03 December 2007

Shining A Light On "Dark Materials."

I have not read the His Dark Materials trilogy and had taken almost no notice of it, although I have seen a bit of the ferment regarding the release of the film version of the first installment, The Golden Compass. Today, First Things posts Alan Jacobs October 2000 consideration of the trilogy:

One of the most interesting things about this episode in Hell, which occupies several chapters of The Amber Spyglass, is its echoes of C.S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce—interesting, because Pullman loathes Lewis. He has condemned “the sheer dishonesty of the narrative method” in Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia, calling the series “one of the most ugly and poisonous things I’ve ever read,” with “no shortage of . . . nauseating drivel.”

Pullman’s echoes of Lewis are thus revisionary gestures, revealing his hatred not only of Lewis but of the Christianity Lewis represents. And this hatred becomes central, all too central, to Pullman’s story.

In the early pages of The Amber Spyglass, a pair of angels explain to Will certain events from the origin of the cosmos. (The role of the “Dust” they refer to is complicated; suffice it to say that Dust is the embodiment of either Original Sin or the creative energy of humankind, which may be the same thing in Pullman’s world.)

The Authority, God, the Creator, the Lord, Yahweh, El, Adonai, the King, the Father, the Almighty—those were all names he gave himself. He was never the creator. He was an angel like ourselves—the first angel, true, the most powerful, but he was formed of Dust as we are, and Dust is only a name for what happens when matter begins to understand itself. . . . The first angels condensed out of Dust, and the Authority was the first of all. He told those who came after him that he had created them, but it was a lie.

This is religious polemic disguised as explanation, but the polemic appears undisguised often enough. In The Subtle Knife we hear a witch—and Pullman’s witches are extravagantly virtuous—proclaim that “every church is the same: control, destroy, obliterate every good feeling.” In The Amber Spyglass the angel Xaphania tells a woman named Mary that “she and the rebel angels, the followers of wisdom, have always tried to open minds; and Authority and his churches have always tried to keep them closed.”

Here's the whole thing.
Amy Welborne has some interesting Dark Materials links & discussion.


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