“The Golden Compass” is Book One of a fantasy trilogy written by English author Philip Pullman in the late 1990s called “His Dark Materials.” Philip Pullman is an unapologetic militant atheist. For example, in a 2001 interview with the Washington Post, Pullman said: “I’m trying to undermine the basis of Christian belief.”
The title for the trilogy comes from a line in John Milton’s “Paradise Lost” and Pullman views his trilogy as a re-telling of Milton’s poem (which means that “His Dark Materials” is in reality Pullman’s re-telling of the Genesis story in fantasy form). Interest in the series has been revived as New Line Cinema is set to release their theatrical version of “The Golden Compass” on December 7—just in time for the holiday movie season.
The preemptive strike from the conservative Christian community, led by William Donahue of The Catholic League and Donald Wildmon of the American Family Association, has become more of a story than the release of the film itself. Donahue views the movie as an attack on Roman Catholicism, denouncing as “pro-atheist” both the movie and the book upon which it is based. He’s calling for a boycott of the film. In a recent press release The Catholic League warned their constituents that “His Dark Materials” was “written to promote atheism and denigrate Christianity, especially Roman Catholicism” (a charge Pullman denied in various interviews even before it was leveled). Donahue characterizes the trilogy as “atheism for kids” and the movie as “bait for the books.” The American Family Association, “because of Pullman’s clearly articulated anti-Christian motives,” is “warning all viewers to run from the film.”
In a strange twist of life imitating art, this reaction to “The Golden Compass” validates the image Pullman creates in his trilogy of Christians and of organized Christianity generally.
In Book Two of “His Dark Materials, The Subtle Knife,” the Queen of the Witches says:
I don’t know who will join with us, but I know whom we must fight. It is the Magisterium, the Church. For all its history … it’s tried to suppress and control every natural impulse. And when it can’t control them, it cuts them out … That is what the Church does, and every church is the same: control, destroy, obliterate every good feeling. So if war comes, and the Church is on one side of it, we must be on the other.