Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Philip Pullman: Religious controvery in the guise of YA entertainment

Philip Pullman is cooking up religious controversy once again with his upcoming novel, The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ.

Pullman first enlivened readers with the His Dark Materials series: The Golden Compass (Knopf, USA, 1996), The Subtle Knife (Knopf, USA, 1997), and The Amber Spyglass (Knopf, USA, 2000). The coming-of-age fantasy trilogy was marketed as a young adult novel, but also caught the attention of many adults. Hidden just barely beneath the surface of Pullman's trilogy, is a thinly veiled religious challenge, specifically against organized religion and, even more specifically, Christianity.
According to guardian.co.uk:

[Pullman] enraged America's religious right with his portrayal of God as a senile old man in the His Dark Materials trilogy, and now Philip Pullman is set to court more Christian controversy – this time with a novel about "the Scoundrel Christ."

The book will provide a new account of the life of Jesus, challenging the gospels and arguing that the version in the New Testament was shaped by the apostle Paul. By the time the gospels were being written, Paul had already begun to transform the story of Jesus into something altogether new and extraordinary, and some of his version influenced what the gospel writers put in theirs," said Pullman, who last year pronounced himself delighted that the His Dark Materials trilogy was one of the most "challenged" series in America's libraries, boasting the most requests for removal from the shelves because of its "religious viewpoint."

Read more of the story HERE

I was pleasantly surprised when I read this article this morning, having loved the His Dark Materials trilogy myself. Pullman brilliantly crafts his heroine Lyra's tale, not only as an engaging and thought-provoking religious challenge, but as a purely phenomenal fantasy novel with all the delicious elements of adventure, imagination, emotion, and a shocking aura of believability.

I'm intrigued to see what Pullman does with this new novel, as its premise doesn't allow for an easy separation from its controversial undertones. But Pullman promises that:

"Parts of it read like a novel, parts like a history, and parts like a fairy tale; I wanted it to be like that because it is, among other things, a story about how stories become stories." (guardian.co.uk)
Now, while Pullman is sure to drudge up even more debate about religion, that concept of storytelling is one I think any reader can get on board with--no matter what his or her faith.

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