Blah blah Golden Compass blah blah

Someone who clearly does not know me very well sent me one of those "BEWARE THE GOLDEN COMPASS FOR YEA VERILY IT SHALL SUCK OUT YOUR SOUL" emails. I was not impressed, and kind of wanted to write this person back and ask that the next time he chooses to blindly pass on inflammatory information like a mindless, mindless drone that he kindly leave me out of it.

My acquaintance isn't the only one sending this stuff out, though. I just read that an elementary school principal in Bountiful, UT sent an email to the parents of his students back in October, warning them about the film. Which, WOW. I was glad to read that he got a reprimand from the district, because as a parent I would have been well bothered by that.

The quite witty Eric D. Snider wrote a blog post about the whole hoopla surrounding the movie/books. His basic point: If you haven't read the books or seen the movie then you don't actually know what the message or intent is. All you know is what you've heard from other people, and it's kind of silly to just repeat those things as fact without checking for yourself. He made his point so well that I'm not even going to bother but will instead refer you to him.

But seriously. If you don't know whether you should let your kids read the books, read them yourself and then decide. Or, if needed, find someone who has read them, whose opinion and judgment you trust, and consider that. Also? The things you take away from a book may be completely different from the things your kids will get out of it. They might just see a great adventure story. I'm not saying you should give them, say, a bodice-ripper on purpose in the hope that it will go over their heads, but I am saying that the things that set you squirming might not make a dent to them.

I've read the series and there is quite a bit (especially in the third book) about throwing off an oppressive and cruel religious authority . . . which, um, wouldn't we be kind of . . . for? Some of the themes might bring up some really great conversations and teaching moments with your kids, where you can discuss how what you're reading aligns with your own beliefs, and how you can decide whether something is worth reading or not. And isn't it a good idea to help your kids develop the kind of critical thinking skills they'll need for when they head out into the world and start reading things that you haven't pre-approved?

So yes. You may decide that you just don't want to deal with the ambiguity and that you have neither the time nor the interest to screen these for your kids, so you're just going to pass on the whole thing. Which is absolutely fine. But if that's the case, please just say that rather than joining the screaming masses who take one quote from the author (who, let's remember, knows that nothing sells quite so well as scandal) and create a crusade out of it.

And stop sending me emails, because they just make me cranky.


TheMoncurs said... [reply]

I got one of those emails too and decided to check Snopes to see if there was even any kind of credibility to it. I thought this was kind of interesting:

"Pullman has left little doubt about his books' intended thrust in discussion of his works, such as noting in a 2003 interview that "My books are about killing God" and in a 2001 interview that he was "trying to undermine the basis of Christian belief."

I think for some people, at least, refusing to see the movie is less about the book/movie itself and more about not supporting someone whose lifes work is to pull down God and religion.

BEFore said... [reply]

I assume moncurs got his info from:

Anyway, I found it interesting.

So while I don't think the movie is necessarily a TOOL OF TEH DEVIL!!121 I also want to be cognizant of what/who I give my financial support.

Lindsay said... [reply]

AMEN, a thousand times Amen! I, too, got one of those emails and it sorta sent me into a tizzy. Because, really, this person (who I do love dearly) hadn't seen the movie, hadn't read the books, and was sitting here bearing her testimony that we should all boycott the film because it was (or, at least, because an old fellow missionary said it was) evil. I'd rather go out and make an informed decision for myself, thank you very much.

j said... [reply]

I certainly agree that the best way to know for sure how you feel about something is to check it yourself. Of course, sometimes it is best to take someone else's word for it, provided of course that its someone you trust.

Personally I felt like the first book, "The Golden Compass" or "Northern Lights" for the Brits out there, was pretty bereft of an anti-God message, although it does associate the Catholic church (in a parallel universe, mind you) with some evil-seeming folks. And my understanding is that even this has been pretty much stripped from the film.

Obviously in the second two books, especially the third book "The Amber Spyglass" the anti-God message gets cranked up much louder. However, I found these second two book to be so strange and the explanations of what was going on ("His" Dark Materials? Who is "he"?) and the motivations of some of the characters to be so difficult to follow that I was left a little unclear with what message I ought to take.

My take on the series was that it kind of felt like the first book was a little bit sneaky in the way it just seems like a children's adventure book, only to lead into the next two books. If it was Pullman's intent to have this film released as a way to get more people to read his books (and I'd assume that authors want their books read), it seems like this might fall in line with that. Parents might watch the movie and then assume the books are all vanilla adventure fun.

If my kids wanted to read these books (and I had kids) I'd probably just warn them that starting in the second book a lot of weird things will happen that will end up going unexplained, kind of like the bizarre King's Cross scene from HP7.

miranda said... [reply]

I loved the "bizarre King's Cross" scene, thank you very much.

At any rate, no kidding about the emails. I've received three of those emails. I wrote a rant about it, and then I read the books (and wrote a ridiculously long piece about them).

My son will leave my home exposed to all sorts of ideas, and how to critically think through them, because he will have access to a wide variety of reading material.

After all, instead of being LDS, the movies and books I read should actually have influenced me to be a pagan, living somewhere in a commune, trying to work magic...

Squirrel Boy said... [reply]

I don't think I've ever seen a chain e-mail that was worth passing on. This one is no exception.

MBC said... [reply]

I just wish that people would choose to get all worked up about things with more impact - like human rights violations or wars or even elections. I've heard more about this movie and its evil ways than I have about, for example, Darfur. Something's wrong about that, don't you think?

Jimmy said... [reply]

the one thing I like about my job as a parent is that I get to make my own choices about what I allow my kids to see. I don't want to form an opinion of my own by taking someone else's. In cases like this, as was the case with the Harry Potter books, I simply read them and decide if I want my kids to read it. Funny how that works, right?
You're right on target here with your assessment of the situation.

Azúcar said... [reply]

I guess my campaign of "Don't forward me junk" has worked a little too well because this particular nonsense has yet to land in my inbox.

For which I am...grateful?

Anyway, Eric is my friend, and he always says it better than I do.

MBC- Seriously, where are the outraged emails about Darfur? It makes me want to smack people with my bandwidth.

La Dolcezza said... [reply]

Completely agree with you!
I'm going to go see it tonight and I hope I don't come out of the theater an atheist due to Pullman's subtle ways.

micah e. said... [reply]

I think one of the greatest gifts a parent can give a child is the ability to critically consume communication… the ability to filter all of the messages we receive during the day (whether they be through television, books, conversation, etc.) through our personal belief system. It seems like there’s a lot more joy and more to be learned (experienced?) through engaging text rather than systematically refusing exposure.

I really liked the Compass books and hope that one day I can read them with my kids and talk about the meanings we each derive from its narrative.

Oh. Hi! I’m Micah. A friend of mine linked me to your blog because he wanted me to watch the princess videos (which are, AWESOME!). I’m loving the posts and everyone’s comments. Thanks for letting me read and letting me chime in with a couple of thoughts!

Jenny said... [reply]

thank you. I am hate it when people forward me crap. And this one counted.

Rynell said... [reply]

I read banned books. (And, while even though it is not banned in the archaic sense, I'll likely read it.)

Science Teacher Mommy said... [reply]

Thanks for your post. I've actually been meaning for a couple of weeks to ask you about it. I guess I'm not the only one with the same idea. ;) I also checked out the Snopes report and thought the author's comments were, well, tasteless at best, but then I considered that there are probably very few authors I read and love whose personal belief system is completely in line with mine. You don't hand your kids a book and say "Hey, read this; it is about killing God." When I was doing my English Education program we had a lot of discussions about controversial literature. I think I would rather have my kids read and want to talk about books that are thematically challenging so they can become thinking young men with a great capacity for compassion.

In fact, all the furor has made me curious to read them myself. I can have my own agenda for what I hope to learn.

j said... [reply]

I know I already posted a huge comment here, but as I read these other comments, I feel like there is something going unsaid. Namely, what age of kids are likely to read these books, and are they really the kind of kids that you'd be having a meaningful and thoughtful conversation about intricate plot themes and allegorical references?

I agree that we want kids who can read and think about things for themselves, but if I would have read these books as a kid, most of the points that Pullman is trying to make would have gone right over my head. Not to say kids should or shouldn't read these books, but how many parents are actually going to sit down with their kids and ask what they think about the philosophical points of a book? Especially the kind of parents who can't even be bothered to read a book before emailing all their friends to say to please not read them. So in a strange way, maybe for those parents, its the easiest route for them to take.

miranda said... [reply]

J: Good points. A friend of mine asked me when I'd recommend my boy read the books. The movie is rated PG-13, and that's a good guide: 12 or 13, or even as early as 9-11, if the child is mature enough and interested. But that's just me...only you can decide what's right for your child.

.::still blinking::. said... [reply]

I personally think this is a marketing ploy by the movie company, because even bad publicity is publicity. And since I have heard so much about it and because everyone is against it, I certainly want to see what the hooplah is all about. I would not have even paid attention to the movie if there had not been these emails of righteousness sent out.

By the way, I got one from a friend who said her sister got it from her bishop.

micah e. said... [reply]

Do I think that kids are going to run to their parents after reading the book to have a philosophical discussion… no, not at all. I think it’s a parent’s role (and opportunity) to find out what their child understands from the messages he or she receives. Certainly a 10 year old likely won’t pick up on all of Pullman’s underlying intentions (I didn’t, and I read the books when I was 26!). But a parent who actively chooses to involve themselves in what their child reads stands to benefit from discussing those messages… not only will they have a greater understanding of the person their child is becoming, but also be able to shape that the value system the child will carry with them the rest of their life.

j said... [reply]

@micah: I'm not saying its ideal for parents not to talk to their kids, just saying that most of them won't.

chosha said... [reply]

"...less about the book/movie itself and more about not supporting someone whose lifes work is to pull down God and religion."

I really appreciated his very unusual and challenging premise (across the whole trilogy) that many believers accept God as good simply because He told us He was (in broader terms applying the concept that 'the victor writes history' to God and the war in Heaven). It's an idea worth examining. If God's goodness is so arbitrary, we should be questioning it. And if we can find nothing more than "because it's so" to justify our belief then Christianity really is on shaky ground, even without Pullman's challenge.

I think sometimes that we who are have had a positive experience with our religion forget the terrible things that have been done in the name of the Christian religion (and many others) - things that I don't believe for a second that Christ would condone. I agree with the Archbishop of Canterbury (Rowan Williams) who argued that Pullman's attacks are focused on "the constraints and dangers of dogmatism and the use of religion to oppress, not on Christianity itself".

I found the book beautifully written and intensely thought-provoking, and (in spite of the fact that I've heard they end the movie before the exciting and powerful book ending happens) when the movie opens here on December 26, I will certainly be watching it.

BEFore said... [reply]

Side / followup note:

Friends who have seen the movie said that it's not very good. Except the bears fighting. But I guess you can see most of that in the trailers.

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