Religious Patterns in "Northern Lights" by Philip Pullman

Topics: His Dark Materials, Northern Lights, Philip Pullman Pages: 7 (2301 words) Published: May 6, 2013
Dealing with religious themes and beliefs, as the Christian ones in Northern Lights by Philip Pullman, which is the first book of the trilogy His Dark Materials, is always a delicate matter. Based on the freedom of opinion, every author has a right to express his feelings and thoughts in a book, how controversial they might be. However, the Christian Church and a lot of its supporters, especially the Catholic ones, feel offended and affronted by the trilogy and Pullman’s turning the Christian myth upside down.

The inspiration was a work Pullman has loved since his teens: “Paradise Lost.” (Laura Miller)

This essay seeks to concentrate on the theological debate that arose with the publication of the book and came to its climax with the movie The Golden Compass, released to movietheatres in december 2007. After sorting out the history of childrens literature, it concentrates on the religious themes in Northern Lights and its debate in the Catholic church and finally compares the story of Lyra Belacqua to the series of fantasy novels The Cronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis.

The first kinds of literature for children and teenagers were edited works for adults, as the first known example from the Antique were the Ilias from Homer. In the Middle Ages Aesops stories were formulated as fables for children to educate them and to teach them moral and behaviour but also to accept authorities (e.g. The Turtle and the Hare). At the same time the very few students of convent schools learned to read and understand the Bible. An also well known source of stories were fairytales as the ones collected and written down by the brothers Grimm in the early 17th century. These fairytales were not exactely written for children as they were very brutal (e.g. Hansel and Gretel). With the change of industry and economy in the late 19th century children’s literature also started to change. It became fantastic and children, for whom it had become obligatory to go to school by this time, started to read just for fun (e.g. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Caroll). Childern were also taught to believe in wonders such as fairies (and in themselves). With the beginning of the 20th century a new branch of childrens literature was explored, the anthropomorphic behaviour of animals. Beatrix Potter was the first and best known author for this branch in the UK. Her love for the nature created little rabbits and ducks, dressing and behaving like humans (e.g. The Tale of Peter Rabbit). After this periode children’s literature became a whole new big market which expanded very quickly into all kinds of genres like Science-Fiction, Drama and Romance.

Philip Pullman’s first book Nothern Lights of the trilogy His Dark Material published in 1995 is set in a parallel universe, which is very similar but still so different to ours.

It is a church-burdened world, in which the Reformation led to consolidation, not schism, and the Papacy was moved from Rome to Geneva by John Calvin. (Laura Miller)

In Lyra Belacqua’s (12-year old protagonist, growing up as an orphan at Jordan College in Oxford) world every person carries a little animal called dæmon around, which is the physical manifestation of their soul. Once seperated neither can really exist. After she learned about Dust and her uncle Lord Asriel left for another scientific tour to the North, Lyra gets to know wonderful Mrs Coulter and gets invited by her to London. In Lyra’s untroubled life suddenly everything changes: children start to disappear, her uncle seems to be held in the North by the panserbørne (armoured polar bears) and she discovers that her admirable Marisa Coulter is involved in the organisation named General Oblation Board, who steal the children away, Lyra decides to escape from her and accompany the Gyptians on their way to the North to save the children and rescue her uncle. On her way she becomes friends with an aëronaut called Lee Scoresby, an outcast panserbørn...

Bibliography: Pullman, Philip. 1995. Northern Lights. London: Scholastic Ltd..
Catholic League. 2007. THE GOLDEN COMPASS – AGENDA UNMASKED. [acessed on 02.11.08]
Gribbin, Mary & John. 2003. The Science of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials. London: Hodder Children’s Books.
Hall, Stephen S. 08.08.2005. Darwin’s Rottweiler – Sir Richard Dawkins: Evolution 's fiercest champion, far too fierce. DISCOVERmagazine – Science, Technology, and The Future. [acessed on 02.11.08]
Hitchens, Peter. 27.01.2002. This is the most dangerous author in Britain. The Mail on Sunday.
Kleingers, David. 26.11.2007. Gib dem Seelenaffen Zucker. KulturSPIEGEL 12/07, SPIEGEL Online.,1518,521290,00.html [acessed on 02.11.08]
Lenz, Millicent & Scott, Carole. 2005. His Dark Materials Illuminated. Detroit, Michigan: Wayne State University Press.
Miller, Laura. 26.12.2005. Far from Narnia. Philip Pullman’s secular fantasy for children. The New Yorker. [acessed on 02.11.08]
Tucker, Nicholas. 2003. Darkness Visible. Inside the World of Philip Pullman. Cambridge: Wizard Books.
Yeffeth, Glenn. 2005. Navigating The Golden Compass. Religion, Science&Dæmonology in Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials. Dallas, Texas: BenBella Books, Inc.
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