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When Censorship Goes Too Far

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The Golden Compass, the first in a series of three books, was published in 1995. The Washington Post described the His Dark Materials series as, “…a novel of electrifying power and splendor, deserving celebration, as violent as a fairy tale and as shocking as art must be."The shock that author Phillip Pullman delivered stemmed from anti-religious undercurrents thought to be displayed throughout the books. At the publication of the series, many Christians were fearful of the books giving the wrong idea to people across the world, especially children. However, when a false notion carries, ignorance and censorship is spread, and the basic human right of exploring something ourselves and forming our own opinion of it, is violated. Such is the case of His Dark Materials, when the true themes of the series deal with people rising under oppression, and children starting the path to adulthood.

Phillip Pullman is an atheist, and some saw the intrusion of his religious beliefs into his written words. The mysterious and controlling “Magisterium” and “Authority” that appear later in the series, have been the main reason for complaints. People, mainly Americans, have related the “Magisterium” to the Catholic Church, and the “Authority” to God. However, in the series, the “Authority” delegates much of his power to Metatron, who functions as regent, and ends up manipulating and abusing this power. This seems to create more of a real-life parallel to controlling governments, and power gone wrong, than an attack on the Christian religion. Pullman is known for his strong commitment to traditional British civil liberties and his criticism of growing state authority and government encroachment into everyday life. States Pullman, “His Dark Materials is not anti-religion – it’s anti-organized, politically-based theocracies that tell you what to think and oppress you. I have no problems with anyone’s private religion.”

Many other bestsellers also deal with religious, political, and social messages. The Chronicles of Narnia have long been said to contain religious undercurrents. The gentle and powerful figure in the series, Aslan, is supposed to symbolize Jesus Christ. In the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, a main character, Edmund, is tempted to do evil by the White Witch, or the power of Satan, and succumbs, a direct reference to Adam and Eve’s betrayal. Pullman has said that His Dark Materials is a rebuttal to C.S. Lewis’s, The Chronicles of Narnia, which teach Christian ideals to children and promote the idea of childhood as a golden age from which sexuality and adulthood are a falling away. His Dark Materials deals with the growing up process, which is induced from a magical particle called Dust, which gathers heavily around prepubescent children, and symbolizes the sin, sexuality, and maturity of impending adulthood. In the series, the “Magisterium” is desperate to stop the gathering of Dust in the innocent and they create a surgery to render one permanently separated from the threat of Dust, and also leave the person in a state akin to soullessness. The knowledge that the two bestselling series both display openly religious/political/social messages is widespread, and The Chronicles of Narnia, now producing its third film based on the books, have become popular family films. Prior to the release of the Golden Compass movie, The Catholic Church was furious at the prospect of the film appearing in movie theatres everywhere. However, when the movie was released, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops gave the movie a thumbs-up. In response, a conservative Catholic leader, Fr. Tom Euteneuer, the President of Human Life International, demanded that the critics who reviewed the movie for the Conference of Bishops be fired. However, he can rest easy, for The Golden Compass movie did not create enough revenue for a sequel, especially in America, where profit was low. The fact that one religious message was applauded in its sentiments when another was deemed to be harmful to society is a violation of our human rights, and reflects upon the many issues imposing religions have caused in the past.

Phillip Pullman’s talent as a writer has brought in nineteen awards for nine of his different works, with thirteen of the awards being given for His Dark Materials. However, His Dark Materials has now been ranked number two on ALA’s (American Library Association) banned book list, which also includes The Catcher in the Rye and Of Mice and Men. Main concerns for the ALA are sexuality, gay and lesbian themes, strong language, witchcraft, and political/religious messages. America’s Freedom of the Press seems to have achieved little when we see ALA and other associations attempting the restriction of books that were deemed inappropriate by their superior judgment, including And Tango Makes Three, which tells the true story of two gay penguins at the Central Park zoo. Many condemned novels are also the source of the world’s best coming of age stories, such as The Catcher in the Rye, His Dark Materials, and the Harry Potter series. ALA’s worst fears in stories stem from the truths that come with growing up: sexuality, betrayals, sins, and new life experiences. However, the experience of growing up that we all face isn’t such a hideous, corrupting accident as some fear, and doesn’t need to be hidden from sight in some confused effort to save children’s innocence. The Freedom of the Press is an author’s gift and right, and even more so our right to read what we may and form our own opinion of it.

I have read the entire Chronicles of Narnia, and the entire His Dark Materials series, and at the time, noticed nothing of any religious symbolism in either series. Of course, this was before I heard anything of the religious symbolism in the books. When I was told, I saw the books in a new light. What I heard made me form a new opinion of both series, other than the original opinion where I enjoyed both series immensely, and appreicated only the fantastical worlds that both talented writers had created. Despite the contrasting ideas, both stories involve beloved tales of children growing up, and I don’t believe that either series should be so warped and twisted that we only see a religious imposition before we even get the chance to read it. Everyone should be given the opportunity to experience something themselves and form their own opinion of it, without any interference.





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Trinitize said...
Aug. 10, 2011 at 6:04 pm

Great work! It's obvious you put a lot of effort in this.
  Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials caught my attention. There were some facts in here that I myself didn't know.
 Thanks.

  ~Trinitize

 
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