The Golden Compass

Last week I got a question I’d been expecting for ten years: “What do you think about the Golden Compass controversy?”

Now that the movie is about to come out, suddenly the book’s religious/antireligious themes are making news. For many years, I was surprised no one was raising a stink about Pullman’s trilogy. Not that I have anything against it personally. I’m a big fan of his work. Still, the trilogy is basically about killing God. Given the protests we’ve seen from religious groups in the past over the Harry Potter books, I couldn’t understand why no one seemed to mind Pullman. The Golden Compass appeared on reading lists in every state, in many public school systems. Kids were obviously reading and enjoying the books. And yet, not a peep from concerned parents.

The book has been out for a decade. Now, suddenly, it’s news. Why? There’s a movie. The only conclusion I can reach: The people who tend to protest books don’t read. At the very least, they don’t read the books they are protesting. They rely on television, Hollywood advertisements, and hearsay to form their opinions. Maybe I should not be surprised by this, but still I find it sad. Censorship is always ugly, but it’s especially ugly when it has no rational basis and is not the product of an informed decision. I can totally understand and support any parent who reads a book for himself and decides that the book is not appropriate for his child. But to protest something one has never read – whether it’s the Satanic Verses or Harry Potter or Golden Compass – is the definition of prejudice.

Pullman’s themes are not my themes. I’m not an atheist, and if I’m interpreting his world view correctly, I do not share it. That does not stop me from enjoying his work. I can think for myself, and I give young readers enough credit to believe they can too. Sharing ideas, especially ideas we do not agree with, makes us all stronger thinkers. That is what good education, and good reading, is all about. I hope the movie version gets more people to read the books, and the controversy will certainly help Pullman’s sales. I suppose that’s the silver lining on the dark cloud of censorship! As always, I would encourage you to read these books and decide for yourself.

Rick Riordan