Golden Compass posterAnyone who has read the books should have expected it. Some religious groups are claiming that the film version of Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass, to be released in December, aims to sneak atheistic ideas into the minds of its young viewers. An article on the Fox News Web site goes into some detail about the controversy. (Here’s some more information from the urban legends site.)

Pullman has been clear in interviews that one of his inspirations (or actually, anti-inspirations) was C.S. Lewis’s very Christian Narnia series. Pullman’s His Dark Materials books express the idea that people should “save” themselves in the here and now, rather than look for a Christ-figure, such as the heroic Aslan of the Narnia books, to save them.

While no one has yet seen the movie, which is opening across the U.S. on December 7, that hasn’t stopped statements such as this one, based on the Pullman’s expressions against organized religion in the His Dark Materials series:

These books denigrate Christianity, thrash the Catholic Church and sell the virtues of atheism,” said Bill Donohue, president and CEO of the Catholic League.

The news about the movie, well documented online, has angered both fans of the Pullman books and Christian activists. The film’s producers, hoping for good box office numbers, have largely eliminated the author’s anti-religious ideas, in favor of a plainer fantasy adventure that tells the story of Lyra, a girl living in an alternative Britain, who travels to the Arctic and allies with a warrior polar bear to free a kidnapped friend. Pullman claims that although he has kept his distance from the film, his relationship with the filmmakers has been a good one.

Many Pullman fans hate to see the series’ message so diluted (disclaimer: I’m one of them, although I’m waiting until the movie opens) and have said so loudly online, while Christian activists worry that the movie may lead young people to read the books. Bill Donohue, quoted above, says further:

They’re intentionally watering down the most offensive element…. I’m not really concerned about the movie, [which] looks fairly innocuous. The movie is made for the books. … It’s a deceitful, stealth campaign. Pullman is hoping his books will fly off the shelves at Christmastime.”

I’m only hoping that the movie is even a little bit as gripping and satisfying as the book, and I’m really looking forward to it.