December 3rd, 2007

there!, Hello

Enough is enough

So, to suggest that the film version of The Golden Compass is garnering some attacks would be cruelly inadequate understatement.

Enough is enough. I mean... Clearly.

Books do not have the power to change anyone's firmly held beliefs. Books have the ability to present ideas that can be discussed by open minds, they can present arguments (often one sided, yes, but not always). However, no book has ever clubbed someone upside the head and said, "Guess what. You're a believer now!" or the reverse with any level of success. Neither has a film. That such a thing is even considered is laughable, at best. Sure, books can leave bruises (or break bones, if they are thick enough), but they need to be wielded by people to actually do this.

For myself, I'm usually in agreement with Kafka, when he said "I think we ought to read only books that bite and sting us. If the book we are reading doesn’t shake us awake like a blow on the skull, why bother reading it in the first place? So that it can make us happy[...]? Good God, we’d be just as happy if we had no books at all; books that make us happy we could, at a pinch, also write ourselves. What we need are books that hit us like a most painful misfortune, like the death of someone we loved more than we love ourselves, that make us feel as though we had been banished to the woods, far from any human presence, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us."

As Milton so sagaciously expressed in his poetry (Paradise Lost and Samson Agonistes), faith is not actual unless it endures temptation. The folks who repress an argument before it can be offered are not faithful, they are typically uncertain and almost always terrified. Whether they actually acknowledge this fear is not the point (usually, they do not), but if the tree of belief were as firmly rooted as claimed, then would this tree not endure the altogether weak storm that is composed of words?

There is much of beauty and wonder in Pullman's works (I cannot say the same for the film, as I like most people have not seen it yet; but it's directed by a guy partially responsible -- if uncredited -- for American Pie, so I cannot say that my expectations are all that high). If I were to abandon all works that touch upon religion (say, Milton, for example) merely because I do not believe, then I would be missing out on some beautiful works of art. Sure, there is crap in the world that holds banners up high, but there is also wonder wrought in the name of concepts I don't buy into. More often than not, I roll my eyes at the more didactic parts of works, but if there is something worthwhile in there... Well, then I try to laud the beautiful and decry the offal.

If a person were to read His Dark Materials trilogy before deciding, "Not for me. Not for my kid," (until said kid is old enough to decide for itself) that's being informed and responsible. However, a similar person saying, "If you are a responsible human being do not read this. If your kid reads this, then you are an awful, awful parent," (quite possibly without ever having actually read said work) is employing one of the worst forms of egotism expressable.

Reading Milton will not make me a Christian, reading Pullman will not make me an atheist, reading the Dalai Lama will not make me Buddhist... Fill in your own blanks! Reading _____ will not make me _____.

Then again, after enduring the 1989 fatwah against Salman Rushdie, I suppose I should not be surprised by fervor over books... And yet, I am.

So, when author Phillip Pullman himself opines:
"Oh, it causes me to shake my head with sorrow that such nitwits could be loose in the world." [...] "To regard it as this Donohue man has said – that I'm a militant atheist, and my intention is to convert people – how the hell does he know that? Why don't we trust readers? Why don't we trust filmgoers?"

I can only shake my head and show my palms. I have no answer.