“So why has this trilogy been touted by the London Telegraph and countless grumpy evangelicals as anti-Christian?” Annalee Newitz of AlterNet asks. “Probably because Pullman portrays the ruling Christian sects in a parallel England as bloodthirsty and cruel . . .” The book however isn’t critical of Christianity itself, just “a bunch of antipleasure adults” she claims.

Many people however do not agree. As one irate blogger puts it: “Many sincere, concerned Christians may be very uncomfortable reading these books. You pick them up expecting a cosmic fantasy-adventure. . and you gradually realize that you have never had your faith so directly and belligerently confronted; you have never seen your morality so thoroughly turned upside down; and you have never seen everything you hold to be sacred and true, subjected to such hostile treatment in a work of fantasy-fiction.”

No wonder one film critic gleefully wrote: “Clergymen who kidnap children. Witches who aren't wicked. Even a pair of sexually ambiguous angels! If you thought Harry Potter was blasphemous, wait till you get a look at [this] trilogy.”

Most fans of the books however fail to see the issue at all. “It is a children's book that will appeal to adults, a fantasy novel that will charm even the most hardened realist,” one reader writes on A “glittering gem” another Amazon customer gushes.

New Line is obviously hoping that any religious controversy will simply disappear and that the movie will appeal to hardcore fans of the book as well as newcomers. It would be quite the tightrope act however. Obviously fans of the books have thus far nitpicked about petty details such as Kidman’s character being a blonde in the movie (in the book she is a brunette) as die-hard fans tend to do. More worrisome however is that they have complained that Hollywood might water down the source material. “Note to Hollywood,” one Dark Materials fan posted on a forum, “if you don't have the balls to handle controversy and keep a story intact, don't bother making it into a movie!”

Chris Weitz, the movie’s director has thus far tried walking this particular tightrope but without much success. Weitz, the director of About a Boy and American Pie, has previously quit the project despite declaring that he regarded Pullman’s novel as “one of the few books to have changed my life”, claiming to be overwhelmed by the huge “technical challenges” involved. However when his replacement also left, citing the more traditional “creative differences” excuse, Weitz was tempted back into the fold again.

Describing himself as “a lapsed-Catholic crypto-Buddhist”, Weitz defended himself to one fan site thusly: “I have visited Pullman and spoken with him about this subject at great length. His feeling, and I say this with absolute certainty that I am not unfairly paraphrasing him, is that the ‘Authority’ in question could represent any arbitrary establishment that curtails the freedom of the individual, whether it be religious, political, totalitarian, fundamentalist, communist, what have you. This gives me a certain amount of leeway in navigating the very treacherous issues that beset adapting His Dark Materials for the screen.”

Next: "You will be seeing a totally CG polar bear in The Golden Compass but it is shockingly life-like."




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