I didn’t read His Dark Materials as a kid or teenager. It’s not likely because it wasn’t allowed, as a lot of people have assumed, when the movie came along my mom was warned about it and when parents asked her she shrugged and said, “if your kids and their faith can’t accept some philosophical challenge brought on by some fantasy fiction I’m not doing my job right.”
I’ve mentioned my specific and peculiar theological education before, stemming from my mother’s faith, my family’s legacy of Jesuit instruction and philosophical bent, my progressive all girl’s Catholic high school and reading constantly. So that’s the background that I brought to His Darks Materials when I read it in my 20’s. I loved the books, diving headlong into Lyra’s world like I did with most fantasy fiction.
At the time I was much more devout so the heresy felt more shocking and I’m sure in my even more devout than that I would have dismissed the whole thing outright. Reading the books again now, where I use Catholicism still as my main barometer of the divine, that is, it’s the way I know how to interpret God, The Universe or Whatever, so it’s the tool set that I use, I find the books a beautiful exploration of another way.
Philip Pullman would hate that of course, he’s a strident outspoken atheist of the “anyone who believes in the divine in a ninkompoop” stripe, but you know, that’s fine. If I weren’t a Catholic, Secular Humanism would be the philosophy that makes the most sense to me. To articulate it as Joss Whedon did, “If nothing we do matters, the only thing that matters is what we do.”
Anyway, the books are amazing and I’m glad I revisited them. HBO & The BBC’s joint venture on adapting them has yet to fully win me over. I get what they’re doing and like the approach. Rather than the pretty glittering world of the reasonably awful film The Golden Compass (an impeccably cast but misguided movie) His Dark Materials feels lived in and old, a little dreary in some ways, but mysterious and beautiful in others. I like the cast, Ruth Wilson is appropriately terrifying and mesmerizing as Mrs. Coulter, and Daphne Keene was pretty much born to play Lyra. (My favorite aspects of the story, world hopping and angels don’t enter the proceedings until book 2 which means I’m a year out from the things I like best in the series, including Will Parry, my favorite character.) Note: I wrote this before I watched last night’s episode. Obviously, we now have Will. HOORAY!
I’m looking forward to seeing how the show moves forward. We’ve finally met Iorek Byninson and Lee Scorcesby. (LIN MANUEL MIRANDA!) That really gets the story moving a bit more. There is a lot of world building in this series that has to get out of the way but it felt endlesss.
My difficulties with a lot of atheist material is certainty. Again, Jesuits, we don’t like certainty. Life is questions, unending questions, meant to be answered through study, meditation, prayer, discussion and debate. What I love about His Dark Materials is that Pullman is championing those very things, he reached different conclusions than I have in my life. And that’s deeply worthwhile.
I’ll probably do one more “In The Shadow Of Adaptation” this year. I bet you can guess what is. But for the moment, I’m finishing up the last five books in my Goodreads Challenge. Love you all!