David Couchman
David Couchman is the Director of Focus and the producer of the 'God: new evidence,' 'God and the Big Bang,' 'After Life?' and 'Jesus Myths' video series. More...

Digital Evangelism blog

The Golden Compass movie poster

The Golden Compass

The first part of Philip Pullman's 'His Dark Materials' trilogy is now a major film from New Line Cinema starring Dakota Blue Richards as Lyra, Nicole Kidman as Marissa Coulter, Daniel Craig as Lord Asriel, and Eva Green as Serafina Pekkala.

Philip Pullman's 'His Dark Materials' trilogy - 'The Golden Compass' (called 'Northern Lights' in the UK), 'The Subtle Knife' and 'The Amber Spyglass' launch a rather direct attack the Church and the Bible's picture of God. (This attack is more explicit in the books. It has been somewhat watered down in the film of 'The Golden Compass,' but we're told that the second and third parts of the trilogy will make it more explicit.)

These pages try to respond from the point of view of a follower of Christ, not just being negative for the sake of it, but taking Pullman's criticisms seriously.

Philip Pullman's 'His Dark Materials' trilogy ('The Golden Compass' / Northern Lights', 'The Subtle Knife' and 'The Amber Spyglass') is a series of best-selling stories for teenagers / young adults. In 2001, 'The Amber Spyglass' - the last book in the series, was the first-ever children's book to win the Whitbread Prize. By mid-2002, more than a million copies had been sold in the UK alone.

These stories are well-crafted, and keep you turning the pages to find out what happens. They have an epic sweep that inevitably brings 'Lord of the Rings' to mind, and indeed the series has been compared favorably with 'Lord of the Rings', with many critics making comments along the lines of 'roll over J R R Tolkein'. 'His Dark Materials' has also been described as 'C S Lewis for atheists.' However, we believe that behind these stories lies harmful propaganda for a worldview that is not supported by the evidence, and does not work in practice.

Pullman's worldview does away with God, but he has nothing to put in God's place to account for how we are here. We are just a cosmic accident. But - as we have shown elsewhere on this site, there is now a mass of scientific evidence (not religious faith) to rule out this possibility. Pullman's worldview is essentially pantheistic - matter is intelligent, 'matter loves itself'. But there is not a shred of evidence for this worldview.

If his worldview is pantheistic, his vision is secular: we will reject the kingdom of heaven but build a republic in its place. Of course, the same secular vision that drives much of the political activity of our times. Yet it is a deeply flawed vision, and there is a growing mass of evidence that it does not work - it simply cannot deliver a livable society. As John Benton says in 'Evangelicals Now', July 2002:

The idea that secularism can provide a decent and peaceful country has been shot to pieces...

In 'His Dark Materials', Philip Pullman misrepresents God and the church, and substitutes a pantheistic worldview for which there is no evidence, and a secular vision that does not work. He has woven a fascinating tale. Sadly, he has used some very dark materials to do so.

Questions to think about and discuss:

  • What is the special appeal of the 'His Dark Materials' trilogy?
  • Do these pages over-react? Are the film of 'The Golden Compass' and these books harmful propaganda? Or just entertaining and enjoyable stories?
  • Should we identify the god in 'His Dark Materials' with the God of the Bible? If so, why? If not, why not?
  • Do you think people will be influenced by the way Pullman describes the church?
  • What special problems do you think someone who has read and enjoyed 'His Dark Materials' will have in thinking about the Bible's message?

Want to comment on this feature?

You can comment on 'Philip Pullman and His Dark Materials' here. If you disagree with what we say, please tell us why - politely. Comments are moderated. We will post comments that disagree with us. We won't post comments that are abusive or use bad language, or that just repeat points we've already responded to in the FAQ.

People often disagree with what we say on these pages. This is OK. However, if you read these pages carefully, you'll see that we aren't recommending that the films should be censored, or that Pullman's books (or Pullman himself) should be burned, or that people should be otherwise prevented from watching the films and reading the books. We disagree with what he says; not with his right to say it. We uphold the right of free speech, even - especially - for views we disagree with. Will you do the same if you disagree with us?

Web Sites

The Golden Compass - the official web site of the movie.

His Dark Materials web site, containing many interviews and news stories.

The Bridge To the Stars - a 'His Dark Materials' fan site, with the latest news and info on the HDM books, movie and stage version, as well as an active discussion forum

The Truth in 'The Golden Compass' - a video from Tony Watkins, Culturewatch

'Dark Matter: a thinking fan's guide to Philip Pullman', by Tony Watkins - a collection of resources including Tony's book about Philip Pullman and a briefing paper for churches on The Golden Compass.

'Hollywood Jesus' Philip Pullman resource center

Pullman vs. The Magisterium, by Terry Mattingly

The Golden Compass: Pointing in the Wrong Direction - Steve Cable, Research Associate of Probe Ministries, gives his response to The Golden Compass.

The Golden Compass - Christianity Today contributor Peter T. Chattaway's review of the movie.

Thinking Christian Blog Tom Gilson's blog review of the His Dark Materials trilogy.

The Golden Compass: A Briefing for Concerned Parents - Dr R. Albert Mohler, Jr outlines the worldview and the agenda that lies behind the His Dark Materials trilogy.

The Golden Compass: A Primer on Atheism - Russ Wise explains The Golden Compass as a primer of Atheism, and presents suggestions of how Christians, especially parents, can respond.

Atheism For Kids - Gene Edward Veith examines the attack on C.S. Lewis and The Chronicles of Narnia as the behind the scenes passion of author Philip Pullman.

'The most dangerous author in Britain'? Article from 'The Mail on Sunday', 27th January 2002. "Philip Pullman is being hailed as the new C. S. Lewis after being awarded the Whitbread Book of the Year prize for his latest novel aimed at children: The Amber Spyglass. The judges described it as visionary, but Peter Hitchens reveals that the author appears to have his own sinister agenda..."

See also: 'A labour of loathing.' Peter Hitchens on the worship of Philip Pullman, who has set out to destroy Narnia. From 'The Spectator', 18 January 2003