Blowing the Whistle
Anthony Flott recommends The Pied Piper of Atheism by Pete Vere and Sandra Miesel
Philip Pullman and Children’s Fantasy
by Pete Vere and Sandra Miesel
Ignatius Press, 2007
100 pages, $9.95
To order: Ignatius.com
If you pick up a copy of Pied Piper of Atheism: Philip Pullman and Children’s Fantasy, be prepared for blasphemy.
Don’t blame co-authors Pete Vere and Sandra Miesel, though. They’re only pointing to what Pullman has planted in His Dark Materials, the “children’s” book series that spawned the recently released The Golden Compass.
Many critics have pointed out that the movie is stripped of offense. Pied Piper, however, sounds a warning whistle.
Vere asserts that the movie, the books and Pullman’s imagination are “anti-Christian and atheistic at their core.”
In 100 pages the co-authors take turns dissecting Pullman’s writings, each doing so from different perspectives and with thorough documentation.
Vere goes first. Author of Surprised by Canon Law 2 and other Catholic books, he takes a straightforward approach, typically describing different points of Pullman’s narrative, interpreting the author’s intent, then showing how it might be problematic to Christians, defending his arguments with Scriptures or Church teachings.
Vere points out what he calls, “arguably the most dangerous passage in His Dark Materials” — the book’s “revelation” that God actually is an angel formed of dust. This God lied and said he was the Creator. Counters Vere: “Against Pullman’s lie stands the truth of holy Scripture and Tradition.” He follows with a verse from Numbers (23:14, “God is not a man that he should lie”).
Miesel, co-author of the best-selling book The Da Vinci Hoax, offers more of a literary critique, uncovering Pullman’s various sources (John Milton, William Blake, the Bible, etc.) and the twists he often gives them.
Pullman’s use of “Daemons,” for instance, a sort of Jiminy Cricket-conscience in animal form, is “a cross between ancient Greek concepts of spiritual guardians and counselors with folklore about animal familiars and totems,” Miesel writes. “Unfortunately, they’re the feature most likely to attract children.”
Elsewhere, Miesel digs into the “subversive meanings” Pullman gives his characters’ roles and names.
Vere and Miesel point out the numerous moral and theological thorns found throughout the trilogy: murder and other bad deeds without consequence, an angel sexually tempted by a woman, a priest who is granted preemptive absolution from the Church to hunt down and kill one of the book’s 12-year-old heroes. The list is so extensive one wonders how the screenwriters were left with any narrative at all for the watered-down movie.
If there is a weakness in Pied Piper it would be in the presentation of Miesel’s writing — one large block of text. Breaking it up with subheads would have given readers better cues to the author’s organization and emphases.
Still, it’s hard to find fault with a noble effort akin to tasting the king’s food for poison.
Fortunately, Vere and Miesel have the constitution for bad fruit, saving readers from taking a larger and more poisonous bite.
Anthony Flott is based in
- January 6-12, 2008