In 2003 Rupert Kaye, former Chief Executive Association of Christian Teachers stated that Philip Pullman’s ‘His Dark Materials’ trilogy was written ‘with the self-avowed aim of discrediting Christianity, undermining the Church and attacking God’. Kaye continued, ‘As a Christian teacher I find it particularly odious that Pullman’s bitter and twisted trilogy has been marketed and sold as children’s literature and desperately sad that so few Christians have taken the time to see Pullman’s work for what it is: anti-Christian propaganda…I am unequivocal: I do not believe that ‘His Dark Materials’ is appropriate reading material for primary school children. Consequently, I would like to see ‘His Dark Materials removed from every primary school in the land. Where the trilogy is available to young people of secondary age, I would suggest that a responsible Christian (who has read the books in their entirety) is on hand to answer the numerous questions raised, and challenge the myths and misconceptions mischievously peddled by Pullman.’
While it is true that God does not come well out of ‘His Dark Materials’, not all Christians were as disturbed by Pullman’s challenging portrayal as Mr Kaye. Indeed the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, proposed that the trilogy be taught as part of religious education in schools.
Now Meg Rosoff (winner of the Guardian children’s fiction prize for How I Live Now and of the Carnegie medal for Just in Case) who had been booked as part of the Bath Festival of Children’s Literature to appear at the Christian independent school Monkton Combe, found her invitation rescinded on the grounds that her latest book, There is No Dog (Puffin) is ‘blasphemous’. The story is about a 19-year-old version of God, Bob, who spends most of his time thinking about girls and sleeping. Bob
creates the world in six days because he can’t be bothered to take any longer and he forgets to provide food so animals have to eat each other.
Monkton Combe principal Richard Backhouse said: ‘As a school, we take seriously our responsibility to honour the choice parents have made by providing an education which reflects our ethos…we made the decision that hosting the author Meg Rosoff to talk about her latest book, There Is No Dog, and subtitled ‘What If God Were A Teenage Boy?’ was not an appropriate reflection of our ethos.’
While it is a matter of concern that Monkton Combe pupils are, it seems, given no opportunities to discuss, challenge and explore different viewpoints (and their parents pay for this?), they are also being denied access to the work of one of our most talented and perceptive writers for young people. Rosoff’s explorations of the modes of being a teenager touch on identity, love, and trauma with wit and considerable originality. As she says, ‘I consider it part of my job as a writer to explore sensitive issues, and to let my adolescent readers find hope, humour and redemption in a world full of danger and loss.’
Now Richard Dawkins, the renowned atheist and eminent evolutionary scientist has written a children’s book about how science sheds light on the world and universe around us. Ironically, The Magic of Reality: how we know what’s really true (Bantam) with its inclusion of answers given by myths and religions alongside the science, reflects Dawkins’s belief that children should be taught about religion. Here’s someone who isn’t afraid of different points of view.