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November 12, 2003


c matt

I would have loved to ask him "and you sir, what are you responsible for?"

Mark Shea

No! We must focus all our energies on the Menace of Harry Potter!!!!!!

Doug Amedeo

The stereotype of the Village Atheist fits Pullman perfectly. There is no come back to such rant. Except, of course, "We shall see.."

Donald R. McClarey

A fellow who would launch into such a diatribe when asked a question by a child is emtionally and/or mentally unbalanced. Explains a lot about his books.

ita o'byrne

It's funny - everything I've always read about JK Rowling presents her as a nice individual who really cares about her child readers. So of course she'as attacked by those who claim to be Christians.

Phillip Pullman admits more than disdain for religious believers (especially Christians), writes his novels attacking God and religion, indoctrinates children into athiesm covertly under the cloud of fantasy, atttacks dead people who can't defend themselves (i.e. C.S. Lewis) calling them bigots and religious zealots and in the article above goes out of his way to insult the faith of a little girl and belittle her. What a guy! And how nice it is the audience applauds humiliating the girl further. Such progessive folk. And where are the Christians who attack Harry Potter when it comes to him? Answer: Mostly nowhere.

Give me Ms.Rowling and Hogwarts over this guy's "dark matters" any day.

Andrea Harris

I read the trilogy. The first book was great, the second had moments of greatness (but already I could hear that axe a-grindin') the third was nearly unreadable. The character I hated most was the ex-nun-turned-some-sort-of-scientist. In case you haven't already guessed, I'm not Catholic and never have been, but the idea of someone leaving the sisterhood because she had never been kissed struck me as -- if not entirely unrealistic, I am sure there are such shallow people in real life -- not exactly a good background to give a supposedly sympathetic character. As for his anti-Christianity (he's more that than an across-the-board atheist -- I get the feeling he'd be all warm and fuzzy over some cute "native" religion, or Buddhism or something like that) it struck me as being no more developed in its concepts than the average teen's shock-your-parents anti-religious expression.

Argh. Must... not... discuss... Pullman... further...

Andrea Harris

Oops --- I swear I had not read the Touchstone article before I wrote the above. Honest Injun.

Registered Independent Joel

I've read the Touchstone article (I get that 'zine, though I doubt I'll resubscribe), and I have the same question as some of the other commenters above: Why, oh why, are Christians directing so much fury at Rowling, when we have a real-life raving anti-Christian bigot in Pullman? Doesn't make any sense . . . .

Sandra Miesel

I don't know how the process worked among Evangelicals, but several prominent Catholic individuals, including Michael O'Brien and Steve Wood got off the mark fast attacking HARRY. THE NATIONAL CATHOLIC REGISTER, CATHOLIC WORLD REPORT, HUMAN LIFE REVIEW, and ETWN gave ample exposure to HARRY-bashing so conservative Catholics were exposed to a lot of hostile comment. When CRISIS ran a favorable review of the first HARRY movie, a flood of hysterical condemnations poured in. The negative critique of Pullman in CRISIS didn't rose such fury. I don't think this says much good about Catholics' capacity for discernment.

Will Duquette

Why bang on Rowling and not on Pullman?

It's simple--because most of the folks who are banging loudly on Harry Potter don't read that kind of book. They've only heard of Harry Potter because he's become a pop sensation. Pullman hasn't, so they don't know about him.

And the kind of people who do read that kind of book have been banging on Pullman quietly for years. I have, in my book reviews, and I know others have too.


I think Pullman is not as obscure as Will suggests. It is the kind of book that librarians and teachers regularly recommend, and one, while not on the level of massive popularity as Harry, is definitely a rather big thing among smart kids who like to read..and so parents need to be warned about it. Besides the books have an anti-God agenda that's overt and strident.


I think the disproportionate reaction to Rowling vs. Pullman is, sad to say, as much as anything else a function of the fact that Rowling's books are simply more widely known. People who ordinarily don't pay much attention to literary matters were drawn into the fray.

Anyone who has, as I do, a fair amount of contact with Protestant fundamentalists shouldn't be too surprised. Many of them get downright hysterical at any mention of magic that is not unequivocally negative. Remember that some of these folks think C. S. Lewis' use of mythological characters such as fauns makes his work off-limits. Pullman would have not necessarily come to their attention, but the huge hype-wave generated by Rowling's work made it inescapable.

I was a little surprised at, and can't account for, Michael O'Brien's all-out attack on Rowling. I have a lot of respect for him, though I'm afraid I didn't really consider the two of his novels that I read to be very successful.

I read the first volume of Pullman's trilogy not long after it came out (which would be around 1997). I was rather astonished that such intense anti-Catholicism was not attracting more criticism. I can only attribute the silence to lack of awareness. (One volume of Pullman was enough, by the way--I haven't read the others. I thought his agenda was perfectly clear by the end of that book.)

I agree with Sandra Meisel above that another component--and I say this at the risk of sounding self-righteous--is a lack of discernment. It seems to me that anyone with much of it should immediately sense that Rowling's work is basically on the right side of the cosmic struggle, and Pullman's is not. I think also of a couple of other popular young people's stories: Susan Cooper's "The Dark is Rising" series and Ursula LeGuin's Earthsea trilogy. To my nose there is a real spiritual stench about these, although they are of quite high literary quality (higher than Rowling's in several respects, e.g. prose style). But I've never heard a Christian take them to task, which of course could be ignorance on my part, but certainly there has been no outcry comparable to that directed against Rowling. In contrast, it seems to me that Rowling's work is fundamentally wholesome.

I suppose there is something to the argument that the use of magic in the Potter books is not, in the abstract and if taken seriously, compatible with Christian teaching. But to attack them and leave these others alone strikes me as straining at a gnat and swallowing a camel.


P.S. to lengthy post above: Will D. & Amy's comments were not there when I started that rumination. Will, we agree. Amy, good point, and important, about Pullman actually being pushed by librarians et.al.


There was another fantasy series out in the late-seventies/early-eighties called "The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, the Unbeliever" by a guy named Stephen K. Donaldson. There were actually two trilogies, a total of six books altogether. I enjoyed them very much at the time, but I do recall a bit of animus toward God contained in them. Though perhaps not as bad as in Pullman's books.

Sandra Miesel

But the Donaldson books were for adults. The other things we're talking about are juvenile and YA fantasies. Pullman is the first author of a children's book to win the Whitbread prize in England. He also got the Carnegie Medal (as Naria did)and is in all the "quality" children's book catalogs and librarians' lists. Susan Cooper got the Newbery for one segment of her series and LeGuin got a National Book Award of of hers. These are not obscure books by any means. They're going to continue in print and be available in libraries. Pullman is also going to be fimed. I thoroughly agree on Cooper and LeGuin having anti-Christian agendas visible at the end. (Both are recommended by BOOKS THAT BUILD CHARACTER. Le Guin, by the way, characterizes herself as a "determined non-Christian".

Will Duquette

I agree that EarthSea and The Dark Is Rising are un-Christian (as is most fantasy literature these days), but I disagree that they are anti-Christian in the sense that Pullman's His Dark Materials is. Their approach is essentially positive, in that they have a non-Christian worldview and pursue it, while Pullman's is essentially negative, being devoted to tearing down Christianity.

More than that, Pullman doesn't play fair--the Christianity he presents as worthy of attack is a straw man, bearing little resemblance to the real thing.


Both The Dark is Rising and the Earthsea trilogy were among my favourite books as a child and teenager, but I have to agree that the former series in particular is anti-Christian - though not nearly as overtly and consistently as His Dark Materials. The grand finale at the end of Silver on the Tree stresses that "there will be no Second Coming of anybody", for example. In The Dark is Rising, a vicar refers to a non-Christian cross symbol as not existing before God, the authorial/POV voice states something like, "There was no answer that would not have offended him, so they made none".

As far as Earthsea goes, I have not really read these books since returning to the Church, but I find I can't read LeGuin in general any longer - too much axe-grinding about issues I don't agree with. There are definite anti-Christian strains in Always Coming Home.

Sandra Miesel

Cooper and LeGuin aren't nasty but the superiority of Paganism over Christianity is strongly urged by The Dark Is Rising and the final Earthsea book, THE FARTHEST SHORE mocks the desire for personal immortality and a resurrection. "Wise" people would be content to melt back into the material universe and the most superior beings of all, the dragons, have nothiing so petty as morality (They rely on aesthetics). LeGuin went through a Taoist phase (LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS) until she discovered the wit and wisdom of the Digger Indians, on display in ALWAYS COMING HOME. At this point she also ditched normal novel structure as "patriarchal."

Andrea Harris

"Five bbo"? I meant "five-book," of course.

Andrea Harris

I have to echo Will Duquette's assessment of the Earthsea Trilogy & the Dark is rising... whatever a five-bbo series is. In the case of the latter, the last book (Silver on the Tree) was the weakest of the lot; I got the sense that the author had gotten tired of the series and had trouble coming up with a coherent ending; that may have contributed to the sense that sense I had that Cooper took the easy way out with her ending.

As for Le Guin's stuff, I much prefer the only semi-aware paganism of her early "Young Adult" stuff like Earthsea to her later, self-consciously guilty Euroculture Sucks attitude that beams out across the landscape of her prose like a neon sign. One really ugly example that has always stuck in my mind is something she said (in an essay about travelling about the US) about modern culture being like a "sick, white skin" over the nice brown world of Our Betters, the Native Americans. I also found her later continuations in the Earthsea World, Tehanu and the other one whose title I forget, to be crap. I managed to plow through Tehanu -- Ged gets to have sex, big whoop; he also shows none of the character and strength he showed in the earlier books; at the end of The Farthest Shore one imagines that he is merely going into noble exile/retirement after expending all of his power to save the world (a sacrifice that does have Christian overtones, something I think Le Guin came to regret later as she moved farther into her own fantasy of Native American spiritual outlook); in Tehanu we find out that instead of this melancholy-yet-spiritually-satisfying fate, Ged had merely crawled into the hills to herd goats and mull over his wasted life. Le Guin's complete acceptance of that modern American notion that the most pathetic fate for a man is to become a middle-aged male virgin shouts loud and clear. I wasn't able to force myself to read Earthsea Update Number Two, but I skimmed through it. There is a lot of musing about why those silly obtuse men ("boys" as Le Guin's stand in, the pristess-turned-farmwife Tenar calls them) can't figure out that the next Archimage is going to be a woman (because they find it so unthinkable! those men!) and there is a barbarian princess who is of course smarter and braver than everyone else because she uses a lot of hand gestures when she talks.

Urgh, now you know what fantasy YA writer annoys me even more than Phillip Pullman. But, to get back to the original Earthsea trilogy, the idea of "immortality" that the evil characters seek isn't really the Christian sort of immortality. It is more akin to the sort of "continue forever the same" that in Tolkien's work is a hallmark of sin and error. Back then Le Guin was still more influenced by Tolkien than by the feminist/nativist authors she seemed to glom onto later.

Andrea Harris

I have no idea how my second comment came out on top of the first.

Will Duquette

I found Earthsea compelling as a teenager, and I can still read the original three books with pleasure...but somehow it doesn't often occur to me to read them. I read The Dark Is Rising series once as an adult, and enjoyed them...but though I still have them, and enjoy the whole Celtic thing, I've never quite managed to pick them up again. Whatever it is that brings me to read and re-read about Narnia and Middle Earth is simply lacking in them, and somehow I find it hard to believe that they'd lead anyone seriously astray. And despite Le Guin's antipathy to Christianity, there's a John-the-Baptist kind of "He must increase and I must decrease" thing going on with Ged in The Farthest Shore.

Pullman, on the other hand, worries me considerably, because so much of what he says about Christianity is a lie--and his lies contain just enough truth to mislead the simple and more than enough venom to encourage the disaffected to stray further.

But a bruised reed He shall not break, and a bruised wick He shall not quench--so, not to worry.


Will, I am probably Exhibit A for 'led astray by The Dark is Rising'. I was *nuts* about those books, especially the second and fourth. I still own an iron Sign I had a blacksmith make for me when I was 12. The Grey King (which was the Newberry Award winner of the five, IIRC) especially was the start of an obsession with Wales and the Welsh language - I quite likely would not have met my husband and moved to Britain if I had not read that book (husband does not count as 'astray', but IMHO Britain probably does). And the series was definitely influential on the fact that in my late teens, when someone mentioned 'Welsh' Wicca to me, that I was ready to listen to her. Although I saw through the claims of mainstream Wicca fairly soon, I stayed a NeoPagan for over ten years.


Very interesting comments, everyone, and I loved Leonie Caldecott's article! I had just two things to add:

I tend to see Cooper and Pullman on the same anti-Christian continuum, though Cooper is less obnoxious. To me, Le Guin, though also anti-Christian at times, is not in with them because she allows her characters and situations to determine her story, so that her works don't fall into sheer silliness as both Cooper's and Pullman's ultimately do. That said, Le Guin is at her weakest when being most polemical ("The Word for World is Forest" comes to mind). All the same, I think the Earthsea quintet is a rather great work which (perhaps unconsciously on the author's part) does deal with Christian/universal themes like love, sacrifice, loss and redemption. I don't always agree with Le Guin, but I find her honestly thought-provoking and readable.

Pullman, on the other hand, is not only intellectually dishonest, but actively stupid. My sister, a very smart woman, pointed this out to me: in the guise of 'liberating' women to celebrate their sexuality, he actaully demeans them! Mary, the former nun, is the most egregious example; she's supposed to be a scientist, but she acts completely from instinct and emotion and doesn't seem capable of a logical thought. Mrs. Coulter, too, is an entirely instinctual person who ultimately seems to have no principles. In the third book, she is overwhelmed by love for her child (why? !She scarcely knows the girl) and acts against everything she has worked for for her entire adult life in order to save her. This makes no sense at all! Lyra herself is presented as wise, but unreflecting and (in the first book) lacking in introspection and imaginative capacity. I'd argue that you can't be wise without a certain amount of imagination and introspection - but that, of course, is just my point of view. Only the "men" (Will included)in Pullman's work are fully human; the women are instinctual lovers and mothers. Did anyone else notice this?


this is stupid

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