I’ve been told that Twilight gets worse as the series progresses. I’ll read the rest of the series as I have time. Anyway, after reading the first book in that series I turned to Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass.
There were several waves made in 2007 from conservative reviewers when this book was turned into a movie. The production attracted several very big-name actors and actresses. The movie itself has been changed to make it more marketable and those reviewers worried about the effect that the book would have on young minds.
Philip Pullman wrote The Golden Compass as the first book in a series called His Dark Materials. It was intended to be a reply to C. S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia from an atheist’s perspective. Pardon the lack of references for right now, but a couple of the interviews that I read with Pullman at the time seemed to indicate he was more of an agnostic.
Another thing stated by the reviewers I read was that the books were more harsh on the Catholic church than on the Protestants. Well… I can say that isn’t exactly true. Philip Pullman apparently knows church history better than they did. In the second chapter he speaks about how “Pope John Calvin” moved “the seat of the papacy” to Geneva. The book goes on to talk about how this move simply changed one superpower into a bunch of conflicting minipowers.
While this could be irony that was poked, because the world is supposed to be an alternate to our own, it is strangely similar to how some have described the Protestant Reformation. It has been said that the Reformation would have (and has) created thousands of mini-popes. I think the comparison was intentional.
Before going any further, it is probably a good idea to describe the book’s main character. The story revolves around a girl named Lyra. She is the daughter of a scientist/explorer named Lord Asriel and a woman named Mrs. Coulter. Lyra has been made to believe that Lord Asriel is her uncle and she is cared for by the staff of a college.
To make a long story short, she was an illegitimate child. Lord Asriel killed her mother’s husband when the man found out. It was viewed as self-defense by the courts but they were in a quandary over what was to be done because the parents had had an unlawful relationship. That was ultimately why Lyra was in the care of the school. As I said, it is a long story.
Each person in the book has an animal associated with them. The animal is limited in how far it can travel from its owner and is called their “daemon.” The daemon is a visual representation of that person’s soul. Until adolescence, the soul can change animal forms.
Through the course of the story, Lord Asriel has everyone’s respect and admiration. You learn that Mrs. Coulter plays political games and is part of an attempt by the Magisterium (the church) to experiment on children. Toward the end of the book, it turns out that the experimentation involves severing the child’s soul from their bodies. This severing is done to prevent inter-world transfers of Original Sin in the form of “Dust.”
Lyra, with the help of numerous other individuals, puts a stop to these practices by Mrs. Coulter and the evil church. From there she races off to rescue her dad who has been imprisoned by pay-offs from the church to halt his research into finding the source of the mysterious Dust.
This is where things become particularly troublesome. Lord Asriel kills one of Lyra’s friends to harness the energy that bonded the boy’s daemon to him. Right after the energy is harnessed to create a bridge between worlds, Mrs. Coulter appears over the hill top. She and Lord Asriel have a lover’s reunion before she decides that she cannot follow him to the other world.
The book ends with Lyra’s decision that Dust (Original Sin) must be good since everybody thought it was bad. She follows her father over the bridge, vowing to put a stop to things by herself.
If you’ve seen the movie, you know that the producers kept her friend alive.
There was one other strange philosophical conundrum in the book. As heavily as the Magisterium (church) is condemned, and sin seems to be embraced at the end of the book, there are several statements made by those around Lyra that they cannot coach her about her actions. Her destiny is to resolve this feud, but she has to resolve it on her own terms. They tell each other that all they can do is hope she makes the right choices.
High Calvinism teaches that God chooses people for purposes that he alone decides. They live their lives as though they are making the decisions but it was really He who chose the course. That is essentially what is taught about Lyra’s destiny. But then the book is a slam against Calvin. So if God doesn’t destine, who does? And what sets the parameters on that destiny?
It doesn’t make much sense right now, but I am pretty sure that the series will become darker before it ends. What else can happen when the good and bad guys who are seen by the main character both turn out to be equally evil?
I’ll read the next two when I find them in used bookstores and will report on them then. I won’t be supporting this series by purchasing it new.
Submitted by Chris on
That was one of the interviews I had read. My qualms aren’t with his so-called atheism (he’s really an agnostic ) but so far it is his treatment of the world. He is intelligent—more than several of the reviewers I’ve read from. From this interview:
And I dislike the solution produced in His Dark Materials so far.
Submitted by mark on
“I could see an argument from materialism that the physical universe is a closed system with no free elements in it. “
Right, the argument is that all future events, including my thinking about this question and writing this reply, ultimately become variables in a massive matrix problem. My thoughts are merely chemical reactions, whose results are predictable by chemical laws. If it were possible build a processor big enough to solve the matrix, we would know the future. Someone could know exactly how I will finish this post, before I finish it. Which begs the question of whether what I’m writing here has any meaning.
“You also run into physics problems where people cannot predict what will happen—there’s too much information for any human or animal to keep up with.”
True, except that theoretically we just need to account for all the information. Again, a larger processor is needed, that’s all.
“You would have to break out of time somehow and time is not a physical element. It is a function or containing element outside of matter.”
Don’t need to break out of time. Just need to calculate the trajectories of every chemical reaction in every human and animal brain, starting now. It’s a mind-blowing task but only limited by processing power.
Submitted by Chris on
In every brain? No, it requires more than that. Our brain physiology is affected by the food we eat. The food we eat is affected by solar flares. Solar flares are probably affected by the black hole at the center of our galaxy.
In order to know what will be happening in someone’s head, you’d have to track everything that is happening… everywhere and on every level. The universe is a computer and it is crunching through this information in real time.
Submitted by mark on
Right, that’s a gross over-simplification. But it’s still just a matter of scale. Sure, you have to map every variable in the universe, and you have to crunch it faster than it happens in real-time for the results to have any value. It does boil down to an equation though, does it not?
Submitted by Chris on
Someone that I knew a few years ago told me that Einstein was wrong with his theory of relativity. The equation needs another variable to include the spiritual world.
We can’t really measure everything which makes the argument entirely hypothetical. In theory, yes.