I had never read a book after watching its film adaptation. I am usually dismissive of those who do that. I admit, I am arrogant about this kind of stuff. It is a feeling of those listening to alternative less-than-mainstream music have against those that listen to commercialized songs like Britney Spears’ or Backstreet Boys’. When Lord of the Rings came out in 2001, I spent excessive time deriding those who fell in love with Tolkien’s works because of the movie, instead of the book. I am like a book puritan, like those religious conservatives watching liberals as if the latter suffer from grave moral erosion deserving in the lowest level of hell. Worse, watching the movie before reading the book ruins imagination.
Well, I finally lost my moral authority to assume that holier-than-thou attitude because of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Material.
To my defense, I read it not because I fell in love with the film. Well, I did fall in love with it but that is not the reason why I started reading it.
The reason is this: it was the controversy the film invited when it, The Golden Compass, hit the cinema. Christian conservatives in the US wanted for the movie to be boycotted. On the other side, the director Chris Weitz was criticized for self-censorship when he diluted reference to Christianity in order not to offend the religious rights.
That and a desire to entertain a friend convinced me to watch the movie. I like the movie but I wanted to do a comparison between the movie and the book, just to discover by myself about the heretic nature of the trilogy with respect to religion.
I did not manage to do my comparison until I got myself a free copy of the whole trilogy at the KL Alternative Book Fest some time ago.
Finishing the first installment of the trilogy failed to prove the alleged hostility that Pullman’s work has against the idea of religion. The idea presented in the first book was mild though creative and I could not really understand the brouhaha surrounding it. And so, my interest in reading the trilogy waned as I picked up other wonkish books to read.
I did continue reading the trilogy after renewing my commitment to finish reading all of my books that I have ever bought. As I did that, I was hooked by the second book and it was until the end of the third book did I finally comprehend why the book is not at all innocent. It was about killing god, or rather, killing an angel who pretended to be God. It was about dismantling the Kingdom of Heaven to create a Republic of Heaven.
In Pullman’s universe, the first ever angel made others believed that he was the creator of the universe, a god. The angel later retired from life as he grew older and appointed an angel named Metatron as a regent. Metatron assumed full godly authority and tightened the Kingdom of Heaven’s grip over the world. Metatron later became more powerful than God, or the Authority as named in the book, and supplanted his position, effectively becoming God himself.
The Church, ignorant of the truth, meanwhile, being the agent of so-called God, tried to restrict free inquiry. Parts of the Church secretly worked to turn human kinds into, effectively, obedient zombies incapable of running their life freely, incapable of questioning. It was this effort along with the discover of dusk, started the ball rolling. The Church strongly denied the existence of dusk though they themselves were aware of its existence.
Metatron himself was formerly a human called Enoch. As you can see, there are references to actual characters in the Abrahamic tradition. You will realize that assertion alone is heretical beyond scale. There are frequent reference made against religion throughout the trilogy but it only become more memorable towards the end.
There were rebellions, among men and angels against god in the name of free will. Part of the rebellion was fueled to undo the lies told by God.
In any case, Metatron in the end, was killed by humans, thus freeing human kinds from tyranny, allowing free will to flourish without having the smoldering Church lurking somewhere. God himself die somewhere in the book.
I am slightly disappointed with the ending. As usually, reading a good book causes one to become involved in the universe created by the author. I saw the two main characters of the trilogy, Will and Lyra, walking along the beach with their daemons from afar, falling in love. There was a feeling that you want them to be together. But they could not be together. They had to part ways because of, ehem, the structural integrity of the whole universe depended on them staying apart. I found myself protesting when I they found out their feeling was futile, that something larger was against it, something larger than god. It was morality and responsibility to others. It was about the Republic of Heaven.
That disappointment however does nothing to diminish the brilliance of Pullman.