Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

Confounding Compasses And Malignant Myths

By JEF MURRAY, Commentary | Published November 29, 2007

Published: November 29, 2007

I was in second grade when I first explored the marvelous world of Narnia. And, partly as a result of C. S. Lewis’ “Chronicles of Narnia” I came to love the fictional tales that we now call fantasy, but which Lewis and

J. R. R. Tolkien referred to as mythopoeic. Mythopoeic stories seek to create new mythologies that allow us to see our own world with fresh eyes. Thus, Christ becomes a lion in a land of talking animals, and an angel becomes a noble wizard who fights Balrogs deep underground. Myths are powerful, and with them, one can teach truth, goodness and beauty.

Or one can teach their opposites.

Several years ago, a non-Christian friend, knowing my love of myths and fantasy, suggested that I might enjoy reading “His Dark Materials,” a trilogy by Philip Pullman. I knew nothing of Pullman, but knowing my friend’s usually excellent taste in fiction, I delved into the first book in the series, “The Golden Compass.”

The story was well written, but I quickly noticed that I became more and more uneasy as I read. Despite its clever plot and interesting characters, there was something not-quite-right about it. Yet, I continued until the end, only then reflecting on how many anti-Catholic messages were taught by this tale.

I wasn’t willing to pass judgment without knowing the conclusion of the entire trilogy, so I proceeded to read “The Subtle Knife,” then “The Amber Spyglass.” Only after these did I realize what Pullman had done. Just as Tolkien had used hobbits and wizards and elves to help me see the workings of God more clearly, Pullman had used armored bears and a magic compass to lure me down a gentle and appealing slope of moral ambiguity and despair.

I began to question the motives of the author. What I’d experienced was the deep power of myth to promote, through likable characters, a view of life that was deeply and abidingly evil, and I wanted to know why this had happened.

I didn’t have to look very far.

Pullman is an avowed agnostic who is, according to some, too intelligent to be an atheist. He also has been described as an “anti-Inkling,” a reference to the Christian literary group to which Lewis and Tolkien belonged, which was known as the Inklings. Pullman is known to detest the Narnia books, specifically because of their Christian content.

In his own tales, he turns religion on its head, presenting the Catholic Church as diabolical and God as a demented autocrat.

In Pullman’s mythology, New Age themes abound. Witches and homosexual angels are among the “good guys,” and death is presented as a dissolving-into-nothingness. There is no place for repentance, Christ’s redemption or heaven. Worse yet, it seems that the only way to explain the final climax of the trilogy is that all of creation apparently can only be saved if the two young protagonists engage in premarital sex.

Oh, and by the way, did I mention that this trilogy was supposedly written for children? And that it has won awards in the children’s literature genre?

“The Golden Compass” debuts in theaters on Dec. 7. However, if you expect many anti-Christian themes to be present in the theatrical release, you’ll be very much mistaken. New Line Cinema apparently has toned down many of the most egregious anti-Christian aspects of Pullman’s book. But rather than being a cause for celebration, this move could be viewed in a far more diabolical light.

The problem is that many parents will take their children to see “The Golden Compass.” And they may not detect any harmful influences in the movie. But my great fear is that these same parents will then purchase the book, or even the entire trilogy, for their children, never suspecting the horrors they will be subjecting them to.

In “The Lord of the Rings,” we are told that even Sauron, the Dark Lord, was not evil in the beginning. Instead, he slowly turned from the Light, eventually threatening all of Middle-earth. This gentle turning toward evil is a danger for all of us. And I cannot help but wonder what started a talented writer such as Pullman down the path that resulted in his writing “His Dark Materials” for children.

We may never know the answer. But there’s one thing we can be sure of: We need not travel down that path with Pullman, nor encourage others to do so.

In Matthew 18:6, Jesus tells us that “whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.”

As we approach the season of Advent, I pray that God will inspire each of us to consider the little ones. Let us remember to protect those among us who are least able to detect the subtleties of evil. Particularly when it is so prettily and appealingly packaged into a children’s movie like “The Golden Compass.”


Jef Murray is a Catholic artist and illustrator and the husband of author Lorraine Murray. He is artist-in-residence for the St. Austin Review and a regular contributor to The Georgia Bulletin. His Web site is