One Last Pullman Post

In the comments to the previous post, there have been many fierce arguments about Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials.

It’s great to see you all debating this so seriously. And despite the fact that some of you are getting angry and making more typos than usual, you’re actually much more respectful to each other than most adults. (If you ever glance at political sites, you’ll read far ruder things than appear here.) I’m happy to see that. I like you guys a lot, and the community we’ve created here together is important to me. Keep being nice to each other!

But keep arguing too. Debating is an important thing to learn to do, even when it’s crazy-making.

However, I want to point out one thing that keeps going missing in the debate about Pullman: At no point in His Dark Materials do the characters kill god. This rumor isn’t a “controversial” aspect of the trilogy, it’s a lie about the trilogy. And like so many lies these days, this one is spread by people forwarding emails to each other. You probably have seen this sort of thing happen with rumors in school; after all, it’s more fun to spread a nasty rumor than it is figure out the truth behind it.

But how do I know this rumor isn’t true? Well, unlike rumors about what happened at someone’s party or who kissed whom, everything in His Dark Material is written down, and you can read it to find out exactly what happens. So if you go to page 188 of the US mass market paperback of Amber Spyglass, you’ll discover that Pullman’s Authority is not the creator. He’s not god. Ogunwe says so in the following words, “It shocked some of us, too, to learn that the Authority was not the creator.”

Case closed. The Authority is a fraud. He’s a liar, just like the people who started the rumor that in His Dark Materials the characters “kill god.” In a funny way, those people are trying to pull off the same kind of trick as the Authority. Okay, they’re not exactly playing god, but they are lying to control what you read, which affects what you think, and what you believe. They are frauds. (Or VERY sloppy readers.)

Of course, as with most rumors, the vast majority of the people saying these things aren’t lying. They’re just passing the rumor on without knowing if it’s true or not. That’s not as bad, but it’s also not something you get a medal for.

By the way, there’s another place where you can see that no one “kills god” in HDM. That’s the scene where he dies. Lyra and Will find him and free him from the place the bad guys have been keeping him and using him as a symbol to help them control everyone. It turns out he’s really old. Here’s how it happens in the book:

Between them they helped the ancient of days out of his crystal cell; it wasn’t hard, for he was as light as paper, and he would have followed them everywhere, having no will of his own, and responding to simple kindness like a flower to the sun. But in the open air there was nothing to stop the wind from damaging him, and to their dismay his form began to loosen and dissolve. Only a few moments later he had vanished completely, and their last impression was of those eyes, blinking in wonder, and a sigh of the most profound and exhausted relief.

Now, come on. Does that sound like Lyra and Will are “killing” him? Could anyone actually misread that as a murder? They’re “dismayed” when he dies. It’s a sad and touching scene, not a victory lap.

So he’s not god, and Lyra and Will don’t kill him. Anyone who says otherwise a) hasn’t read it, b) can’t read, c) is lying.

Sorry to keep pointing this out, but false rumors really annoy me. Especially when they’re used to keep books out of people’s hands.

I’m not saying you all have to go read Pullman right now. Maybe you just don’t like armoured bears. But there’s one thing you really should remember: People who tell you juicy rumors, on the internet or in real life, usually aren’t trying to help you by giving you secret, important info. Very often, they’re trying to make themselves feel important, or hurt someone else, or control you in some way.

Don’t assume rumors are true, no matter how often you hear them.

193 thoughts on “One Last Pullman Post

  1. When The Amber Spyglass was first published, my younger brother and I got into a fistfight over who would get to read it first.

    Just thought I’d share that.

  2. oh my, there are a LOT of comments here. I got to comment 62, then my eye balls fell out. (made my keyboard all gross!)
    i just wanted to point out a few things,
    Savvy-la loves David:
    I too am writing a research paper on censorship of books for one of my college classes. I just wanted to point out that there’s a difference between censorship of YA books and adult books. Meaning, that books banned for adults and books banned for minors. As a minor, rights like freedom of speech are different (in my understanding of the law) because minors are under their parents rules. i.e. a minor does not have the right to everything if their parents don’t allow it. And the reason I think that it’s important to differentiate these ideas, is that banning a book for everyone in a city, state, or country is one thing ( a bad thing, I should think) but banning in a high school is another, because it can interefere in a parents right to monitor what their children read (not that i think minors should be denied these books, so don’t flame me!).
    So my point, when discussing banning or censoring, it’s important to distinguish in where these books are being banned or censored.

    btw… i like HDM, but the movie… eh… it just felt like one long introduction for me…

  3. 1. love love love HDM.
    2. love love love this post
    3. I am so happy that you pointed out that the Authority is NOT GOD. See this teenage angst? This isn’t the product of livejournal or rap music(mostly because anyone who listens to rap deserves the angst). This angst is because people evidentally do not read.

    Also, you may not say it, but I will. YOU MUST ALL GO READ PULLMAN NOW.


  4. I just wanted to say that my whole theme for my english class this year is challenging the sysytem and both HDM and Uglies have come up a lot. In class we noticed that often people focus so much on parts of the book and other things get completely ignored. In HDM the only reason that religion is so heavily discussed is because it is so controversial. The banning of books was also discussed in my class and I feel that banning a book is like banning ideas. I think that everyone should be intitled to their ideas.
    Any way i’ll say it to GREAT POST SCOTT

  5. This is why i gave up wanting to be a judge, so. many. thoughts. my brain is trying to figure out all the points of view and ts hard to tell who’s on what side since most seem to go back and forth.

  6. Serafina Zane, When I said the people take less offense in things being for one thing than against another is this;
    Some people are offended my HDM books because they think Pullman’s undermining christianty or in some other way insulting it, right? My point isn’t that people would be less insulted if he were for christiantity instead of against it, my point is that less people would be insulted if he were for atheism instead of against christianty.
    And Bran-la, I see what you mean; the back and forth thing. I feel like maybe I’m one of the people whose been seeming to go back and forth, so let me clear it up…
    I try to be as objective as I possibly can(which might seem back-and-forthy). I love the books, and don’t see anything wrong with them at all; I don’t think anyone at all should be kept from reading them. But I do not like Pullman as a person. It’s not that I don’t like what he belives – or rather, what he doesn’t – it’s that he out right critisizes christianty. I understand that the internet can’t be trusted for the most part, and that almost every aricle I read is going to be biased and portray him in a way that he didn’t mean to be portrayed, but I’ve never met the man and I don’t think I ever will, so for now the internet is all I can really use unless someone has a better way for me to get more accurate information.
    But, even while I do try and stay objective, when I’m talking about the books – not the author – I tend to get defensive since I love them so much.

  7. Omg, i loved this series, The Golden Compass!! it was awsome!!!!!!!!!! the movie was ‘bleh’. but the books = amazinnggg

  8. On a related Pullman/HDM note:
    So my grandmother had gotten one of those emails warning people about the books and movie and she sent it to my dad and he freaked out and was all, “You can not see this movie!”
    Oh, I was not going to stand for that. So I convinced my dad to let me see it (which I have yet to actually do, but I really want to see it), but I decided that my grandmother needed to be informed that god isn’t “killed” in the books. So I wrote her this huge email and linked to this post (thank you, Scott!) and sent it to her.
    Today I got her reply and she thanked me for explaining and she sent it to her pastor!
    Not to offend anyone against the books, but: SUCCESS!

  9. really? wow that’s very interesting…you could have started a new chain email!! Not that starting chain emails is always good but if they are enlightening they are.

    I, for one, hate chain emails. I ALWAYS NO MATTER WHAT delete them.

  10. Serafina Zane- thanks ur name is awsome 2.

    I finised GC and saw the movie in the same day.I love them both! I totally agree with everyone who says that people should be able to read and see whateva they want. My parents are pretty good about it but I have friends who’s parents freak. Again I just think that they are ideas and that they are important to life and should not be stoped because people get offended.

  11. I would freak out if I met someone with the name of one of my characters. >.>
    Like there is this cafe downtown where I live and it has the name of one of my characters. It’s really strange…

  12. I’ve met people with names the same as characters I create. I’ve also met a Zane, Cal, Lace, Pearl, Minerva, Shay, Hunter(but there are lots of Hunters), and a Laurent, like from The Risen Empire. They all make me happy :]

  13. If I met someone named Corbin I would begin to ask them silly questions that only pertain to my character. Then I’d have to hope I never run into them again…
    Uh… yeah. >.>

  14. I don’t claim to support book banning. I don’t.

    That said, even if the person they (accidentally) killed wasn’t the Creator, he was still, in that very excerpt, referred to as “the ancient of days.” That is a biblical name for the Christian God. I believe that even good religion can go bad (the Inquisition, the Crusades, etc.), and that is one point that Pullman seems to be trying to get across. Using references like “the ancient of days,” however, makes his, “let’s be cautious about religion,” message into a bit of an attack on a particular belief system. I can’t condone that.

    I’ll read what I like, with little regard to what the AFA says, but I find this particular bit of literature personally insulting. Feel free to disagree. If I don’t allow you to disagree, then I am no better than those who participated in the Inquisition.

  15. I don’t really have much to add here, except to say that I’m a member of a Philip Pullman/HDM forum filled with fans as obsessive of his books as you all are of Scott’s books. I wanted to say a couple of things.

    First, it is absolutely heart warming to see another author come out and defend Pullman clearly and in public. A lot of the attacks against Pullman seem to be from people who have not read the books, and instead have read a chain email, usually with the line about ‘killing God.’

    It’s also fantastic to see everyone debating the issue with respect for each others’ opinions and ideas – probably no-one will end up changing each others’ mind, but at least it exposes everyone to lots of different ideas and beliefs.

    I just thought I should clarify a few things. Firstly, a couple of people have the idea that the books are marketed at a 7-12 year old audience. This is not correct (at least not in Australia, where I am from). They are generally shelved in the ‘young-adult’ section of bookshops. I read the first one when I was 12, and I think that’s about the youngest you should read them. Not because of their ideas, specifically, but because of the writing, which, while not difficult to understand, does use big words and requires a good vocabulary to understand.

    The next point I’d make is that children, generally, only read things that interest them. And if they don’t understand something, they often give up on it or it just goes over their heads. When I was a child, I had no idea that the Narnia books were Christian allegories. I just thought ‘oh, they killed the lion, that’s bad, hang on, he’s alive again, cool.’ It was only when I was much older that I understood the symbolism, and I suspect it will be the same with HDM. When children are old enough to understand Pullman’s message, they’re also old enough to decide whether to accept or reject it.

    The final thing I’d like to say (and I say it with great respect) is that book burning and censorship is never the answer. If you want to avoid a particular book or movie, that’s fine, but I don’t believe anyone has the right to deprive other people from reading or watching stuff. If you feel your faith will be destroyed by reading something that opposes it, your faith can’t really be that strong, can it? Faith and religion shouldn’t be easy, they should be difficult, they should be something that is thought about, struggled with and firmly believed in.

    Thanks for putting up with my long post, and I think it’s important that you debate these ideas, because it exposes everyone to different opinions, which can only be a good thing, right?

  16. I know but… its wrong to kill god but the books are wondertfull so i just go with the freakin books so… and i only put up with the first 3 paragraphs

  17. Hey Scott, Of course I agree with you that Pullman does not “kill God” — because the figure the Authority puts up as God is only an old man. But Pullman himself in a 2003 interview made the line famous: “My books are about killing God.” He’s only recently toned down this rhetoric — so it’s easy to see the confusion. In Pullman’s world God is an artificial construct — a thing used to maintain power and authority. Pullman does not believe in God so he sees institutions such as the Magisterium as promulgating a lie for the purpose of maintaining power. Killing God for Pullman is more about killing a repressive idea rather than a Creator.

    I am a Catholic and will say that I wince at Pullman’s misuse of the Magisterium and in general his didactic tone (especially in the last book.) But I am also fascinated by Pullman’s elaborate efforts to deny religious faith — it’s like watching a man wrestle with angels.

  18. Something I’d like to add, and I don’t mean to offend anyone by it if I accidentally do somehow…
    But even if it wasn’t a lie, and he did kill god in his books, JUST READ THE BOOKS AND ENJOY IT, PEOPLE! I mean, you don’t have to over analyze things at all, and if your old enough to understand that book at all then your old enough not to get influenced that much by it! I mean, sure I’d find it a bad sentiment, but it’s not like a bunch of people are going to read the books and then decide to change all of their beleifs because a man they probably haven’t actually met has decided to kill god in his fictional books! Just read the amazing books and enjoy them like your suppose to! The books take you into this amazing and wonderful new world, and if you over analyze everything then your not only going to ruin the experience of the amazing world he’s created, your also not getting what you could from the whole story! And, if you start broadcasting it everywhere then your likely to ruin other peoples chances to enjoy the books also!
    So can’t we just enjoy great literature?!

  19. Something to add to that;
    Some people are saying, maybe it doesn’t SEEM like he’s being anti-religious, but that’s what he meant by it! He meant to undermine religion, he ment to kill god, blah,blah,blah.
    Who cares what he meant?! And, would you know that’s what he meant by it if it weren’t for this rediculous contraversy and all those e-mails?! No, I don’t think you would. If this so-called-problem hadn’t been broadcasted into most everyone’s e-mail, then half the people who strongly dislike the series now could very possibly love them! It doesn’t matter what he meant by it, it matters what you got from it! So if it really boters you what he meant by it, then here’s an idea; STOP LOOKING IT UP! Google is great and all, but if you’re going to use it to worsen your opinions on amazing books, then break the google addiction and go get a mind of your own! Just because Pullman gets something out of his books doesn’t mean you have to get the same thing!!

  20. A charcter in one of my books was named Shan. Not shaun. Shan. And Lea (Lee – UH, thank you very much.). And now it turns out boths names are real.

    Yeah I don’t think the HDM books are marketed to children…I tried to read
    lord of the rings when i was 10 and well i finished them but i didn’t understand them at all. at some parts i would read the words but be thinking about something ttly different. this was for like whole chapters at a time. I still don’t know what they are about…there are huge gaps where I zoned out.

    And even reading A Christmas Carol this year was incredibly boring. So, yeah, kids will read what interests them. And give up on anything they aren’t interested in.

  21. omg Savvy-la loves David that is EXACTLY what I think! I totally agree w/ you when you say “…would you know that’s what he meant by it if it weren’t for this rediculous contraversy and all those e-mails?! No, I don’t think you would.”

    I mean, I agree w/ that 100%.

  22. Yay, I’m glad you agree. I’m also glad my stupid comments returned from whatever purgatory they had been sent to. They disappeared for like 5 hours, and now they have returned :]
    But yeah, the fact that people are broadcasting this stuff is just ruining the books for people who would otherwise love them.

  23. Serifina Zane- HA that is so cool!

    I totally agree that those posts r ruining the books for people. People should get to make their own decision

  24. But not only are some people not aloud to make their own decision because of those e-mails, but some people are subcontiously choosing not to! They woon’t quit look up Pullman quotes that just mess up everyone’s take an great books!
    Oh, how frustrating.

  25. What did the comments do to be sent to such a terrible fate?!?! I hope Lucifer was nice to them. THEY WERE SO YOUNG! Poor little blurbs of text T_T

  26. Yeah… Like when people try to ban books without reading them!! *cough-HISDARKAMATERIALS-cough*

    Those books should not be banned, because they ARE NOT about killing god. They’re not about god, and they’re not about killing! Ha! So There! If there not about either of those things, then they certainly can’t be about both put together!! :[

  27. does pullman actually say the magisterium is a christian organization? i haven’t read the books in a while (i just started rereading the golden compass so i could see the movie, but i’m thinking i won’t see the movie because it looks bad) and i am entirely insensitive to people speaking bad about the church (i am wary of speaking ill of people for their faith, but i have no problem with people speaking out against power. i’m an anarchist too!). but while i certainly thought of the church powers in the books as christian, i can’t remember if they actually were. by that i mean, if you didn’t know that christianity was so prevalent in england, could it be read as any group gaining too much power?

  28. I think that people just kind of decided that it was christianty because of their beliefs and because of Pullman and the stuff he says about it

  29. Umm…I’m not even gonna start saying how much I hate politics.

    And how…silly…anarchists are.

    Sorry, I’ve just had bad experiences with anarchists in the past.

  30. hhmmm… Kinky Freedman was kind of an anarchist!
    For those who don’t know, Kinky was a dude running for Texas Governor.
    He was amazing! And very pink.

  31. thank yOu scOtt!!! people have been driving me crazy trying to tell me that they “kill God” in the books. i’ve actually read all 3 of the HDM books, and they’re fawesome!!! totally reccomend them to everyone!!!

  32. well i agree, i have read the 1st two books and i was happy when i read that the movie was coming out and now theres all this crap in the papers telling you not to see it ( i live in a small town and everyone celebrates christianty(including me)) but i think that its just another book! people should just give it a rest! see the movie if you want or dont see the movie if you want! just because im going to see the movie and i have read the books dose not mean i agree with the pullman. but his books rock my sox!

  33. al: Pullman’s specific use of the word Magisterium is revealing as it is not a neutral word at all– nor invented. It comes with its own history, refering to the 2,000 year old tradition of the Catholic teaching authority. No other religion has such a term, nor is used in secular contexts. So while Pullman creates another type of authority altogether in the novel under the title of the “Magisterium” — given his stated agenda with the novels, it’s hard not to imagine that as an author, he used that word to carry a certain ironic weight.

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