Tuesday, December 04, 2007

I'm a Raccoon!

As I was reading Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials Trilogy, I was much taken with the idea of "daemons" - creatures which are manifestations of the human soul. I wondered (as all readers surely must) what my own daemon must be. I fancied a cat because I aspire to felinity (but know that I fall way short of those exacting standards).

Anyway, I was overjoyed to find on Dove Grey Reader's blog a link to The Golden Compass movie website which let's you find out which creature your daemon is.* Mine is a raccoon.

Or at the moment it is, because depending on whether blog readers agree with my self-assessment, my form might change over the next 12 days before becoming fixed. Dove Grey Reader's began as a fox and changed into a lion.

(I'm not too unhappy with the assessment, by the way, as I do like raccoons, though the only one I've ever met was in a cage outside a petshop on Aman Suria and got his claws snagged in my skirt when I tried to pet him.)

The film looks very good and I'm fairly aching to see it.

Wired magazine has a very interesting piece on the making of the film.

Meanwhile there is of course the controversy which surrounds the film and books as Nury explains.

To which this blogger says: It's fiction. Get over it.

*(Click on Daemons link and then Meet Your Daemon.)


GUO SHAO-HUA said...

yes it is just fiction, but it's fiction aimed at children, impressionable children. as a Christian myself, i am disturbed by the motive of Pullman and his books, but i would not recommend banning or burning his books. let him write them. let those of us against his work beware and be aware. that's it and that's all.

i've heard the argument that these atheist books are no different than books that outrightly propagate religion. sure, i agree, but religious books are clearly, from the first look at their covers, religious books. take a look at Pullman's books. is there anything to indicate that they're anti-religion? religious books are placed on specific shelves dedicated to them. Pullman's books are on the common children's bookshelves. i guess people wouldn't have kicked up as much of a fuss if they were not children's books. (but then again, there were, in some countries, cases of cinema-burning when The Last Temptation Of Christ was released!)

also why i brought this up is because even though Pullman proclaims his books to be "atheist," yet they are full of occult references. take for example, this "daemon" concept. it is what is known in occult circles as "familiars."

so what's Pullman really trying to pull here?

Anonymous said...

Um.. there are occult references in Harry Potter. Are you disturbed by Rowling's "motives" as well ? :)

I strongly suspect their motives and to entertain and make money :)

Anonymous said...

Oh and Bib, the daemon thing doesn't seem to work. :)

bibliobibuli said...

anon- it gets stuck on q1 doesn't it? the problem is at their end ...

bibliobibuli said...

guo - er cs lewis??? never was there a more sneaky christian subtext! i don't know if you object to that?

anon - yeah and rowling can be read with an occult subtext, if you so choose

hands off fiction lah. the creator of a work of art must have their space.

GUO SHAO-HUA said...

darn it. internet timing made it look like i was haranguing Bib instead of anon.

anyway, if you read my post carefully, it's not a blame game, but just my personal take. again, if you read carefully (in this case, you guys need to read my comment at about 5 words per hour) , i'm asking why, if Pullman is against all kinds of faiths and beliefs, does he resort to the occult?

any theologians here want to take a crack at it?

GUO SHAO-HUA said...

"the creator of a work of art must have their space."

exactly what i meant. let Pullman write. let those against his work be aware. let those who agree and disagree discuss among themselves.

re: CS Lewis. that is subtext. which means it can be read as a secular work. Pullman doesn't use atheism as subtext. it's right there in your face.

starlight said...

i'm a fox. thanks for another reason to skive off work. ;)

Whitearrow said...

Hmmmm, read somewhere that Pullman openly stated he wrote the books to 'kill God in the minds of children'...don't know how true what I read was though. Oh, and that he wrote it with Narnia in mind as a kind of competition thingee (religious subtext vs atheist subtext).

Anonymous said...

Er, if C.S. Lewis's Catholic propaganda is a "subtext," it's a pretty heavy-handed subtext, I'd say. I really, really disagree with the quoted statement below, in fact I disagree with it so strongly it makes me want to jump up and down and bite someone (maybe my daemon is canine?):

"religious books are clearly, from the first look at their covers, religious books."

What?!? What about, er, just about any British/American novel or children's book written before the mid-twentieth century, in which the good/clean/proper folks are basically Christian, and the nice ladies are churchgoing types, and the children all say their (Christian) prayers before bed?!? I say, it's about time people started to write novels in which belief in god/gods *isn't* equated with goodness. Atheists struggle with ideas of good and evil too, you know? It's going to take a long, long time, and more than one Philip Pullman, to get that idea into society's collective head, so I say, thank you, Philip, and may there be more like you (on that note, did anyone read the interview with McEwan in Sunday's NYT Magazine? Want to link to it/comment on it on your blog, Sharon? What can I say, I do love a bit of row now and then ;-) ).

Anyway. I actually did the daemon quiz a few days ago, and I lied above -- I'm a spider, not a dog.

- Preeta

bibliobibuli said...

a spider?? haha

yes - i used the word subtext above and immediately thought "that should be propaganda"

literature should stir us up and make us think, anyway, and give us other ways of seeing the world

agree with what you say about atheists who are so often looked down upon even in britain, as being sort of morally lapsed when often they are struggling openly and honestly with questions of belief

preeta why don't you guest blog the nyt article. just email it and i'll put it up front. only has to be short and i can put in the links.

treat this as a space for discussion and throw something in

bibliobibuli said...

i've changed into a bird???????????

GUO SHAO-HUA said...


there are also lots of books where the characters' religious background or lack thereof are not stated and they do good things. so what's your point?

GUO SHAO-HUA said...

i have no problems with atheists struggling with belief, good and evil, flesh and spirit, etc. in fact, one of the greatest piece of literature addressing these issues was Kazantzakis's Last Temptation Of Christ.

but when Pullman targets children, and openly states things like he wants to destroy God in people's minds ...

that's not an exploration or an intellectual questioning.

Anonymous said...

So you have no problem with people actually trying to destroy God in people's minds, you have a problem with people who SAY that ? :)

GUO SHAO-HUA said...

prove to me how Kazantzakis tries to "destroy God in people's minds".

i gather you are the same Anon of the first couple of comments, who resorts to juvenile quips as an intellectual retort?

in case you still cannot understand:

i question Pullman and his motives when he proclaims himself an atheist but uses occult concepts in his supposedly atheistic books.

i question Pullman on whether his works are truly the exploration of human beliefs, spiritual struggle, conflicts of the human heart, as many other far greater minds have also explored in their work.

i do not question the rights of an atheist.

i do not question the right of every human being to ask questions.

Anonymous said...

Hmm, I'm an atheist but I wouldn't say I'm "struggling with belief" -- I have a problem with that word, perhaps because of its connotations -- it seems to suggest that one wishes to believe in supernatural forces but *can't*, when in fact I don't wish I believed in any such thing. And flesh vs. spirit, I really don't know about that, either, because I'm not convinced of the existence of the spirit, but let me not get into that here. I do, however, struggle with ideas of good and evil/right and wrong, yes, as I imagine most atheists do, because we have to decide for ourselves what's right and what's wrong in any given situation, and with freedom of choice comes responsibility. It's the only struggle, as far as I'm concerned -- I'm not an atheist trying/wishing/hoping to be a believer, which is what I imagine you're thinking of, guo shao-hua.

As for "targeting" children -- think about it: we all feed children propaganda under various names, don't we? Christian/Muslim/Hindu parents and teachers and religious authorities certainly "target" children; few stop to question the idea that parents should raise children in their own faith. It's a given, even a requirement in some religions. I might go further and say that even non-religious parents/teachers do indoctrinate their children, after all; it's what raising children is all about. If we didn't try to pass on our ideas to them, we may as well leave them to be raised by wolves, no? Yet somehow, when religion targets children, the mainstream media doesn't portray it as indoctrination. I mean, come on, where's the "exploration" or "intellectual questioning" in religious education classes for children? I attended catechism classes in primary and secondary school and let me tell you, there wasn't a lot of intellectual questioning going on. For those who are so outraged by Pullman's ambition to destroy the idea of God: would you be equally outraged at a writer who openly admitted to wanting to glorify God through his work?

In answer to your question about books where the characters' religious backgrounds are not stated openly or hinted at, guo shao-hua: take a survey of all Western literature before, say, 1950, and then get back to me.

-- Preeta

GUO SHAO-HUA said...


thank you thank you thank you!!! finally a reasonable mind that can engage in a meaningful discussion on these topics!

bibliobibuli said...

"catechism classes" oh happy memories!

another escapee!

GUO SHAO-HUA said...

as we are all humans, we're always in need of checks and balances in the morality department. all religions in the world teaches us to be on the right side of that. but the problem always arises in terms of interpretation.

now, i believe people of faith get agitated whenever atheism comes forth purely because of that. the morality question opens up like a great big ravine.

opening up oneself to new and different ideas is always good but how do you teach children? Pullman's device is a blanket statement that all religious figures are evil.

in any case, that has always been a problem for both sides of the fence. people tend to take things at face value.

but my questions about Pullman remain. and remain unanswered.

GUO SHAO-HUA said...

oh, i finished catechism classes! forced to go too. couldn't escape. remember nothing of it. only learnt more later as an adult.

animah said...

I'm a crow??!!
On Pullman and religion, in my opinion - Oooo - a glittery thingy under that pile of bottles. Byeeeee

Argus Lou said...

I'm a lion!?!
Never thought of it that way... ^_^

(Probably morph into a mouse, huh?)

animah said...

Hang on. Argus is a lion. Starlight is a fox. My aunt is a tiger. You are a racoon.

And I'm a crow?!!!!

I am very upset. I will stop hanging out in Bangsar. It's rubbed off too much.

Whitearrow said...

Hehe animah crows are in fact extremely intelligent creatures, so you should be pleased to be a crow. Beauty is only skin deep;)and i guess they r beautiful too in their own way...

savante said...

I've settled into a red fox actually!

Anonymous said...

"prove to me how Kazantzakis tries to "destroy God in people's minds"."

I didn't say that. My point was, if he was trying to do that, wouldn't it be stupid for him to say it outright ?

"i gather you are the same Anon of the first couple of comments, who resorts to juvenile quips as an intellectual retort?"

I didn't even think it was intellectual, but thanks I guess.

"i question Pullman and his motives when he proclaims himself an atheist but uses occult concepts in his supposedly atheistic books."

An atheist does not believe in a supreme deity. You can believe in the occult and still be an atheist, because there's no supreme deity in the occult. You can have witch doctors and wizards and spells, and still have no belief in any supreme deity. You just harness the inherent power of the earth (the "chi" if you prefer) and sort of use it to achieve your own ends.

"i question Pullman on whether his works are truly the exploration of human beliefs, spiritual struggle, conflicts of the human heart, as many other far greater minds have also explored in their work."

It's interesting that you think some minds are greater than others. Well if he says they are, then to him, they are. Whether they are to you is another matter :)

GUO SHAO-HUA said...

an "atheist" does not believe in ANY kind of deity. even the occult.

get it right.

Anonymous said...

Actually, Merriam Webster defines "atheist" as "one who believes that there is no deity," so it's open to interpretation. Is one who believes that there is no supreme deity, but still believes in other supernatural forces, still an atheist?

My own personal definition is the same as Mr. Guo's, but to get back to the question at hand (and the purpose of this lately-much-abused blog :-) ), why does Pullman write about the occult if he's an atheist? It's a fair question.

I suspect (based on what I've read about him) that Pullman doesn't actually believe in the occult, or in any supernatural forces whatsoever, so no, Anonymous, I don't think he's the kind of "atheist" you describe. I really don't think he's out there harnessing the chi of the earth for his own ends. I think it all goes back to what Sharon said at the beginning: the book is fiction. Pullman's making stuff up to make a point. That's how fiction works. I write about ghosts, too, but I don't believe that they exist in objective reality. I do believe they can exist in people's minds, so why shouldn't my characters see them?

-- Preeta

GUO SHAO-HUA said...


good point and makes sense, to a certain extent. but it still bothers me, the use of one belief system to dispel another belief system. atheists are supposed to only believe in the logical, after all.

bibliobibuli said...

btw pullman calls himself an agnostic not an atheist

GUO SHAO-HUA said...

that's even more confusing!

Whitearrow said...

If i'm not mistaken, an agnostic kind of sits on the fence. Ie he neither believes nor disbelieves in God. An atheist on the other hand actually doesn't believe there is a God.

Madcap Machinist said...

That is incorrect.

An agnostic holds that the existence (or non-existence, as the case may be) of a deity is unprovable and therefore unknowable.

An agnostic is simply not concerned with the question of God, but it's not a matter of belief, but an attitude; he may say that "It's impossible to prove it, but I believe in God"--compare this to religions where it is held that God *is* knowable, and the world is the pudding, so to speak)--and this makes him an agnostic but also a theist.

And of course, it goes the other way round i.e. agnostic atheism. I don't like to make it a habit to quote the wikipedia, but it actually has an article that explains agnosticism and its flavours rather well.

I'd just like to note (re: the exchange between Preeta & the bolded Guo) that I think atheism is also a position of faith, because it is also impossible to prove that God does not exist and to believe so requires faith.

Madcap Machinist said...

p/s: Sorry Whitearrow, I meant to say that it's inaccurate. To say that an agnostic is sitting on a fence is misleading. It implies indecision when there's none: the agnostic is SURE you can't prove god exists or not so there's no point convincing him otherwise.

And then there's the plain old skeptic...

Animah the Crow said...

MM, what are you, agnostic, atheist or a white otter?

Madcap Machinist said...

my daemon is a chimpanzee and she loves a good pudding.

Anonymous said...

Madcap machinist, you've made some excellent points, and yes, I agree 100% percent with your definition of agnosticism and was about to say the same myself until I saw that you had said it.

The reason I call myself an agnostic and not an atheist is:

1) *most* people misunderstand the term agnostic to mean "sitting on the fence," and I don't feel like explaining myself constantly;

2) Based on the evidence available to me, I'm 99% certain that there is no god. Yes, it's impossible to prove that god doesn't exist, but it's also impossible to prove that Santa Claus doesn't exist, or that the Easter Bunny doesn't exist, or that unicorns don't exist -- still, until and unless some evidence emerges to prove to me that they *do* exist, I don't believe they exist. The default state isn't belief, you see, but lack of belief. I don't believe in anything until I have evidence of its existence, so my not believing in all those things isn't really a position of faith, but a continuing response to the continuing absence of evidence.

Mr. Guo:

"atheists are supposed to only believe in the logical, after all."

Indeed! What I was saying -- or trying to say -- was that Philip Pullman doesn't really believe in the occult, any more than I believe in ghosts. We just write about them because it's fiction and we're allowed to make up stuff.

But really what I wanted to ask you, MM, is: is your daemon really a chimpanzee? How unfair, I LOVE chimpanzees and I didn't know they were an option or I would've answered the questions differently! How can I make my daemon a chimpanzee? Or, wait, are orangutans also available? I love those even more....

GUO SHAO-HUA said...

yes, but if the point was to dispel a system of belief, wouldn't it make more sense to use logic and science to do that rather than use another fanciful belief system?

cant really compare it to ghost stories. depends on the ultimate aim of the ghost story. if it's to prove the non-existence of ghosts, therefore non-existence of the supernatural, it wouldn't be quite sensible to use other supernatural elements to do just that.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, I just realised I made a huge typo in my last comment: I meant, "The reason I call myself an ***atheist and not an agnostic*** is...." and not vice versa! Ack! None of what came after makes sense because of that typo!

But Mr. Guo: I think your question above -- why use another fanciful belief system rather than logic and science? -- gets to the heart of why we write fiction, doesn't it? Why write fiction instead of, I don't know, a polemic, a history textbook, whatever? I think it's because, well, for one thing, fiction is a lot more fun for me to write, but also, if all these belief systems are *equally* fanciful to you, why *not* use them all in a work of fiction, to prove whatever point you want to prove? If nothing is sacred to you, then you can use all of it any way you want, right? Perhaps (I'm completely extrapolating here -- I don't claim to know Philip Pullman's actual intentions) Pullman feels the occult as it exists today poses a more feeble threat to logical thinking than mainstream religion does, and he doesn't think there's much danger of people abandoning mainstream religion for the occult in droves?

And I think ghost stories are a valid comparison; in fact I think it *is* quite possible to use a ghost in fiction to cast doubt on the objective existence of ghosts. The more a ghost can be shown to be the subjective creation of a character's mind, the more credence that portrayal lends to the theory that ghosts do not exist in objective reality. No?

-- Preeta

Anonymous said...

"an "atheist" does not believe in ANY kind of deity. even the occult."

The occult isn't a deity :) An "occult" power is just a supernatural or supernormal power you can't explain. It's not something you "believe" in.

Yes exactly, I mean he writes fiction, it's fiction. An actor may act as an evil person, but that doesn't mean he's evil in "real life". It's just entertainment. The etymology of "atheist" is interesting to study. The English word "Atheist" comes from the greek word "theos" which means "God" combined with the prefix "a-" which means "without". So "atheist" means "without god".

"occult" just means something that can't be explained. When doctors talk about "occult" blood, it doesn't mean that the blood has magical powers :)

If for instance, I can attract metal objects, that means I have an occult power. It doesn't mean I believe that a supreme deity exists or does not exist. It has no bearing on my beliefs.

"atheists are supposed to only believe in the logical, after all."

If this were true, no atheist would believe in love or kindness. An atheist is someone who doesn't believe there's a deity, period. It has nothing to do with anything else.

As for the book, it doesn't "prove" anything, it's entertainment :)

GUO SHAO-HUA said...

"An "occult" power is just a supernatural or supernormal power you can't explain. It's not something you "believe" in."

you probably dont realise it, but you completely contradicted yourself there. :)

Madcap Machinist said...

Preeta, I was just monkeying around with the quiz so I'm not sure exactly how I got my chimp daemon. :-)

I have not read Pullman, so sadly I cannot comment more...maybe after I have seen The Golden Compass I may be able to. But from what I've gleaned I'd venture a theory that his position has more to do with spirituality vs. religion--the use of daemons seem to point that way--rather than atheism vs. religion.