YA Experts Address Golden Compass Question

In a brief piece in last Sunday's Lexington (Kentucky) Herald-Leader, journalist Cheryl Truman interviewed Anita Silvey, author of 500 Great Books for Teens, and university professor Mary Landrum about the Golden Compass brouhaha:

[Silvey] views the fracas over The Golden Compass as a cautionary tale about why writers in the children's and young adult book industry shy away from references to religion and spirituality: Individual perceptions of what it's appropriate to write about religion vary as widely as readers' perceptions of what God is.

"If a person's vision of God isn't your version of God, it begins to get books pulled from libraries," Silvey says.


From the article: "She also notes that Pullman's complaints about organized religion might not even be evident to many readers until the third and final book of the series, The Amber Spyglass."

Belief statements of various kinds up front: 1) I'm a mother and a practicing Lutheran whose mother and grandparents (mixed Jewish-Catholic marriage) were refugees from Hitler in the late 1930s. I grew up Episcopalian and have been a Catholic in my adult life, and I have siblings whom I love who are UCC and pagan. And I'm faculty in a library school, so for all these reasons personal and professional, I do pay attention to the presentation of religion in literature.

2) I do not believe Pullman's work should be pulled from shelves, because the day we cannot talk about religion in libraries is the day we should close up shop and just go home. And Pullman's fantasies are asking us to talk about religion.

That said: It has been bothering me a bit that many people in the library profession are reacting to the Pullman controversy as if it were the JK Rowling controversy. In fact they are only superficially similar.

JK Rowling did not present satanic magic as an attractive choice; she presented magic as an attractive choice, and the problem for Christian fundamentalists has been that in some belief systems, there *is* no difference between Satanism and magic.

Pullman, on the other hand, quite explicitly takes on *organized* religion in these books. The Evil Empire in these books is called "The Church" and "The Magisterium."

This is as if JK Rowling wrote about Harry Potter using Floo Powder to pay a visit to Lucifer. No inference is required.

I do not believe that Pullman is anti-Christian, but I believe and agree with the journalist that he is anti-organized religion. What he's opposed to is the kind of hypocrisy, and control-for-the-sake-of-control, that *can* corrupt organized religions. But this does make it a difficult read if you are a member of an organized religion who is also opposed to hypocrisy and control. I'd like to see a bit more recognition of this.

Readers of LISNews might find the following interview from the London *Daily Telegraph* interesting. It's a dialogue that occurred in 2004 between Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and Phillip Pullman, which occurred at the time that the play "His Dark Materials" was opening (and attracting similar controversy to the movie) in London. I happened to be in London at that time and read it in dead-tree format. But here it is online:


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