December 06, 2005

submitted for your approval

Or astonishment, pick one.

Via reader Naomi, an academic defends C.S. Lewis against Philip Pullman, who I do believe has recently become unhinged.

I read the His Dark Materials trilogy and I frankly grew irritated early on at Pullman's ability to ruin a good yarn with his hamfisted--and by now extremely trite and predictable--digs at organized religion. Oh, the Church is oppressive! Oh noes! The priests are the assassins! Oooh, God is old and weak and out of touch! How very transgressive of you, Phillip--in 1967, maybe. And he calls Lewis a propagandist? Puh-lease.

And I also hated that stupid Lyra girl. A lot. Which was unfortunate as she was the main character. Her mother should have chopped her soul off, or whatever the hell, and spared me several hundred pages of her "preternatural" antics. More armored bears, please, and the rest of you can go blow.

Huh. Apparently I've needed to vent about that series for a while. Better now.

My other problem with Pullman is that his criticisms of Lewis are also just a predictable litany of p.c. sins, attaching 1990s mores to works written decades earlier, and inaccurately at that. One gets the unfortunate impression that Pullman's a tad envious, and when your critique of a fellow author's work can be reduced to a playground truism, you're in trouble.

And finally, evangelical atheists always piss me off, mainly because they are so blind to the irony of being an evangelical atheist.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at December 6, 2005 09:44 AM

I remember reading something of this Pullman's complaints a few months ago. They were....whiny to the extreme. Before that I had never heard of him. Which I suspect is largely part of his problem. Not that I in particular hadn't heard of him -- though one has to suspect that sears his non-soul nightly as is the case with all I do not acknowledge -- but, as you said, his envy is so clear it makes him a ridiculous creature.

Posted by: marc at December 6, 2005 09:54 AM

Being an evangelical atheist is a relatively new development in history, but what do find ironic about it?

Posted by: CM at December 6, 2005 02:17 PM

My personal experience with them, mainly. The ones I've met spend about 10 minutes talking about the things that have turned them off about religion, namely evangelical meddling and threats of dire consequences if they don't believe in God, and then they spend 10 minutes talking about how if I don't give up my silly superstitions I'm somehow less mentally evolved.

So evangelism is anathema, unless it's atheistic. Ahh, it all makes sense to me now.

Pot, meet kettle.

Full disclosure - not an evangelical myself, and am uncomfortable with it no matter who's doing it, but don't use the trappings of religious conversion as a means to declare yourself free from religion. 'Cause that's some good irony, right there.

Posted by: BAW at December 6, 2005 03:19 PM

Yes, it's called preview, and no, I didn't use it.
"Evangelical." Yeesh.

Posted by: BAW at December 6, 2005 03:19 PM

Evangelical atheists are as annoying as evangelical Christians. Except I would call their posturing ironic, just plain hypocritical.

Posted by: Emily at December 6, 2005 05:12 PM

I could accept the fact that Lyra wasn't a particularly likable character, and was comfortable with not really caring all that much about her, because the daemon thing was just so amazing, and Pullman does have a certain descriptive imagination. But there was of course the peecee preaching, and then that utterly craptastic "modern young woman" character, the scientist (right!) who quit being a nun because... wait for it...

had kissed a boy.

And the stupid wheel-footed creatures who were supposed to be paragons of... I don't know, communal atheistic paradisical living, but who were totally helpless, the aforementioned cardboard Church Villainous, and then the tepid and unconvincing romance between Lyra and that boy, whatsisname. (My books are buried in my giveaway pile.)

As for Pullman ranting and raving about Lewis' supposed "hatred of family life," Lewis isn't thre one who wrote a major character into abandoning his obviously mentally ill and helpless mother with some neighbor lady even though mysterious murderous people were chasing them, and who never returned the boy to his mother at the end. In fact, the boy (this is Lyra's boyfriend), walks off into the sunset with the ex-nun. The subject of the mother is just dropped, as if she had never existed.

Grr. I keep ranting on comments about the Pullman books, I need to write my review and get it out of my system.

Posted by: Andrea Harris at December 6, 2005 10:21 PM

Not quite OT, but if you haven't read 'em, you might try "A Case of Conscience" (James Blish) or "A Canticle for Leibowitz" (Walter Miller) for serious science fiction with a religious theme. Also, I was told years ago that the short SF stories of R.A. Lafferty are best appreciated by a Catholic... which may be so, but they're pretty good anyway.

Apologies if you've already read these but they're ancient and may have slipped by you.

Posted by: PersonFromPorlock at December 7, 2005 07:35 AM

Except for Tolkien and Lewis, I am an ignoramus when it comes to matters of fantasy/science fiction. But I did once read "A Canticle of Leibowitz" when a friend recommended it to me, and I thought it was wonderful, for the reasons POP mentioned.

Posted by: Husband of BAW at December 7, 2005 08:10 AM

Yes.."Canticle" is very worthwhile: a truly deep book.

Posted by: David Foster at December 7, 2005 01:06 PM

Pullman-whack-a-mole? Can't resist.

So: Spoiler ahead if anyone plans to read the series, okay?

Remember the cool and mysterious "dark matter" that the church feared and that physicists had discovered as a necessary but ineluctable part of their equations? Keep in mind that it's real stuff Pullman is tapping to underpin the plot of his alternate reality.


Okay: Dark Matter turns out to be sentient cosmic micro-particles with a tropism for hot-n-happy sex.


And this is a man who feels comfortable mocking Lewis.

Posted by: Carbonel at December 11, 2005 06:33 PM

I liked the first book in the series. Pullman is actually a good writer but by the end of book one and through the end he can't give up on his anti-religion bashing. The ironic thing is that Milton was a deeply religious Puritan and would probably have despised Pullman's series.

Posted by: Mike at December 11, 2005 10:32 PM