Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Gendered souls in The Golden Compass

I'll be lecturing on Philip Pullman's The Golden Compass (1995) in Katharine Wright's children's lit course tomorrow (Wednesday) at 2pm in 159 Mulford.

I'll be making three main points.

  1. The Golden Compass is very self-conscious about its relationship to other literature. When you have an epigraph from Milton, you are not playing around. The book is situating itself in a specific, very eminent, masculine literary tradition, even as it tries to intervene in that tradition. Pullman’s hero is Milton by way of Blake; his enemy is C. S. Lewis.
  2. The Golden Compass is obsessed with gender. It can’t help being obsessed with gender given the literary tradition it’s taking on. Pullman is explicit about this, and he specifically sees himself making a feminist intervention. I argue, however, that Pullman’s anti-Lewis intervention is subsumed by the logic of the very tradition he’s interrogating.
  3. The tradition into which Pullman inserts himself is variously Christian; consequently The Golden Compass constructs a complex (and somewhat garbled) theology. Part of this theology involves imagining souls as separable from, and gendered complementarily to, the body.
These ideas are related to some of my recent musings on the relationship between children and animals (1, 2) and on the idea of a child whose soul is separable (e.g. in Pinocchio).

Should be fun!


skg said...

Pullman’s anti-Lewis intervention is subsumed by the logic of the very tradition he’s interrogating

This makes a great deal of sense to me.

I'm curious to find out how point three goes over, if you have a moment after the class session.

Natalia said...

Ran out of time at the end (or I thought I did; K informs me my watch is fast).