Welcome to Maoist Orange Cake. Each week one of our Divas posts a thoughtful (but not necessarily serious) essay on whatever calls forth her Voice or strikes her Fancy. We invite you to join us wherever the discussion leads.
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"I would also like to add that ‘Maoist Orange Cake is possibly the best name for a blog ever. Just my twopence." -- The Sixth Carnival of Radical Feminists, 1 October 2007

The Twelfth Carnival of Radical Feminists is up at The Burning Times blog and mentions one of our posts, Helen 'Wheels' Keller, for recommendation. Orangeists spreading our zest!

Saturday, December 1, 2007


Four years ago, in December 2003, I rode the train three days to visit an ex in Oregon. It was an epic journey in a number of respects, but one of the stand-out memories is that the books I took to read were Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy. I was astounded by how good they were, far better than Harry Potter or most so-called "adult" material. I couldn't believe everyone wasn't reading them and talking about them.

That train trip was a spiritual watershed, and the trilogy played a role in making it so. Now, finally, the first of the books, The Golden Compass is being released as a movie, and the Religious Right has moronically but predictably decided to agitate against it.

The New York-based Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights launched a boycott of the film, calling it "selling atheism to kids" at Christmastime in stealth fashion. Adam Holz of Focus on the Family, writing on the Christian ministry's Plugged In site, calls Pullman's books and the film a "deliberate attempt to foist his viciously anti-God beliefs upon his audience."

This is despite the fact that director Chris Weitz has said he cut controversial religious content to make the film more commercially viable, with the plan of being more faithful to the original material in sequels. For instance, the evil organization dominating the world is not "the church," as it is in the book, but the "Magisterium," which is getting criticism anyway because it's a Catholic term.

An article today in Huffington Post Golden Compass Points to Controversy does a good job of debunking the hue and cry. Yes, Pullman is a self-described atheist or agnostic, and he has been quoted as saying "I'm trying to undermine the basis of Christian belief." But being anti-Christian is often necessarily aligned with freedom of thought, and atheism often goes hand-in-hand with profound morality and spirituality. Just not the "state-approved" variety.

Indeed, according to the article, many Christians are coming out in defense of The Golden Compass. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops rates the film "intelligent and well-crafted entertainment", adding "The film is not blatantly anti-Catholic but a "generalized rejection of authoritarianism."

Ah, but rejection of authoritarianism strikes at the heart of fundamentalist religious belief and is, according to their definition of g*d, "anti-God".

Quoting from the above article: "Donna Freitas, a visiting assistant professor of religion at Boston University, goes a step further, calling the books a 'theological masterpiece.' Pullman's intent aside, she views the trilogy as a treatise on Christian belief.

"To Freitas, the series' mysterious 'Dust' -- portrayed in the books as connected to original sin -- represents the Holy Spirit. Pullman is not attacking religion but those who use power to corrupt, she said."

Well, no wonder Focus on the Family is against it. Not to mention which, the main character is a girl and there's a group of amazing witches who help her out -- anathema!

Make no mistake about it, the Christian Right is adamantly opposed to freedom of thought and belief, especially as it is proferred to children. Their ranks are populated by those who are afraid of modernity and change, and they seek to roll our culture back to medieval circumstances -- with all the threat to women, racial minorities, Jews, science, and class mobility prevalent during that era. This week's Republican debate, tailored to appeal to that 28% base, very much reflects the emphasis on racial hatred and glorification of violence in the name of "morality" and "godliness" that is threatening the future of democracy in this country. The big battle, of course, is to restore habeus corpus, to stop torture and crusade-based wars, and to stop the election of those who believe not just in creating a theocracy but in such lunacy as that the earth is flat. (I'm not joking.)

But the smaller battle will be to take your children to see this movie, to allow it to expand their minds and give them that hand up. They'll need it when dealing with their peers, one-third of whom are being raised in a horrific vacuum devoid of diversity or independent thought.

P.S. The official website for the movie is located at The Golden Compass. Under the "Downloads" section is a quiz you can take to find out your own daemon. Mine was Pyrrheus, a Bengal tiger.


shadocat said...

I'll delve into those links later, but I've just got to say, the Catholic church has some nerve criticizing, well, anything in light of all the pedophiles they've sheltered all these years. We're about to experience our own major group of lawsuits here in Kansas City, most of them involving a group of ministers known a s the "party priests" by their victims. Here's a link to a recent article about them in our own local paper if you care to read more:http://www.kansascity.com/105/story/375441.html

I am fully convince the main reason preists are periodically reassigned to different parishes is to rotate the rapists. Sorry to go off on a rant---I fully intend to read this book and see the movie.

shadocat said...

Sorry that link came out so poorly. Here's one more try:


kat said...

So, the important things first. My daemon is named Albus and he's a crow. This is not at all surprising to me. I've always identified with birds. I'd be in Ravenclaw house, too, if I were a Hogwarts student.

Anyway, I love these books. A college friend handed the first two to me and said "here, take them. I hated these books, but I think you'll be into them." Indeed I was, and I couldn't put them down. When I heard that they were making a film, I was a little worried, honestly. I wondered how much they would sacrifice in order to make it acceptable for the conservative crowd. If they're intending to be more faithful in subsequent films, I bet there will be even more trouble from the religious right. Phillip Pullman's characters, even in his other books, get into some very adult situations at young ages. How will the 3rd movie handle Will and Lyra's sexual awakenings?

I'm also worried about the usual book-to-film problems about sets or actors not matching my imagination. Because my imagination is righ....hee!
Nicole Kidman, for instance. Mrs. Coulter is supposed to be fair skinned with dark hair. Not blond.

It seems that some people are very threatened by the thought of children thinking for themselves. I went to college with a girl who was home-schooled all the way through. Her parents are very fundamentalist, and couldn't stand the thought of her being exposed to anything different. We were in college in San Francisco, and she grew up in a suburb about 45 minutes east (just over the hills behind Berkeley and Oakland), so when it came to college, her parents made her live at home and commute every day.
Now, I did the same thing, but in my case it was because I couldn't afford to pay my own tuition and pay for housing, so I stayed with my super cool, liberal mom. Angelique, however, came from a wealthy family. Her parents would pay for everything so long as she stayed at home, but if she even thought seriously about moving out, they would cut her off completely and essentially throw her out of the family.

The result was that she was not comfortable in a college social scene. She was isolated not only in a physical sense, but also because she didn't know how to relate to people who were different. We had a really interesting conversation once she found out I dated women. She was surprised and unsettled that someone so "normal" could be queer, since she had been raised to believe that we're all evil predators or something. I don't know that I really enlightened her or anything, but at least she asked honest questions and kept her judgements (or prayers) to herself.

Just a gauge of how crazily over protective her parents were? In Music History, the first long unit is on Gregorian Chant, because that's where western music notation comes from. In order to give us a context for this, the prof (who isn't religious himself) invited us all to a mass at the National Shrine of St. Francis of Assisi. They still do a proper latin mass there, with all of the chanting, so it would give us a sense of what the text book and lectures were about. Angelique's parents wouldn't let her go, probably fearing that the Catholics would poison her brain or something.

So, yes, that was a very long way of saying that kids thinking for themselves is really scary.

One of the things that Boyfriend loves about the Pullman books is that, unlike most children's fantasy books (harry potter included), the children are the ones actually having the adventures and participating in the action, instead of witnessing or being bystanders.

For that to happen, especially with a female main character, is really awesome.

Kellan said...

Here is a link to a great article in the New Yorker talking about Pullman: http://www.newyorker.com/archive/2005/12/26/051226fa_fact

As someone who majored in physics, I'm embarrassed to say that I found some of the parts of the books confusing...I probably wasn't reading them carefully enough, though, and was generally unprepared for the complexity of the plot.

Kellan said...

That link didn't seem to work. Here's the right one: http://www.newyorker.com/archive/2005/12/26/051226fa_fact

My daemon is Amantha, an ocelot. Awesome.

Kellan said...

Put 6fa_fact on the end of the link to make it work.

kat said...

also, confusion:
in my head, I always pronounced the main characters name "lee-ra" but the movie is saying "lie-ra".....did anyone else have that issue?

Maggie Jochild said...

Shado, love your comment about "rotating the rapists". Kinda like what it means to a Republican member of Congress to be "turning over a new page"?

Thanks you to for the link, and also to Kellan, whose persistence in trying to get his link past this comment box's limits is to be applauded. Since it STILL didn't work, I'm reposting it here in HTML (the insularity of blogspeak) because the article he's recommending is truly extraordinary: Far From Narnia

I wanted my daemon to be a female (I know the reason why it isn't, but I'm obstinate that way). I also wasn't thrilled with the name Pyrrheus, invoking as it does the notion of Pyrrhic victory. Maybe there's a lesson for me in this, or maybe it's just a computer game.

Yeah, Kat, I was really impressed with how the book handled the eroticism between Lyra and Will. I am all for children and adolescents having free expression of what they would define as romance and sex (which I am certain is not the adult version), but it seems extremely hard to find depictions of it that are not lacquered over with adult crap. Their relationship is a rare example -- I think because they are both such powerful beings and come at each other on a relatively equal footing. I remember being in love with other girls when I was a girl, and have occasionally been able to accurately write about how we expressed it -- I have to get back into that headset (the memory of writer helps) and drop all the definitions added on later.

I always pronounced Lyra in my head as "lie-rah" but then I'm Southern, where I come from Lois is pronounced Loyce and Kat would have two syllables.

I really appreciated the pronunciation guide one reader offered at DTWOF blog of Jiao Raizel's name -- now I can say it in my head when I read it, and it's given her more reality for me.

kat said...

wow, what an awesome article.

I really liked what he said about the trilogy being the first fantasy based on the ideals of the Enlightenment. I hadn't thought about it quite like that, but one of the things that I love about the books is how morality and a good world view are not tied to religion. Go secular humanists!

Despite what Pullman says about the "Fred must die" rule (sorry for the spoiler, anyone who's not read Shadow in the North), I'll still never forgive him for actually killing him off...

Those who haven't read Pullman's other trilogy, the Sally Lockhart books, really ought to. They're brilliant, and also feature a strong female protagonist.

kellan said...

Thanks, Maggie!

Jana C.H. said...

I haven't read the book or seen the movie (though I have seen previews), so I will just say:
Hurrah for atheism (sans spirituality)!
Long live the Enlightenment!
Secular humanism forever!

And all compasses are cool.

Jana C.H.
Saith Robert Green Ingersoll: We cannot be saved by faith or belief. We must be saved by knowledge, by intelligence-- the only lever capable of raising mankind.

Maggie Jochild said...

Update: There's an interesting interview with Philip Pullman just published at More Intelligent Life.

shadocat said...

Here's a cool article I read on Salon, which probably is more representative of what most Catholics think about the subject:


Aunt Soozie said...

The kid asked for the first book for Chanukah..very fitting...wink...
I just bought it for her.
We'll read and then see the movie.
Thanks for taking up this discussion and for all of your commentary...
and turning over a new page!

Jana C.H. said...

My daemon is a lion named Laefa. Assuming one pronounces the "ae" is Latin, that would be "lie-fa", as in the famous dictator Julius Kaiser.

"Lyra" is the Latin form of the Greek "lyre", which has two syllables in Greek, though not in English.

I have now seen the movie, by the way. Pretty good, but the large battle scenes went on waaaaaaay too long. They usual do in this sort of movie: witness Lord of the Rings, where a one-chapter battle took up half the second film.

Jana C.H.
Saith JcH: I’m not pompous, I’m pedantic. There’s a difference. Allow me to explain it to you.

kat said...

I felt like an awful lot of the film stuff (techniques, I guess, not plot) was ripped off of the Lord of the Rings movies: score, ways that the battles are filmed, use of both Christopher Lee and Ian McKellan, and a few other things...
There were some things that I liked a lot, though.
Obviously things have to be truncated for a movie (did we all sit through the director's cuts of LOTR to see why this is necessary?), and I mostly respected the choices that they made there. I think that folks seeing the movie without reading the book would be confused, though.

what do you think?

On the name: in greek the vowel is like "ee"....where does the y="ie" sound come from? Latin? The mutilation of German on it's way to English?

kat said...

church latin or classical latin? cuz in church latin ae is pronounced like "ay"

ksbel6 said...

I hope you guys don't mind me joining this line...I bought the trilogy for my 10 year old daughter the day after my family brought up the atheism in the film. We had a lengthy discussion over thinking for one's self and now she is reading the book and then we will see the movie.

Jana C.H. said...

Welcome, ksbel6! We always like fresh blood here at the MOC. It's so tasty! I just got the trilogy for my niece for Christmas, and as with all gift books, I had to read it first to make sure it was all right. Pope John Calvin! What a hoot!

Kat-- The pronunciation is from classical Latin (I hope!). I have read that the Romans of Ceasar's time would have pronounced the name the way the Germans do now: Kaisar. But since I read that I have heard somewhere or other that this is not correct. I'm sticking with it until I find a good source that says otherwise.

As those of you who have identified your daemon on the "Golden Compass" website know, you get twelve days of artificial childhood during which your friends can comment on your answers to the quiz and possibly cause your daemon to change. Since nobody I sent the link to had bothered to check it out, I went back myself and made some changes to their conclusions (Jana is modest but not humble, solitary but not shy, etc). My daemon, with the same unpronouncable name, is now a hare. Being a lion is a great boost to my ego and feeds my fantasies about myself, but I really think the hare is more accurate.

Jana C.H.
Saith Fridtjof Nansen: Fram!

kat said...

yeah, no one I sent my daemon link to responded either. Luckily my Albus was very accurate for me.

To Ksbel6: I hope you and your daughter love His Dark Materials. I think they're great and can't shut up about them, as is pretty obvious from this thread.....I read them when I was in college, so I don't know how they would be for a 10 year old, but many of the 5th graders in the school where I work are reading and loving them, so that suggests that she'll be fine with the reading level. good luck!

Jana C.H. said...

I visited my mom in Port Angeles this weekend. I showed her the site, and she made comments on my daemon. He is now a lynx.

We then went through and got a daemon for her: a crow to begin with, and after I commented, a wildcat. I think she liked the crow better. At least hers has a pronouncable name.

Jana C.H.
Saith Laefa: Rrrow!

P.S. I now have a new car! A light-bronze PT Cruiser named Lady Angela. She's the first American car I've ever owned.

ksbel6 said...

My daemon is an osprey. I need to read these books, but I'm finishing up an old Terry Pratchet book called Going Postal. My daughter is already through the first one and into the second, so the timing was pretty good.

Congrats on the new wheels Jana!