11 August 2008

G. P. Taylor Seizes His Opportunities

In the fall of 2007, G. P. Taylor, author of Shadowmancer and less successful books, issued an open letter to his American fans on the dire threat of the Golden Compass movie. Here's one example of it being spread around the 'net.

Taylor stated:

The reason why I wrote the book [Shadowmancer] and all the others in the series was because of one man and the damage that his books were likely to do to the Christian Church.

Almost two years earlier, I’d been at home in the vicarage, reading a copy of The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman. I’d heard a great deal about the book. Newspapers and literary critics praised it. Christian groups wanted to burn it. I wanted to know what all the commotion was about.

Fifty pages into this award-winning, best-selling book for children twelve and up, here’s what I’d learned: God is a liar. God is senile. God is the enemy of humanity. I started to get mad.

Pullman’s book reworks Milton’s Paradise Lost so that Satan’s side are the heroes. Early on in the book, two rebel angels spill God’s great “secret”:

'The Authority, God the Creator, the Lord, Yahweh, El, Adoni, the King, the Father, the Almighty – those were the names he gave himself. He was never the creator. He was an angel like ourselves – the first angel, true, the most powerful, but he was formed of Dust as we are … He told all who came after him that he had created them, but it was a lie.' - (so Pullman said - notice he doesn't give God any other name such as Allah or Shiva - I wonder why?)
It's curious that Taylor described the book as The Golden Compass rather than using its British title, Northern Lights. It's even more curious that he'd told the same story about reading Pullman's later book in that series, The Amber Spyglass. Indeed, Taylor's description of the book, with its "fifty pages in" and "two rebel angels," doesn't fit The Golden Compass at all. And does anyone recall that "Christian groups wanted to burn" The Golden Compass in 2000-01 (the period Taylor was describing)?

It's also notable that back in 2004, when there was no brouhaha in America over the Golden Compass movie but Harry Potter movies were already big, the Los Angeles Times reported: "Taylor has said that he was moved to start writing out of his concern that the dark powers in [J. K.] Rowling’s Potter books are given too much weight." That article contained no mention of Pullman. This 2003 Guardian article is likewise silent on Taylor writing in reply to Pullman.

Indeed, there seems to be a general discrepancy between what Taylor has told the American press and public and what he said to reporters in his British home. Taylor painted a different picture of how religion flavored his writing in an interview with the BBC about four years ago:
Andyc: Does being a vicar help you to be a good writer?

G.P. Taylor: No, because everybody thinks the book is a Christian book, so I have to explain it is not. Just because I'm a vicar does not mean I have to write a Christian book. It has hindered me in a way, because some of the reviewers look for things which are not there.
Even this article on his website written by the author of his autobiography portrays Taylor quite differently from his open letter to Americans:
Taylor says that Christian themes in his works are a natural part of the writing process. “If I was a Buddhist,” he says, “my books would be influenced by Buddhism.”

Taylor takes exception with the suggestion that his novels are “Christian books,” meant as entertainment for true believers. And he doesn’t want to “brainwash” anyone with Christianity. Instead, he wants to engage readers in a game of “what if.” “I want my readers to think, ‘what if there’s another force that lies beyond death?’ It’s trying to get people to open their minds, to think the impossible thing.
In contrast, the open letter shows little interest in open minds. It does, however, urge everyone to buy G. P. Taylor's books.

Taylor has a new book series out, adding some comics to his usual prose. The BuddyHollywood.com announcement of that series contains this paragraph:
Taylor surmises this interest in his works is due to the film success of another English children’s author. “I was talking to some kids at a school and this guy shows up in a very old tweed suit. He sat at the back of the room and looked very musingly at me all the way through [my presentation.] I thought, What’s going on here? Is he one of the teachers or what? He turned out to be an Oxford don. He said, 'I’ve heard all about you. We think you’re the new C.S. Lewis.' I thought, Poor old one! (laughs). Then he went off and wrote a thesis about G.P. Taylor being the new C.S. Lewis; when that went out, that was it.”
An "Oxford don" speaking in the first person plural ("We think...")? That's almost a laying on of hands. Yet before that press release, Taylor's website credited the "new C. S. Lewis" meme to the BBC, a Korean broadcasting service, and unspecified American news media. No Oxford dons were ever mentioned.

Taylor has displayed some ambivalence toward that comparison. Once he vowed to stop writing the Shadowmancer series because of being "branded as the new CS Lewis." Yet oddly enough, he keeps using that phrase in press releases and interviews. If you Google "G. P. Taylor" and "new C. S. Lewis," most of the hits are on his own websites or in material issued by him, his publicists, and his publishers. And toward the end of his open letter, Taylor proudly claimed that his books "have earned me the title of 'The new CS Lewis.'"

Finally, here's an update on Taylor's magical form of aging. His MySpace page, updated as recently as this month, describes him as 43 years old. He was also 43 five years ago in the Guardian. In 2006 Spero News reported both that he was born in 1958 and that he was 42 years old in 2002. The LA Times agrees with the former date, reporting Taylor as age 46 in 2004. Taylor himself told the Independent that he had been five years old in 1963. In that case, since MySpace was founded in late 2003, Taylor was 45 years old at the earliest moment he could join.


Kelly said...

Aargh. G.P.Taylor. The worst 50 pages I've ever read were written by him.

Careful, he attacks.

J. L. Bell said...

Taylor's open letter is quite clear that he does not advocate book-burning. In fact, he even suggests people go to see The Golden Compass in theaters.

It says:
We are living in an age when so many things will come and try and destroy the Christian heritage of the American nation. We will have to fight to preserve it. The Golden Compass is yet another salvo against us. We must never forget that God is supreme and when the works of Pullman - like that [sic] of Voltaire [-] are forgotten books, the Word will be still alive. I only hope that in writing Shadowmancer - Wormwood - Tersias and my other books that children and young people will get an alternative view of a great God.

I would urge you to see the film and judge for yourself, what we must not do is fall into the trap of book burning and blockading movie theaters.

So Taylor’s proposed solution to The Golden Compass's threat to the "American nation" that he cares deeply about is...buying more of G. P. Taylor’s books.

I remember a discussion on the CW email list with someone seeing "Christian" themes in the first two His Dark Materials books, and wondering if they represented the author's ideology. I pointed her to a New York Times article that had appeared just that week about Pullman's anti-orthodoxy views. (Which means I might even be able to date that conversation.)

J. L. Bell said...

I accidentally deleted the following post from RAB after replying to it above. But I found the text again:

"Christian groups wanted to burn it..."

So Taylor professes membership in a group he claims are in favor of book burning?

As you say, I don't remember hearing of any Christian groups calling for immolation of His Dark Materials. Anecdotally, I had quite a few conversations with Christian SF and fantasy fans circa 2001 about their reaction to the series. I was expecting hostility toward the whole concept of daemons would keep them from getting to the parts about the Authority, but the readers I spoke to were fairly sophisticated and had little trouble with the premise. They didn't like the message, but even the most dogmatically rigid of this group acknowledged the beauty of the prose and Pullman's skill as a writer. Nor were any of them disposed to tolerate burning of any books whatsoever.

Richard said...

Thanks for the clarification. I erred in not reading the open letter myself before replying.

Anonymous said...

Likewise, as I think you've covered before, there are discrepancies between the stories of when the wheel came off his car near Bristol: in one version his chuaffeur stops doing 70mph and is exiting the motorway because of the wobbly wheel, and is slowing down on the slip-road when the wheel comes off; in another account, GPT states "A few minutes later we’d have been doing 70 mph and it could have been fatal."

In a 2006 interview with Dr David Rafer on GP's website, there is mention of the "new CS Lewis" tag coming from the States: it clearly has more than one provenance, as I have read of GPT quoting it many times (...begrudgingly, as it were) in interviews.

Anonymous said...

GP Taylor is also referenced at the IMDB, and his birthdate there is 1961.