Wednesday, October 9, 2013

His Dark Materials = Shining Triumph

This entry will be a bit different than usual. A few weeks ago I finished up reading the first work of fiction I've read since the Bible. What I read was the 'His Dark Materials' trilogy written by Philip Pullman. I must say that I quite enjoyed it and if anyone is thinking or reading The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, or The Amber Spyglass, I suggest you stop reading here, fore there shall be spoilers

My first introduction to this series actually came years ago when The Golden Compass was made into a major motion picture. All I knew about the film, I knew from the trailer. The Harry Potter and Narnia films were also popular at that time and we had seen and enjoyed them, so we gave The Golden Compass a shot. And I'm happy we did. It was quite enjoyable, and the ending left it obvious that a sequel was planned... something I would have already known if I had done my homework and saw it was the first of a trilogy of books.

The Golden Compass actually won  an Academy Award for 'achievement in visual effects', and given the top name actors of Daniel Craig and Nichole Kidman, I eagerly awaited and expected the next film's release. Alas, that second installment never came. Why? Although it did well overseas, it didn't fare too well domestically. And the Catholic freaking church had quite a role in making that happen. You see, Pullman (like me) is an atheist. So they started out wary, which is a shame. I wonder if they have a problem with he works of Samuel Clemens/Mark Twain as well?...

But the church actually told their congregations to actually boycott the movie. We found that out when we returned home from the movie, and my mother-in-law asked what we had gone to see, and when we told her she exclaimed "But we're boycotting that!" When we asked why so said, "Because they kill God in that movie!". Apparently God is so fragile that a movie will do him in? Not too impressive if you ask me. But we replied by reassuring her that God wasn't even in the movie we just saw, let alone killed. When I read the books later I would learn what the church too so much issue with to order a boycott. But I'll return to that later. Let me just say that they way over reacted and that my mother-in-law was fed some bad information by her church.

So, to the books... I needed a break from the books on science, theology and atheism that i had been reading each night as I'm settling in for bed. So after looking for suggestions, I ordered a nice box set of Pullman's 'His Dark Materials' trilogy from Barnes and Noble. The first thing I noticed that the set was very nicely put together and will fit in very nicely on our bookcase that is swiftly reaching capacity. But the real reward came when I began reading the story.

The Golden Compass was far better than the movie that I had actually enjoyed. However, if I had read the book prior to watching the film, my opinion might be slightly less positive toward the movie. The truth is that they left a lot out of the movie, and changed plot points as well. Not trivial things either. They left out an important bits that really made the book. Bits that would be a main story line throughout the story, rushed things, dumbed them down, and even hacked the end of the book off of the movie.I understand that they were trying to make the movie into the 'other Narnia'. But by doing so, they ruined it. It was still good, but far short of what it could have been.

I can understand some of the things they left out to a degree. they wanted to give the film the widest audience possible, so that meant making it kid friendly. But this was very short sighted. They could have gotten away with it in the first film, but I really don't feel there was anyway they could have sanitized the other books to be suitable for young children while also preserving any of the story's integrity.

They left out Dr. Grumman's supposedly severed head. This removed the is he/isn't he dead question surrounding someone who would latter be a very important character. They swapped the order of some events around, they changed who was going to poison Asriel. They have plot points seemingly spoon fed to Lyra at random, Lyra's prophesy was left out, and the dramatic ending of the book is hacked off and replaced with a much different, more tidy ending. In hindsight, the film was quite rushed and killed the beauty of the way the books mysteriously and smoothly progress.

It was a story of commitment, honor, friendship, growth, adventure and even love. All of the characters grew throughout the book. And all too often we had to say goodbye to some of them. There where parts that i predicted in advance, like the true nature or Asriel and Mrs. Coulter as Lyra's true parents. That Grumman and Will's father were not only alive, but one in the same! That Lyra's world's 'dust' is our 'dark matter'. That Will cut into the world of the Mulefa when he opened the door out of the world of the dead. And that Will and Lyra would fall in love. But the story was told so well and developed in
such a way that these realizations did not spoil or take away from the story one bit.

Back to the bits that the Catholic church was in a hissy about. In the story the Authority (God) is actually just the oldest of the angels. He came in to being just as everything else, and actually created nothing. That didn't stop him from taking credit though. But he was a non-interventionist god, so he was actually more of a deist god. As he aged and weakened his Regent, the angel Metatron wanted to take control. He wanted to be the new authority and wanted to rule the worlds directly, intervening in the realm of humans (in negative ways). Not to mention creating the world of the dead. A bleak place that all find themselves in. No Heaven. No Hell. Just someplace that is more like Hell in a physiological way (no fire and brimstone) for everyone.

So Metatron imprisoned 'God' in an unbreakable crystal prison and took control. Metatron met his end when Lyra's parents tricked him and sacrificed themselves to plunge him into the abyss, but I doubt that this is the part that had the church upset. After all, this was the angel the imprisoned God that was killed, and not 'God' himself. However, in The Amber Spyglass, Lyra and Will do happen upon an old angel locked in a great crystal that is weeping and wanting to be set free. Will cuts the prison open with the subtle knife and sets him free. The angel is happy and smiles knowing that he is
free, he is too weak and too old to live outside of his prison, but happily dissolves and returns to the energy of the world.

So yes, 'God' does die in the final book, but he is not killed. Rather he is rescued and set free of his suffering. I fail to see why that garnered so much offense. Plus, it is a fictional book for crying out loud! I'm no freaking out that someone wrote a book and movie where President Lincoln was a vampire hunter. It's fiction, and clearly so. It's not like they are trying to teach that Lincoln hunter the undead in history classes. Actually, maybe I shouldn't give Texas any ideas...

In the end the book is bittersweet. Will and Lyra save all the worlds and fall in love. But shortly after they realize their shared love, they find that they are faced with a choice. All the worlds have to be sealed off again, and they will only live ten years outside their home world. They either have to watch their loved one die early before them, risk the well-being of every world by leaving a window open or continue windows every few years, or sacrifice their new love for the well-being of all and forever part. They choose the latter which leads to a bitter-sweet ending that leaves you wanting to bargain on Will and Lyra's behalf and wanting for much much more.

So I am now about to read the short companion books Ounce Upon a Time in the North, and Lyra's Oxford as I am desperately hungry for more of this great story. They won't advance the plots that I want them to, but any scraps I can find are better than nothing. Additionally, Pullman is currently working on A Book of Dust. It isn't supposed to continue the original series, but exactly what it will contain isn't exactly clear. None-the-less, I shall be eagerly awaiting it's release.

So if you know anyone interested in reading these books, I would highly recommend them. I could actually see myself re-reading them in a year or so. Or if you know a Catholic that is loosing their shit over a fictional movie tell them to calm down and to stop over reacting. Actually, many believers have been able to read this series and retain there belief, while also enjoying the books. If anyone regards these books as a threat to their faith, that actually speaks much higher of the fragility of their faith than the supposed 'dark nature' of these great books. So sit back, read them, an enjoy them. I know I did.

-Brain Hulk

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