A Closer look at his dark materials

A Closer look at his dark materials

John Houghton
Victor (Kingsway); 2004; £6.99; Pbk; 139p.; ISBN 1842911554

The devil’s account: Philip Pullman and Christianity

Hugh Rayment-Pickard
Darton, Longman & Todd; 2004; £7.95; Pbk.; 115p.;
ISBN 0232525633

How should Christians react to anti-Christian media products, in our present anti-Christian climate? Perhaps ignore them, and avoid giving them the importance of any riposte; in time, they will disappear. Or, it may be considered necessary to produce a thoughtful, reasoned response. The latter approach produced these two books, both of which are measured, learned, moderate, and yet ultimately of devastating effect regarding the work of Philip Pullman.

His Dark Materials (HDM), and its obsessive author, were surely inevitable products of our times. Pullman (these authors show) has a deep-seated hatred for the Christian Church in all its forms (Catholic and Reformed), for priests, and clergy. Both quote his conviction that he is consciously of the devil’s party; it would be unfair not to respect and honour his choice. He belongs, however, to that most irrational group of anti-theists: those who love the formative documents of the Church of England: The Book of Common Prayer, Hymns Ancient & Modern, and the King James Bible (excepting, presumably, Matthew 18, 6) (DA p. 18).

HDM consists of three interminable novels aimed at teenagers, a melange of twisted theology, cranky occultist lore, and half-baked pseudo physics. Rayment-Pickard records Pullman’s claim to be simply a story teller, not an ideologue (DA pp. 22-3), the incredibility of which is seen in the way he has allowed what might have been a good story to be hopelessly overburdened with bent philosophy, snide remarks, and in-your-face preaching. Central is “Dust”, a truly-nebulous concept that means at least as many things as there are volumes; John Houghton spells out this nonsense for what it is (CL p. 34).

Rayment-Pickard exposes Pullman’s ambivalence towards violence (DA pp. 39-41, 46-7), but he does not recall that unpleasant scene in the final book, The Amber Spyglass, in which Pullman clearly enjoys – dare one say it? – vicariously, the drowning of a priest very much indeed. Many atheists readily concede that not all Christians are bad, but this is not what we find here; Pullman has shot himself in the foot, for the reading public readily discern the difference between reasonableness and rant. The source of Pullman’s anger is of course a matter for his psychiatrist, though Houghton does speculate just a little (CL p. 99).

At the end of his wearying books, all Pullman has to offer is tired 1960s humanism (salvation through sex). He seems oblivious of the perennial tyrannies of godless-society experiments, and totally hypocritical (like all “liberalism”) regarding the evils that its moral equivocation perpetrates daily (Houghton cuts to the bone, as Christian writers should, in exposing this (CL pp. 40-2)). Naturally, in our “secular” society, Pullman is féted. But maybe left alone he, like his “Authority”, will just fade away.

Contributed by John Thomas, author of Department E and the website Affirming the Faith.