Weeks before the film adaptation of the Philip Pullman book The Golden Compass was scheduled to open, Christian groups began plastering newspapers and in-boxes with dire warnings of a hidden anti-Christian agenda. Editorials began appearing in newspapers encouraging boycotts and FOX News picked up the drumbeat, dovetailing neatly as it did into their annual War Against The War On Christmas. Before the film even opened, the controversy drifted into schools and libraries, with a flurry of challenges against the books and some groups organizing boycotts against Scholastic, the books' publishing company.
As the book series was actually published almost a decade ago, and has been in print and popular ever since, this outrage at Scholastic seems pointless at best and more honestly a transparent publicity stunt. It makes about as much sense as a lawsuit against Adobe Garamond, a typeface based on the sixteenth-century type designs of Claude Garamond, redrawn by Robert Slimbach in 1989 and used, shamelessly, on every page of the series.
Now, in case you've allowed your attention to drift from what is happening in literary cinema, the Vatican came out again on Wednesday to officially condemn the film, dubbing it "Godless and hopeless."
I'm strongly reminded, in an "Alice Through the Looking Glass" way, of the kerfuffle that surrounded The Chronicles of Narnia two years ago. In that case, Christian groups still buzzed off The Passion of the Christ trumpeted the film as proof of Christianity's triumph over godless Hollywood while the average parent wondered if they could take their kid to see it without enrolling in vacation Bible school. In this case, Christian groups, perhaps still agitated over Apocalypto, issue blanket condemnation while the average parent wonders if they can take their kid to see the film without turning them into Nietzschean nihilists.
This confusion isn't necessarily helped by a new flurry of articles from theoretically "open minded" but still "concerned" parents who think the books are "great" but perhaps not safe for children, like this confusing confection from Slate in which the author simultaneously states a desire to protect her children from the darkness in Philip Pullman's trilogy while reminiscing over her childhood infatuation with the Gothic incest classic Flowers in the Attic.
In the face of this gathering storm, I decided to do something radical: read, or in my case re-read, all three books of Phillip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy. It is the books, after all, which are truly inspiring the angst, with some groups agitating that the film is in fact an atheist plot to trick parents into buying the books for their children.