I am now embarking on my atheism indoctrination: His Dark Materials!

Yes, back in May RC2 asked if anyone had read the series, and now, with a week and one day to go before the movie is released, I am fulfilling my promise to you all to write it up! Lured into this evil trap by the lovely, luminescent, and ostensibly Catholic Nicole Kidman, I shall now unsuspectingly expose myself to the darkest of sinister temptations: anti-Catholic themes in a children’s novel!

(No but seriously, I expect I’ll find it a fun little book, and completely miss all the anti-religious stuff just like I completely missed the religious stuff in The Chronicles of Narnia all through my youth, only hearing about those, in utter disbelief, from the same sources I’m hearing about the stuff in Pullman’s novels, and in the same timeframe: right before the release of the Major Motion Picture. (Actually, a high school friend of mine said something about it but she was a Christian and tended to listen to Christian rock so I quickly disregarded it as something someone went looking for because it was just so ridiculous.))


A decanter of wine features rather heavily in chapter one. Obviously he’s encouraging alcoholism in children too. And profligacy, since it’s an expensive wine.


Well, the church just popped up in chapter two.


Cigarettes in three! I like being indoctrinated!


Nicole Kidman shows up in four!


Chapter ten: Some thoughts after finishing part one.

First, there’s too many people in this story. There’s more than were in the Harry Potter books, and those were set in a school over seven years, and most of the secondary characters hardly did anything but fill classrooms for most of the series. This is a third of the way into a third of the series, and people mentioned in passing are suddenly doing important and critical things dozens of pages later, like falling to their deaths or turning into major characters without any further explanation of who they are. In fact, they’re the only ones who are doing much of anything. The main characters certainly aren’t doing much at all, since one’s in a distant prison and one’s in hiding. I know that this is Pullman’s response to the Narnia series, and Narnia it ain’t. Sure there’s one kid instead of three but she’s got tons of friends, they all have families, there isn’t one professor but a whole college of them, there may be one head badguy but she’s got tons of friends and minions, all of whom have names. The child isn’t exactly befriending fantastical animals or fighting wolves. Sure, it’s early days yet, but in Narnia that got off pretty well off the bat of the first novel, and there were still five books to go.

There are a bunch of winks — or raspberries — sent in the direction of the CS Lewis books. It’s hard to tell which they are sometimes, but it shows that he’s aware of them while he’s writing these, and since I’m reading these aware that he’s aware of them and continually reminded of that awareness, well. It’s adding to my awareness.

And as for the church, it’s barely been mentioned so far but what has been described is so far removed from the real thing it would be unrecognizable to anyone who hasn’t been heavily briefed before hand that “he means the church. Yes, that church. That’s what he’s talking about.” The whole world is completely different from this one, so what’s called the church is operating as a completely different entity in a completely different world. The terminology is the same, but that just serves to make its situation in the world recognizable*. Hardly likely to turn many kids reading it for the fun animals into diehard atheists, I think. But then it’s early days, yet.

* As in trains and spaceships. If your writing a historical fantasy, you can say your character is on a train, and nobody asks questions. If you write a scifi fantasy, you have to go on for pages and pages what the spaceship is or no one will be able to see it. In other words, it’s easier to move your story around something that already exists.


Btw, I don’t mean to imply by any of the above criticism that it’s a bad book, it’s just that I’m reading it critically so I’m pointing out that which I can be critical of. It’s a perfectly enjoyable book. I do think, though, given the way I read when I was a kid (just plowing through, never bothering much about the bits or people I didn’t get, which probably happened more frequently at that age than now), a similar kid would get to the end missing a good deal of what happened, because there’s just so many people to keep straight.


Chapter sixteen! Mention of the Vatican! …which isn’t even in Rome anymore, I think I read at the beginning. It’s in Geneva.


Well, Part Two is behind me and things are picking up. Man, though, there’s a lot of stuff they can cut out of this for the movie, and religion isn’t in that list.


And I’m done. Man. What (to borrow a phrase) a load of old tosh. I can’t believe this is what people are getting so wound up about.