “‘Compass points to tests of faith,’ sums up the controversy surrounding the film, while offering background on its production and a brief introduction to Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy.
What I find most intriguing about all these rantings and ravings is that they come from (and will continue to do so) people who have yet to see the film, much less read the book. Thus, they thoughtlessly sound the monotone message of warning passed down from on high by Dobson or Donohue, becoming the very embodiment of the religion, not God, that Pullman would seek to do away with in his novels.
I would not go so far as to say that Pullman’s work is a significant piece of Christian theology because that would not be fair to Pullman or Christian theology. Pullman is an atheist who, through a children’s fantasy no less, asks questions of the Church and organized religion that its members are not bold enough to consider themselves, much less discuss with their children. I read this book while working at a Baptist church in London, England, and participated in a discussion of it with other ministers and theology professors. Far from feeling that Pullman had “killed our God” or destroyed our faith, we all felt enriched by the theological questions inherent in the work and more empowered to minister to the doubts and fears of our congregants, students, etc.
Pullman is asking real questions for our troubled times, and I am disappointed that the film might be downplaying them. I hope Weitz, the romantic comedy director, does not turn Pullman’s fantastic world into another Narnia, because that simplistic worldview just won’t cut it any more.