May 07

His Dark Materials: Where’s The Controversy?

FT12 comments • 1,822 views

Most discussion I’ve seen about the upcoming His Dark Materials films has focused on the film-makers’ decision to tone down the anti-religious element. This leads to the question of how they’re going to tackle the scenes in the third book where (spoilers ahead) God gets killed by a bunch of goblins. Remembering the third book, though, this doesn’t seem to me the most problematic element. As I remember it, the entire trilogy climaxes (erm) with the universe being saved by two thirteen-year-olds having sex with each other. How are they going to handle that?

(It’s a strange ending because it’s where the “angry response to C S Lewis” element of the trilogy really intrudes.)

(But my question is rhetorical – a symbolic kiss on screen will work as well. The ending of Stephen King’s IT, on the other hand, which is one of the most WTF things I’ve ever read, is surely genuinely unfilmable.)


  1. 1

    his GRATE RAGE at csl seems to have blinded him to the fact that ENDINGS ARE v.HARD*, and HDM’s ending feels rushed and unconsidered, given the strength and care of the world-building in vols ii and iii

    *tolk not only had an actual THEORY OF ENDINGS, in which the technical term for “and they all lived happly ever after” was an EUCATASTROPHE , he also supplied LotR with about 12 endings, in series, as the film rather emphasised

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    i mean i and ii obv

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    Tom on 24 May 2007 #

    Perhaps ironically, the ending to the Narnia cycle was incredibly powerful and thought provoking when I was small (it’s evidence #100000 in the CSL=worst evangelist ever argument, actually, because it made me realise what a phoney cheat ending ‘the afterlife’ is to anyone’s story).

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    byebyepride on 24 May 2007 #

    Yeah I remember the ending being rub. I felt it was a real bait-and-switch to pick up Frank’s comment on the other page, although I can’t really remember why. I think a kiss just wouldn’t work since it would be symbolic and immaterial and spiritual whereas surely the point being made is about the religious suppression of the bodily, and of the biological, and of the drives. You needn’t SHOW them humping, but it has to be clear that they’ve done more than hold hands.

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    it occurs to me reading this (but not having read HDM for a few years) that if the ending is in effect “we are adults now and put away childish things” — ie the phantasy element of the world is coming to a close bcz the protagonists grow up — that this really not much of an improvement on the ideology behind csl’s “we are grown-up = we are dead = school’s out forever”

    no way is sex better than armoured polar bears with guns! d00d!

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    isn’t the backstory that pullman was under real pressure to complete? the last book has lots of great but under-developed elements and just feels rushed

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    Alan on 24 May 2007 #

    for me anyway: we are grown up and alive >>> we are young and dead

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    yes but being dead is like being alive ONLY BETTER*, DO YOU SEE?

    (ie no lipstick)

    i think my issue — i’d REALLY hve to reread HDM to explore this tho — is that there’s a buried contradiction between PP’s “theory of fantasy” and the meta-meaning of HDM”s ending, and that it’s actually a less fruitful contradiction than the equivalent one in csl (i think HDM is a massive achievement but i do kind of think its closure shuts it down more than it should do)

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    CarsmileSteve on 24 May 2007 #

    (no nylons neither)

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    katstevens on 25 May 2007 #

    It’s been a while since I’ve read HDM but I do remember feeling a bit ‘meh’ at the last few chapters after most of the trilogy had been lovely and awesome. As Mark said I’d have to re-read to confirm but my hazy memory throws up feelings of being v unimpressed with the God bits anyway, so toning them down = good!

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    dave on 29 May 2007 #

    this may seem a daft point but I think its a bit odd that Pullman is so angry with the God he doesn’t believe exists, and who can possibly dislike CSLewis? only grumpy old men I reckon. His Science fiction trilogy is the best sci fi Ive read having a humanity that is often missing from the genre.that’s just my opinion.

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    Murdoch on 28 Jun 2007 #

    Isn’t taking the anti-religious element out of HDM a bit like taking the pro-religious elements out of biblical stories? Not that HDM and the Bible are in kind of competition. Wot’s all the fuss about? I dunno. As a person with faith of sorts, I find it hard to accept the Jesus Right’s antipathy to stuff like HDM, but I find it even harder to accept the spineless acquiescence to it that’s displayed by toning it down so as not to offend them

    Go on – offend them. They don’t like free thought and hate free expression more.

    The more they splutter indignantly, the less they make sense.

    Am I making sense?

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