Philip Pullman‘s most famous book The Golden Compass is nearing its release by New Line Cinema, starring Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig. There is some controversy about this movie because of Pullman’s atheism and the claim, by many, that he is anti-religious.
The book, originally called Northern Lights, is the first book of a trilogy called “His Dark Materials” all of which I’ve read. I enjoyed The Golden Compass the most of the three: I didn’t find The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass held my interest as much. Reviewers seem to either really hate or really like Pullman and his work with no room for a middle ground and so I’ll try to provide some here.
He is a skilled writer and has a wonderful imagination. But… I don’t think he’s in the same league with the likes of C.S. Lewis, Tolkien or Rowling who he’s often compared with. As Pullman’s trilogy continues his imagination and ability with the language and to hold my interest definitely and sadly stagnated. With Rowling, in particular, I don’t see that. Her abilities and skill as a story teller grow with each book as Harry becomes older, more complicated a character and more real. Whereas Pullman would probably have been better to stop after the Subtle Knife. Lyra becomes much more transparent and thin during the course of the books. It was like a long drawn out death. Of course many say Pullman’s is far more intellectual writing than others (I presume ‘they’ mean J.K. Rowling) but I don’t know what is meant by this. What is meant by intellectual? To many that means, in a word, ‘boring’. So, then, that may be true. If, on the other hand, you mean something deeper and more philosophical I would disagree. The whole anti-medieval-Church is definitely black and white with little room for any kind of subtlety and is rarely insightful. It just becomes boring and was almost painful to endure by the time I reached the third book. The daemon/soul and the truth/alethiometer/dust were interesting concepts in the first book but not really made any more stimulating in the 2nd and 3rd books. The angels and god were so uni-dimensional as to be laughable. I kept hoping for more of what I loved in the first book but didn’t get it.
I do want to see the movie, although I’ll probably wait for the DVD to come out before experiencing brave Lyra, the wonderful daemons, witches and, above all, the armoured bears of Pullman’s imagination. Of all his creations I love Iorek Byrnison the best and applaud the choice of Ian McKellen as his voice. I’m guessing it’s only tackling the first book and, even then, I imagine it will leave quite a bit out to fit into a movie format. Don’t know if they intend to shoot the other books. But I do know I’d personally rather see the rest of the Chronicles of Narnia before the rest of His Dark Materials.
The normally outspoken Pullman seems to have toned down his atheist beliefs lately. I expect the Newline people think this will help at the box office. Well the anti-Church thing could certainly be brought down several notches for a children’s film and I bet it will be. It will be interesting to see how much.
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