November 6, 2013
MarkBernstein.org
 
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Far other worlds, and other seas

I’ve been reading Lainie Taylor’s Days of Blood and Starlight, part of a series that can, I think, be read as a response to Pullman’s His Dark Materials. And Pullman, of course, wrote in response to Narnia. Pullman and Taylor are both knowingly of the Devil’s party; I’ve been wondering if an interesting intellectual case might be drawn up against them by a member of the other side.

Alan Jacobs indicts Pullman’s His Dark Materials as dishonest. He conjures skillful collection of talking points, I doubt this can persuade anyone who has not already chosen sides.

Jacobs assumes that everyone knows that Christianity is not in fact at odds with science and sensuality and sexual joy, and that it does not in fact collude with the right wing extremists. From the perspective of his green collegiate groves, Jacobs might not be wrong. But anyone who looks at the world kids know, from silver ring things to the crusade to demolish Planned Parenthood, from abstinence-only education to the muscular christianity of locker-room prayer and the delights of Opus Dei, knows more and knows better.

Jacobs thinks that Pullman loses his way when “the key anti-theological moment—toward which the whole narrative has been heading—is abruptly passed over in a few lines, [and] the characters turn to things that more greatly interest them.” This is a wild misreading. Obviously, when Will and Lyra make love, they remake the world, they heal it and renew it, and Dust – which is to say heaven and earth – sings its praise. They’re not distracted. This is indeed the anti-theological moment to which the book has been headed all along: love and self-knowledge.

Will and Lyra, too, must leave their garden.

My soul into the boughs does glide:

There like a bird it sits and sings,

Then whets and combs its silver wings.

They leave not because they defied Authority and learned too much, nor are they were driven out. This time they leave because their departure lets them knit back together the rents that the long war against The Authority and his regent have torn in the fabric of the universe. It’s here, and not in tendentious comparisons of Lord Asriel to Joe Stalin, that a Christian case against Pullman might be built. But obviously that’s for other hands than mine.

There’s an interesting contrast with Katniss Everdeen. The Hunger Games makes an effective counter-argument, though not always an attractive one, by denying the power and virtue of sacrifice. No one asks Peeta to sacrifice himself, and in the end he does not. Katniss cannot sacrifice herself, for her duty demands her survival. Though some sort of abstract love is much talked about through The Hunger Games, Katniss is an argument that love doesn’t really matter, very much, either way. Will and Lyra free God and slay him, but for Katniss theology is a pointless luxury; she saves herself, frees her people, and like Cincinnatus returns to the plough.