His Dark Materials attacks Chronicles of Narnia

NarniaPoster.jpgI don’t get this one at all, the author of His Dark Materials: The Golden Compass Philip Pullman, which is the first movie in the Materials trilogy to come to the screen, has openly attacked the movie The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe for being anti-Christian.

Eh? Okay I haven’t read his book but doesn’t he talk of a rise against God and Christianity? Isn’t his the book that’s being radically altered to come to the big screen so as not to offend Christian groups? According to the BBC:

Author Philip Pullman has attacked plans to turn The Chronicles of Narnia into a movie series, calling CS Lewis’ books “racist” and “misogynistic”…said the 1950s stories were “reactionary”…

…Evangelical Christian groups in the US have backed the movie, seeing parallels between CS Lewis’ tales and Bible stories. “We believe that God will speak the gospel of Jesus Christ through this film,” Lon Allison, director of Illinois’ Billy Graham Centre, told the newspaper.

But Pullman said the Narnia books contained “a peevish blend of racist, misogynistic and reactionary prejudice” and “not a trace” of Christian charity. “It’s not the presence of Christian doctrine I object to so much as the absence of Christian virtue,”…”The highest virtue – we have on the authority of the New Testament itself – is love, and yet you find not a trace of that in the books.

Woah! I’d love some people who’ve read the books on both sides to come to this discussion and talk about the sets of books and what they feel is right. Is Pullman showing a case of “pot calling the kettle black”? Is it another case of religion over blowing feelings and misinterpreting art? What are your thoughts on this one?

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29 thoughts on “His Dark Materials attacks Chronicles of Narnia

  1. I don’t have to respect religions or beliefs that lead to hell. I believe in the Bible wholly and when other beleifs contradict it, I don’t have respect for that. That’s not to say I don’t have respect for the people. If I were to go to India, let’s say, and spend 6 months with the Hindus. I would not worship their god, I would not take part in their rituals. But I would not slam them for their beliefs. I would show them the love and kindness of Jesus, while trying to show them the Way. You know what would happen? Many of them would shun my beleifs as i shun theirs. So, what am i supposed to do, accept their beliefs so they will accept mine? How stupid. It’s up to God to use the message i give to bring them to Him. Also, if you don’t see the purpose and Christianity in this book, then you need to look more closely. i don’t follow this book as doctrine, it’s just a really cool book that has a lot of Biblical principals in it.

  2. “openly attacked the movie The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe for being anti-Christian”

    I’m sorry, but this is a pretty gross misrepresentation of Pullman’s words as you yourself have quoted them:

    “It’s not the presence of Christian doctrine I object to so much as the absence of Christian virtue”

    As I understand that statement, the books bother him because they’re not Christian enough (or at least not as Christian as they’re purported to be), not because they’re anti-Christian. I’ve never read the Narnia books so I can’t vouch for the justness of his description of them, but it’s hardly the pot calling the kettle black.

  3. Brian,

    I’m not saying that the Calormen are Arabs or that Lewis is a horrid racist. I just said that you need to examine what you believe and why you believe it instead of blindly letting others lead you around. I myself am a Christian of the Baptist persuasion, but I have examined other possibilites besides my beliefs. I’ve read the works of Nietschze, Freud, Darwin, and Sartre; yet these have made my faith stronger instead of debunking it. If you’re not willing to look at things through another’s view point, what makes you think that they’ll examine yours.

  4. Brian, you have the right to believe how you want and to use your mind to you own expectations…however, you have to also have respect for others beliefs whether they coincide with yours or not. None of these people here are slamming you or I for what we believe…they are simply stating how they believe and percieve. Not having an open mind to others opinions is a sore way to make a point to try to win an argument…all you are doing is proving their point. About the books…whilst I agree with the sublte doctrine that they follow…they are not and were not intended for spiritual santification and to percieve them as such is idiotic. This is not the Bible and the message is not the message of Christ or salvation…to percieve it as such is contradictory to the Christian faith, akin to idolatry if you will because you are subsituting biblical people for fictional characters to appeal to more people. That is not Christianity and not the way it should be portrayed. This should not be used by the church as a tool for saving souls or disputing religion in any fashion. Need another example…look at the movie The Passion of Christ…critically acclaimed and held in very high esteem by the churches…now I do agree that the death of Jesus is very important because through him my soul can be saved and eternal life in heaven guaranteed…but where in the movie what salvation discussed? I would think as a Christian that salvation is more important seeing as that is what God has us here to do…save souls from being damned to hell for eternity. Wow, I kind of went off on a tangent there didnt I?! Sorry, but I was just trying to make a point!!

  5. Dan, Dave, go ahead and be critical. Looking for bad things puts you in a bad mood. If you think their arabs, well woopty-doo for you. I think you are looking too much into it. Call me beligerrent or religiously nuts, but I don’t keep an open mind to what others think if it is contradictory to my beleifs. I’m glad Lewis wrote the way he did. It shows what kind of man he is-a man of faith.

  6. I wholeheartedly agree with your last post. We should critically read books and watch movies instead of blindly accepting what they say as unalterable truth. If someone wanted to make a book that criticizes the Arabian culture and religion, they have every right to do so. I also have the right to not read the book, or if I do, to read it critically while balancing out my worldview by reading books that take an opposite view to the issue. I’m glad to see that we agree. :-)

  7. Dan, Brian, others,

    Look, its _not_ a matter of political correctness for the sake of political correctness. I’m proposing a sensistive and critical analysis of information, in whatever form it takes. Its _not_ a matter of censorship. We live in a society which to some degree permits a great deal of freedom of expression and interchange of ideas. I believe that one of the fundamental responsibilities that we have as a result is to be critical of everything, to ask questions, to argue so that we do not end up making mistakes in how we treat others. A result of the terrible events of recent years there has been an unfortunate backlash in how we treat people of differnt faiths and cultural backgrounds, the overwhelming majority of which do not have anything to do with these events (for example someone was even dumb enough to burn down a hindu temple in response to 9/11). If there is anything questionable, or worthy of analysis in the Chronicals, it _might_ be the portrayal of the Calormen (while they may not appear in TLWW this movie will bring forth a great deal of interest in all of Lewis’ works). Its worthwhile asking whether there are any unfair portrayals in these works that might influence peoples perception of arabs in a time where many of us are already prone to making irrational judgements about them. This does _not_ mean we shouldn’t read Lewis, or shouldn’t see the movies. It means that we should think about some of the characterizations given in the books and ask ourselves whether these are reasonable portrayals rather than just mindlessly absorbing them.

  8. This is rather interesting and one of the most intelligent posts I have seen on this sight…instead of people just spouting off their religous beliefs and why they are right and you are wrong, we have valid, intelligent points being made…now here is mine!!!

    I really don”t see this as that big of an issue other than to get publicity on the part of Pullman. How can you openly dispute Christianity and then then accuse a “Christian based” story of being nonvirtue based??

    The whole point here is that one group feels prejudiced against by another simply because they do not share the same religous beliefs. Religions will never have a common ground upon which they can stand and be equal…it is an age old battle. Lewis was Christian so obviously he is going to see all other religions that do not agree with his as evil and erroneous in their ways. Had he been Muslim or Buddist or a number of any other religions and had attacked Christianity we would be having this same conversation.

    The funny thing is that these books were written in an era when strife between us and the middle east was basically nil…our sights were set elsewhere. So I dont see how this film is politically correct either way. Dan is right…it is this stupid attitude that is ruining movies, music, books, ect… We live in America…freedom of speech and all that…someday some other coutry or religion will do something that takes all our animosity off of the Arabs and direct it somewhere else…then we will be back here fighting the same points with some one else who is mad cause I dont agree with you and you dont agree with me. I happen to be a Christian (Baptist) but it is not my job to force you to believe as I believe, it is simply my job to teach you the truth…and my truth may not necesarily be your truth so here we are again back at the point that started this whole discussion. But anyways…I look forward to more posts with you all. Rare to find someone you can actually carry an intelligent conversation with!!!

  9. I’m glad that “today’s world” is only temporary. The Bible and the Gospel accounts of the life and ministry of Jesus Christ are timeless and unchanging, though transliterated in various ways through time. The Bible teaches, as did Jesus himself, that the Gospel was, is and will continue to be offensive to those who do not believe it–those “of” the world.

    C.S. Lewis is regarding by most Christians as a superb apologist and theologian. Narnia is written from an understanding of the Bible that is conservative, i.e. taken literally and utterly believable.

    No doubt Disney will water down some of the theology of Narnia to make it acceptable to non-Christians, while leaving intact some theology so as not to destroy their built-in fan base: Christians.

    The posts above represent a good and civil debate, better than I have seen on other blogs after Pullman released his comments that are clearly based in ignorance and a complete lack of understanding about the essence of God and the nature of the Bible.

  10. And while we’re at it, why don’t we just spout political correctness jargon all the time so that we don’t offend anybody. If you ever read Farenheir 451, it says that the beginning of censorship is minorities getting offended by what someone says in a book (or movie, music, etc.) After that, the publishers are careful (probably too careful) to print stuff that will offend no one. What you get when you do this is bland, uninteresting ideas and mediocre stories. This continues until people get fed up with reading such crappy stuff and just stop reading altogether. Don’t put reins on someone’s creative liscense just because some people might not like it. (Maybe the reason we have such horrible movies nowadays is the increase in “political correctness.” Would classics like The Godfather {bad portrayal of Italians} or 12 Angry Men {no women character} ever be made in today’s world.)

  11. Brian,

    It is precisely attitudes like the one you just expressed that should make us sensitive about the protrayal of racial groups in literature and film. The last thing we need is to further flame hatred and racial and religous polarization. Its not an issue of banning freedom of expression, but its necessary and very worthwhile to stop and examine these portrayals critically so that any negative elements do not become part of our accepted mentaility.

  12. You know what, these “Calormen” aren’t even in “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe”. By the way, every other way besides Christianity leads to HELL. That’s what true Christians believe, and what Lewis portrayed. He chose arab people to portray, and that may have been a mistake. Realize this, back then, the twin towers still stood. There wasn’t a heightened sense of hatred toward arab people. He portrayed there way of life because it was contradictory to the Bible. He could have chosen Nazis, Indians, even Americans. But he didn’t. He wrote what he wrote, and if you don’t like it, then don’t read it.

  13. I should note that I really enjoyed these books growing up though I haven’t read them for some time. By and large I think they are wonderful. All this discussion is an attempt to make sense of the claims of the author of the article and if one were to do so then I think one of the only cases one might have is the portrayal of the Calormen.

    Dave J

  14. Brian,

    There is a big difference between being distinctivly Nazi and being Arab (and even being Muslim). Being Nazi carries with it a host of objectionable moral practices and so we don’t mind when they are portaryed as bad. Being dark skinned doesn’t necssarily bring with it any more objectionable moral pactices (or at least no more than the history of white moral practices)and the very problem is associating the bad people with dark skinned arab type people when that is not in fact justifiable. If Lewis were to specify the group more precisely than by the fact that they happen to worship another God and be arab like (maybe pick a particular subset of the population which seems to have objectionable practices) then it would be more like the Nazi case, but Lewis seems to paint in very broad strokes instead. Not all arab customs are evil, some might be, not all christian customs are evil, some might be. I’m not merely writing that not all arabs are muslim, which is relevent, but that NOT ALL MUSLIMS ARE BAD. Despite the redemption of _one_ Calormen, the rest of the group is portrayed is basically irredeemable and lost. In the end it might be a religous question. But the problem is the type casting of the ‘others’ as evil which is a symptom of conservative religous belief.

  15. *Slight book spoiler for The Last Battle*

    In the last book of the Narnian series (The Last Battle), one of the “evil” Calormen is able to come into paradise when the Narnian world is destroyed. I forget what the entire context and conversation that went on, but if Lewis was rasist, he certainly wouldn’t have one of those bad dark-skinned individuals in his white heaven. Also, throughout the books, many Westerners are portrayed badly (particurally the bad guys in Prince Caspian {forget their names right now}).

  16. This is ridiculous. absolutely atrocious. i can’t believe what some of you saying. Arminius, you have got it right no matter what anyone says. The dark skinned people are bad, Oh please. Would you have made a fuss if the bad guys where distinctively nazi? Nope. There are certainly things that Christians find objectionable and even evil about arab customs. Lewis picked them as bad guys for a reason. Tht’s not to say that the arab PEOPLE are evil, it’s their customs. It all boils down to religion. Us Christians beleive that Jesus died for us and is the only way to heaven. Arabs don’t. Now you’re gonna write in saying “not all arabs are muslims”. THEN WHY ARE YOU GETTING ALL UPSET ABOUT IT!!!!!

  17. Sorry to have taken the thread off topic. Dave, I wasn’t speaking to your point exclusively but to a line of argument that often arises on this subject, as when some evangelical implies that non-Christians won’t go to heaven or that the Pope somehow thinks Roman Catholic beliefs are superior. There is lots of tsk-tsking in the media and everyone marvels at the “intolerance” and “racism.”

    One would expect the advocate of something, whether Christianity or the Washington Redskins or whatever to, you know, advocate it. And while advocating the Redskins doesn’t preclude you from liking the Cowboys (well, ok, it does preclude that, let’s say the Bears instead), Christianity represents an exclusive claim to truth that does preclude other claims, which is why people throughout history have gotten hung up on scientific claims to truth like evolution or pseudo-scientific ones like freudianism. But other religions, especially ones with claims that completely contradict Chrisianity, definitely fall outside the realm of ideas that one can endorse wholeheartedly, and may even actually oppose. It just isn’t surprising that one might do so.

    Being critical of a different belief system is a completely separate concept from tolerance vs. intolerance. I haven’t seen any indication that Lewis wants to ban Muslims (intolerance), he is just saying that he believes that they are in error. This is simply criticism, which is what one does with beliefs one opposes. One can tolerate people one believes to be wrong all day long, but that doesn’t stop one from being able to say they are wrong.

    I think Tolkien’s Orcs do not have free will and are unredeemable, but the Southrons and Easterlings and other human races could choose to be good, but chose to follow Sauron instead. If the bad guys in Narnia are more like Orcs than humans, AND they are supposed to be Muslims, then you have a point. I hadn’t thought they were, but I haven’t read the whole series. I can’t imagine a Christian allegory where the bad guys (or the good guys) don’t have free will, tho, and if they have free will, then their bad-guy-ness is not tied to their dark skin but to their free choice of the false path.

    If I remember correctly, doesn’t one of the (white) children end up working for the bad side? That sounds like free will to me…

  18. Arminius, I’ll grant that I didn’t express myself as clearly as possible, but please please keep your prejudices about what I, at least, “can’t get” from impressions you’ve been given by others with whom you’ve interacted. The closest I’ve come to getting into any real critique on Christianity was waaaaaaaay back when John posted something about Catholics. So unless you’re a mind reader you’ve gone completely off course in order to air your own grievances that have little to do with the post, the Narnia books and my comments.

    The depiction of the Calormen, both racially (in Lewis’ critique of their culture) and religiously (most obvious in his odious depiction of their deity) was wholly negative. In any case that’s simply the one that readily comes to mind. Lewis is as generous in heavy-handed black-marking of anyone who doesn’t follow what he considers to be the right kind of lifestyle, hence the caricature-like depiction of Edmund’s parents. You’re making this out to be some kind of Islam vs Christianity thing (God help us) but anyone who has read the books should be able to see that, from Lewis world view, it’s a bit more than that. (They may not agree with my interpretation, mind you, but it’s not only the Calormen who get this treatment.)

    In any case I completely disagree with the idea that religious belief can’t have any meaning unless one believes the path they follow is the only true blue and everyone else is wrong. Neither do I believe that if one feels that you’re espousing about the true blue way, that one’s depiction of the “non-believers” has to be grossly negative in order to make them out to be nothing but devils.

    However it is also understood, and I believe I mentioned this before, that this is part and parcel of the kind of Christianity–and let me emphasize that this is what is being discussed here, Christianity having many faces and interpretations–Lewis adhered to; that I judged the book on such terms; and within the context of not only that, but the society and time period within which Lewis was raised. This does not mean that I should have to agree with it, or make some kind of exception.

  19. Woah,

    I never said Islam. I said that the people who are bad and worship the false god are distinctly arab and the good people who worship the true God are western. No doubt lewis thinks Christianity is right, but the problem is equating the dark skinned people with all that is evil in the world of Narnia. As an aside, you are negatively characterizing only a part of the Islamic tradition. One could paint an equally bleak picture of segments of christianity.

    Also, I would appreciate in future posts if you held off on the patronizing lecture on the the law of non-contradiction. I realize that in most cases A and ~A cannot hold simultaneously. I say ‘most’ since there are formal logics of contradiction which characterize circumstances that can occur where you have contradicting laws in place. I don’t think they are relevent for the religous case, but the notion of liberalism and tolerance is not to say “you must think everything is right”, but that “you should be open to tolerating difference”. This is especially important in the case of religion since there is little hope of justification of one tradition over another.

  20. Since when is opposition to Islam racist? Is religion race?

    Wouldn’t one expect that the advocate of Religion X as the one true path to enlightenment/nirvana/heaven/salvation/whatever would be opposed to Religion Y which stands for an opposing path? X and Not-X can’t both be true, no matter how much Foucault one reads. If religious belief has any meaning at all, the negation of that belief has meaning too.

    If C.S. Lewis was critical of Muslims, why in the heck is this surprising or remarkable in any way? He’s a Christian who, by definition, believes that Christianity is the true path. A bunch of other people are going down a different path. He says, “Dudes, you’re on the wrong path! Let me tell you about the right one.” This is racism??!

    I am perpetually baffled that people can’t get this simple, simple concept. Of course, they only “can’t get” the opposition in one direction only. Christians or Jews who oppose Islam are racist imperialist oppressors, but Islamists who gleefully murder Jews and Christians and Hindus and Buddhists and atheists and many, many other Muslims because they believe that God is the Universe’s Pimp who will reward them with 72 virgins in paradise are just keepin’ it real, man–and any criticism of such perversion is somehow out of bounds.

  21. If there is anything to this complaint it might be found in Lewis’ portrayal of the Calormen(spelling?). The bad guys are distinctly arabic and they worship a false god as opposed to the true god. Given heightened sensitivity to race issues many people might now look at this with a little more scrutiny. But this, for better or worse (worse in my opinion) is distincitly christian (in the evangelical sense perhaps). If this is the case then The remarks are really directed towards the kind of christianity portrayed by Lewis.

  22. I don’t know guys. First I’ll support Spoiled Eris’ point that Pullman’s book were against ORGANIZED religion specifically, so it’s not logical to link this statement with his novels. Here he is saying Narnia does not espouse Christian ideals.

    But it’s funny reading all of these assurances that there’s no racism in the books whatsoever. Maybe it’s because I read most of the books recently and for the first time but ahh, no one squirmed a bit uncomfortably at the depiction of the Calormen (so obviously Muslim that he might as well have not bothered trying to be all “suppositional”)? And the depiction of their deity? Or, practically, anyone who didn’t love Jesus (Aslan)? You know that horrible, horribable school that didn’t teach about Adam and Eve and so the children (except Edmund and his female pal (forgot her name)) were evil bullies?

    I can’t say that I picked up on anything misogynstic, but I did think poor Susan got a raw deal at the end. :P I could point out a few more things.

    And Lewis did not intentionally write it as an allegory, although we are all free to interpret it as such. He, like Tolkien, refuted that label for his story.

    Naturally, considering the period when Lewis wrote the book and the fact that it’s based so much on Christianity (if we’re gonna get all Biblical) it was inevitable for such elements to be arguably evident in the book. (This is not to say that Christianity or the Bible is perfectly horrible: that would be nonsense.)

    Buuuuut I also think our Pullman is exaggerating quite a bit. There’s lots of Christian charity and redemption in the books as well. Also I am damn curious what would press him to make such a public statement besides looking for free publicity.

  23. To the extent that “The Chronicles of Narnia” depict traditional Christianity, they would be offensive to Pullman. He is anti- organized religion and loathes anything that encourages people to invest their hopes in an afterlife rather than in the here-and-now. Pullman’s trilogy (great first book, good second book, intriguing/disappointing mess of a third book) is either “Paradise Lost” from the viewpoint of the rebel angels or John Lennon’s “Imagine” spun out to several hundred pages, depending on how sophisticated you find Pullman’s viewpoint.

    If you haven’t read “His Dark Materials,” what I am about to write is a BIG spoiler.

    In Pullman’s trilogy, “God” is a senile angel who is manipulated by his chief lieutenant, the afterlife is a bleak holding pen, and the universe is saved when two young teenagers re-enact the fall of man. In short, Pullman ain’t a big fan of some basic tenets of traditional Christianity. In contrast, Lewis was a Christian apologist who set out to write a fairly explicit allegory of the Gospels and New Testament. I suspect that Pullman is attacking the film and Lewis’s books not for being “anti-Christian” but for being TOO Christian. Perhaps Pullman was just being savvy, realizing that he would get more press for saying Lewis’s works show insufficient Christian love than for saying that he thinks the whole thing is a crock.

  24. Pullman is an idiot. When you look for bad things on purpose, then guess what, you’ll probably find some! who in their right mind looks for the bad in things. Also, there is the most amazing amount of love in this book. “Greater love hath no man then this: to lay his life down for his friends”-John 15:13.

  25. Pullman is totally off his rocker. Lewis purposefully wrote the books as an allegory to the Gospel, and I could easily see the parallels myself when I read these books as a kid. It wasn’t until years later that I knew Lewis was a Christian and did this all on purpose, so it’s not like I was looking for the parallels to begin with. They’re just there, plain as day.

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