Wednesday, August 29, 2007

His Dark Materials: good enough to make me mad.

Over a bottle of cava the other night, the lovely and fragrant Style Spy suggested I read the His Dark Materials triology. When she mentioned it, the phrase rang a bell --I first thought it was Milton, but no, of course it was Dante-- but I'd never read them.

Strictly speaking, aside from Victorian fantasy and allegories, I've never been a big fantasy fan. My parents were too into the stuff for their own good and when I was young I watched them lose touch with reality because of it. They preferred the world of Renaissance Festivals and reenactments to the world where they had a daughter and a son. They were young. It happens.

Anyway, I'm now 2/3rds of the way through the series and I'm just not quite sure what to make of it. The books are well written, that's for sure. Not especially elegant though to be fair, I've been spoiled as of late by spending too much time with Jerome K. Jerome, and Alphonse "Cream Rinse" Daudet (pictured below)

To say that the series takes a very dismal view of the Church is an understatement. In his novels --which occur in a series of parallel worlds, each resembling to some extent our own-- the reformation never took place. Instead of rejecting the papacy at Geneva, John Calvin became Pope and moved the whole shebang to Geneva.

There was no mention of the Great Schism either, so in Pulman's world(s) the Church --known as the Magisterium, an interesting if somewhat clumsy reference to the catechism declaring the Bishop of Rome and his pals the only people capable of interpreting the word of God -- is the only game in town. Oh, and they're evil. And they run everything. And did I mention they're evil?

Okay, I can be down with that, that's Scary Catholic Dystopia 101 and who doesn't love a Scary Catholic Dystopia, especially when it's as well-written as this? But God -- known as The Authority-- is also thought of as evil and that...well that I just can't wrap my mind around.

There is no space in my understanding for God as Malevolent Tyrant. I even have a hard time with vengeful. It just doesn't mesh with everything I know about the meaning of Christianity. To me, God is a god of limitless love, infinite forgiveness. Any evil --and yes, there is a lot-- done in his name is done by men and women who allowed the message of love to be corrupted.

I mean, when Jesus said "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it:‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’" I kinda think he meant it.

Anyway, Lord Asriel (do you see what I mean about the naming? It can go one of two ways I think, either straight out Azrael as the Angel of Death/Helper of God or it's a variation on Israel and Azrael, like Caleb in East of Eden was a sort of portmanteau variation on Cain and Abel. I hope it's the latter...or they can go all Islam on my ass, which would be interesting and very unexpected) is fixing to wage war on God.

Wage war on God? Are you kidding me? Assuming I can suspend my disbelief enough to imagine God as Scary Catholic Dude In The Sky, he's GOD. All powerful. That's just how he rolls. And don't get all Hermes Trismegistus/Emerald Tablet "as below so above" on me, because that's horse hockey.

I'm going to start the final book tomorrow and if another person I like gets killed or Mrs Coulter doesn't and there isn't some beautiful but subtle message about God's unchanging love I am gonna be pissed.

...I'm not holding my breath though.


Anonymous a fellow seminarian! said...

Pullman is using themes from gnosticism. His "Authority" is the Gnostic Demiurge, who is an imperfect spirit-god inferior to the one true ultimate unknowable god. Read some Elaine Pagels....the Dark Materials Trilogy will suddenly have a bunch more layers to it! I think you'll like the last book....

10:25 PM  
Blogger Rhiannon said...

I just started the last book and I like it much more than all the others. I hadn't thought of the Gnostic angle. Thanks mystery pal!

10:29 PM  
Blogger Raspberry Rabbit said...

There were two choices the man made which will prove to have been the wrong ones. First, he chose to write an excellent "drawn out" book instead of a stunning shorter one. Second he decided that since he was writing a book he might as well staple his polemic about 'religion' onto it since he might not have a chance later. The polemic is not integral to the story and it resembles something from the pen of L. Ron Hubbard. I liked the book enough that I was angry that he's screwed it up that badly.

9:27 AM  

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