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Complaint pulls fantasy novel "The Golden Compass" from library shelves

A complaint about the author referring to himself as an atheist caused the award-winning fantasy novel "The Golden Compass" being pulled from an Ontario Catholic school district's library shelves.

The public Catholic school board in Ontario's Halton region, which oversees 43 elementary and secondary schools, also pulled two other books in Philip Pullman's "His Dark Materials" trilogy as a precaution.

"We have a policy and procedure whereby individual parents, staff, students or community members can apply to have material reviewed. That's what happened in this case," Rick MacDonald, the Halton board's superintendent of curriculum services, said Wednesday.

"The Golden Compass," which has been made into an upcoming movie starring Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig, was first published in 1995. Controversy is surfacing now because of the buzz surrounding the film, said MacDonald.

The complaint was issued after Pullman stated in several interviews with international media that he is an atheist. Officials declined to provide details on who filed the complaint.

Calls to the district for comment went unanswered Thursday.

The novel was voted the best children's book in the past 70 years by readers across the globe in June, with the votes cast over the Internet based on a selection of 10 past winners of the Carnegie Medal for children's literature.

But it has come under fire from conservative groups before.

In the U.S., the Catholic League, a conservative anti-defamation group, has accused the Dark Materials trilogy of bashing Christianity and promoting atheism. The organization urged parents to boycott the movie, which opens Dec. 7 in the U.S. and Canada. The League had also boycotted the movie adaptation of "The Da Vinci Code," which went on to become one of 2006's biggest movies.

The move does not mean that the books are banned.

Students who want to read them can ask librarians to bring them out, but the trilogy will not be featured on the shelves until a review by a school board committee is complete, said Scott Millard, the board's manager of library services in the Halton region. The committee's review is expected in two or three weeks.

MacDonald told a Canadian broadcaster that he cannot remember any similar action in the past five or six years, but that when a complaint is filed it must be looked into.

Catholic schools in other Ontario regions have the books on their shelves and have reported no complaints.

The public library in Burlington, in Halton region, lists "The Golden Compass" as suggested reading for grades 5 and 6.

Pullman has made controversial statements in the past, telling the Washington Post in 2001 he was "trying to undermine the basis of Christian belief."

In 2003, he said that compared to the Harry Potter series, his books had been "flying under the radar, saying things that are far more subversive than anything poor old Harry has said. My books are about killing God."

"The Golden Compass" follows the adventures of a young girl, Lyra, who travels to the far north to save her best friend in a universe full of shape-shifting creatures, witches and other-worldly characters.

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