Cannes preview for His Dark Materials Adaptation

May 27th, 2007

Plus and interview with director and screenwriters, Chris Weitz.

[Referring to the Magisterium - the all-powerful religious body that wields total political power in the world of Lyra, the heroine - he said: "In the books the Magisterium is a version of the Catholic church gone wildly astray from its roots. If that's what you want in the film, you'll be disappointed. We have expanded the range of meanings that the Magisterium represents."

 He added that there would be no specific marketing to neutralise any potential religious backlash in the US. "We're going to let the film talk for itself," he said.

Speaking from his home in Oxford, Pullman told the Guardian: "The Magisterium as I conceived it always did stand for a range of things, including organised religion and secular authority.

"The outline of the story is faithful to what I wrote, given my knowledge of what they've done - and given they have compressed a story that takes 11 hours to read out into two hours or so." ]

Pullman criticizes children’s and young adult television programing in another part of the Guardian Review issue. 

[ Pullman went on to say that fiction loses its value unless it 'tackles the great moral dilemmas of our time'. 'Fantasy, and fiction in general, is failing to do what it might be doing,' he said. 'It has unlimited potential to explore all sorts of metaphysical and moral questions, but it is not doing that.

'You can't leave morality out unless your work is so stupid and trivial and so worthless that nobody would want to read it anyway.

'Taking children's needs seriously is not different from taking every human need seriously,' he said. 'It is absolutely central to a true and humane vision of the whole of life. If we need to challenge the prevailing neo-liberal, market-based religion in order to do it, then we should do so proudly.' ]

Love, C.

10 Responses to “Cannes preview for His Dark Materials Adaptation”

  1. Laura J. Mixonon 27 May 2007 at 9:28 pm

    ‘Taking children’s needs seriously is not different from taking every human need seriously.’ I wholeheartedly believe this. There is a close correlation between abuse of children and repressive, authoritarian social systems.

    Good post, Constance.

  2. Philippaon 28 May 2007 at 1:30 am

    Pullman went on to say that fiction loses its value unless it ‘tackles the great moral dilemmas of our time’. ‘Fantasy, and fiction in general, is failing to do what it might be doing,’ he said. ‘It has unlimited potential to explore all sorts of metaphysical and moral questions, but it is not doing that.’

    I agree with this, to a certain extent. Stories for the sake of stories are always going to be a part of culture, let alone a particular genre; but I’ve felt for a while now that the advantage fantasy has over all other genres is its ability to deal with real-world questions in neutral territory. Readers are disarmed by their lack of any pre-existing allegiance to a fantastic political party, creed, religion or ideology, even if, in some parts, the belief structure mimics a real-world counterpart. Fiction on its own can’t create that distance; ultimately, it is still our world, with our limits and, depending on what we believe, our creator (or lack thereof). In fantasy, we can’t assume that the zealots with a similar faith to ours are right, any more than we can assume that the zealots with the different faith are wrong – and often, we’re so caught up in the escapism that we don’t even see the parallels until we’re blindsided by a particularly powerful or poignant moment.

    I disagree with Pullman only in saying that some of that unlimited potential is, in fact, being explored by increasingly skilled and self-aware writers. I’ll also say that, regardless of their intellectual content, stories written for their own sake, when well-executed, are a fun break – fiction can certainly have more value when it has depth, but depth alone doesn’t make great literature, and there’s a danger in taking ourselves so seriously that we can’t approve of anything that lacks higher meaning. Ultimately, though, there’s a lot of room to talk about the real in unreal settings, and if other people think so, too, then great!

  3. Laura J. Mixonon 28 May 2007 at 6:51 am

    “I’ve felt for a while now that the advantage fantasy has over all other genres is its ability to deal with real-world questions in neutral territory.”

    This characteristic is also true of SF, actually.

  4. Philippaon 28 May 2007 at 5:47 pm

    Sorry – was including SF in fantasy as an umbrella. Should have said so! :)

  5. LauraJMixonon 30 May 2007 at 2:48 pm

    In this case, we are in complete agreement. It’s one of the signature strengths, I think, of the literature of the fantastic.

  6. Philippaon 30 May 2007 at 9:37 pm

    In this case, we are in complete agreement. It’s one of the signature strengths, I think, of the literature of the fantastic.

    No disagreement there! It’s just a shame that most people who’re disparaging of the genres haven’t realised this (in my experience, anyway).

  7. shannonon 07 Jun 2007 at 7:48 am

    Just to join the debate a little, I agree with Pullman, and have very high standards for fantasy – there’s a lot of great new authors out there who use the genre to explore and experiment. I actually don’t think SF does this, or does it so well when it tries (there’s plenty of fantasy, too, that falls short). I find it tends to accentuate the whole humans-are-the-centre-of-the-world arrogance that we’ve encouraged for centuries, and that it also tends to absolve us of our responsibilities towards our own planet through the expectation of someone else always solving our problems for us – whether that be an alien race or some future scientist etc.

    Fantasy, on the other hand, is more humble, more organic, more mystical and generally more connected to the land etc. This is what I love about it. When it delves into and explores politics, religion and cultural attitudes, it questions the way we do things, offering up the thought: is there not another way, a better way, we could approach this? It often holds up a mirror for us to see our worst flaws. In this way, the genre is experimental. As far as experimental SF goes, books like The Left Hand of Darkness left me quite unsatisfied, like she missed an important point that’s hard to put a finger on. Something along the lines of perception, assumption… If she’d only written it from a more ‘fantasy’ perspective, I think it could have been far more worthy.

    On another note, the preview for The Golden Compass looks great! But I’ll be reading the trilogy first – can you believe I don’t think I’d ever heard of it until this year? Now everyone’s recommending it to me. I can’t wait!

  8. Constance Ashon 07 Jun 2007 at 10:07 am

    Fantasy, on the other hand, is more humble, more organic, more mystical and generally more connected to the land etc.

    Clearly this is a sincere observation on your part.

    Yet, yet, yet … that leaves out certain Science Fiction that at least, to me, would qualify equally to meet those criteria of yours — and possess interesting characters and tell a good story too. Kim Stanley Robinson’s latest works, for instance, or Vernor Vinge’s, or even the first of Herbert’s Dune novels. And it certainly leaves out a lot of other qualifying fiction that might not be marked as either f or sf!

    Love, C.

  9. shannonon 08 Jun 2007 at 7:35 am

    that leaves out certain Science Fiction that at least, to me, would qualify equally to meet those criteria of yours

    Yeah, I know, I’m elitist like that, I can’t help it, SF doesn’t satisfy me and that’s a personal thing. I find that the qualities that I do like in SF are ones I think of as fantasy tropes. I have read Dune, but struggled through it. It wasn’t so much the story I didn’t like as the way it was written. I loved The Crystal Singer trilogy, because it was more philosophical and character-driven.

    I think what bothers me most about SF is its own elitism, and this makes me respond in kind. There is a very unsubtle snobbery when it comes to academics and the genre. I found this to be so while working on my dissertation on fantasy. There has been plenty written about speculative fiction and the fantastic, but next to nothing on generic, popular fantasy. It’s embarrasing for academics to even consider it. That’s a shame, and so I’m always ready to come to the defence of fantasy. It’s also why, when I read and like a sci-fi book, I’m quick to point out its succesful fantasy tropes! :)

  10. Constance Ashon 08 Jun 2007 at 9:32 am

    One might guess then, if The Crystal Singer is a benchmark as to the work you, as a reader, find most appealing, you won’t like His Dark Materials trilogy.

    But then, if you admire Milton and Jacqueline Carey’s Godslayer duology, the chance increases that His Dark Materials might achieve your approval.

    Love, C.

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