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Book Thoughts

His Dark Materials series by Philip Pullman
[includes The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass]

After I read the first book, I bought and devoured the other two in a few days. Pullman is a wonderful writer, bringing his characters and their difficult decisions to life. What will happen? How will they cope? What are they getting out of all this intrigue? What am I getting out of all this intrigue? Lots of people have told me that this series is very anti-God and looked at me a little doubtfully. Would I be offended? I imagine them thinking. Would I be disgusted? Convinced of an a-theistic argument? Um, no.

I fully agree that Pullman has a strong a-theistic bias. Actually, it's more of a Gnostic bias with intense distrust of the Church. Basically, there's this stuff called Dust that the Church thinks is the physical evidence of Original Sin. This one guy thinks, therefore, that it is evil and must be destroyed along with its maker, God. God is not actually God, though, but an angel who thinks he's God (thus, the Gnosticism). Have I lost you yet? Good, 'cause here's the last point: add to this a vast, miscommunicating, and corrupt Church structure of frightened men called the Magisterium. Magisterium, by the way, is what our Church calls the hierarchy, tradition, and pageantry of what we do. And two "children" (actually a 12 and a 13 year old) save the world by turning Original Sin on its head.

What to make of all this? Given the current controversy over Mother Theresa and recent "controversy" over The DaVinci Code, I wonder if we have any idea what we're talking about at all? It seems like everyone thinks the world will fall apart if there's any doubt or criticism, yet we long for controversy. We can't see God or proof of her existence, so we claim that God isn't really God and what we call God is an evil replacement. We can't comprehend how someone could hold such powerful doubt and misery in her heart and yet also devote her life to lepers and orphans--so we make her a saint or we make her a sinner but not both! No, doubt has no quarter in the heart of a saint, nor compassion in a sinner. His Dark Materials can't see the good present in creation alongside the evil and accuses God rather than the Church of corruption. In a book so focused on the goodness of the physical, why call the compass, the knife, and the spyglass "dark"?

See, it's a paradox. Our lives, our faiths, our loves, our deaths--it's all overlapping good and evil, salvation and damnation, beauty and ugliness. You can't separate them out and if you try, you'll destroy both sides. His Dark Material, whether Philip Pullman realizes it or not, is paradox.