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Death of God good for books, bad for Hollywood

New York magazine’s culture blog points out how Phillip Pullman is distancing himself from his image as a God-despising, atheism-peddling iconoclast in the run-up to the release of Hollywood’s mega-budget adaptation of The Golden Compass, the first title in Pullman’s His Dark Materials fantasy trilogy.

On the Today show on Friday, Pullman denied to Al Roker that his books are anti-religious. “As for the atheism,” he adds, “it doesn’t matter to me whether people believe in God or not, so I’m not promoting anything of that sort,” he wrote…. But what did the author have to say on the issue six years ago, when asked by the Washington Post what famously Christian author C.S. Lewis would think of his books?

“I’m trying to undermine the basis of Christian belief,” says Pullman. “Mr. Lewis would think I was doing the Devil’s work.”

And what did he tell the Sydney Morning Herald in 2003?

“I’m a great fan of J.K. Rowling, but the people – mainly from America’s Bible Belt – who complain that Harry Potter promotes Satanism or witchcraft obviously haven’t got enough in their lives. Meanwhile, I’ve been flying under the radar, saying things that are far more subversive than anything poor old Harry has said. My books are about killing God.”

Yes, well clearly a movie about God-killing (particularly, Christian God-killing) is not going to appeal to Bible Belt America. But what New York fails to point out is that the maverick author’s hell-raising generated plenty of positive press before Hollywood came a-knocking – for example, see this New Yorker profile that casts Pullman as the real deal in children’s lit (his “ideal reader is a precocious fifteen-year-old who long ago came to find the Harry Potter books intellectually thin,” writes Laura Miller) or Michael Chabon’s omnibus review of the His Dark Materials trilogy in The New York Review of Books – in which it was precisely Pulllman’s “secularism” that endeared him to literary critics.

The question, then, is when did Pullman strike a deal with the devil?: During the creative genesis of His Dark Materials, which some critics have dubbed “atheism for kids”?; Or when a promised Hollwood payoff led Pullman to temper his tongue?