Many of you may not have been flooded like I have with forwarded emails reiterating - in increasing stridence - that The Golden Compass is BAD and will TURN YOUR CHILDREN BAD!
But I have. And I got sick of it.
What follows is my rebuttal. Now, I don't ask any of you to agree with me. I wrote this from the perspective of a Christian parent trying to answer a kid's questions and from the perspective of an open-minded school librarian trying to quell some of the stupid "let's ban it" talk about a book and movie.
If you have a problem with what I've recommended for CHRISTIAN parents here, well, I'm sorry. I'm not a very good Christian myself, but I am a believer and I do believe that just about anything can be used to teach our kids good lessons. Some of what follows is just what I see as good character building stuff. Other stuff is more overtly Christian. Take what you like, leave what you don't and for pity's sake, let's not turn this into a flame war.
Please forward the following BACK to the sources of the forwards regarding The Golden Compass:
I have recently been the recipient of several forwarded emails and links about The Golden Compass – both the film and the trilogy of novels. Being a school librarian, I thought it would be a good idea for me to find out for myself what the controversy was about, so I went back to the source and read the first installment of the trilogy, which is the novel on which the film was based.
Now, I do not dispute the author’s viewpoints or the things he has said about his personal lack of belief. What I do dispute is that this book and film are so devastatingly dangerous that they must be avoided at all costs by Christian families.
To that end, I have prepared a brief guide – broken down by age group – to The Golden Compass for Christian families. I started by asking myself what various age groups of kids are most likely to notice and pay close attention to and then asked myself how those things could be used to teach positive and faith-supporting, not destroying, lessons to Christian kids.
The first age group I considered is the youngest set that would be likely to understand the plot of the movie well enough to want to see it based on the previews – I place these kids in the 6-8 age group (full disclosure: my own daughter is 7).
What 6-8 year olds are most likely to notice and pay attention to in this film:
1. Talking polar bears!
2. Talking pet animals called Daemons (pronounced DAY-mun and not to be confused with demons)
3. Hot Air balloons
4. Lyra goes off on her big adventure to help save her friend.
1. So, how can we use these things to help our children learn good lessons and grow in their faith? Let’s start with the talking polar bear. Lyra quickly learns that, despite his fearsome reputation and frightening appearance, Iorek is a trusted ally and trustable friend. We can use this to teach our children about looking beyond appearances and apparent reputations to seeing the good inside people. Refer them to the stories of Matthew, the tax collector, Zacheus, Rahab, Paul, etc. to underline that Christians look beyond the surface to the heart of a person.
2. Alright, what about the daemons? Well, our youngest kids aren’t likely to understand their symbolism. But they do understand having a beloved pet. They also understand that people have lots of different things they like to do and be and lots of different sides to their personalities. Talk to them about how the daemons can change forms when the kids are young and how the people who have had their daemons removed are less than what they were. Use this as a way to talk about how God wants us to use and explore all of the gifts and talents that He has given us and how no one can take away God’s gifts. Teach them the song “This little light of mine” if they don’t already know it.
3. Hot Air Balloons? Well, hot air balloons are neat. They don’t really aid much in spiritual development, but they’re great for getting your kids talking about science.
4. Last but not least, there’s a treasure trove in Lyra’s motivations to go off and find her friend. The obvious one, of course, is that we take care of our friends. The next good lesson here is that people who hurt children need to be stopped and kids can help. No, your kid can’t go off like Lyra did and save the lives of kids. But your kid CAN tell an adult if he or she knows of another child who’s being harmed. Your kid CAN donate part of his or her spending money to help needy kids in other places.
Let’s move on to the next group of kids. This is actually the movie’s target audience – the “tweens” – kids aged 9-12 or so.
What tweens are most likely – in addition to the things above – to notice and pay attention to in The Golden Compass:
1. Lyra’s relationship with her “parents”, Lord Asriel and Mrs. Coulter
2. The alethiometer and what it can do
3. How removing the daemon affects children
4. The similarities and differences between Lyra’s world and ours.
1. Lyra’s relationship with her parents? Kids this age understand that not all parents are good parents. Lyra’s parents aren’t even really parents to her. But she has other people in her life that are good and loving. This is a prime opportunity to teach kids about loving others. We never know when we might be the only person in someone’s life to show them loving care and concern.
2. The alethiometer and what it does: This one seems a bit tough on the exterior, but kids of tween age are old enough to understand metaphors and symbols. Call their attention to how Lyra has to be still and quiet and pay close attention to what she sees on the alethiometer in order to understand its meaning. Talk to them about how we should approach our quiet time with the Bible in the same way. Reinforce that the only “thing” in our world that can help us with every problem is God and His word and that, like Lyra turns to her “thing”, we can turn to the Bible in all situations.
3. How removing the daemon affects children: Children of the tween age are fast approaching the time in their lives – if they are not there already – when they will be realising that God doesn’t move people like dolls, but rather gives them free will to choose their path. Explain to the children that the daemon and its changeability represents that free will and that taking away an individual’s free will leaves them empty. Stress to them that God gave us our free will and that He wants us to come to Him out of that free will, not as empty robots, but as full participants in His kingdom.
4. The similarities and differences between Lyra’s world and ours: This is a good opportunity to reinforce the differences between fact and fiction. Remind kids that the differences in Lyra’s world underline the fact that the movie and book are a story.
And now for the last, and eldest, group of kids – the teens – ages 13 and up.
Teens are going to notice all of the things we’ve already talked about. Depending on their backgrounds in literature and science, other things they may notice are:
1. The similarity of the Magisterium to an organized church.
2. The attempts by the Magisterium to prevent discoveries that might “harm” their organization.
1. Yes, the Magisterium does indeed resemble an organized church. However, The Golden Compass does not insist on throwing aside all organized religion. What it does insist upon is resisting an authoritarian regime. Teenagers are ready for a little church history. Discuss with them how the Church has changed and how Christians are now encouraged to read and study the scriptures themselves. Talk to your kids about American history and how the pilgrims fled the same type of authoritarian church regimes. Remind your teenagers that only God is infallible, not man, and certainly not man’s organizations.
2. The attempts by the Magisterium to prevent discoveries that might “harm” their organization: Here’s another opportunity to bring a little history up. Many, many, many of the world’s great scientists and thinkers were and are also people of Faith. Some of them faced an organized church that was very resistant to their ideas. Have your teens research scientists like Newton and Copernicus, men of faith whose goal was to understand the glory of God’s creation, not to undermine His people. Talk about the intersection of faith and science. After all, even Einstein believed in miracles!
Digging a little deeper:
If all of the above doesn’t give you enough to talk about on the ride home from the movie theater, here’s a few more ideas for older audience members:
1. The Golden Compass was turned into a movie in part based on the success of The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. How do the two movies compare? Pullman has suggested that his books are an agnostic/atheist reaction to C.S. Lewis’s overtly Christian series. Do you think Pullman will ever be as widely read as Lewis? Why or why not?
2. What do YOU think the “dust” is? Why do you think it mainly concentrates on children, rather than adults?
3. How do the intentions of the Gobblers to remove the innocence of the children compare to the intentions of the serpent in the Book of Genesis? Do you think Pullman intends for his audience to believe that childlike innocence is truly bad?
I hope that this helps you to look at The Golden Compass in a bit of a different light. Books and movies are only dangerous if we allow them to be and this one is no different.
I am not recommending that you go and pay for tickets to see this movie. What I am recommending – and I always do – is that you understand what it’s about and base your decision on all of the available information rather than someone else’s panic.
Thanks for your kind attention!