Philip Pullman on CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien

In a recent interview, Philip Pullman not only properly reminds us of the challenges of talking to fundamentalists ‘You can’t communicate with people who know they’ve got all the answers’ but also makes one of the most ridiculous and ignorant statements I’ve read in a long time:

‘I dislike his Narnia books because of the solution he offers to the great questions of human life: is there a God, what is the purpose, all that stuff, which he really does engage with pretty deeply, unlike Tolkien who doesn’t touch it at all. ”The Lord of the Rings” is essentially trivial. Narnia is essentially serious, though I don’t like the answer Lewis comes up with. If I was doing it at all, I was arguing with Narnia. Tolkien is not worth arguing with.’

You can read the full interview here.

For those in, or near enough to, St Andrews, Dr Grant Macaskill (who is not only a really great guy and an engaging speaker, but also a good musician) will be speaking on Christianity and the Philip Pulman novels on Sunday the 16th of December at 6pm, Martyr’s Church in North Street. The title of his talk, ‘Killing God Softly: Does “The Golden Compass” undermine Christianity?’ For more information, contact Matt.


  1. Pullman can only be referring to the way that both he and Lewis put their arguments closer to the surface of their narrative than does Tolkein. I haven’t read Pullman, but I’ve heard folks talk about the second and third books in the series as pretty tastelessly ideological. Mistaking Tolkein’s subtlety for “triviality” is a pretty pheonomenal case of blindness.


  2. I’m sure Tolkien and Lewis would have gave Pullman a great LESSON.(I would directly punch him)


  3. I agree with him about Narnia. The Answer the the great question is appallingly closed minded.

    I disagree about Tolkien, because triviality is in the eye of the beholder.


  4. Philip Pullman needs to cool off. It seems to me like…

    A.-He is jealous of Lewis and Tolkien’s adoring fans, sucess, and humble attitudes.


    B.- He simply hates anyone of great influence, whom isn’t an athiest.

    Both options are very childish for an full grown man. I find it interesting that he bashes Narnia when his books include child abuse and torture throughout the entire trilogy. Children books? I think not.


  5. I dont get how Pullman calls himself an atheist when his sentiments seem agnostic. In his books hes got Dust, which is the panthestic view of god that agnostics have. The idea of a sort of spiritual cosmic force, and im sure Pullman did say that he did think that there may be a form of ‘force’ out there. (however, im not positive)

    Also, Tolkien is an absolutly fabulous writer. he is NOT trivial. Yes, he is religious, and yes, you do know what creatures in the book are good and evil. BUT, when reading the novels you get the feeling of evil and of power. His use of language allows this. I think Pullmans is more trivial as, when reading it you never fear for the lives of the protagonist, nor is his conclusion satisfying. And by satisfying i dont mean the cliche of ‘they lived happily ever after’, I mean that his conclusion was really random. The whole world was saved because, wait for it, Will and Lyra kissed.


  6. I like he Pullman books as they show a great deal of imagination and contain interesting (albeit controversal) paradigms. However, if there is a problem with the writing it is that it is so cold and intellectualized that the reader can not connect with it. Pullman’s comments about Tolkien and Lewis can be chalked up to his general coldness and obvert arrogance.


  7. You people are unendingly foolish. Pullman has no interest in putting down the successful for the sake of it- for god sake, he has enough admirers to render such an argument redundant. His problem is with the intellectual answer that Lewis tries to give his readers; one which I happen to agree is disgusting. What he was saying about Tolkien was that Tolkien didn’t give an answer to such questions. His story comes from the conflict of purely practical matters, not philiosophical ones. Saying he is “not worth bothering with” is hard to argue from an intellectual standpoint, and whether you like the story or not is a matter of taste.

    As for those that say he is arrogant in his beliefs. Surely no less so than Lewis was for propagating them in his stories? I’m sure were the man still alive today he would argue with just as much venom as Pullman. Both men have the right to put forth their arguments in whatever tone they wish. You have the right to do the same.

    Christina :
    I like he Pullman books as they show a great deal of imagination and contain interesting (albeit controversal) paradigms. However, if there is a problem with the writing it is that it is so cold and intellectualized that the reader can not connect with it. Pullman’s comments about Tolkien and Lewis can be chalked up to his general coldness and obvert arrogance.

    You utter, utter fool. You clearly not only missed the whole point of Pullman’s story, but purposely gave it a wide berth. Describing the discovery of love and experience and growing up as “trivial”?! Saying you couldn’t connect with that most universal of processes? I fear we shall never be friends so…


  8. Well, to Mr. Pullman I would say that if he thinks Tolkien is trivial he must also believe that the Eddas and the Kallevala are trivial. Tolkien takes the matter of evil seriously and sees its corruption coming from both within and without ourselves. His characters demonstrate complexity and his legendarium has many archetypes in it which Jungian psychotherapists analyze.

    Obviously if Mr. Pullman thinks there is some sort of creative force in the universe, it is impersonal like “dust”.

    Finally, I would ask Mr. Pullman if he has ever bothered to read
    the evolutionary history of Christian thought or the Talmud. Since I am a Unitarian who loves and respects the atheists in my church and am now planning on reading both Dawkins and Hitchens , I challenge him to read Karen Armstrong’s The Case for God.


  9. I would just like to say that Pullman is a royal jackass. First of all, he will NEVER even be a fraction of the writer C.S Lewis was; at least Lewis didn’t outrightly bash people who disagree with his views by means of indoctrinating little kids through literature. Narnia does have Christian themes, yes, but they are subtle enough to where anyone can read and enjoy the story, no matter what they believe. Pullman flat out forces his opinions on children through his books, and he’s accusing Lewis of propaganda?? And besides, all religious views aside, I honestly could not finish the Golden Compass because the prose was slow and boring, the main character was very two-dimensional not to mention annoying, and the plot just wasn’t that interesting. C.S Lewis evoked his views in ways that were creative and tasteful, and he was a wonderful writer. Pullman needs to shut his mouth, because I promise you, you ignorant jackass, your lousy books will never stand the test of time like Narnia. No one’s gonna know who you are in ten years, so just keep it to yourself.


  10. I just discovered pullman’s books and his antagonism with c.s. lewis by way of an essay by michael chabon (kavalier and clay, wonderboys).
    I am not so concerned with pullman’s attacks on lewis (which are tempered with intermittant praise) as I am his overt-anti god message for kids.
    the anti-christian stance put forward in his dark materials is explicit, severe and at the end of the day, for all of pullman’s complex allegory, utterly simplistic. it is propaganda. not in the sense that all literature is propaganda, deriving necessarily from a limited vantage. but rather in the sense of overt indoctrination. characters portrayed as noble and credible inform its young readership that all of christianity is one brutal, unmitigated,
    hateful disaster.
    if everyone can pause, take a deep breath, we
    might recognize in this one more example of
    extremists having significantly more in common
    with their polar counterparts than with anyone
    else. say, pullman = glenn beck.
    frankly, i’m a little disappointed with chabon,
    who seems to view pullman’s spiteful anti-church schlockery as only subtly hypocritical and curiously ironic, rather than as a major failing, in political and intellectual terms as well as literary.
    i’d reccomend mariynne robinson to any of his admirers as a more approriate foil than lewis.


  11. >”Pullman flat out forces his opinions on children”
    Not true. Children should be able to determine reality from fiction. No child below a certain age should be reading these books anyway. As for the themes discussed, there are no clear cut answers.The discussions in the books are meant to stimulate discussion and introspection.

    >”his overt-anti god message for kids”
    It is explicitly stated in the books that the Authority is not God but a pretender. If anything, it teaches caution about worshipping the first thing that claims to be God or that others claim to be God.

    >”anti-christian stance”
    No. Pullman was stated that he wrote about Christianity because it is what he is familiar with. His opponent is organised religion. He has also stated that religion is best when it is kept apart from power. He is not against religion, he is against giving power to religion to govern the lives and actions of men through force.

    >”Tolkein and Lewis were humble in their beliefs”
    I’m more inclined to use the word, “subtle” than “humble”.

    >”pretty tastelessly ideological”
    Many ideas are presented by the characters in the story. Ideas that frequently contradicted each other. Many books are fond of labelling characters as evil or good. Pullman never wrote, “that character was evil”. Rather he said that their deeds were evil. The only thing explicitly labelled as evil was the Magisterium and that was a collection of organisations. Its actions over the centuries justified the label. Besides, Pullman has stated that not all the ideas presented by his fictional characters are his own opinions. In any case, I find most religions and their followers to be “pretty tastelessly ideological”. I also find the bible to be “pretty tastelessly ideological” and the tracts that its adherents insist on pestering me with, “pretty tastelessly ideological”.


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