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Meditation 186
His Dark Materials

I would really appreciate it if a young person (under 18) would write in with his or her opinions, either negative or positive, of the His Dark Materials trilogy for publication in the discussion section.

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When I was 8 years old, my family, between houses at the time, spent the summer in a cottage at Wasaga Beach on Georgian Bay. The cottage came fully furnished, including a library of about a dozen paper backs - all Perry Mason novels by Erle Stanley Gardner. With nothing else to read and two long months at the beach ahead of me, I grabbed one and started to read.

My mother eventually noticed what I was reading and ordered me to put the book down. I'm not sure what the problem was; the somewhat lurid covers, or the fact that paperbacks in general were still regarded as slightly disreputable into the mid '50s. But all the books were placed off limits to me.

Needless to say, my mother could not watch me 24 hours a day, and over the course of the summer, all the novels were read at least twice, cover to cover. It was a good experience. I added greatly to my vocabulary and got a new perspective on the world. I learned to speed read at a very early age, thanks to the need for secrecy. And most importantly, I learned that when a book is banned, it stands a good chance of being an entertaining and / or informative read.

It wasn't much later I heard about the Catholic Index of Forbidden Books. I was sure that these banned books would even be better than those banned by my mother. So from an early age, books suppressed by religious organizations have fascinated me. And reading books currently opposed by any religion has generally been quite rewarding.

There is a recent fantasy trilogy for young people called His Dark Materials by Phillip Pullman. It is the "next Lord of the Rings," the next "Harry Potter." It has sold seven million copies already and has been turned into a play. A movie is in the works. And various churches are protesting that the material is not suitable for children. One Catholic paper calls it "truly the stuff of nightmares." Clearly His Dark Materials warrants a closer look. It sounds like just the sort of book children should be reading.

The series is fantasy adventure set in an alternate reality. It has two young protagonists, male and female, making it equally attractive to boys and girls. Along the way, it manages to intelligently explore spiritual matters and good and evil. The church is a nefarious organization and the Authority (the God figure) is old and tired and ineffective, and less than honest. Just where does an author get such ideas?

Get this series for your kids. Buy the books. Don't wait for the movie. New Line apparently plans to soften the anti-religious sentiment to avoid antagonizing the religious right. And if you have nephews and nieces with the misfortune to have true-believer parents, get the books for them too. Subvert them before it's too late.

It is unlikely convince children that religion is necessarily wrong, but it will give them some tools to intelligently think about it and question it.