This past week I read Philip Pullman’s trilogy, “His Dark Materials,” which consists of his books, The Golden Compass (aka Northern Lights), The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass.
The Golden Compass is an engaging fantasy adventure that quickly hooks the reader and carries him along, leaving him eager to read the rest of the story. In this first volume, “the Church” and its “Magisterium” are clearly malevolent, but the nature of their evil, and the struggle, and the “Dust” at the heart of it are left ambiguous.
It’s only in The Subtle Knife that Pullman rips the curtain aside to show us what the story is really about. It’s only here that we discover why Lord Asriel is obsessed with finding a source of power that will enable him to break into a parallel world: “he’s aiming a rebellion against the highest power of all. He’s gone a-searching for the dwelling place of the Authority Himself, and he’s a-going to destroy Him.”
It isn’t just the Catholic Church that Pullman has a problem with: “… every church is the same: control, destroy, obliterate every good feeling. So if a war comes,” says one of the witch queens, “and the Church is on one side of it, we must be on the other, no matter what strange allies we find ourselves bound to.”
Among the allies of the witches and Lord Asriel in their struggle against the Church and God are fallen angels. Demons. These are the powers that they contact through shamanism and tools of divination, including the alethiometer.
The ancient war of heaven was a just war, in the perspective of the books, and it is a war that must be finished. All nations and races and beliefs will come together in a final great assault on God, who is seen as a tyrant and a fraud.
Says one of the fallen angels in The Amber Spyglass:
The Authority, God, the Creator, the Lord, Yahweh, El, Adonai, the King, the Father, the Almighty—those were all names he gave himself. He was never the creator. He was an angel like ourselves—the first angel, true, the most powerful, but he was formed of Dust as we are, and Dust is only a name for what happens when matter begins to understand itself. Matter loves matter. It seeks to know more about itself, and Dust is formed. The first angels condensed out of Dust, and the Authority was the first of all. He told those who came after him that he had created them, but it was a lie. One of those who came later was wiser than he was, and she found out the truth, so he banished her. We serve her still. And the Authority still reigns in the Kingdom, and Metatron is his Regent.
Who is this “Metatron”?
When I was a man I was known as Enoch, the son of Jared, the son of Mahalalel, the son of Kenan, the son of Enosh, the son of Seth, the son of Adam. I lived on earth for sixty-five years, and then the Authority took me to his Kingdom
One of the allies in the war says,
It shocked some of us, too, to learn that the Authority is not the creator. There may have been a creator, or there may not: we don’t know. All we know is that at some point the Authority took charge, and since then, angels have rebelled, and human beings have struggled against him, too. This is the last rebellion. Never before have humans and angels, and beings from all the worlds, made a common cause. This is the greatest force ever assembled. … We’re not going to invade the Kingdom, … but if the Kingdom invades us, they had better be ready for war, because we are prepared. … The Kingdom of Heaven has been known by that name since the Authority first set himself above the rest of the angels. And we want no part of it. This world is different. We intend to be free citizens of the Republic of Heaven.
It seems that God has gradually been withdrawing from the affairs of men, but intends to intervene decisively, to set up his kingdom among men, ruling directly on earth through his Regent. Here’s how his withdrawal is described:
“Well, where is God,” said Mrs. Coulter, “if he’s alive? And why doesn’t he speak anymore? At the beginning of the world, God walked in the Garden and spoke with Adam and Eve. Then he began to withdraw, and he forbade Moses to look at his face. Later, in the time of Daniel, he was aged—he was the Ancient of Days. Where is he now? Is he still alive, at some inconceivable age, decrepit and demented, unable to think or act or speak and unable to die, a rotten hulk? And if that is his condition, wouldn’t it be the most merciful thing, the truest proof of our love for God, to seek him out and give him the gift of death?”
And here is how the new state of affairs is described:
“The Authority chose him [Metatron] about four thousand years ago to be his Regent, and they laid their plans together. They have a new plan, which my companion and I were able to discover. The Authority considers that conscious beings of every kind have become dangerously independent, so Metatron is going to intervene much more actively in human affairs. They intend to move the Authority secretly away from the Clouded Mountain, to a permanent citadel somewhere else, and turn the mountain into an engine of war. The churches in every world are corrupt and weak, he thinks, they compromise too readily …. He wants to set up a permanent inquisition in every world, run directly from the Kingdom. And his first campaign will be to destroy your Republic …”
Jesus is only mentioned once, I think, in the books, when a former nun, Mary Malone (in this world) is describing her own loss of faith. But this “Regent,” “Metatron,” is described in terms that Christians would use to describe Jesus–the Father has handed all judgment and authority over to him; he will come again, and establish his kingdom. He will come with clouds, surrounded by angels. And that’s how Metatron comes–in a “Clouded Mountain,” called “The Chariot,” from which countless angels stream to the ends of the earth. This is the object of attack by the forces of Lord Asriel.
Asriel’s fortress is described by a witch as having “ramparts of basalt, rearing to the skies, with wide roads coming from every direction, and on them cargoes of gunpowder, of food, of armor plate.” “And coming to this fortress,” she says,
“are warriors of every kind, from every world. Men and women, yes, and fighting spirits, too, and armed creatures such as I had never seen—lizards and apes, great birds with poison spurs, creatures too outlandish to have a name I could guess at. And other worlds have witches. … And he invited us to join him, sisters. To join his army against the Authority. … He showed me that to rebel was right and just, when you considered what the agents of the Authority did in His name. … He opened my eyes. He showed me things I had never seen, cruelties and horrors all committed in the name of the Authority, all designed to destroy the joys and the truthfulness of life.”
John Parry describes the struggle in these terms to his son, Will:
“There is a war coming, boy. The greatest war there ever was. Something like it happened before, and this time the right side must win. We’ve had nothing but lies and propaganda and cruelty and deceit for all the thousands of years of human history. It’s time we started again, but properly this time …. There are two great powers, … and they’ve been fighting since time began. every advance in human life, every scrap of knowledge and wisdom and decency we have has been torn by one side from the teeth of the other. every little increase in human freedom has been fought over ferociously between those who want us to know more and be wiser and stronger, and those who want us to obey and be humble and submit.”
It’s an amazing story. It is the Great Controversy, told from Satan’s perspective. It shows how people of disparate beliefs and philosophies can be united in hatred and rebellion against God. It depicts very well, I think, how Satan’s deceptions are going forward and will go forward in time to come.
But Pullman is wrong on a few things. God is the Creator, not a deceiver. He’s not a tyrant, but the originator of true freedom. And he will come to judge not only those who rebel outwardly, but also those who have done evil in his name.
And he’s very wrong on the outcome of the final battle.
This is how he describes it. He depicts God as being a shriveled up entity borne away from the battle on a crystal litter.
[H]he was so old, and he was terrified, crying like a baby and cowering away in the lowest corner. … Demented and powerless, the aged being could only weep and mumble in fear and pain and misery, and he shrank away from what seemed like yet another threat. … Between them they helped the ancient of days out of his crystal cell; it wasn’t hard, for he was as light as paper, and he would have followed them anywhere, having no will of his own, and responding to simple kindness like a flower to the sun. But in the open air there was nothing to stop the wind from damaging him, and to their dismay his form began to loosen and dissolve. Only a few moments later he had vanished completely, and their last impression was of those eyes, blinking in wonder, and a sigh of the most profound and exhausted relief.
Metatron meets his end when he falls into the abyss with Asriel and Mrs. Coulter.
The Bible depicts things quite differently. Here’s the ending of the real war waged against God and his Son by Satan, his angels, and the nations of the world:
When the thousand years are over, Satan will be released from his prison and will go out to deceive the nations in the four corners of the earth—Gog and Magog—to gather them for battle. In number they are like the sand on the seashore. They marched across the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of God’s people, the city he loves. But fire came down from heaven and devoured them….
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”