Pullman and the Nature of God (longish)

Elizabeth Parks mep3 at st-andrews.ac.uk
Sat Mar 16 13:38:30 EST 2002

I agree that the character was meant to be God, but I think that it's a
god of christianity and not of Christianity: that is to say, this is not
the God of Buber, for example--not an informed spiritually perfect
Thou-deity.  I don't think that that kind of God exists in Pullman's
world.  What we have instead is a god who is weak (the fact that he loses
is proof of that) with followers characterized by an unbending adherence
to rules instead of a respect for humanity (example: the treatment of the
children in the North), and i think that this is what Pullman is dealing
with: not God as interpreted by the faithful but God and religion as
societal factors.

I personally found the entire second Eve/virginity/choice/innocence aspect
really beautiful (partly due to my scholarly experiences with the Eve
myth) and completely relevant.  I've on occasion proposed to my religion
adviser that we make Eve our (all female) college's patron or
something--the first
woman to choose knowledge, right?  And I don't think that the innocence
that Pullman has both Lyra and Will losing is just the innocence of
childhood/physical innocence--it's a cultural innocence, and an innocence
that harms--and an experience that involves knowing the weight of your own
actions rather than just acting.

Which brings me to the Sally Lockheart trilogy (haven't gotten around to
reading all of the Tin Princess) and the fact that I sincerely disliked
the last book.  I wanted a _story_ and instead I felt like I was getting a
moral and a lesson on socialism.  HDM worked much better for me because
there was a mythic element to it as well as the same sort of moral lesson.

Interestingly, some of the books that I find myself thinking of when I
think of HDM are by Piers Anthony--the Incarnations of Immortality, in
particular the last two (one's about the Devil, and one's about God).
These were the first books of his that I ever read--and I have come to
despise Xanth so utterly that I don't think I'm unbiased on this
subject--but those two books greatly shaped my worldview and are probably
a factor in my divinity major.  They have the same sort of God--one who
gets voted on at one point--flawed and limiting--and the same idea of
humans as a force who shape divinity which is so fundementally different
from the a priori deity found in Christianity that I find it hard to think
of them as the same being--of course, I (when I'm not being an agnostic)
have an almost panentheistic view of Divinity (undoubtedly shaped by
ecofeminist theologians like Carol Christ who is, I think, quite amazing).
In short--I don't think that the God of Pullman is a theological deity,
but rather the personification of a corrupt and bureaucratic social
entity.  If I'd read the books five years ago I would be saying something
different; at the time I didn't believe in real belief in God and couldn't
understand a non-selfish religion--it wasn't until I found more examples
of this and stopped needing to explain them away as mental illness and
mass hysteria (thinking of martyrs) that the idea of God became at all
possible for me to admit.

And so I guess what I'm saying here is that the fact that Pullman intended
the Authority to be God doesn't make it your God or a true God except in
the world of the book. . . one thing I have found immensely helpful in my
study of Christianity has been my knowledge (small though it is) of Hindu

Eek--not sure what this email is.  Hope it's not offensive. . . .  In any
case, here's a list of books/authors I think worth looking at/have

Iranaeus, "Against the Heresies" very early reaction to Gnostic sects--had
a very very strong influence on what Christianity became

Elaine Pagels, "Gnostic Gospels" and esp, in light of the topic, "Adam,
Eve, and the Serpent"

Martin Buber, "I and Thou" (translated from German).  Really beautiful if
occasionally hard to read exploration of the nature of self and relation
to others and to God.  Also notable is Otto's "Idea of the Holy" and
Schleiermacher's "On Religion: Speeches to its Cultured Despisers,"
especially if you can read them in German.

Carol Christ, who I consider one of the best examples of the feminist
theology movement.  Also worth looking at are Rosemary Radford Ruether
(ecofeminist), Phyllis Trible (who wrote a book called "Texts of Terror"
which contains a look at the Eve myth), and Mary Daly (though her later
stuff is just plain scary.  "Beyond God the Father" is Out There but not
so much that it's unreadable).

And I'm not sure that I want to reccomend the Piers Anthony books, but I'm
quite curious to see who else has read them/ what you all think of them.
I honestly think that few other books have been as important to my
interest in religion.  One other worth mentioning is Daniel Quinn's
"Ishmael" which, while certainly not without faults, provoked me into a
new level of thinking when I was fifteen.


also--I've been considering Pullman's HDM as a thesis topic--if anyone has
any reccomendations please let me know--I'm interested in work on him and
related to the books.

and--I'm sure that there are spelling mistakes in this--my email's being
quite wonky--I sincerely apologize.


On Fri, 15 Mar 2002, Caleb W wrote:

> ----- Original Message -----
> From: "Rowland, Jennifer A B" <jennifer.rowland at ic.ac.uk>
> To: <dwj at suberic.net>
> Sent: Friday, March 15, 2002 10:10 AM
> Subject: RE: Pullman
> > Kyla wrote:
> > > I believe <whoever it was--Philip?> was referring to the rather nasty,
> > > unpleasant view of God (or "God," possibly) put forth by
> > > Pullman, with the
> > enslaving/lying/other-things-I-can't-remember-since-it's-been-
> > > 9-months-since-I-read-the-books actions He does. It made me feel quite
> > ooky.
> >
> > I read it as being God- not being a beliver, this didn't bother me- but I
> > have since read a reviewer who thought "The Authority" was Satan, who had
> > managed to overthrow God at the beginning, and Will and Lyra were putting
> > things to rights- the reviewer was saying how morally satisfying the books
> > were to a Christian! I haven't reread the books since I saw this, so I'm
> not
> > sure how convinced I am.
> > Jennifer
> I suppose you could twist things around a bit to interpret it like that -
> the Authority is much more like Satan than God, but IMO, he is clearly
> intended by Pullman to be God.
> Caleb W.
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