By Fiona Hodder
Philip Pullman, author of His Dark Materials, lived in England, Zimbabwe and Australia before settling in Llanbedr, North Wales for his formative years. To some, he is a controversial figure due to his inflammatory remarks about Christianity. To others, he is a talented author, responsible for creating a deep and engaging narrative that has captured the curiosity of children and adults alike. Love him or hate him, Pullman has certainly been successful, with the trilogy earning him the Carnegie Medal and the Guardian Children’s Book Award amongst other accolades.
To some, he is a controversial figure due to his inflammatory remarks about Christianity. To others, he is a talented author.
The first of the His Dark Materials trilogy: The Northern Lights, is a narrative of witches, armoured polar bears and parallel universes. The protagonist, Lyra Belacqua, is on a mission to rescue her kidnapped friend Roger, and her journey takes her from a college in Oxford to the frozen lands of the north. Lyra’s daemon, Pantalaimon, accompanies her and together they must overcome all the obstacles in their way to find Roger. The novel is aimed towards children and young teens but it has gained the admiration of adults also, proving to be an enjoyable read for any age.
However, The Northern Lights has also attracted a considerable amount of criticism, centring on the controversy of Pullman’s atheist outlook. It is fair to say that Pullman’s disapproval of Christianity seeps into The Northern Lights. His feelings are especially evident in his description of the ‘Magisterium’, an allegory for the Catholic church. Pullman has used his novel as a platform to express his disapproval of Catholicism and to express the importance of overcoming and challenging what he sees as corruption stemming from religion. This sentiment did not sit well with those of a Catholic background, resulting in His Dark Materials trilogy being number 8 on the top 100 banned/challenged books list for 2000-2009.
Pullman’s disapproval of Christianity seeps into The Northern Lights
This isn’t to say that Pullman’s His Dark Materials hasn’t been influential. A film adaptation named The Golden Compass was released in 2007, featuring Nicole Kidman, Daniel Craig, Ian McKellan and Christopher Lee, among others. But despite the impressive cast, the film didn’t do as well as anticipated and the critical response was disappointing, with the review website Rotten Tomatoes giving it a rating of just 42%.
However, there is still hope for a more successful adaptation of the His Dark Materials trilogy. More recently it has been announced that the novel will be adapted into a new BBC series set to be filmed in Cardiff, Wales with Dafne Keen taking on the lead role of Lyra. Returning to where Pullman’s talent for writing began to form, the adaption promises to be a faithful one. A set of novels thoroughly deserving of a loyal portrayal with the BBC at the helm, the future for the series looks bright.
Photograph: Charlie Llewellin via Flickr Creative Commons