Wednesday, November 28, 2007
THE GOLDEN COMPASS CONTROVERSY
It's being advertised heavily on cable, and the ads are intriguing. The trilogy is being featured prominently at Borders.
Daniel Craig, leading actor in the film, is quoted in a Guardian article:
"I'm not surprised at the criticism," said Craig. "I get that. But I think the majority of people who are criticising it haven't read it. These books are not anti-religious. Mainly they're anti-misuse of power - whether it's religious or political. They sell [The Da Vinci Code author] Dan Brown now in the Vatican so I'm sure they'll be selling this there too eventually because it presents a very healthy debate.
In Canada two school districts have been alerted to the controversy by U.S. activity and are combing their libraries for copies of the books which they indicate are particularly well-written and will "teach children about literary culture" and "make them better readers":
The Algonquin and Lakeshore Catholic District School Board is combing its elementary school libraries, looking for copies of the controversial children's fantasy novel The Golden Compass.
If a copy is found, a review of the novel - already pulled and under scrutiny by two other Catholic school boards in the Toronto area - will be conducted by local board officials and parents to determine if it is appropriate for students to read.
"When it came to our attention, I asked our team if it was in our schools. It's not a prescribed book," said board director Michael Schmitt, who admitted he'd never heard of The Golden Compass before receiving a call from the Whig-Standard.
The acclaimed 1995 novel, the first in a trilogy written by British author Philip Pullman, is being reviewed by both the Dufferin-Peel and Halton Catholic school boards in the Toronto area after they received complaints about its "anti-God" content.
The fantasy books feature a parallel universe, homosexual angels and a church that wants to separate prepubescent children from their demons before they lose their innocence - a metaphorical reference to sex.
"I can almost guarantee the book is there," said Queen's University assistant English professor Shelley King, who has taught The Golden Compass in her courses. "I think it's a pity if children don't get to read it. My perspective is that education is about free inquiry." King said the book received the Carnegie of Carnegies award this year for being the best of the Carnegie Medal award winners of the last 70 years.
According to the article in Halton the December Scholastic book order will not be distributed since The Golden Compass is on the list.
An article at the Irish Independent provides some clues about the story line:
It tells the story of 12-year-old Lyra Belacqua, who lives in a parallel universe which resembles our own in many ways, with some crucial differences. The most important of these is that human beings are physically separated from their souls, which live outside them as animals, or "daemons". The daemons of children slip from one animal form to another, only taking on a permanent appearance when their human counterpart reaches adulthood.
Lyra has been left by her Uncle Asriel, played by Craig, to be raised by the fellows of Jordan College, Oxford, but when a mysterious and beautiful woman by the name of Mrs Coulter (Kidman) arrives and offers to take her north in the footsteps of her uncle, she is swift to accept. Too late, she realises that Mrs Coulter is not what she seems, but is connected to a sinister organisation called the Magisterium.
Some people have interpreted the Magisterium to be a representation of the Roman Catholic Church. While there is little doubt that Pullman intended to portray a theocracy wielding dangerous power, nowhere in the novels is the Catholic Church overtly criticised. Rather, Pullman's supporters contend, the books attempt to show the dangers inherent in all organised religion when political power rather than spirituality becomes its driving focus.
Over at the Catholic League website Bill Donohue answers criticism directed at him over his campaign to expose the anti-religious content:
“In the current Newsweek, Pullman lashes out at me saying, ‘To regard it [his storytelling] as this Donohue man has said—that I’m a militant atheist, and my intention is to convert people—how the hell does he know that?’ That’s easy—I just quote him: ‘I’m trying to undermine the basis of Christian belief.’
“In his books, Pullman refers to ‘Dust’ as an invisible substance with mysterious qualities. To Dr. Spin, Freitas, ‘Dust is the Holy Spirit.’ Really? Then why did the screenwriter, Chris Weitz, tell Hanna Rosin of the Atlantic Monthly that the producers of the movie told him to take the following line out of the film: ‘Dust is sin’?
“Weitz recently said it is ‘wrongheaded’ to say Pullman wants to ‘kill God.’ Yet Pullman has admitted that ‘My books are about killing God.’
There is a claim in the advertising world that there is no such thing as bad publicity. Dan Brown could attest to the truth of the claim, and Pullman looks to be traveling down the same road.