Thursday, November 08, 2007

Snuffed it

I really had wondered how Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials could be put on the screen by an American studio. Just to tell the story with any sort of faithfulness is to mount an attack on organised religion. In addition, the moment, the climax prepared for over 1,000 pages is a sexual awakening. Anti-God plus adolescent sexuality in a children's story. No. I couldn't imagine they would take the risk.

So, guess what the big offering is this Christmas. Chistmas. Pullman must be chewing his pencils to pulp. According to this article at the Atlantic, he is right to. They've done exactly what you'd expect them to. Just one example. Instead of the Magisterium, a sort of Calvinistic Catholic Church, we're to have "a fascistic, totalitarian dictatorship, Russian/KGB/SS" ... thing. Pullman must be chewing doorhandles.

It's not as if I even like Pullman's 'theology'. It's like something from a 1930s Fabian - you know, if everyone could just behave like English middle class gentlemen, with a bit of socialism thrown in, then everyone would be a damn sight better off. The great final battle in which the oppressive forces of Old Heaven are defeated and feeble old God snuffs it stikes me just as Milton's battle does - ridiculous. And the last two lines are just embarrassing.

"And then what?" said her daimon sleepily. "Build what?"
"The republic of heaven," said Lyra.

I mean, hasn't he heard? Done that. Been there. Neither a republic nor heaven.

All that apart, these three books make up one of the greatest imaginative creations in English literature. His fantasy worlds, his characters, his plotting, his landscapes, his melding of the old and the new, the fantastic and realism, metaphysics and physics, all of this I find easily superior to Tolkein. Not, I repeat, his philosphy, but his craft. Unfortunately, the one is necessary to the other. That story, without the rebellion against God, will be engaging if well done; it will not be thrilling. It will be a fun Christmas extravaganza, not an enthralling, elemental experience of a reality authentically different. Such a shame.


Hazar Nesimi said...

I never red him. People say he is good, but I suppose, I got out of the fantasy phase in my teens. Is his writing style acceptable to a refined reader?

NoolaBeulah said...

He's a very good writer. He would really prefer to write realist novels, but they always turn out flat.

What may put you off is the anti-religion viewpoint that runs right through the novels. Strangely, it doesn't bother me overly because of the strength of the imaginative worlds he creates, but they are an attack both on the Abrhamic religions and the fantasy tradition he is continuing (which is mainly Christian). Ironically, his greatest inspiration is Milton's Paradise Lost.