Knowlage and Ignorance

29 03 2007

Senior year in High School I wrote my research paper comparing Milton’s Paradise Lost to Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials  trilogy.  Now, you think book banners hate Harry Potter (another series that I love, although less so in the last few books, mostly because I feel like she’s losing the plot.  At first, I thought she had everything planned out, and now I’m not so sure.  We’ll see when the last one comes out this summer I guess!)  they HATE His Dark Materials.  They hate this series so much, they’re pretty sure you shouldn’t even read his other books, because you never know what sort of sneaky, anti-religion message he might have snuck into a fairly innocuous story about Sally Lockhart, a Victorian period girl who goes around solving mysteries*. 

Now, it’s not as if they don’t have reason for it.  See, His Dark Materials  is a deeply humanist retelling of Milton’s Paradise Lost.  The church in all the worlds the story takes the role of a truly evil enemy, kidnapping children and cutting away their souls (roughly speaking, it’s a bit more complicated than that).  The Church is seeking to destroy all that is unique and wonderful about humanity, to destroy the source of human creativity and thought.  That alone would probably be enough for most Christians who ban books to ban him, but he goes even farther. (Spoiler alert:  This gives away an event that happens at the end of the last book, so if you want the end to be a full surprise, don’t read this now.  Go read the books, and then come back and read this.  in fact, if you haven’t read to books, you should, even if you read this first.  They’re wonderful.) Pullman’s characters actually kill “god.”  Yeah, that’s pretty much what gets him banned.  People who don’t even support banning Harry Potter are all over saying the HDM books should be burned. 

It’s interesting, since it never even occur to me that these books might be objectionable from a religious standpoint until I started doing research on them.  See, to me it was quite clear that the world Phillip Pullman was placing these stories in wasn’t anything like the one I lived in (even though it does move into “our world” in the second book.)  He was positing a god who didn’t create the world at all, this god instead happened to be the first sentient being that popped into existence, and decided to take advantage of the fact and tell everyone who came afterwards that he had created them.  He used his power from that deception to control the world, and to trick people into serving him.  In the end, they kill him not through any direct action, but just by removing him from the protective bubble he had been placed in by his servants to keep him alive.  To me, that god is in no way worthy of worship or respect, and (more importantly) in no way like my G-d.  My G-d did actually create the world, and cares deeply about me as an individual, and the world as a whole.  My church isn’t trying to stifle my creativity, or to freeze me as a 10 year old, never to grow up, or to become who I really am.  The world he’s positing, while facinating, and making for a beautiful gripping story full of talking animals and best friends  and witches and love and life and death, is not my world.  What happens to Lyra and Will, the enemies they face, the god they kill, and the angels that try to kill them have no bearing on my faith, because they are not a part of my world anymore than the Dragons of Pern** are. 

Which brings me to my other point.  People interpret HDM as a heretically humanist reworking of Paradise Lost, with the enemy Azriel recast as the heroic Lord Asriel (Am I way off the mark in reading that as derived from לעזר, to help?)  Pullman is very much a humanist, and admits it proudly, so I don’t think it’s at all inaccurate to say HDM is a humanist text.  What I question is saying that he is somehow far off of Milton’s intent.  Milton was a talented poet, and PL is full of grand speeches, and compelling monologues.  The problem is that every one of them is about the importance of free will, and self determination, and every single one of them is given by Azriel, the fallen angel leading the revolt against heaven.  Yes, in the end Milton reads the party line, and Satan falls, and the church is vindicated, but his sympathies certainly seem to lie with the rebel side, the side fighting against the inherent unfairness of a god who created people to be inherently sinful, and also incapable of their own redemption.  Every line, he is arguing against having been created as a pawn in some sort of cosmic power trip.  Sounds an awful lot like what Pullman says, no?    Funny how the ending can have such an effect on people’s perception of a work, since no one would consider burning PL, and yet both works essentially make the same arguement: Knowlage is the most important goal,. Without it, we are not human, and any power that opposes that should be fought against, even if you don’t win.  

This also brings up issues of allowing your faith to be challenged, and also the limits to what I am willing to have faith in, but I think that is for another post, since this one is getting rather long.   

*I would also recommend you stay away from that series, but only because you spend two books waiting for two characters to realize they’re in love, and then they do, and within two pages one of them dies. Not kidding.  It’s just not fair.

 **Another good series, although after the first three books it starts to devolve into soft core porn. Read the first three, which are still fairly adult, but not graphicly so, and then skip everything else but Dolphins of Pern, which is completly appropriate for all ages.

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2 responses

29 03 2007
peter42y

hello. I read your comments in layla Blog. There is no point in arguing with some people. Actually I used to argue with her , untill she acused me of harassing her. I stop posting comments there. Layla does control the comments she does publish. While she does publish all pro pali comments she does censor the pro Israeli Bloggers ( And when it comes to me she acused me of harassement ).
She is not alone. In my blog censored you can read ANOTHER post I did that got censored.

29 03 2007
Emily

Peter- I know she censors her posts, to be honest I’m suprized she let mine through, since she’s blocked them before. And I know there’s not a lot of point in arguing with people about this, but I really do hope that at least some of what I said will get through to someone. You never know, and it’s about all I can do for the situation at this point. Thanks though, and I’ll have to look at your post when I have a bit more time.

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