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Review: His Dark Materials

Over the last week I've spend 26 hours on the train. That's been great for work thinking and reading. From which some reflections on Esther, Lamentations, Sam Storm's Signs of the Spirit to follow in coming days. But also for some fiction reading. That began with Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials Trilogy, and then Salmon fishing in the Yemen.

Pullman is notorious. Partly because part 1 of the Trilogy is currently on screen as The Golden Compass. And partly because he's the opposite of CS Lewis, that is he writes atheistic-ish childrens fiction that we can all appreciate. Initial comments. The books are very reabable and I enjoyed the story. I felt like part 2 rambled a bit in classic second part of Trilogy fashion and that probably the first book was the strongest. It's a good & evil story but things are all a bit different to normal... God is the enemy and has to be got rid of, salvation is needed - even a new start, but the details look kind of different.

Pullman slips in some of his ideas as unchallenged facts. We have multiverses not a universe - many worlds. We have the Bible taken for granted as a corrupt book. Pope Calvin!? We have the fall as a positive move for humanity rather than a 'fall'. And people have daemons, animals who are part of who they are. Pullman has a character state: all the history of human life has been a sturggle between wisdom and stupidity. At which point the Christian is in full agreement. Except he continues: she and the rebel angels, the followers of wisdom, have always tried to open minds, the Authority [God] and his churches have always tried to keep them closed. Pullman painting his multiverse is no more of a problem in itself than Lewis' Narnia or Tolkien's Middle Earth... would you want to live there? There's some appeal but then some strange things.

The books weren't as agressive as I expected in their anti-christianity. The uncomfortable thing is the unchallenged statements that form Pullman's worlds - but the question is whether that resonates with the world we know and live in. I'd guess a Christian parent might want to read these with a child and help them engage with things that clash with a Biblical worldview. And then they might want to pursue the Biblical themes of wisdom and salvation versus Pullman's versions. Investigating, with an open mind, the woman-wisdom of Proverbs, the man called The Wisdom of God and the life he gives. Having a daemon is appealling but could there be something even better - vastly better? Overall they're stories that tackle some interesting ideas and are told in creative ways. I've enjoyed them.

See also Albert Mohler's briefing on The Golden Compass
Tony Watkins on The Golden Compass at Damaris/Culturewatch
and Tony Watkins - Dark Matter, a thinking fans guide.


  1. One of the elements I personally find most interesting and telling in Pullman's trilogy is his retelling and reinterpretation of the Fall. According to Pullman, it was the first step towards wisdom. He summed it up in an interview: "innocence is not wise and innocence is not wisdom".

    In the Christian view, of course, maturity, the knowledge of good and evil, does not come from disobedience, but from the [i]choice[/i]. Adam and Eve gained one sort of knowledge of good and evil through disobedience, but they could have had a morally innocent knowledge of good and evil through choosing to obey God. The choice between blind, unquestioning obedience on the one hand and rebellion on the other is a false one. It is possible to both be questioning in the right way and also faithful to God.

    Interestingly, these questions are discussed in depth by the characters in [i]Perelandra[/i] by C S Lewis - in fact, rereading it, it feels almost like a direct answer to Pullman!

    The difference is also neatly illustrated by comparing the opening of [i]Northern Lights[/i] with the opening of [i]The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe[/i]. Both stories begin with a young girl hiding in a wardrobe, which leads to them going on fantastic adventures. But in Lewis's book, Lucy is doing no wrong in being there, whereas Lyra is trespassing somewhere where she should not be. That sums it all up in a nutshell.


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