Thursday, November 5, 2009

Does Mrs. Coulter belong in children’s books?


Jewish date:  18 Marḥeshwan 5770 (Parashath Wayyera’).

Today’s holiday:  Thursday of the Thirty-First Week of Ordinary Time (Roman Catholicism).

The cover of the book The Subtle Knife.Image via Wikipedia
Topic 1:  The last chapter of The Subtle Knife (His Dark Materials, Book 2) by Philip Pullman.  Theologically new is the shaman John Parry’s revelation that the Subtle Knife is the only thing that can kill the Authority/God.  Again, I repeat, Pullman has set this series on track for a theological train-wreck.  If the Authority accurately reflects the God of Christianity, then if anyone kills Him, Pullman screws up by having something impossible happen; do note that “immortal” means by definition “impossible to be killed”.  If, on the other hand, the Authority is a sufficiently low being that He can be killed, then He is not a good reflection of the God of Christianity, which makes His defeat a failure compared to the actual goal that Pullman seems to be trying to accomplish.  Either way, Pullman loses.

Also, we find out that the rebel angels have been working behind the scenes to move the plot along in order that they may kill the Authority.  Sounds rather like the Christian Satan; doesn’t it?

It is also revealed that the witches have a prophecy that Lyra is supposed to be the new Ḥawwah (Eve).  Mrs. Coulter decides (through completely opaque reasoning processes) that she will have to destroy Lyra to prevent another Fall.  If this is a reflection of any prophecy or reasoning in any real religion, I would be very interested in knowing.

I would also like to raise my concern about the content of this series so far.  This is allegedly a series of children’s books.  Yet Pullman seems to delight in content which people frequently complain is inappropriate for children.  There are (in no particular order):
Nicole Kidman as Marisa Coulter in the film Th...Image of inappropriate-for-children’s-books character Mrs. Coulter (portrayed by Nichole Kidman) via Wikipedia
  • Graphic violence, including blood, loss of body parts, and death.
  • Accidental homicide.
  • Murder.
  • Mention of castration and genital mutilation.  (I really cannot make this up.  Nor would I want to.)
  • Mention of trepanation, including skulls of the dead with holes in them.
  • Illicit unions, sometimes resulting in offspring.  (Thank you, Mrs. Coulter, Lord Asriel, and the entire witch community.)
  • Seduction.  (Thank you, again, Mrs. Coulter.)
  • Poisoning.  (Ditto.)
  • Turning people into zombies or zombie-like beings.  (Probably ditto.)
  • Torture.  (Definitely ditto.)

Yes, I am well aware that children cannot and should not be sheltered from everything bad in the world, but Pullman has been going out of his way to put all this stuff in, whether or not it is really necessary for the plot.  E.g., mention of castration and genital mutilation only serves to make the Church/Magisterium look bad.  It has nothing to actually do with the plot and does not affect any characters who appear on-screen; if it were removed, the story would be unaffected.  And again, I note that the Church/Magisterium, which is behind a lot of this awful stuff, is an overblown, antireligious stereotype of a church and does not reflect well any real church today.  If Pullman is trying to show us how wonderful atheists are, he is doing a horrible job.

Up next:  The Amber Spyglass, the concluding book of His Dark Materials.

Topic 2:  It is time again for another Eastwick review.  (I watch this show and strain the theology out so you neither have to nor want to.)  Roxanne, famous for her visionary dreams, sees her dead boyfriend Chad in one.  He tells her to follow the signs, setting her off on a quest leading from a hammer to a T-shirt to a CD he recorded just for her.  There are various uses of magical power, ranging from telekinesis to healing.  More notably, Darryl, the character who may really be Satan, gets into Palpatine mode again while fire-walking and lectures Roxanne on the curse of ’Adham (Adam) and Ḥawwah, which he claims to be self-awareness and all the emotions which make life fun.  (Apparently he has not read Genesis 3:16-19.)  It also looks increasingly like Darryl periodically visits Eastwick and causes trouble.  Two older characters, Eleanor and Bun, are about to discuss the situation, and Eleanor claims they are going to have to kill Darryl again, implying that they have done it at least once before.

Topic 3:  “Discovering Jewish Terror” and “Video: Meet the Foreign Press: Are They Objective?”  These articles look at Orwellian misuse of terminology and double standards in how Israel is treated in the media.  (And yes, this is a chronic problem.)


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