Pullman vs. the Magisterium

Those values viewers in the heartland are at it again, clicking "forward" on yet another wave of hot emails about sin, evil, magic and Hollywood.

Here's the news, as harvested on the Internet by experts at Snopes.com, a giant website dedicated to researching urban legends.

"Hi! I just wanted to inform you what I just learned about a movie that is coming out December 7, during the Christmas season, which is entitled 'The Golden Compass.' … What is disturbing to me is that this movie is based on the first of a trilogy of books for children called 'His Dark Materials' written by Philip Pullman of England.

"He's an atheist and his objective is to bash Christianity and promote atheism. I heard that he has made remarks that he wants to kill God in the minds of children, and that's what his books are about."

Snopes.com researched the many issues raised in this message — concluding that these emails are (you may want to sit down) essentially true.

It's even true that Pullman devotees have accused New Line executives of editing out some of the book's juicier heresies in an attempt to offend fewer Christian consumers. After all, the studio has about $180 million invested in this project and would like to make two more movies based on the award-winning trilogy.

 "What's really amazing is that all of those evangelical and Catholic critics have been aiming their heavy artillery at J.K. Rowling and the Harry Potter books, when they could have been firing at Pullman, whose books came out first," said Sandra Miesel, co-author of the upcoming book "Pied Piper of Atheism: Philip Pullman and Children's Fantasy Literature."

"Pullman is brilliant at hiding what he's really saying," she added.

"Also, his books were marketed for people with more elite tastes. Once they started winning awards, they became more popular. And now, here come the movies, so people are really starting to pay attention."

Pullman has, however, never been soft spoken. In one famous interview with the Sydney Morning Herald, he expressed amazement that Rowling's Potter books took more flak in Bible Belt America than his own.

"I've been flying under the radar, saying things that are far more subversive than anything poor old Harry has said. My books are about killing God," he explained. As for his own beliefs, he added: "If we're talking on the scale of human life and the things we see around us, I'm an atheist. There's no God here. There never was. But if you go out into the vastness of space, well, I'm not so sure."

As a writer, Pullman greatly admires Milton's 17th-century classic "Paradise Lost," with its battles between good and evil to determine who will rule heaven. The "His Dark Materials" trilogy covers similar territory and tries to turn the tables through the triumph of two young adventurers, Lyra and Will. The goal is for this couple — a new Eve and Adam — to eat forbidden fruit and, this time around, destroy God.

Along the way, Pullman serves up clergy who kidnap and torture children, visitations from gay angels, fickle witches patrolling the skies, a wise shaman, warrior polar bears, a brilliant ex-nun and plenty of opportunities for children to get in touch with their inner "daemons," the talking-animal spirits who represent their souls.

At the heart of the story is a substance called "Dust," which may or may not be Original Sin in a physical form. Then again, Pullman recently told Atlantic Monthly that "Dust" is evidence of a godlike energy unleashed when people gain wisdom, explore their emotions, challenge authority and

— especially for adolescents — explore their sexuality.

Meanwhile, evil incarnate has a name in Pullman's books — the "Church."

Its bishops wear purple, its cardinals wear red and there is a Vatican with fancy guards. By the end of the trilogy, the ultimate villain has been identified as, "The Authority, God, the Creator, the Lord, Yahweh, El, Adonai, the King, the Father, the Almighty."

In the movie, however, "Magisterium" is always used instead of "Church."

These forces of evil are, however, fond of Orthodox Christian iconography and Bible verses written in Latin.

"I guess it helps to know that the word 'Magisterium' is the term used to describe the teaching office of the Catholic Church," said Miesel. "That's really subtle. … Actually, it's not very subtle at all."

Subscribe to CE
(It's free)

Go to Catholic Exchange homepage

  • Guest

    it remains only to point out that the Church of Pullman's alternative universe is one where the satan has already triumphed, the pope has been deposed, its headquarters is in Geneva, not Rome, because Calvinist has replaced Catholicism, retaining only the hierarchical structure. He has posited a new world where another Adam and Eve are undergoing a test–just as Lewis did in his Space Trilogy–but with the results of the wrong choice playing out, the worst case scenario of This Hideous Strength coming true. Leaving out all the blatant attacks on the Catholic Church (he could not care less about attacking any other religion, Pullman knows his enemy), the perverted view of sexuality and the agenda of adults sexualizing children is enough to condemn anyone who has given this author an award in the field of children's literature as a supporter of his perverted views.

  • Guest

    Great article. You manage to inform without trying to encite. A few of us have been talking about Pulllman for awhile  now. I beg permission for though to object to the notion that we chose to address Potter over Pullman. With the J K Rowling series there was something to discuss, would the magic in this children's fiction story be theologically confusing . There isn't any need to discuss whether you should allow your children, at any age to read Pullman books. I read them after a beloved niece lost her belief in God and the Catholic Church because of them. It isn't that there is so much to be afraid of but that we don't need to support the enemy. Yes, there is an enemy and unfortunately Philip Pullman is temporarily a lost soul trying to enroll others to join him. 

  • Guest

    Well? My goodness!! Hasn't 'Jack Chick' been essentially been saying the same about the Holy Church as Pullman?

    I remember one well-meaning Baptist handing my daughter a Chick tract that featured priests using guillotines to chop the heads off 'real' believers.

    Of course, to Chick, the Pope is 'the ultimate villain' ..and since he is Christs Vicar on earth….the message is essentially the same. Pullman must have taken some of his ideas from Chick!

    I have been saying the same thing since reading the Pullman books years ago. True evil. I laughed at the 'Harry Potter' nonsense after reading them, and as a matter of fact, began to read the Harry Potter books just to see what the hullabaloo was about.

    I personally found the Potter books to be pure fantasy.

    They actually reminded me of the world of the 'Munsters'. Herman even had a scar on his head just like Harry! (JK borrowed a lot from the 'Munsters, I think…)

    While the Pullman books are anything but innocent. The Pullman books are in the most skillfully written sci fi/fantasy that makes the implausible plausible, and his characters are heartbreakingly lovable. Lyra is the most innocent and precious character I have ever 'met'. Thats one thing about the Pullman books, they are very emotionally captivating. The Potter books are not even close.

    The Pullman books take the Chick message and essentially soaks it in honey, making it not only easy to swallow, but delectable.

    As far as the Harry Potter books go, what makes them dangerous aren't the books themselves, but the extra -curricular reading material recommended at libraries next to them like spell books and Wiccan resources. There is no call for that.  Real Wicca doesn't look anything like the Harry Potter world and it's not appropriate. But our 'well meaning' libraries are like that now.

    Libraries (at least here) do the same thing to the Tolkien books and the  Narnia books.Surprised

    At Christmas they'll put out pretty picture books like 'A pagan Christmas', and 'Wiccan yule' front and center before books about Christmas and books about Ostara and Beltane near books about Easter.



  • Guest

    Dare we find a silver lining? I think so: Pullman's books bash the Holy Magisterium, just like many Catholic dissenters do, just as I did in my pre-Catholic days. However, Pullman draws logical conclusions: if the Magisterium is illegitimate,then so also is the God it claims to serve. Many Catholic dissenters seem to find this final, logical step distasteful. So do Protestants, Evangelicals, and schismatic Catholic groups. But Pullman is on the side of right here: you cannot find God without the Magisterium, for God is not some abstract principle Whom we might deconstruct by taking a bit here and a bit there to suit our fanciful needs. He is Whole, Infinite, Complete, Intact, and seeks to share all of this with us. It is not for nothing that the Catechism cites St. Athanasius in stating "[fo]r the Son of God became man so that we might become God" (#460). The same paragraph also cites Aquinas in stating that "[t]he only-begotten Son of God, wanting to make us sharers in his divinity, assumed our nature, so that he, made man, might make men gods." Our human frailty, of course, cannot access this fullness all at once, and so we often speak of a journey or a narrow way or a number of other teaching metaphors. But the journey is not towards a cliff that we might hurl ourselves into the abyss below. It is to a mountain, that we might be fully integrated with the Divine. It is also a journey fraught with peril, and we need a guide. That's who the Apostles are, and as with the Apostles, so also with their descendants.

    Indeed, the Protestant principle itself is derived from the notion that one may have a deeper, more authentically Christian relationship with God sans the Magisterium, or with a non-Catholic authority set up as Magisterium. Somehow we are to enter into the Divinity based on the merits of our own understanding (or that of the parallel Magisterium), which is necessarily superior to that of the Church's teaching Office. This is another conclusion easily drawn from Pullman's books: man can become divine of his own accord, without God – indeed God alone is the impediment to man's rightful divinity. The serpent said as much in the garden. Pullman merely draws the logical conclusion that if you unseat the Magisterium, whether through dissent, schism, separation, or atheism, then there is no longer any connection between humankind and God. This is actually refreshing and honest in a way that too often lacks in our own discourse.

    If we let it, this could mark a turning point towards a true ecumenism that embraces God as He is, the whole Truth. Let us therefore serve God more intensely by seeking Him in the Sacred Tradition as presented by the Holy Magisterium in full Communion with His Vicar on earth.

  • Guest

    This comment is not intended to diminish the Church's teaching that all other Christian communities share imperfectly in the Communion of the Catholic Church. But that imperfect Communion can only exist if the Magisterium exists. Throw down the latter, and the former dissolves into nothingness.

  • Guest


    It is time, once again, to speak out and be labeled a stodgy reactionary.

    But it is because — and only because — these literary horse-apples are uber-produced, hyped, and marketed to such an extent that one can not avoid them. That is the only reason we must point out the obvious agenda of hate against the Church.

    Whether the movie makes money or not, there are already over forty tie-ins for Happy meal toys and so forth. The decison-makers who launch these campaigns are the ones we need to find and change.

  • Guest

    Whether the movie makes money or not, there are already over forty tie-ins for Happy meal toys and so forth. The decison-makers who launch these campaigns are the ones we need to find and change.]]

    Homeschoolnfpdad made a beautiful point and so do you.

    Catholic exchange had a very good article weeks ago about 'green martyrdom'.

    It would seem dear friends, it has already begun.

    We don't buy happy meals on purpose because of the types of toys they have most of the time, we already do not get cable, and I already do not allow my older children to stay the day in libraries like I did many happy afternoons as a child. And I'm not shy to tell them why either. And those are just a few of the examples of how my choices are affected by the culture around me.

    I can only assume it will get more restrictive the more pagan our culture gets.

    We will either throw incense to the goddes or we will suffer.


  • Guest

    There are three types of persons who inhabit this earth; 1) Those WHO KNOW,2) Those WHO DON'T KNOW, but KNOW they DON'T KNOW and are receptive to eternal truths,  taught to them by the Magisterium  and finally, 3) those who DON'T KNOW, but DON'T KNOW that they DON'T KNOW. Too bad, that  a great many of our brothers and sisters are in this last group, and accept NOTHING,  that conflicts with their chosen, material,lifestyle.   Cool There are "None so blind ,as those who cannot, or will  not, see! 

  • Guest

    Has anyone seen a list of the 40 corps tied into The Golden Compass et all?  I'd like to avoid all that I can……


    Jesus, I Trust in You!

  • Guest

    Sega, Coca-cola, Best Buy, Burger King, Circuit City, Toyota, Barnes and Noble, Scholastic, Wal-Mart, The Gap, Target, World Wildlife Fund, Borders, Corgi, and more. Here is a link.

  • Guest

    thanks PTR–we are surrounded aren't we…….


    Jesus, I Trust in You!