Monday, December 06, 2010

Sinking compass

When I was a boy, back in the Sixties, A Charlie Brown Christmas used to air during the Christmas season. But this year TV stations are running The Golden Compass. Does this now represent the seasonal anti-Christmas classic?

From what I’ve read, The Golden Compass is the first-installment in Pullman’s anti-Narnian trilogy. On the plus side, the film is stuffed with classy actors.

And the film is handsome to look at. Retro modernism in sunset illumination. The technology is quaint and decorative, like the futuristic visions of Jules Verne and H. G. Wells.

However, Pulliam doesn’t have a coherent picture. We’re treated to a pastiche of jarring period pieces and architectural styles. By turns Gothic, Byzantine, Baroque, or Bauhaus. Then we tumble into a Joan Crawford vehicle for a fashionable matinée with Mrs. Coulter.

Lyra Belacqua is the anti-Lucy. She’s played by a fine child actress with a glorious shock of curly red hair.

However, the character isn’t nearly as sympathetic as Lucy. Lyra is suspicious and resentful.

For a militant atheist who is writing the godless alternative to The Chronicles of Narnia, one is puzzled by Pullman’s lazy recourse to New Age/fairy tale paraphernalia like flying witches, pixie dust, “subtle knives,” alethiometric Ouija boards, and shape-shifting animal spirit-guides.

Then there’s the plot. Or perhaps I should say, where is the plot? A climactic battle between two talking polar bears? Is that the best he can do?

I guess the basic problem is the Pullman is a reactionary. His only ambition is to negate Lewis. He has no constructive, inspired alternative.

But maybe the book is better than the movie (although it could also be worse.)

This represents a painful setback for atheism. If Hitchens and Dawkins were the prophets of the new atheism, then Pullman was the poet laureate. Riding on the crest of the new atheism, this was the one-time opportunity to give their nugatory creed a mythopoetic appeal and recruit the next generation to the cause. But the momentum is gone.


  1. According to my wife, who has read the trilogy, it starts from good and goes to worse.

    Pullman's story devolves into a militant atheism. Ironically, Pullman's series is little more than propaganda...the very thing he despizes C.S. Lewis for. Unfortunately (for Pullman), he couldn't do it nearly as well as Lewis

  2. I have all three but have only read the first. I haven't seen all of the film but from what I did see, the book is better.

    Pullman is as subtle as a brick in the face, though. The film is less brick.

  3. The second book ("Subtle Knife") is extremely good - it's the "Empire Strikes Back" of the trilogy - but the third book loses it big-time. I'd rate them 6, 9 and 2 respectively out of 10.

    My thoughts on PP here: