Saturday, December 08, 2007

But enough about you

This idea of the internet as a solipsistic wonderland--oh wow! You're reading my blog!--really gained ground this weekend with two of our leading internet magazines--Salon and Slate--each using the premier of The Golden Compass as a springboard for people to talk about themselves while pretending to do otherwise.

I have a lot of respect for Donna Freitas's work on His Dark Materials, but on Salon she unconscionably sets up Catholic Leaguer Bill Donahue as the Grand Inquisitor and herself as Galileo: "Allow me to plead my case, for I think I am innocent. (Though I fear I might be on trial, or even be found guilty without a trial.)" Stop, Donna, we need the wood.

And I would really like to see some documentation for "Catholic principals, librarians and teachers all across the United States and Canada are being told by their diocese to remove "His Dark Materials" from their shelves and classroom curricula." I can find three instances of The Golden Compass being removed from Catholic schools (two in Canada and in Oshkosh, Wisconsin), and in none of them was the diocese involved: trustees, principals and one benighted librarian pulled the book without orders from above. Of course there are probably other, quieter instances of the book being removed (as that's how it's usually done, in public and parochial libraries alike) but the point is that the Catholic Church is engaged in no war with Philip Pullman and no one is being threatened with excommunication. It's just weenie Bill Donahue calling attention to himself via his self-administered interviews, and Freitas falling right into his trap by making him seem more important than he is.

But Freitas, at least, does have a point to make, and it's an eloquent and important one, about the feast of religious inquiry in Pullman's trilogy. Emily Bazelon writing for Slate, on the other hand, explains that she's not going to encourage her sons to read Pullman's trilogy because she really dug Flowers in the Attic even though her mother said it was dreck. (Thanks to Kelly Herold for the link.) Did I mention that I'm going to see The Golden Compass tonight and Nobody Listens to Andrew used to be my favorite book?


Kelly said...

I seriously can not get over the Bazelon piece. One of the weirdest articles I've ever read anywhere.

gail said...

It looks as if Bazelon wanted to write about Flowers in the Attic (ah...why?) and grasped at Compass as an intro for her piece because it's an easy sell right now.

That subtitle, "Should Children Read Philip Pullman's Trilogy--Or The Incest Classic Flowers in the Attic, is sort of brilliant in its randomness. I also love that it can be read as an either/or statement. They can read Philip Pullman's trilogy or an incest classic! You choose!

Ruth said...

Ha! Except what's funny, too, is that she actually, as if quite by accident, stumbles across some of the themes of His Dark Materials.

In her piece Bazelon asks a question, in an admittedly haphazard way, about children who stand on the threshold of adulthood-- and about the stories told them by those who have already crossed over. Like Pullman, she talks about the temptation inherent to those adult stories, with their sexual content and their promise of a more mature knowledge. Granted, she *is* discussing Flowers in the Attic, not Genesis. Still, there's some faint echo of Pullman in her concluding paragraph: "In the meantime, the lesson of Flowers holds for good books that tempt readers before they're ready for them: If your kid won't put the book down, help him make what sense he can of it."

Of course, Pullman might say that children's readiness comes before adult willingness, and that the making of sense is the goal itself.

Watching the film adaptation of The Golden Compass, I was reminded of these sorts of thematic questions. (And also found myself askng the question: is it truly impossible to construct a coherent narrative when filming a children's book?) Even with the Authority recast as a pseudo-Nazi State, the questions about childhood remain unadulterated in the film. And I was still left wondering about this vision of children-- their role in a grand, adult battle for the future of humanity. Is childhood, itself, a battleground in an adult war? Are stories weapons in that battle? Do the stories adults tell children tempt them across a threshold, into the world of adult knowledge (with others, like Pullman's Mary M., there to guide the way)?

If this is the vision of the Christian right, is it also, in some way, a vision reflected in Pullman's books themselves?


Anonymous said...

Emily Bazelon is a welcome change from the kiddy-lit professionals!

Roger Sutton said...

Like calling to like, I guess.

Ruth, I was interested to see that the Christian organization, labelling the movie "abhorrent," seemed most bothered by the fact that Lyra was disobedient to her mother, whom MovieGuide seems to think is getting a bad rap: "Mrs. Coulter may be the villain, but all she really tries to do in this movie is to save her daughter’s life." See review at

I think you might have a Horn Book article in your ideas about what we adults want stories to do for children--how about it? In message board discussions between "Christians" and "atheists" (broadly sketched both) about Pullman, both sides complain about the other wanting to "brainwash" children.

JeanneB said...

Here's what I want stories to do for children: give them the strength and savvy not to be brainwashed.

Anonymous said...