Saturday, December 29, 2007

Philip Pullman (of The Golden Compass Fame) Takes on God, C.S. Lewis, Christianity, & J.R.R. Tolkien

Here are some examples of what Philip Pullman has written about C.S. Lewis, God, Tolkien, etc.:

But there is no doubt in the public mind that what matters is the Narnia cycle, and that is where the puzzle comes, because there is no doubt in my mind that it is one of the most ugly and poisonous things I've ever read. . . . American critic John Goldthwaite, in his powerful and original study of children's literature The Natural History Of Make-Believe (OUP, 1996), lays bare the misogyny, the racism, the sado-masochistic relish for violence that permeates the whole cycle. . . . He didn't like women in general, or sexuality at all, at least at the stage in his life when he wrote the Narnia books. He was frightened and appalled at the notion of wanting to grow up.. . . I haven't the slightest doubt that the man will be sainted in due course: the legend is too potent. However, when that happens, those of us who detest the supernaturalism, the reactionary sneering, the misogyny, the racism, and the sheer dishonesty of his narrative method will still be arguing against him.

Pullman, attacked by a rightwing columnist as "the most dangerous author in Britain" and "semi-satanic", is celebrated for a trilogy which deliberately takes an opposite line to CS Lewis's Christian tales. In Pullman's world, the universe is ruled by a senile, viciously sadistic deity who has to be deposed in battle so that its inhabitants can join with angels in creating a "republic of heaven". . . . "It is monumentally disparaging of girls and women. It is blatantly racist. One girl was sent to hell because she was getting interested in clothes and boys."

I can see no evidence in that circle of things I do know, in history, or in science or anywhere else, no evidence of the existence of God.

So I'm caught between the words 'atheistic' and 'agnostic'. I've got no evidence whatever for believing in a God. But I know that all the things I do know are very small compared with the things that I don't know. So maybe there is a God out there. All I know is that if there is, he hasn't shown himself on earth.
But going further than that, I would say that those people who claim that they do know that there is a God have found this claim of theirs the most wonderful excuse for behaving extremely badly. So belief in a God does not seem to me to result automatically in behaving very well.

. . .
when you look at organised religion of whatever sort – whether it's Christianity in all its variants, or whether it's Islam or some forms of extreme Hinduism – wherever you see organised religion and priesthoods and power, you see cruelty and tyranny and repression. It's almost a universal law.

It's not just Christianity I'm getting at. The reason that the forms of religion in the books seem to be Christian is because that's the world I'm familiar with. That's the world I grew up in and I knew. . . .

[about the Chronicles of Narnia]
. . . the things he's being cruel to are things I value very highly. The crux of it all comes, as many people have found, with the point near the end of the Last Battle (in the Narnia books) when Susan is excluded from the stable. The stable obviously represents salvation. They're going to heaven, they're going to be saved. But Susan isn't allowed into the stable, and the reason given is that she's growing up. She's become far too interested in lipstick, nylons and invitations. One character says rather primly: 'She always was a jolly sight too keen on being grown up.'

This seems to me on the part of Lewis to reveal very weird unconscious feelings about sexuality. Here's a child whose body is changing and who's naturally responding as everyone has ever done since the history of the world to the changes that are taking place in one's body and one's feelings. She's doing what everyone has to do in order to grow up.

(November 2002)
But Pullman said the Narnia books contained "a peevish blend of racist, misogynistic and reactionary prejudice" and "not a trace" of Christian charity.
"It's not the presence of Christian doctrine I object to so much as the absence of Christian virtue," he added.
"The highest virtue - we have on the authority of the New Testament itself - is love, and yet you find not a trace of that in the books."
Pullman's acclaimed His Dark Materials trilogy tells of a battle against the church and a fight to overthrow God.


''When you look at what C. S. Lewis is saying, his message is so anti-life, so cruel, so unjust. The view that the Narnia books have for the material world is one of almost undisguised contempt. At one point, the old professor says, 'It's all in Plato' -- meaning that the physical world we see around us is the crude, shabby, imperfect, second-rate copy of something much better.''

(New York Times interview, Nov. 2000)

I dislike his Narnia books because of the solution he offers to the great questions of human life: is there a God, what is the purpose, all that stuff, which he really does engage with pretty deeply, unlike Tolkien who doesn't touch it at all. ‘The Lord of the Rings' is essentially trivial. Narnia is essentially serious, though I don't like the answer Lewis comes up with. If I was doing it at all, I was arguing with Narnia. Tolkien is not worth arguing with.


[on The Chronicles of Narnia] I read them when I'd already grown up, and I thought they were loathsome, full of bullying and sneering, propaganda, basically, on behalf of a religion whose main creed seemed to be to despise and hate people unlike yourself. Whatever Christianity says, I don't think it's that.


"I didn't read the 'Narnia' books until I was grown up," Pullman said, "and I could sort of see what he was getting at, and he was getting at the reader in a way I didn't like. The 'Narnia' books are full of serious questions about religion: 'Which God should we worship? Is there a God at all? What happens when we die?' The questions are all there, but I don't like Lewis' answers. I don't like the fact that he sends the children through these extraordinary adventures, allows them to see and do these wonderful things, and then at the end of the book kills them in a railway accident. They're all dead, and this is meant to be a great release, a wonderful thing. It seems to me the proper thing to do, the moral thing to do, the Christian thing to do would be to let those children continue to live and do good in the world, having learned something. But no, that wasn't what Lewis wanted."

Pullman liked "Lord of the Rings" when he first read it as a teen ("We were all out pretending to be Gandalf"), but after thinking about it more recently, he doesn't feel it's as engaging as it could have been. "For Tolkien, the Catholic, the Church had the answers, the Church was the source of all truth, so 'Lord of the Rings' does not touch those big deep questions," Pullman said. "The 'Narnia' books are fundamentally more serious than 'Lord of the Rings,' which I take to be a trivial book."


What I don't like is the notion that the world is a cruel and imperfect copy of something much better somewhere else. Seen from that perspective, which is not exclusively Christian, life is shabby and second rate, shot through with failure and corruption and evil. Both C.S. Lewis and Tolkien seemed to believe this, but I don't, not for a second. In my trilogy 'His Dark Materials', I bang the drum for the primacy of the physical world that we live in. As far as I can see we only get one shot at life, and that is in the here and now. It's a sort of betrayal of life to long for death, as C.S. Lewis expresses in the Narnia books, which climax with the children being killed in a railway accident; their deaths are presented as a release from this ghastly life on earth. I think it would have been a braver - even, a more Christian - choice for Lewis to have let those children grow into fulfilled adulthood.


[on The Chronicles of Narnia] One of the most ugly and poisonous things I have ever read, with no shortage of nauseating drivel.

[cited in an article by David Couchman]

1 comment:

P.m.barrett said...

I think that Pullman doesn't understand what he is ranting about. Tolkien and Lewis were both officers in the Great War. If one reads them in THE CONTEXT OF THEIR TIMES AND THEIR CONTEMPORARIES, they don't "relish violence" any more than did Siegfried Sassoon,Wilfred Owen, or, for that matter Erich Maria Remarque and Maurice Genevoix. While Tolkien and Lewis have chosen Fantasy as their genre, they still belong to "the LOST GENERATION",and I personally think anyone who has not gone through what they did is unfit to judge them. Finally, I think that Pullman's leaning on John Goldthwaite's "powerful and original study of children's literatue" is fallacious because Goldthwaite's work itself an exercise in presentism ( an historian's term for the fallacious practice of evaluating an occurance in the past using the standards of today)."nuff said.