Thursday, March 13, 2008

save the children

"We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion."- D&C 121:39

The Golden Compass, by Philip Pullmam. The Astonishing Live of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, by M.T. Anderson.

I'm not much of a literary critic... but there was a rather pervasive theme in these two books that has stuck with me. In both stories you see first hand horrible things that are done by those who have the power to those who have been disenfranchised. In The Golden Compass it is children (particularly the children of the lower classes), who are kidnapped and experimented upon as the people in charge try to find a way to cleanse humans of original sin. In Octavian Nothing, it is a child of African Descent, who is made a glorified lab animal to be studied 'in the name of science' and 'for the good of mankind'.
In both books, the people in authority have been successful in at least one thing: they have convinced themselves that the end justifies the means, and their work is of benefit to society as a whole.
I don't have any profound epiphanies about these themes, or personal experiences or ponderings... just something that has been on my mind lately.

btw... I am almost done with The Subtle Knife (the sequel to The Golden Compass) and have been thrilled and astounded. It was even better than the first. I can't wait to start The Amber Spyglass (which, apparently is the most controversial of the three books.)

12 comments:

Nana said...

We where subjected to all kinds of strange tests as kids, most in the name of religion or the pursuit of perfection...I still have the aftertaste of oppression and propaganda...by the way, mom would be thrilled that you are reading those books! After all the time she spent on sending out all those hate emails about it! :)
Here's a quote you'll like, I think:

"To seek the living manifestation of spiritual and ethical values themselves, regardless of the label they come under, is to discover unexpected kinship... In this view, faith is no longer a matter of a allegiance to a specific community or identity, but a ceaseless search for the beautiful ways to realize the human potential in every given age and place." -- Mohja Kahf

G said...

nana, that is a beautiful quote... I'm gonna write that one in my journal. very very true words.

it was kinda funny, I had The Subtle Knife in my bag when I went over there the other day, and she saw it. a little later she sort of casually asked me what I was reading lately and wasn't that book in my bag that book that was about killing god?

I told her that it was the book that there was a bit of controversy over right now... and that I had very much enjoyed the book, that the characters and story line were brilliant and thought provoking... and that I thought people's fear of books and ideas was silly.

she then wanted to know if it would be an okay book for mari to read, and I told her it would be a FABULOUS book for mari to read, that lyra would really capture mari's imagination.

then she wanted to know if it was a book that would offend a christian.

by this point I just wanted to say "mom... how 'bout you read the book and figure that out for yourself!" but I didn't. But it it totally what she needs to do.

she gets all her opinions about if a book is appropriate or not from other people: harry potter is bad, golden compass is bad, cs lewis is good...

but she never reads them for herself! I hate that. I want her to be able to read something for herself and not require someone else to tell her if it has bad ideas in it.

ya, as far as oppressive propaganda, that notion that all of the idea that we come into contact with are potentially dangerous and must be throughly screened to keep us from asking the wrong questions... that was a big one for me.

I remember a while back I mentioned to dad that I was reading Grapes of Wrath. and he got this sort of deer-in-the-headlights look and said something along the lines of 'that is not the sort of book you should be reading' (something like that).
I was an adult married woman!
WHAT THE HELL!?!

whew... but enough about that...

on other note... ya, they did and said some pretty harmful stuff when we were growing up... it was always with our best (usually spiritual) interests in mind. But dang!
Yet I still love them. As angry as I get, I can't keep from still wanting to be a part of them.

Nana said...

I thought you'd like that quote. Mom and Dad always reminded me of Farenheit 741 (I think that's the name of the book) where they burn all literature so that no one gets any idea's. Mom and Dad are all about you reading books, as long as they're on the pre-approved list. But I could totally see them boycoting them because to many of them are not what they approve of...kinda like TV. :)

Lessie said...

Hey gals. I loved "His Dark Materials". I actually cried at the end of the last one. My sister made fun of me cause the characters are only adolescents, but I still cried. Anyway, she wasn't sure how she felt about them. I loved them. I don't think Pullman's style is quite equivalent to Rowling's, but I think I actually enjoyed the story more. There were a few things I took issue with, but I won't say what until after you've finished The Amber Spyglass.

I remember the first time I took a philosophy class and learned that it was okay to think--to just think! To not have to say, "That thought isn't allowed, that thought might hurt my testimony." And I guess, ultimately, those thoughts did hurt my testimony, but by that point, my testimony wasn't something that I thought was all that vital anyway. I look back now and realize how much fear I lived with. I was constantly afraid of slipping up (and I'm not a slip up kind of person--so I was worrying about stuff that wouldn't even happen). But they do, they just keep you so scared of every aspect of your life. I think that's been the thing that has been the most liberating. Is to realize that overall, I'm a good person. I'm not perfect, but I'm not so bad that I have to constantly be apologizing for everything that enters my head.

Anyway, thanks for the other book suggestion. I'll look into that.

G said...

hey lessie!

don't feel bad about crying. because they are adolescents we are not supposed to feel pain at their tragedies? and some of the tragedies in these books are so adult, so deep and hard... they are not light reading, even though they are written for the teen audience. they are profound. and painful.
just finished The Subtle Knife, so far both books have ended with tremendous loss and sacrifice.
has your sister read the books?

(P.S. Pullman is totally different from Rowling. she has NOTHING on his depth and complexity. but harry potter was entertaining. however both authors have hit the 'dangerous book, do not read' list my mom subscribes to.)

I was thinking about that earlier... about how my questions and entertaining other ideas did actually lead me away from the church, proof that, in fact, these things are actually dangerous to a person's belief in the church... but there are many people who are members of the church who are quite open minded and do not fear ideas and open enquiry.

I think that perhaps the ultra-conservative atmosphere that I was raised in, where certain books, questions, ideas, etc... were so taboo made it harder for me to reconcile my questions with my faith. where others raised in a different environment would not have the same difficulties of reconciliation. does that make sense? I have no proof or examples of this... I am sure it is a lot more complex than that.
it is just a thought.

Lessie said...

Yes, my sister has read them. She doesn't know what to think of them. I mean, I'm sure she was bothered by the conclusion--but I'm sure she saw what Pullman was trying to accomplish in terms of authority and stifled thought. So I know the books probably caused her a small amount of angst and/or concern.

See, I thought that Rowling's style was much more attractive than Pullman's (her subject depth not so much). But each to her own. However, his style wasn't so unattractive to me that I stopped reading :-). I couldn't put those books down. I finished all of them within a couple of days because I was so drawn to Lyra and Will's struggle. That's a series that I definitely want to own and re-read because I need more time to process all the things it got me thinking about.

As for leaving the church because of free thought (or the lack thereof), I know what you mean. Some people have no problems staying in spite of all the issues. I just wasn't one of those people. I was, however, proof against studying philosophy and feminism. I think what keeps other people in the church is their testimony of Christ--something that I ultimately lost, and so there was nothing to keep me there.

angryyoungwoman said...

Wow. My parents were really, really conservative (and have only become more so), but they never tried to censor our reading. Actually, they were a lot more worried about us reading things that were stupid than things that were controversial. I think that parents' over-involvement in kids' literary choices can be a big problem in the church, though, because kids start to feel great literature is anything with a "good moral", whereas anything promoting a different viewpoint is bad literature. They do the same thing with music. So we have a lot of Mormon kids reading really stupid (but moral)books and listening to really stupid (but moral) music.

angryyoungwoman said...

Sorry if that was a wee bit ranty

G said...

I feel the same way, angry...
there is a lot of kitchy crap out there that is 'virtous, lovely, and of good report'.

Lessie said...

Hey AYW, did you ever have to hear brother Call give his moronic FA100 lecture about what things constituted "virtuous, lovely, of good report, and praiseworthy"? He always switched it to "and" when in the scriptures, it's "or" and he always used this manipulation to make sure we only took advantage of the kitsch. I asked him about it one time and he blew me off like I was just trying to make trouble, but I was really just trying to tell him, in a nice way, how misguided and moronic he sounded up there manipulating people's ability to make choices. Oh well. I hope you're not related to him or anything--you're kind of a local, huh? I apologize in advance if I've offended you.

angryyoungwoman said...

I just can't get myself to do FA100. I know I have to finish it to get that blasted degree, but I HATE big ole crowds like they have in those blasted theaters. It'd be a great spot to have a seizure and puke and poop allover, I know. Then someone would say I was posessed by a demon . . . oy gevalt, it never ends.

angryyoungwoman said...

Oh, no I'm not related to anyone here. They're all germanic/Irish and I'm Italian/Jewish.