NEW YORK — Harry vs. Frodo. Lucy vs. Lyra. We don’t normally think of classic fantasy series as being pit against one another, because despite their differences, they have so much in common. Most of them are about little people (be they children or Hobbits) caught up in a war of good versus evil that requires a singular sacrifice to save the world, often with a bit of biblical allegory thrown in for good measure. But even if “Harry Potter,” “The Lord of the Rings,” “The Chronicles of Narnia” and “His Dark Materials” were all put on the same bookshelf, they’re not all friends, as “Materials” author Philip Pullman explained during his Times Talks appearance Tuesday.
Pullman’s series is often referred to as the anti-“Narnia,” shorthand for saying they’re on opposite sides of the theological fence. (A film version of the first installment of “His Dark Materials,” “The Golden Compass,” is about to hit theaters December 7 and stars Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig.) In “Narnia,” more so than in “LOTR,” Christianity is at the forefront, with the story of the crucifixion and resurrection retold with Aslan in “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.” Even Harry Potter has his fair share of the resurrection tale (see ” ‘Harry Potter’ Author J.K. Rowling Opens Up About Books’ Christian Imagery”).
That’s not to say the Bible doesn’t figure into “His Dark Materials,” but religion plays a very different part in Pullman’s more secular tale, which was inspired by the Fall in Milton’s “Paradise Lost” (the series also takes its title from the Milton poem). New York Times writer-at-large Chip McGrath, in interviewing Pullman on the Times Center stage, joked that the “HDM” tomes were “books atheists pray for, if atheists prayed.”
“Religion is at its best when it’s far from power,” Pullman said. “When a religion gains power, it goes bad.” ‘His Dark Materials’ Writer Philip Pullman Takes ‘Narnia,’ ‘Lord Of The Rings’ To Task