Monday, December 10, 2007

NEWS

I saw The Golden Compass over the weekend. Nice design, but the storytelling seemed both rushed and muddled. (And it ended with such an obvious plea for a sequel tha many were surprised it was over.) I haven't read the book, which I assume is better done.

As to the controversy over its supposed anti-religious plot, while the evil Magisterium as presented in the movie can certainly be read as the church, it can just as easily be seen as any totalitarian ruling party. And I don't think you have to be against religion to be against any overly dogmatic group, religious or otherwise.

Novelist Philip Pullman is not a believer, and without knowing much about him, I'm just about certain he looked at The Chronicles Of Narnia, got annoyed with its metaphorical message, and figured he could do just as good a job making the opposite point. Since I haven't read Narnia either, I really don't know if Pullman out-Lewised Lewis, but we can now tell with the numbers in that the Compass movie is not another blockbuster.

8 Comments:

Anonymous Lawrence King said...

The anti-religious message becomes increasingly explicit as Pullman's trilogy progresses. I can't say more because it would count as a spoiler.

The director of the movie says that they watered down the religious mesage a bit in this one, but they won't water down the second and third movies.

Which may lead to interesting fireworks. Nicole Kidman, who has publicly discussed her return to the Catholic Church after her foray into you-know-what while married to you-know-who, has said "I would never be in a movie that attacks the Catholic Church." Will she be unhappy with the later scripts? It's not like she needs the money.

12:25 AM, December 10, 2007  
Anonymous Lawrence King said...

Only the first and the last Narnia book contain obvious Christian elements. They are also slightly uneven, because the first book, by itself, appears to be a Christian allegory, which was almost certainly how Lewis intended it at the time.

But as the series progressed, his aim became more ambitious. Basically, he asked himself, suppose that there really are parallel worlds. What might they be like? And he realized that this is a question that you can't answer without reference to faith or lack thereof. A scientist who is an atheist will inevitably conclude that if there are many parallel worlds, some (most?) of them will be filled with odd combinations of matter and energy and entirely devoid of life. Lewis, on the other hand, being a Christian, tried to address this question by asking, Given what I believe about God, what other worlds might he have chosen to create? (For example, a world in which there is great suffering and injustice, with absolutely no succor or salvation or righting of wrongs, would never be created by God.)

Book six of the Narnia series shows a bit of the scope of this. The kids find magic rings that will take them to many different worlds, and unfortunately discover that sometimes, when you open this gateway, big scary evil things get out of a big scary evil universe and enter a small, fragile universe that they can then terrorize.

In other words, by this point, Lewis is not trying to persuade anyone to become Christian; rather, he is trying to explore questions that he finds interesting within a Christian context.

The last book has some strong Christian elements, because it is eschatological. It seems that Lewis concluded that ultimately the salvation of these separate universes will result in them not remaining separate. This fits very well with the theology of some of the Greek Church Fathers. Or, as Flannery O'Connor wrote, "Everything that rises must converge."

Have the many Christians who have latched onto the Narnia books as "wonderful Christian books for kids" really paid attention to any of these details?

12:28 AM, December 10, 2007  
Blogger LAGuy said...

The director of the movie says that they watered down the religious message a bit in this one, but they won't water down the second and third movies.

They won't need to because there ain't gonna be any more.

Basically, he asked himself, suppose that there really are parallel worlds. What might they be like? And he realized that this is a question that you can't answer without reference to faith or lack thereof. A scientist who is an atheist will inevitably conclude that if there are many parallel worlds, some (most?) of them will be filled with odd combinations of matter and energy and entirely devoid of life.

I'm not sure what an atheist would conclude about parallel worlds--I'd guess they'd differ quite a bit. Even if they figured most have no life, they'd likely still say some (which could mean millions or countless worlds) could have it--just as many scientists guess about life in the known universe. Certainly there'd be enough to write stories about (as I gather happens in the world of the Golden Compass).

1:31 AM, December 10, 2007  
Anonymous Lawrence King said...

I'm not sure what an atheist would conclude about parallel worlds--I'd guess they'd differ quite a bit. Even if they figured most have no life, they'd likely still say some (which could mean millions or countless worlds) could have it ....

Very true. But I think the key difference is that most atheists believe that life, including intelligent life, happened -- in some sense -- "by accident". There isn't any ethical limit to what could have happened. Even if intelligent, social beings were to evolve, perhaps their history might end in pure terror and tragedy. In other words, a "random" universe would not be expected to make a good fiction story.

3:40 PM, December 10, 2007  
Anonymous Denver guy said...

I'm planning on seeing Golden Compass, though I haven't read the book (that's never been a prerequisite). I have read the Chronicles of Narnia, several times as kids go through that phase. As a kid myself, not having been raised in a religious household, I was oblivious to the Christian allegory. However, I was strongly impressed by the theme of salvation that runs through all the books.

In Narnia, salvation comes from a force for good after usually significant sacrifice, which is a common theme in most fantasy novels (Lord of the Rings; Wheel of Time; even Harry Potter). "God" is always somewhat aloof, not nearly as "hands on" as whomever is the force of evil. But the force of goodness comes through in the end.

I figure, despite whatever the beliefs of the author of Golden Compass, it will have to follow this general formula - good triumphing over evil after good sacrifices mightily. If the story was truly atheistic, it would come across as chaotic (i.e. no guiding plan or benefactor - things happening for no ordained reason). It's a key to all fantasy books (and films) that I know that there is a prophecy or legend that turns out to come true - and that is a loose parallel to most religious beliefs.

But I haven't seen the movie yet - tell me if I'm wrong.

2:22 PM, December 11, 2007  
Blogger LAGuy said...

I figure, despite whatever the beliefs of the author of Golden Compass, it will have to follow this general formula - good triumphing over evil after good sacrifices mightily. If the story was truly atheistic, it would come across as chaotic (i.e. no guiding plan or benefactor - things happening for no ordained reason). It's a key to all fantasy books (and films) that I know that there is a prophecy or legend that turns out to come true - and that is a loose parallel to most religious beliefs.

All such stories, from Gilgamesh to Dune, have common characteristics, and having the hero go through a lot of trouble and pain to succeed (or fail) is just good drama.

I haven't read the Golden Compass books, though it's obvious from the movie the story continues, with higher stakes, and there are prophecies involved.

As to good and evil, I guess you have that, though the point of contention here seems to be what represents both sides. Here, the "good" are fearless free thinkers who fight the enveloping authority of the evil Magesterium.

I'm not sure why you think atheistic storytelling would be chaotic. It would depend on the atheist--it's not a style, since an atheist can adopt whatever naturalistic beliefs she wishes (even suffocatingly dogmatic ones). For example, Marxism is consistent with atheism, and it certainly sees history as marching toward a goal.

4:21 PM, December 11, 2007  
Anonymous denver guy said...

I'm not saying all storytelling by an atheist would be chaotic, I'm saying an atheist telling a fantasy story would be undirected (chaotic might be too stronga word).

Perhaps I misunderstand atheistic philosophy, especially since it isn't really a philosophy. But if you deny a source of objective, fundamental truth or goodness, then everything is subjective, it seems to me. In reality, even those with faith end up being pretty subjective, since interpretation of the "objective" good is always subjective (witness a gazillion denominations of every religion in the world today).

Anyway, if you believe there is no objective source that defines good or evil, then what does your fantasy novel look like - the villains are only villains by the biased and subjective terms of the good guys. I think an atheist is far more effective in writing/filming in the horror genre, since often such stories involve dark characters who consider themselves perfectly justified in what they do by their own measure (I'm thinking Hellraiser and even Friday the 13th, where the victims generally are set up as desrving what they get for some reason).

11:13 AM, December 12, 2007  
Anonymous Lawrence King said...

Perhaps I misunderstand atheistic philosophy, especially since it isn't really a philosophy. But if you deny a source of objective, fundamental truth or goodness, then everything is subjective....

Precisely because atheism is not a philosophy, individual atheists can hold a variety of philosophies.

Ayn Rand, Karl Marx, and Robert Heinlein were all atheists (or in RH's case, agnostic-to-atheist) who created philosophies of their own. Each of these philosophies is different, and is compatible with atheism. Each of these philosophies includes "a source of objective, fundamental truth or goodness".

Satre's existentialism is yet another atheistic philosophy, as are certain of Buddhism. These philosophies too have a "source" of truth and goodness, although not in an "objective" way.

4:20 PM, December 12, 2007  

Post a Comment

<< Home

web page hit counter