Are Hollywood's movers-and-shakers wrong to insist on removing references to religion in the screen adaptation of Philip Pullman's trilogy, His Dark Materials? The New Republic's Gregg Easterbrook thinks they are. No surprise there, perhaps. But he's also dubious about the novels themselves ("the thinking struck me as shallow, university-sophomore arguments: everything negative about faith trumped up, no positives mentioned.") Not having read the books, I'm in no position to judge. Still, I don't recall ever seeing any negative criticism of "HDM" before - always a suspicious sign, in my experience:

"It must say something that the 1950s--a period of polio, choking air pollution in London, nuclear fears, and low living standards--produced the sunny Chronicles of Narnia fantasies, while the current decade, in which virtually all trends are positive for almost everyone in the Western world, including trends involving the treatment of the young, has produced the Harry Potter series, in which children are murdered, and the dark His Dark Materials trilogy, in which the very institutions of life are fundamentally horrific. The His Dark Materials trilogy got its start in popularity with critics and then schoolteachers, who lauded the works. It's hard not to the suspect these books were lauded because they are so fashionably negative.

"...[G]ive the author credit for ambition; the ambition of the storyline makes up for other shortcomings. (Extended sections of His Dark Materials make little sense, even if you accept the premise about doorways to other realities.) But the arguments against religion in His Dark Materials are sophomore-quality because they are shallow, attributing to faith everything bad about life and society. Readers are pretty much told that if it weren't for religions and their make-believe doctrines there would be no suffering in the world, and also a lot more sex. Maybe the latter is true. The former is a dumbed-down view to say the least, even considering all the harm and hatred that religions have caused."

UPDATE: A controversy-loving friend of mine directs me to an old interview with Pullman - conducted by Jeanette Winterson - which suggests that Mr P has strong opinions of his own on the subject of another well-known writer of fantasy:

"Lord of the Rings is not a serious book, because it doesn`t say anything interesting, or new, or truthful about the human condition."

In the meantime, the folks at National Review are busy debating whether Tolkien is a leftie or a Tory. I'll sit that one out.

|||Clive|||http://clivedavis.blogspot.com/2004/12/those-dark-materials-are-hollywoods.html|||12/28/2004 06:15:00 pm|||||||||