The Golden Compass is the opening gambit in Phillip Pullman’s all out-attack on the religious faith of his readers. The film version is scheduled for wide release in theaters on December 7th following a massive marketing campaign. The movie may be more subtle than the book, but it is still opening the door to the full anti-God message of Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy. Since the intended audience for these books is children and young adults, Christian parents need to be prepared to respond to the advertising hype and peer group pressure associated with the upcoming movie release. You want to be able to explain why a PG-13 movie is not appropriate for adolescents.

Just in case you don’t have time to read this entire article, I am going to summarize my recommendations:

1. Don’t be put on the defensive. Pullman is not the first to try to glamorize atheism and, although his fantasy is intriguing and well written, it does not introduce any new arguments into the discussion. If a friend has read it, consider this a great opportunity to make a defense for the hope that is within you. Since his books are allegorical fantasy, you don’t need to rebut the books. Simply explain why you have placed your faith in Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord.

2. Don’t reward evangelistic atheists financially for their efforts. Unless you need to answer specific questions for someone who needs help dealing with The Golden Compass, you don’t need to read the books or see the movie. Let’s send the message that freedom of expression is accompanied by the freedom to choose not to pay to read or see it. If you do need to read it, check it out of the library or purchase a used copy.

3. Don’t allow your children to enter this world without a chaperone (i.e. you as their parent). It is not only anti-Christian; it is also contains elements which should be deeply disturbing to children (e.g. a father murdering his daughter’s best friend; a prison camp for torturing children). Even though I think their time would be better spent reading other things, some parents may want to go over Pullman’s key themes with their older children to prepare them for their classmates who have seen the movie or read the book If you have older teenagers, you could check these books out of the library and use them to dissect Pullman’s worldview, helping them understand that it does nothing to undermine the historic truths of Christianity.

The Message of His Dark Materials

I have read the complete trilogy, His Dark Materials, of which The Golden Compass is the first volume. In my opinion, this trilogy is both well written and well crafted. Well-written in that the primary characters have some depth and I found myself caring about them. Well-crafted in that the fantasy world (actually an infinite number of parallel worlds) and plot are reasonably self-consistent and continue to be fleshed out as the trilogy unfolds. However, even if this were simply a classic allegory of good vs. evil, some of the events and imagery are too dark for anyone younger than late teens. So the problem is not that it is poorly written pulp, but that it is well written with a clear intention on the part of the author to promote a worldview that considers Christianity a bane rather than a benefit.

The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis and His Dark Materials are both allegorical fantasy series written by British authors. However, while The Chronicles of Narnia overtly promotes the message of Christianity, His Dark Materials, promotes the message that the God of Christianity is a fraud and the organized church is an evil blight preventing mankind from reaching our fullest potential. This contrast is no accident considering Pullman’s criticism of The Chronicles of Narnia and of monotheism:

Morally loathsome, he called it. One of the most ugly and poisonous things I’ve ever read. He described his own series as Narnia’s moral opposite. That’s the Christian one, he told me. And mine is the non-Christian.

Every single religion that has a monotheistic god ends up by persecuting other people and killing them because they don’t accept him, he once said.{1}

Pullman sets out to counter the impact of C. S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkein by creating his own fantasy world in which God is ultimately unmasked as a fraud. The trilogy includes an alternate garden of Eden story, ushering in the Republic of Heaven where people are free to reach their full potential without the oppressive effects of God or organized religion. With over 15 million copies of his books in print, Pullman has had some success with his objective to influence others with his atheist worldview. His Dark Materials has been the recipient of numerous literary awards, most of them for children’s literature.{2} (This categorization of his work is unfortunate since his books are definitely not suitable for children.) However, prior to the movie release, he had not achieved the notoriety he had hoped for:

Four years ago Pullman wondered why his books hadn’t attracted as much controversy as the Harry Potter series(since) he was saying things that are far more subversive than anything poor old Harry has said. My books are about killing God.{3}

One interesting feature of the trilogy is the progressive unmasking of Pullman’s worldview. After reading The Golden Compass, one may be equally disturbed with the actions of those representing the Church and those rebelling against it. The intended meaning of the allegorical elements is still fuzzy. However, by the time the reader reaches the climax of the trilogy where the Ancient of Days and his minions are defeated in their battle with the fallen angels, Pullman’s objective becomes abundantly clear. He invites the readers to embrace his vision of a Republic of Heaven; a Republic where individual self-awareness and self-fulfillment replace the need for truth and a relationship with our creator.

How Does the Movie Compare to the Books?

Of course, we have not seen the movie yet. However, anyone who has ever gone to see a movie version of one of their favorite books knows that Hollywood does not feel bound to stick to the original plot, much less the message. As the release date for the movie nears, many reports are surfacing that New Line Cinema has chosen to obscure the anti-religion message of the books.

In the end, the religious meaning of the book was obscured so thoroughly as to be essentially indecipherable… The movie’s main theme became, in one producer’s summary, One small child can save the world. With $180 million at stake, the studio opted to kidnap the book’s body and leave behind its soul. {4}

Even if this is true, I recommend that Christians avoid this movie for several reasons:

1. An adolescent who enjoys the movie may well be interested in reading the books where the message is very clear and compelling.

2. If this movie is a success, the studio will begin production on the next book in the trilogy. It will be much harder to obscure the anti-God message of the second and third volumes of the trilogy. In fact Pullman is attempting to rein in his vitriol against Christians because he wants to make sure that all three books are made into movies.

3. If Christians patronize this film, we are financially rewarding Phillip Pullman for his attack on Christianity and encouraging the studios to produce more anti-Christian propaganda than they already do.


Please go back to the opening of this article for a summary of my conclusions. Join me in praying that while the movie is a financial disaster, many Christians will be motivated to share their faith with people who want to discuss the movie and the underlying books.

Addendum: Post-Viewing Assessment of Film’s Departure from the Book

Now that I have viewed the movie, I wanted to add a short update addressing the differences between the book and the movie. There are three primary differences that are worth noting.

Theology-Lite VersionAs reported above, theology and any mention of God are almost completely removed from the movie version. Clearly, the Magesterium represents a powerful church that is condoning horrific experiments on children for the greater good of mankind, but in this parallel universe the movie does not indicate that the Magesteriums beliefs relate directly to any actual religions. One could argue that the historic Catholic Church is presented in a much more unfavorable light in the film Luther than in The Golden Compass. As a stand-alone movie, The Golden Compass would not be much different than many movies that promote a humanist message of individual dignity and choice versus an authoritarian system. Even with theology-lite, this movie has a strong worldview message that should be discussed with any young people who view the movie.

Chilling Ending TruncatedThe movie ends before the corresponding end of the book. The last three chapters of the book are not covered at all. This definitely leaves the door open to use the last three chapters as the opening for a sequel based on the next book in the trilogy. I suspect these chapters were left out because they contain the most disturbing images in the book (e.g., Lyras father murders her best friend in front of her to further his scientific work) and an explanation of the relationship between dust and Adam and Eve. Even without those chapters, this movie earns its PG-13 rating and is not suitable for children.

Significant Modifications for the Silver ScreenThe screenplay plays fast and loose with the order of events in the books and creates new storylines to shorten the build-up to key transitions in the plot. All of the major events of the book (excluding the last three chapters) are retained, but the order in which they occur and the details of how they play out are significantly modified.

None of the differences noted above cause me to change the recommendations above. I still would encourage you not to reward Phillip Pullman or the movie producers financially. Pullman is very candid that his objective is to influence people to view belief in Christianity as misguided and damaging. Financial success will encourage them to make movies of the other books in the trilogy which entail much more direct attacks on God and religion. It will also provide Pullman with resources to support his crusade. We should keep in mind that most young people who read these books will identify strongly with the protagonists and their mission to free people from Gods authority and will not have parents who will sit down with them and discuss the worldview implications of these books.

Involved Christian parents could certainly review this material with their children as a way to better equip them to deal with contrary worldviews. However, I would encourage you to do it in ways that do not financially reward the cause of atheism.

2007 Probe Ministries


1. Hana Rosin, “How Hollywood Saved God,” The Atlantic, Volume 300 No. 5, December 2007
2. The awards include but are not limited to: Whitbread Award-Best Children’s Book and Best Book 2001, Carnegie Medal (England), American Library Association Top Ten Best Book for Young Adults, A Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books Blue Ribbon book, A Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year, Children’s ABBY Honor
3. Hana Rosin, “How Hollywood Saved God”
4. Ibid



© 2007 Probe Ministries

Steve Cable is the Senior Vice President of Probe Ministries. Steve assists in developing strategies to expand the impact of Probe's resources in the U.S. and abroad. Prior to joining Probe, Steve spent over 25 years in the telecommunications industry. Steve and his wife, Patti, have served as Bible teachers for over 30 years helping people apply God's word to every aspect of their lives. Steve has extensive, practical experience applying a Christian worldview to the dynamic, competitive hi-tech world that is rapidly becoming a dominant aspect of our society.

What is Probe?

Probe Ministries is a non-profit ministry whose mission is to assist the church in renewing the minds of believers with a Christian worldview and to equip the church to engage the world for Christ. Probe fulfills this mission through our Mind Games conferences for youth and adults, our 3-minute daily radio program, and our extensive Web site at

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