The Dark Materials Trilogy

I have finished the three books by Phillip Pullman. As mentioned in my previous blog, I have enjoyed the stories very much. Pullman is a gifted writer, whose ability to create imagery is unsurpassed. His ability to describe a situation, a feeling, or a landscape draws you deeply into each.

The three books of the trilogy are: The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass. The trilogy follows the story of two children, Lyra and Will. Fantasy characters witches, angels, and armored polar bears figure prominently in all three novels. Pullman describes himself as an atheist but he includes ideas from the field of theology as well as physics, and philosophy. Theological themes include: the nature of God, life after death, original sin, angels, and most prominently the human soul. Pullman could be criticized for emphasizing a humanistic view of these themes.

Pullman has a realistic view of the foibles and sins of the church. Although this critique of his is by far what has created the greatest stir among organized religion. His irreverence and seeming distain for organized religion comes through very clearly. The view of the three books is that the church is evil and only interested in keeping its place of authority within the world.

Another issue that has received heated debate is his view of God. It is interesting that his view of God is not different from much of early Gnosticism. In Gnosticism the "real" God of the universe is not the creator God but rather the creator God is a being much further down the chain of beings. Pullman also places the creator God, whom he calls the Authority, as an angel that happened to fool the other angels into believing that he was the ultimate Creator. He, however, is evil and interested only in his own interests.

Pullman's critique is not unlike the critique that God has received from many critics of established religion, whether it be Christian, Islamic, etc. The cruel God of the Old Testament who participates in a variety of genocide, particularly Canaanite genocide, is portrayed by many as totally different from the Jesus God we see in the New Testament. This divide has created many a debate over the centuries about the nature of God. Many in our postmodern culture prefer the God of the New Testament and struggle with the Old Testament deity. Pullman puts this conflict in the midst of the struggle that humanity is facing for ultimate survival.

In Pullman's final chapter of the trilogy, The Amber Spyglass, God dies. One of the critiques that I had heard prior to reading the stories was that the theme of the novels was to kill God. Actually, that is not the theme at all. God does die. And to tell you the truth this God who is selfish, greedy, controlling and demanding needs to die. In the trilogy the search for truth is to find it deep in the human soul. There is a hint of Process Theology in that because of Will and Lyra when people die they go into the essence of good that makes up the universe.

While I didn't agree with Pullman's conclusion, I definitely enjoyed the story. It forces one to re-evaluate a definition or understanding of God. It requires religionists to examine the horrific abuses that has been perpetrated on humanity in the name of religion, and he ultimately calls individuals to look deeply inside of themselves to discover a genuine encounter with a God of love, truth, and compassion. Pullman calls it the human spirit, I call it the real presence of a God of love. When the "real" Creator breathed into his creation of humanity and said that we became a "living soul" something happened, a bit of God was given to each of us. Pullman is close to being right, ultimately if we understood what it meant to be fully human we would treat one another better.

The novels are worth the read if for nothing else than to force us to realistically look at the kingdoms we have created and to measure them against the Kingdom that Jesus called into being.

I would love to have your comments. There is much more I could say but this is getting far too long.

Gary