Austin Bishop Checkmates 'Dark Materials' in Schools
Trilogy's anti-religious themes and author's beliefs get books banned from local Catholic schools
Interest in Pullman's work has been mounting across the country in anticipation of the release of a new film based on the first book in the series, The Golden Compass. The book's growing popularity among American children has set off a wave of alarm among some parents and religious leaders, who see it as a full-frontal assault on Christianity from an outspoken atheist. The trilogy is being billed as the atheist counterpart to C.S. Lewis' The Chronicles of Narnia. A strong underlying theme in the books is the conflict of religion and science, and Pullman leaves little doubt as to which side he's on. The heroes of the trilogy are scientists and thinkers, and the role of the villain is played by the church. The Golden Compass takes place in a fantasy parallel universe ruled by a church theocracy called the Magisterium. One character, a physicist and former nun named Mary Malone, describes Christianity as a "powerful and convincing mistake."
Some Protestant religious schools in the Austin area are following the Catholic Church's lead and calling for boycotts as well. Although many of the schools contacted for this story did not have the books to begin with, sources said schools, including Hope Lutheran and Hyde Park Baptist, would actively discourage children from reading the book or seeing the movie. Also, parents at Small Middle School in Austin Independent School District protested the selection of The Golden Compass for an afterschool book club. Neither the school nor the librarian prohibited children from reading the book, but students were encouraged to select something else.
Mary Eifert, eighth-grade interim principal of St. Paul Lutheran School, is taking a different approach. Eifert said she has researched the book and received information from parents, but the school will not participate in any official ban. But she said she plans to educate parents and students about the book and "how it is not in accord with our teachings."
"I believe parents have to make their own decisions on what they will or will not allow their children to see, and maybe they will use the movie as a teaching tool," she said.