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Philip Pullman: Sees religion as a force for coercion and oppression (©Mark Makela/Corbis via Getty Images)


After the slaughter and horrors of the First World War, a number of writers sought to explore urgent questions which had arisen about good and evil, truth and meaning, freedom and destiny, through the medium of fantasy. In this, at least some were influenced by those who had gone before, such as George MacDonald whose Phantastes was influential in the conversion of C.S. Lewis to Christianity. Along with Lewis were others who would also become household names, such as J.R.R. Tolkien, Charles Williams and Lord David Cecil. The Oxford literary group the Inklings, to which so many belonged, was heavily influenced by Christian theological and sacramental ideas.

For Tolkien, to take an example, fantasy must show the same inner consistency and applicability to the truth of how things are as Christianity. Authentic fantasy is an echo of divine truth and goodness. His writing is suffused with his Catholicism. Evil is a deprivation of the good, whether in persons or in the world as such. It is a shadow which can only mock the real but cannot make anything worthwhile. Its magic professes to give us freedom but it is the freedom of isolation, of aloneness, rather than the true freedom which comes from a richness of relationships through which we become what we are and are able to act morally.

Williams, similarly, uses “mythic materials” to explore theological topics such as the power of divine love, the necessity of what he calls “co-inherence”, that is to say our dependence on God and on each other in a unity which leaves little room for individualism, even, and perhaps especially, where salvation is concerned, and the abuse and misuse of religion. It is well-known that Lewis also in his works of fantasy, the Narnia tales and the science fiction Space Trilogy, explores classic Christian themes such as the Fall and alienation, the grip of evil on individuals, society and even the physical environment and stories of sacrifice, atonement and redemption. His overtly theological and apologetic works like The Problem of Pain and Miracles, together with his addresses, bring out these issues in more conventional ways, “mere Christianity” being a brave ecumenical attempt to state a common Christian faith held by Christians of all denominations. 

In such company, then, it is surprising to find someone like Philip Pullman. It is clear that there is a kind of continuity with members of the Inklings: Pullman draws heavily on the tools of their trade to evoke other worlds where there can be a battle of ideas and of values, he also has supernatural, or supernaturally endowed beings, in these worlds who struggle to prevail, and he also seeks to re-enchant our prosaic world with his tales of strange worlds and stranger creatures. Like them, Pullman professes to be influenced by the Bible and by Christian hymns in particular. But here the resemblance ends.
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AnonymousAlicia Sinclair-Portland
April 11th, 2018
5:04 PM
I don`t need to bother with Pullman except to remark that he`s clearly a succesful, good writer who will have truths in what he says. His notion of the Jesus as opposed to the Christian "Christ" deserves deeper study, and has many points I`m sure. But I am reminded of Jesus mocking the blind guides and proselytes who will go a long way to make a convert, at no end of inconvenience. Pullman is without excuse by now, let Jesus judge him. Nazir Ali is a hero to many of us, and really should be targeting his Islamic spikings of popular culture-who knows. Pullman might agree with us on that? At Easter, we go to the Cross and return to the empty tomb. After that-and after we`ve got all that that means to us-we are free in Gods love, in Jesus example and our faith in Him to do as we will-as opposed to what "thou wilt".

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