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May 22, 2007

Apples and oranges

Thegoldencompass2 The trailer for The Golden Compass, based on the Philip Pullman novel of the same name, begins with the words, "In 2001 New Line Cinema opened the door to Middle-earth. This December they take you on another epic journey."

New Line's marketers are no fools. Having cleaned up on The Lord of the Rings films, naturally they're going to milk that connection for all it's worth. Nonetheless, aside from the genre -- and even that provides only a superficial bond when you get right down to it -- there is no real comparison here. Even Pullman dislikes the comparison, though he claims it's because Tolkien's works, with their focus on "maps and plans and languages and codes," are "infantile."

But that's sidestepping the real difference. Tolkien was interested in creating fantasy worlds that reflect the soverignty and goodness of God. Pullman is interested in sweeping God out of the way and establishing a new order in which humans can live undisturbed by old-fashioned concepts of morality. Think I'm exaggerating? Pullman's series ends, in part, with "God" being exposed as a weak, pitiful old fool, and dying an inglorious death, while those who have tyrannized over others in his name are defeated and destroyed.

Nevertheless, for the reason I've cited, the comparison to Tolkien's works -- and to C. S. Lewis's Narnia books and their film adaptations -- will be made over and over again in the coming months. Don't fall for it.

For more on the superficial similarities and fundamental differences among Pullman, Tolkien, and Lewis, here's a piece I wrote after reading Pullman's series.

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