Presentations of God in Children’s Literature:
His Dark Materials and The Chronicles of Narnia
In recent years no series of children’s books have caused quite so much controversy as Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy. While also gaining attention for the success of the series (having sold over 15 million copies worldwide and received many awards including the 2001 Whitbread Book of the Year award, the first time such an award had been given for a book aimed at children) the books are mainly mentioned in the media in the context of what one Catholic representative has called a ‘stealth campaign of atheism’ for whilst most of his critics concede to the brilliance of his invention and storytelling, many have a problem with the image that he presents of religion, and Christianity in particular. If Pullman’s books are seen to promote atheism it is easy to see why discussions of his novels would fit comfortably beside another great children’s author C.S. Lewis, whose Chronicles of Narnia series has long been described as Christian allegory for children. However, interestingly it was Pullman himself who first encouraged these comparisons by publishing ‘The dark side of Narnia’ in the Guardian in 1998 denouncing the stories as ‘propaganda in the service of a life hating ideology’. At this point in his career Pullman’s atheist beliefs were not as well known as they would become, indeed the book that most Christians argue contains the strongest allusions to these beliefs, ‘The Amber Spyglass’, had not yet been published. But by publicly pitting himself against The Chronicles of Narnia (for it is the books in particular rather than the author that Pullman slates) whilst in the middle of writing His Dark Materials he himself created the image of them as oppositional.
It is my aim to establish whether this image is fully realised within the texts of the two series and whether the labels now permanently attached to them in the media of atheist...