Mutiny in Heaven

By JAMES PARKER  |  December 6, 2007

Nor has Freitas herself escaped the opprobrium of her church. Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League, has called her “Dr. Spin” and “the film-studio’s house theologian,” seeing her claims for Pullman’s spirituality as a canny move in New Line Cinema’s pre-release damage-limitation program. A blockbusting atheist Christmas movie would, after all, be something of a first, and Golden Compass director Chris Weitz has acknowledged that the more blatantly God-hostile elements in Pullman’s story have been toned down for the film version, upon whose success depends the making of the next two parts of the trilogy. Even Pullman himself, with obvious difficulty, has been watching his words: “What I don’t want to do, you see,” he told the Atlantic Monthly, “is talk the other two films out of existence.”

For Freitas, all of this is a clash with Authority right out of the pages of His Dark Materials. I ask her whether she thinks the Church as depicted by Pullman exists as anything more than a grotesque exaggeration, and get an unexpectedly huge sigh. “Well,” she says, “I’m Catholic, and there are moments when I do feel the reality of the Catholic hierarchy. Then there are other moments when the voices of my grad-student professors ring in my head, telling me that the Catholic Church is made of people — that it’s not about hierarchy, it’s about whomever identifies themselves as Catholic. But the hierarchy in the Church is real, and when you’re talking as a Catholic scholar or Catholic theologian, sometimes you bump up against that in ways that are startling. There’s an effort, certainly in the United States, to control the voices that are being heard in a Catholic context, and there are those of us who have experienced this as something of a crackdown.”

She will not, however, be stopped. The Dust is streaming around her, radiant and free, and she has plans to construct a class based on His Dark Materials. “Oh, I’m gonna teach a course on him. Sure. You can’t not teach a course on Philip Pullman.”

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