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Fandom Week: The Golden Compass

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The proper fandom title is in fact the ‘His Dark Materials series’, but curb appeal.

I’ve been a part of many a ‘fandoms,’ many of which have stuck with me (They’ll Never Stop the Simpsons), others less so (Backstreet’s not quite back), but one childhood obsession I can still manage to appreciate, flaws n’ all is the His Dark Materials trilogy, best known for the first in the series–The Golden Compass.

Published by ye olde British author, Philip Pullman, in 1995, I happened upon the YA novel around the peak of my fantasy reading days in the year 2000 (Y2K paranoid schizophrenic escapism syndrome).

As the annoying girl who got all of the AC Reader points, I flew through the 234987 page The Golden Compass, followed quickly by The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass in a week’s time, likely neglecting many a chore and recording of The Simpsons.

A girl power fantasy series, it’s not that unlike the mass produced dystopian teen fiction of the 21st century (the far distant future). The protagonist, a hoodrat living, where else, but Oxford, England, Lyra Belacqua, fell neatly in my age bracket and requirements for a fictitious role model. It was perfect.

A fantasy series written beyond the scope of a Stephanie Meyers or even a Suzanne Collins, I have read and reread and reread the story of Lyra as she traveled between intertwining universes with the help of armored polar bears, witches, a compass that reads the future, gypsies, a sweet ass knife that cuts holes in space, and all sorts of other cool people/gadgetry.

But let’s not forget the coolest part. The Dæmons. Pronounced demons, or as a clearly illiterate young Brennan read “Damiens” (it’s all for you Damien) humans in many of the worlds, have a dæmon–Lyra’s being named Pantalaimon. It is a manifestation of one’s inner-self in an animal form, a sort of soul if you will.

They talk and, are the opposite gender of their human, and most rad of all–they change shape, at least until one reaches puberty.

I of course was like–WHERE DO I GET ONE!???! Petsmart!?

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But post-childhood and post-Buzzfeed (GROAN), the legacy of this book series has been mired in controversy. That’s why you clicked, right? The leadup to the release of the 2007, The Golden Compass film, brought criticism from religious groups, in particular the Catholic League, Focus on the Family–the usual.

Here’s some snippets of the Catholic League’s press release:

There was simply no question that the goal of the books is to sour kids on the Church while promoting atheism. Though we read that the anti-Catholic content of the book would be toned-down for the film, which was released by New Line Cinema in cooperation with Scholastic Entertainment on December 7, this did nothing to alleviate our concerns. Indeed, we found this watering-down of the content to be deceitful. We knew that the flick would serve as bait for the books, and unsuspecting parents who took their kids to the theater and were unaware of the books’ content may be impelled to buy the trilogy as a Christmas present. We decided to call for a boycott of the film, and to issuing a consumers alert. To that end, we published a booklet called The Golden Compass: Agenda Unmasked. 

Sounds fun!! The watered down content of the film was in fact, just a watered down film that simply put–sucked. It. Was. Bad. Despite an obscene cast of famous Euro/Aussie/Brits Eva Green, Nicole Kidman, and Daniel Craig it was watered down Communion wine indeed; the film just never founds its footing, especially for a fangirl viewer like myself, and it was a box office flop, some blaming the controversy, others, its very visible flaws.

Sidenote: Has Nicole Kidman had a successful movie in the past 10 years? Really though.

Without spoiling the entirety of the His Dark Materials trilogy, yes, it has a message that is strongly feminist and humanist, along with particular moments and an overriding message that is rather anti-religious and anti-Catholic (avoiding spoilers like the Plague here so will say little more on the subject, but there you have it.)

The imagery is cut and try to an adult who can read more good than a child (yes, more good,) and has ever read fragments of Milton’s Paradise Lost. But hey, I wept inconsolably at the death of Aslan in the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, feeling very betrayed by C.S. Lewis at that quick resurrection. Did you know he was a metaphor for JESUS?!??! Kids don’t see the darndest things.

Yet Philip Pullman’s #TeamNF attitude regarding religious groups has landed him in hot water time and time again:

I think it’s perfectly possible to explain how the universe came about without bringing God into it, but I don’t know everything, and there may well be a God somewhere, hiding away. Actually, if he is keeping out of sight, it’s because he’s ashamed of his followers and all the cruelty and ignorance they’re responsible for promoting in his name. If I were him, I’d want nothing to do with them.

I read an entire trilogy written by this man, more than once in fact, and I did not rise up against my Catholic overlords, (yes, I went to Catholic school) and tell them that it was all a lie and I wanted to be an atheist devil worshiper cat lady–as those…. go together…

However, having been in a Catholic school system in Central Kentucky from preschool to fifth grade, it certainly challenged me more than any other work of fiction I’d been prescribed. Also, the Left Behind: The Kids YA books my teacher recommended made me cry. Was absolutely CONVINCED that I was hellbound (I said my prayers I also cut in the lunch line once!!)

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But folks, it’s 2014 now, I thankfully did not get left behind as a child, and whether or not schools even have libraries anymore is unclear to me. There’s so much Internet now.

What is clear that most forms of censorship or “book banning” in schools, whether it be 1984, Huckleberry Finn, or Harry Potter, feels less like protecting children and a lot more like book burning, it does not mean this fantasy nerd thinks George R. R. Martin books belong in elementary schools. Let yo kids jump on that Reading Rainbow why dontcha, but that particular rainbow may not be quite age appropriate just yet.

Thanks for taking a trip down fandom and controversy lane with me Funkhouser.

Now I’m gonna go pretend that the squirrels in my yard are dæmons. You may see me on the 11 o’clock news.

 

Article written by Brennan English

Just give me all the bacon and eggs you have. @BrennanKSR