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Nine Moons » Blog Archive : Golden Compasses Point To True Irony » Golden Compasses Point To True Irony

Golden Compasses Point To True Irony

Guest - December 6, 2007

By Bret, brother of Rusty, son of Don, friend to all

Many of you I’m sure have seen the hubbub surrounding the new movie The Golden Compass based on a book trilogy by the self-described atheist, Philip Pullman. I read all three books and immediately feel in love with them about three years ago. Both them and the new movie (which I saw in a sneak preview last Saturday) are brilliant. I consider them way better than the Harry Potter series and I love Harry Potter! The characters have great depth, the plot is fascinating and the themes are insightfully interesting.

This is all my opinion, of course. Which I’m entitled to since I have read the books and seen the movie, a point very well clarified by Eric Snider here. He basically states that the best way to form an opinion of something that is left to interpretation (such as movie and book themes) is to see/read it yourself.

The problem with this movement against the movie and books is it seems so many are making their opinion (and acting on it) based on the opinion of someone else. Now, if you read the books you will find it clearly stated on the inside cover that these books are the author’s take on Milton’s epic Paradise Lost which is the story of the Fall of Man. If you read with this in mind, the Pullman’s driving point is very obvious–that seeking and gaining knowledge is better than blissful ignorance.

Now, you can easily interpret many other things from these books, including the idea that Pullman is trying to kill God, but this one theme is abundantly clear. What everyone should do, if they are that worried about it, is read it for themselves and/or have their children read it and discuss it with them and ask them if this is really the god they worship. For me, it is obviously not my God that is represented.

What I find hilarious, yet very sad are the two great ironies that come out of this whole situation, especially for believing Latter-day Saints (and there are many who subscribe to this whole boycott/ban thing): the first is that these protesters are only proving Pullman’s point. Even if you read them and still decide they are evil, you will be more richly rewarded because you know for yourself. Secondly, Pullman (most likely unknowingly) agrees with LDS doctrine—that the Fall was a good thing and knowledge IS better than ignorance in paradise.

I bore my testimony on Sunday toward this end. It is the foundation for the strength of the Gospel. That everyone gains a personal knowledge of the truthfulness of it. We are constantly encouraged to find out for ourselves what and where truth is and learn how to utilize it. Those who are not constantly seeking more truth grow weary and falter.

This is why this new witch hunt is so ironically laughable, yet sad at the same time.


  1. I thought the author had made specific statements that he was trying to kill God. And that’s why people were upset? I don’t know, haven’t really been following any of it.

    It reminds me of the furor over The Last Temptation, a bit.

    Comment by Susan M — December 6, 2007 @ 8:14 am

  2. There are protestors? All I’ve seen are a few spam chain letter e-mails asking people to not watch the movie. Since when did we start paying attention to Spam mail? anyway, I haven’t seen any protestors, so please point out where they’ve rallied to the streets on this. If so, they are stupid.

    I think people have the right to not want to give Phil Pullman any money and to discourage others from giving him money. The logic that if you worry that something may be disturbing you should read it is easily falsifiable. I think penthouse letters may be disturbing and bad for my kids. I don’t think I should read them or give them to my kids. This is like saying “I worry heroin is bad.”

    I think in the modern world, where you can go to the internet and read the intire synopsis of the trilogy from wikipedia, people can make educated decissions before giving money to pullman if the disagree with him.

    Finally, there is nothing wrong with basing your opinion on the opinion of someone else. For example, with these very books, my sister said they were not enjoyable and were depressing. (So I haven’t read them, but not for religious reasons) My Sister and I have read together all of our lives, and her taste and my taste are extremely similar. Why would’t I trust her opinion?

    What I find really interesting is wondering why people’s reactions to TGC are so radically different than the reaction they had to September Dawn. Heck, Happy feet seemed more anti-religious and preachy than what i’ve heard about TGC. Where were the chain letters then?

    Comment by Matt W. — December 6, 2007 @ 8:26 am

  3. …is to see/read it yourself.

    One flaw: I don’t need to see p*rn films to know that they are filth. There are just some things that we do not need a perfect knowledge of…I mean, I didn’t even watch Schindler’s List. But I still know that the Holocaust happened.

    I get your point, though. I heard that the Golden Compass movie director actually tried to make the movie less controversal than the book. Do you think he did? (having not read or seen either.)

    And, for someone who hasn’t read the book, do you think the movie would be worth watching? I mean, just from an entertainment perspective?

    Comment by Cheryl — December 6, 2007 @ 8:26 am

  4. Secondly, Pullman (most likely unknowingly) agrees with LDS doctrine—that the Fall was a good thing and knowledge IS better than ignorance in paradise.

    Haha!! That’s fabulous!!! It just goes to show that you shouldn’t take the mainstream protestant position on something and assume that the LDS position is sitting in its shadow.

    I’ve written about the feminist aspects of the story (very positive), and the atheist aspects (it’s not very atheistic, being based on Paradise Lost and all), but this is the first time I’ve seen an LDS-specific analysis. Very interesting. :D

    Comment by C. L. Hanson — December 6, 2007 @ 9:35 am

  5. Matt and Cheryl,
    I think you guys are missing a big part of Bret’s (and all of Eric Snider’s) point: that there is a big difference between someone pointing out something factual about the film (it takes place in the 19th century; it has boobs in it; they say the F-word 56 times; etc.) and something interpretive (It’s an allegory about the Flood; it’s a political statement on Bush; it’s about God dying; etc.). Those lines can be blurred of course but generally there’s not much to interpret when you know it’s a porn film. A little more when it’s a guy’s take on Paradise Lost.

    Comment by Rusty — December 6, 2007 @ 10:28 am

  6. Rusty-
    Yeah, but Matt had a point, too. He and his sister tend to see things the same. Why shouldn’t he take her word for it, then?

    I completely agree that uneducated opinions, formed without any foreknowledge of what-the-heck is being talked/discussed/argued about is lame. I mean, the Gospel itself teaches us to gain a knowledge of things for ourselves. I totally get that. I kind of see it in Bret’s post. But what if somebody who is wiser than me, points out that I should refrain from reading/watching something that could damage my mind/heart/ideals in some way? Why wouldn’t I believe them?

    Man, I’m having a hard time explaining my point. Let’s see if I can do it differently. Okay, so I had heard that the Broadway play Wicked was just awesome. My mom loved it, my cousins loved it, etc. I saw the book that the play was based on. I thought, “wow! I should read this. It will be like watching the play!” So, I did. And I’ve regretted it ever since. The graphic sexual nature of the book left me just sick. But…I have cousins and friends that loved it. Loved it.
    Now, had someone read it, told me what was in it, warned me a little that it was practically NOTHING like the play (which it’s not, holy cow!), then I would have avoided reading it and been grateful to have been saved the pain of allowing such crap into my mind.

    So, I guess my point is that sometimes, it’s good to avoid things based on others’ opinions. Not all the time, but yes, sometimes.

    P.S. I would never refuse to watch a movie based on a SPAM email, anyway…
    P.S.S. Bret, I still would love an answer to my questions in my first comment, though.

    Comment by Cheryl — December 6, 2007 @ 10:53 am

  7. By that measure, I ought to immediately chug down a cup of cyanide so that I can know of a surety for myself that it is indeed, as people I’ve trusted have told me, poisonous.

    For the record, I have read the books. I read them about six years ago, when I lived in Japan and was ravenous for something English to read. All I knew was that it was popular and that it was a fantasy story. It remains one of the ugliest things I’ve ever had the misfortune of reading. I cannot comfortably recommend that anyone either read the books or watch the movie; I’m not taking part in any campaign but if someone asked me if they should see it, my answer would be a firm “No.”

    Comment by Proud Daughter of Eve — December 6, 2007 @ 12:08 pm

  8. PDoE,
    ~Sigh~ Cyanide isn’t interpretive. It’s not up for debate what will happen if you ingest it.

    Comment by Rusty — December 6, 2007 @ 1:03 pm

  9. I suppose that’s a point, Rusty. It doesn’t change my opinion of “The Golden Compass” though, nor those of you on the Bloggernacle sighing and clucking your tongues at those of us who don’t find it either or appreciable.

    Comment by Proud Daughter of Eve — December 6, 2007 @ 4:20 pm

  10. Everyone,

    I never said whether you should read it or see the movie, I only said you should if you want to have a valid opinion of it. Like Rusty said about it being interpretive stuff.

    The point that Matt brings up is a good question. I often rely on Snider in particular for how I feel about a movie even if I haven’t seen it. HOWEVER, how I feel about it and what I SAY to others about it are two different things. I will say “from what I understand about it…” or “I heard it was ______” Even with how similar Matt and his sister are, he still should not say “I hate the Golden Compass and think it’s poorly written” unless he;s read it himself. He should still say “My sister told me it was crap and we have the same tastes” It’s kind of like avoiding verbal plagiarism, if you will.

    Does that make more sense?


    My first love of it when I read the trilogy was how entertaining it is. So I highly recommend it!:)


    Give us some credit! Of COURSE you’re entitled to your opinion of it. That’s the point of this post! Is your opinion wrong, though? OF COURSE>:p

    Comment by Bret — December 6, 2007 @ 8:34 pm

  11. It’s an interesting point, the language thing. What you say about a movie (or book or play or whatever) matters. If you haven’t seen it you can’t say “it’s bad”, you can only say “I hear it’s bad” or “it looks bad”.

    Comment by Rusty — December 6, 2007 @ 9:25 pm

  12. Bret-
    No, I mean just the movie. I doubt I’ll read the books (because my “to read” list is too long as it is), but I wondered if the movie was worth seeing, even if one hadn’t read the books; the Harry Potter movies, to me, would not be nearly as good if I hadn’t read the books first…

    Thank you for clearing up what your intent was –I like how you said “avoiding verbal plagiarism”. I might steal that phrase at a later date… :)

    Comment by Cheryl — December 6, 2007 @ 10:04 pm

  13. C.L. Hansen,

    Though certainly LDS believe that good came out of the Fall (through the plan of redemption), the idea that it was a good of the first instance is doctrinally questionable:

    By these things we know that there is a God in heaven, who is infinite and eternal, from everlasting to everlasting the same unchangeable God, the framer of heaven and earth, and all things which are in them; And that he created man, male and female, after his own image and in his own likeness, created he them;

    And gave unto them commandments that they should love and serve him, the only living and true God, and that he should be the only being whom they should worship.

    But by the transgression of these holy laws man became sensual and devilish, and became fallen man.
    (D&C 20:17-20)

    Compare 2 Ne 9:6-7.

    Comment by Mark D. — December 6, 2007 @ 10:09 pm

  14. I guess it would be purdent if we made our choices on what to read and what to see based on others we trust for their opinions, not on some idiot protestor or spam email.

    Although Cheryl’s cousins would have led her astray!

    We rely on other’s opinions to make many of our choices, thank goodness. I’d hate to have to read, watch or taste everything just to find out whether it’s good or not.

    I think most people who have a brain don’t make their choices based on protesters or spam emails…although some do and that’s why they keep protesting and emailing!

    Comment by Don — December 6, 2007 @ 10:29 pm

  15. My kids and I are going to go see it tonight. I love these kinds of movies (fantasy).

    I don’t understand why people get so fired up about this stuff. Do parents not realize what their kids are exposed to? Are they living under a rock? I teach my kids about all kinds of beliefs. I do not shelter them because later on they will become confused and wonder why I never informed them that there is a big world full of very different people. They will eventually have to choose for themselves what they believe, I cannot make that choice for them, no matter how badly I want to! All I can to is teach them the gospel and share my testimony with them, and pray that one day they will know for themselves!

    Comment by steffielynn — December 7, 2007 @ 8:49 am

  16. Steffielynn,

    Comment by Rusty — December 7, 2007 @ 11:35 am

  17. I teach my kids about all kinds of beliefs. I do not shelter them because later on they will become confused and wonder why I never informed them that there is a big world full of very different people. They will eventually have to choose for themselves what they believe, I cannot make that choice for them, no matter how badly I want to! All I can to is teach them the gospel and share my testimony with them, and pray that one day they will know for themselves!

    That’s an excellent attitude, and it shows your children that you’re confident in your beliefs when you expose them to other viewpoints and let them decide. That’s the attitude I’ve taken with respect to religion, for example wanting my kids to learn about their Catholic heritage by taking them to Lourdes.

    At the same time, I don’t want to be too hard on parents who are keeping an eye on what kinds of influences their kids are exposed to. For myself, I’d rather limit their exposure to violence (sold as entertainment) or to ads for junkfood/fastfood or cigarettes. So, this is not a simple question with a cookbook answer. Parents are to be commended for taking the time to think about what influences are appropriate for their kids.

    Comment by C. L. Hanson — December 7, 2007 @ 11:54 am

  18. I’m going to read these books just because they’ve pissed off so many people. I probably won’t see the movie as my kids aren’t old enough and I’d rather waste my movie credibility (score kept by my wife) on I am Legend.

    Comment by a random John — December 7, 2007 @ 11:55 am

  19. Cheryl,

    After reading Snider’s review (C+) I would still say go see it. However, I watched it having read the books and knew everything going on. Eric makes a good case that this might be more difficult (and therefore, less entertaining) if you have not read them.

    Comment by Bret — December 7, 2007 @ 1:41 pm

  20. Cool. Thanks!

    Comment by Cheryl — December 7, 2007 @ 2:44 pm

  21. So I went to see the movie, and I would give it a “B”. It was a hard to follow, I have no time to read the book at this point in my life, but it would HAVE to be better to know what the heck was going on! As far as people being against seeing it because of an “anti God” message, I did not see that at all. So anyways, it wasn’t great, but it was good. :)

    Comment by steffielynn — December 7, 2007 @ 8:43 pm

  22. I read the books and loved them… and I can’t wait to see the movie.

    Here’s what I said about them over at Sustain’d:

    So… two observations:

    1) If you want a movie to fail — if you’re really against a movie — then don’t complain too loudly about it. And most certainly don’t do it on the internet. The Passion of Christ? Awful, nearly pornographic film… would have been completely ignored on its merits. Then the religious wingnuts got in a snit and so _everyone_ had to see it. It was huge. At least for the first weekend, until word got out that the movie sucked. If you really don’t like the premise of a movie, don’t see it.

    2) I’ve read — and greatly enjoyed — the entire His Dark Materials series. And you’re right: it’s written by Philip Pullman, an avowed atheist. It’s a wonderful and well-wrought tale about children who come into their own and fight evil. It’s beautiful in its imagery and execution, and I have no compunction in recommending it.

    You see, it’s a children’s fantasy novel. And it uses magic. And all sorts of things familiar to children’s fantasy readers… but it also talks about religion and god and the afterlife — subjects rarely broached in the genre. And while I don’t much care for Pullman’s take on the Real God — or, perhaps what he’d say about my religion — he makes the same mistakes most atheists do when discussing religion. He underestimates the human spirit and its insatiable desire to reach for the divine.

    Kill god? Oh… that must be some evil being _pretending_ to be god. God evil? Oh… that’s not my god at all.

    The book is a wonderful yarn with myriad chances for engaged parents to discuss God and religiosity with their children.

    Comment by Silus Grok — December 7, 2007 @ 9:50 pm

  23. Follow-up: saw the movie last night.

    It blows.

    The set design and art direction is top-notch. But the pacing is WAY off and it ends before the book does — so two hours of staccato scenes mangled so badly, I wonder whether anyone who’s not read the book will even be able to follow what’s going on.

    * gah! *

    Still love — LOVE! — the books.

    Even the little fourth book — an epilogue of sorts called “Lyra’s Oxford”.

    Comment by Silus Grok — December 9, 2007 @ 10:05 pm

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