Saturday, December 1
The Golden Compass: Nobody Expects the Genevan Inquisition
By way of background, I actually read the first book in Pullman's trilogy some years back, because it had been presented to me as an alternate-history book, a genre I was heavily into at the time and still rather enjoy. As a realistic take on an alternate universe I was disappointed by the magic and goofy history (come now, Pope John Calvin? Givest thou me a break) and set it aside with a sigh and went on with life. It seemed to me garden-variety anti-Catholicism and I didn't give it a second thought. That being said, as a work of fantasy, if not strictly realistic, it seemed reasonably well-written. I later discovered the second two volumes were steeped in a bizarre and sadly embittered anti-Theism.
Like most of these evangelical atheists who have the God bug, Pullman needs pity and prayer.
Executive summary of the trilogy for those of you in Rio Linda: Alternate universe, world dominated by weird Calvinist-Catholic hybrid religion; evil monks, assassin priests, (Father Gomez--jarring chord); scientist Lord Asriel waging war on God through a series of parallel worlds, except it's not God, it's a geriatric angel and somehow Metatron (the Jewish guy, not the Transformer) is pulling the strings; (boilerplate Gnostic mythological filler, blah, blah, blah); lapsed nun agnostic physicist; and then somehow some pre-teen kissing changes everything, God (or Whatever) dies, yay, Republic of Heaven; and everyone goes off to be good little atheists and work their hearts out for the common good. (Or, more realistically, they head off to Las Vegas.) I only read the first book and the summaries I've been given are as turgid as the 3rd and 4th Books of Esdras and equally weird, which I think has to do less with the abridgers than the Gnostic source material.
This is the problem--The Da Vinci Code was a laughable cartoon of a book, while Pullman's writing is at the least reasonably literary in quality and his anti-Catholicism (anti-Theism, really) is motivated less by silly plot considerations than by a deep animus against the Church. Plus, the movie looks seductively, irritatingly, horribly good, unlike the clunky schlockfest with Tom Hanks and Audrey Tatou from last summer.
The books are not fit for kids, and I'm not entirely sure a good Catholic adult would find them anything but infuriating. The movie--well, the line a lot of people have been taking is, oh, the studio said they were toning it down, Nicole Kidman's a good Catholic, she wouldn't be in anything like that, &c., &c., and that the danger is the kids will see the movie and then want the books.
I think the movie itself isn't so immaculate, either. Miss Kidman is a fine actress and, for my money, one of the great beauties of the modern age (in my list, a bit behind Audrey Hepburn but at least one slot ahead of the ninth Duchess of Marlborough); I don't question her personal faith, not being in a position to get inside her head and start pulling levers, and am sure her involvement in the project was well-intentioned.
Still, it seems that at least by my own personal standards, the movie has not been toned-down nearly enough. Even the trailers are throwing around words like "Magisterium" and "heresy," and there's a few glimpses of guys running around in quasi-cassocks cut from Nazi-ish field grey cloth, and even what might have been a Swiss guard. Might the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem be a bit testy if they were talking about the Umma, the Khalifa and the like?
I read elsewhere that the Magisterium (note it's still called the Magisterium, not the Politburo, or the U.S. Senate, or the shadowy Derg of the People's Republic of Ethiopia) is, in the movie, not a parody of the Catholic Church, but represents "all dogmatic associations," and God and religion are presented under euphemisms. (My guess is this is why Mrs. Coulter snaps off some odd line in one trailer about "She has disobeyed the Authority!"--jarring chord--in reference, I suppose, to God.) It's not "anti-Catholic," just "anti-dogma." Ah yes. Translation: "We're not anti-Catholic, we don't like Protestants, Jews, Muslims or Hindus, either!"
I will never understand Hollywood.
*If you really must know, yes, yes, those morons at the General Oblation Board have screwed things up yet again and the Consistorial Court of Discipline insists I pop over to Geneva to knock some heads together.