Mutiny in Heaven

By JAMES PARKER  |  December 6, 2007

Empowered by this vision, the pro-Dust forces mount a galactic assault upon the shrouded realm of the Authority — a stupendous battle, with armored bears and wasp-people and angels blowing like spores from the mouth of infinity. (Read it while listening to Swans, or Nick Cave’s former band the Birthday Party’s “Mutiny in Heaven”: “Wrapped in mah mongrel wings, ah nearly freeze. . . . If this is heaven, ah’m bailin’ out!”) And when it’s over, and the dead have been rescued from Limbo and creation has popped open like a Jack-in-a-box, Lyra tells her daemon that it’s time to start building “the Republic of Heaven.”

This is where Freitas starts to get really excited. “There are a lot of theologies,” she says, eyes flashing behind the dark-rimmed professorial specs, “that are marginalized because they posit a relationship with the divine as something mutual rather than hierarchical, prioritizing the here-and-now, and the building of the Republic of Heaven on Earth. Philip Pullman uses that concept and he takes it right out of liberation theology, even though I don’t think he realized he was doing it — this idea that we can’t just look at the afterlife, until we’ve figured out how we feed the poor, how we make life okay for all of us right now.”

In November, Freitas got a chance to present her ideas to Pullman when she interviewed him for a fansite. “He’d already read our book,” she says. “His wife was quoting her favorite parts at me, and that made it possible for us to have a real conversation. He was very respectful, and definitely intrigued.”

So Pullman is more of a heretic, then, than an atheist? Freitas frowns. “Hmm. I don’t know that I would call him heretical, because if he was, then that would make me heretical.” Can’t you be a little bit heretical? “Well, maybe women who do theology are dangerous by their nature. But I think of myself as Catholic, as hard as that identity is to hold on to sometimes . . . To me, Pullman is just doing theology. He’s against corrupt authority — against people who abuse power, people who use secrecy to preserve themselves. If there’s a critique going on, I think that is the most salient one.”

The rumpus about the Compass
There it is, then: the God slain in His Dark Materials is not God at all but His worldly shadow, an impostor, the “Father of Jealousy” and “Nobodaddy” derided by William Blake.

Then old Nobodaddy aloft
Farted and belch’d & cough’d,
And said, ‘I love hanging & drawing & quartering
Every bit as well as war and slaughtering.’

Nobodaddy’s finished, Love is magic, and the Republic of Heaven is under your own nose. Controversy over, right? Wrong. The run-up to the release of The Golden Compass has been loud with the fulminations of Catholicism’s right wing. “It is one of Satan’s most effective and time-tested strategies in his war against mankind,” writes the Catholic novelist Michael O’Brien on his Web site, “to afflict us with a blatant evil (for example, the dark imagination of authors like Pullman), and then to offer an apparently lesser evil (the murky imagination of authors like J.K. Rowling) as an alternative, even as an antidote to the more blatant evil. Then, we jump hastily for the quick solution, the lesser evil, forgetting that it may be the lesser evil with which Satan wishes to infest the world.” Talk about cross-platform marketing: as Hollywood trundles its Christmas behemoth onto the scene and the armies of PR are mobilized, the celestial duel for our souls heats up overhead.

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