Interview With Pete Vere and Sandra Miesel
INDIANAPOLIS, Indiana, 14 NOV. 2007 (ZENIT)
The film "The Golden
Compass" isn't simply about using fairy-tale magic to tell a good story,
it corrupts the imagery of Lewis and Tolkien to undermine children's
faith in God and the Church, says Catholic author Pete Vere.
In this interview with ZENIT, Vere and Sandra Miesel discuss the movie
adaptation of the fantasy novels written by Philip Pullman. The film,
staring Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig, will be released in the United
States in early December.
Vere and Miesel are co-authors of the booklet "Pied Piper of Atheism:
Philip Pullman and Children's Fantasy," to be published by Ignatius
Press next month on the topic of "The Golden Compass."
Q: The first movie of "The Golden Compass" trilogy is being released
at Christmas. For those unfamiliar with the series, what kind of books
are these and to whom do they appeal?
Vere: To begin, the books are marketed for 9-12 year olds as children's
fantasy literature in the tradition of J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and
J.K. Rowling. "If you're a fan of 'Lord of the Rings,' 'Narnia ' or
'Harry Potter,'" the critics tell us, "you'll love Pullman."
Personally, I just can't see a child picking up these books and reading
them. I see them more as books that adults give kids to read.
Having said that, "The Golden Compass" (1995) is the first book in
Pullman's trilogy. The second book is titled "The Subtle Knife" (1997)
and it is followed by "The Amber Spyglass" (2000).
Collectively, the trilogy is known as "His Dark Materials," a phrase
taken from John Milton's "Paradise Lost." This is appropriately titled
in my opinion, since each book gets progressively darker
both in the intensity with which Pullman attacks the Catholic Church and
the Judeo-Christian concept of God, as well as the stridency with which
he promotes atheism.
For example, one of the main supporting characters, Dr. Mary Malone, is
a former Catholic nun who abandoned her vocation to pursue sex and
science. The reader does not meet her until the second book, by which
time the young reader is already engrossed in the story. By the third
book, Dr. Malone is engaging in occult practices to lead the two main
characters, a 12-year-old boy and girl, to sleep in the same bed and
at the very least
heavy kissing. This is the act through which they renew the multiple
universes created by Pullman.
Another example is Pullman's portrayal of the Judeo-Christian God.
Pullman refers to him as "The Authority," although a number of passages
make clear that this is the God of the Bible. The Authority is a liar
and a mere angel, and as we discover in the third book, senile as well.
He was locked in some sort of jewel and held prisoner by the patriarch
Enoch, who is now called Metatron and who rules in the Authority's name.
When the children find the jewel and accidentally release the Authority,
he falls apart and dies.
Additionally, Pullman uses the imagery of C.S. Lewis' "Narnia"
chronicles. "His Dark Materials" opens with the young heroine stuck in a
wardrobe belonging to an old academic, conversing with a talking animal,
when she discovers multiple worlds. So the young reader is lulled early
on with the familiar feel of Lewis.
Nevertheless, Pullman's work isn't simply about using fairy-tale magic
to tell a good story. He openly proselytizes for atheism, corrupting the
imagery of Lewis and Tolkien to undermine children's faith in God and
Q: Many Catholics, including William Donohue of the Catholic League, are
speaking out against the movie. What should parents know before they let
their children watch this film?
Vere: I don't recommend any parent allow their children to view the
film. While the movie has reportedly been sanitized of its more
anti-Christian and anti-religious elements, it will do nothing but pique
children's curiosity about the books. I'm a parent myself. My children
would think it hypocritical if I told them it was OK to see the movie,
but not to read the books. And they would be right.
It's not OK for children
impressionable as they are
to read stories in which the plot revolves around the supreme blasphemy,
namely, that God is a liar and a mortal. It is not appropriate for
children to read books in which the heroine is the product of adultery
and murder; priests act as professional hit men, torturers and authorize
occult experimentation on young children; an ex-nun engages in occult
practices and promiscuous behavior, and speaks of it openly with a
12-year-old couple; and the angels who rebel against God are good, while
those who fight on God's side are evil. This is wrong. And while it's
been softened in the movie
or at least that's what Hollywood is telling us
it's still there in the books.
Miesel: Furthermore, there's a great deal of cruelty and gore in the
books, not just battles but deliberate murder, sadism, mutilation,
suicide, euthanasia and even cannibalism. There are also passages of
disturbing sensuality and homosexual angels who are "platonic lovers."
I agree with Pete. Avoid both the movie and the books. It would be best
if people didn't picket or make a public fuss because that's just free
publicity. If the movie fails at the box office, the second and third
books won't be filmed.
Q: The author, Philip Pullman, is an outspoken atheist. Does this come
across in the books and the movie as a secularist position or more in
the form of anti-Catholicism?
Vere: It's not an "either/or" situation. What begins as a rebellion
against the Church turns into a rebellion against God. This then leads
to the discovery that God
are a fraud.
The 12-year-old protagonists
Lyra and Bill
discover there is no immortal soul, no heaven or hell. All that awaits
us in the afterlife is some gloomy Hades-type afterlife where the soul
goes to wait until it completely dissolves. Thus Pullman uses
anti-Catholicism as the gateway to promoting atheism.
Q: The trilogy is being compared to "Harry Potter" and "The Lord of the
Rings." Is there a comparison to be made with either?
Vere: On the surface, yes. You've got wizards, heroines, strange
creatures, alternate worlds, etc. Although for reasons already stated,
the real comparison
by way of inverted imagery
is to C.S. Lewis' "Narnia" chronicles. Pullman, who has called "The Lord
of the Rings" "infantile," has a particular dislike for Lewis and
"Narnia." This is reflected in Pullman taking Lewis' literary devices
and inverting them to attack Christianity and promote atheism.
As Pullman said in a 1998 article in The Guardian: "[Lewis] didn't like
women in general, or sexuality at all, at least at the stage in his life
when he wrote the 'Narnia' books. He was frightened and appalled at the
notion of wanting to grow up. Susan, who did want to grow up, and who
might have been the most interesting character in the whole cycle if
she'd been allowed to, is a Cinderella in a story where the ugly sisters
Miesel: That nasty quote is factually wrong on both points. Lewis
began corresponding with his future wife in 1950, the year the first
"Narnia" book came out, and married her in 1956, the year the last one
was published. Susan's problem isn't "growing up," but turning silly and
conceited. She doesn't even appear
much less get sent to hell
in "The Last Battle."
Vere: Thus what we see here is more contrast and corruption than
comparison. Also, the work of Tolkien, Lewis and Rowling is primarily
driven by the audience. It is the average reader who purchases these
works, reads them, and makes them popular.
Pullman's work, on the other hand, appears to be driven by the critics.
The only people I know recommending Pullman's work are English majors
and university professors. I don't know a single electrician,
hairdresser or accountant who recommends Pullman's work by word of
mouth. Thus the books haven't resonated with the average person to the
same degree as "Lord of the Rings," "Narnia" and "Harry Potter."
Q: Nicole Kidman, a Catholic who stars in the film, has said she
wouldn't have taken the role if she thought the movie was anti-Catholic.
What do you make of this response?
Vere: The film has not yet been released, so I cannot comment on it.
However, Christ asks very pointedly in the Gospels: Can a good tree bear
rotten fruit? The movie is the fruit of the books and Pullman's
imagination. These are anti-Christian and atheistic at their core. How
does one sanitize this from the movie without completely gutting Pullman
from his story?
During an interview with Hollywood screenwriter Barbara Nicolosi a
couple of months ago, I asked her whether it was possible to tone down
the anti-Christian elements for the movie. Nicolosi is the chair of Act
One, a training and mentoring organization for Christians starting out
She had given the question thought. A few years ago one of her friends
an evangelical Christian
had been asked by her agent to pitch on the project, that is, propose to
write the screenplay adapting "The Golden Compass" to film.
"We read [the book] and there was just no way we could come in on this,"
Nicolosi told me. "Pullman's fantasy universe is nihilistic and rooted
in chaos. You cannot fix that in a rewrite without changing the story
Pullman is trying to tell
which is atheistic, angry and at times polemical."
But let's suppose it is possible. Let's suppose Kidman is right and that
the movie has been sanitized of its anti-Catholicism. The books remain
saturated with bitter anti-Christian polemic. So why promote a movie
that will only generate interest in the books among impressionable young
For the Christian parent, the movie cannot be anything but spiritual
poison to their children
for the movie is the fruit of the book.