In the tenth chapter of The Golden Compass, this is the best book ever and I will remain feeling incomplete until I finish it. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Golden Compass.
I honestly feel like I’ve been living a false life up until this point. There is seriously no book I have read before that feels so specifically tailored to the type of story and tropes that I enjoy. I SHOULD HAVE READ THIS SO MANY YEARS BEFORE NOW. Instead, though, I am just going to appreciate that I get to read this book in this manner, as it allows me to get a much more in-depth experience with the story.
CHAPTER TEN: THE CONSUL AND THE BEAR
In just ten pages or so (maybe more, as I’m not sure, since I’m reading this in the Kindle app on the iPad), Pullman has now made the world of The Golden Compass expand at least twice in size, introduced us to two new beings that inhabit this universe, and then given us one gigantic (and utterly terrifying) clue to what is happening to children taken by the Gobblers.
In short: oh my god WHAT.
The gyptians continue to head to Lapland, located in the northern part of Finland. (Actually, it’s the northernmost part, right?) They’re moving ever closer to the Arctic Circle, and temperature reflects that. Pullman takes the chance to describe this new world (to Lyra, at least) with a lush beauty.
The sun was shining brightly and the green waves were dashing against the bows, bearing white streams of foam as they curved away. Out on the deck, with the breeze blowing and the whole sea a-sparkle with light and movement, she felt little sickness at all; and now that Pantalaimon had discovered the delights of being a seagull and then a stormy petrel and skimming the wave tops, Lyra was too absorbed by his glee to wallow in landlubberly misery.
I’m glad that Lyra gets to be above deck at this point, and though it’s not discussed, I think that because they’re no longer near England and out at sea, it’s much harder for people to spy on the ship. It also allows Lyra to be much more comfortable with the people she is with, and she gets a chance to spend time with the other crew member’s.
Farder Coram makes a point to state that once they arrive in Lapland, it will be necessary for him to contact the witches that live there. Specifically, he saved a witch from certain death nearly forty years before, and she owes him a favor.
And while the story of this witch is certainly important to this chapter, and probably to the whole book too, I was way more taken by the fact that all of these men reacted with such horror at the concept of not having a dæmon. Well, that’s partially not true, as we learn that a person can never be quite too far from their dæmon, but that witches found a way to send theirs hundreds upon hundreds of miles away. But it’s becoming clearer that having a dæmon is just the way things are in this world. Everyone is born with one, they can change shapes until a certain age, and then they later set into one form when you figure out what type of a person you are.
This goes hand in hand with what Lyra later talks about with Jerry, one of the seamen on the ship. Pantalaimon had been taking great pleasure changing forms often as a way to distract Lyra from her seasickness, and a lot of the time, he’d changed into a dolphin just to swim alongside the creatures. While Lyra appreciates how much this helps her feel better, she worries about Pantalaimon sticking into a form that requires he live in the ocean. Jerry reassures her that while this can happen, it’s what you make of it that ultimately matters. He knew of a sailorman who had a dolphin dæmon, and he could never leave the water, yet Jerry’s dæmon, the seagull that saved Pantalaimon in the last chapter, actually helps define him as a person. As he puts it:
“There’s plenty of folk as’d like to have a lion as a dæmon and they end up with a poodle. And till they learn to be satisfied with what they are, they’re going to be fretful about it. Waste of a feeling, that is.”
But it didn’t seem to Lyra that she would ever grow up.
I’ll plant myself solely on TEAM LYRA at this point. Of course, I’m new to this, so that’s also probably why I’d rather have a dæmon that changes.
After just a few days, the ship reaches Lapland and they embark on a journey to find the witch consul, where, like Lyra, I was greeted with someone who did not look like what I imagined in my head:
Presently the consul himself came in to greet them. He was a fat man with a florid face and a sober black suit, whose name was Martin Lanselius. His dæmon was a little serpent, the same intense and brilliant green as his eyes, which were the only withlike thing about him, though Lyra was not sure what she had been expecting a witch to look like.
Neither was I. omg i am a WITCH BIGOT. So they just have bright green eyes? That’s pretty cool.
Anyway, these are just small details I’m fascinated by, as this chapter has MUCH MORE IMPORTANT STUFF WE NEED TO DEAL WITH. The conversation between Farder Coram and Martin Lanselius is order in this strange way, and I think this was the first time I made a point to pay attention to the way that Pullman has different characters from all of the various cultures speak with unique rules of grammar. We all have seen how the gyptians talk, and now we read as it appears Coram actually changes the way he speaks so that he can best converse with the witch consul before him.
The conversation between the two is frightfully honest and direct, and it partially reminds me of the way that John Faa spoke with his people during the Ropings. Perhaps the gyptian culture just speaks this way all of the time, but I loved how open both of these men were (for the most part) about what they needed. Coram lays it out plainly: He needs to speak to the witch Serafina Pekkala, and he needs to know if the witch community has heard anything about the organization that is taking children and taking them up to the north. Dr. Lanselius plainly answers back that he is not keen on upsetting the relationship the witches have with the Northlanders, and tells Coram where to find Serafina. And then, to my excitement, he says:
“As for your other question, it is of course understood that this information is not reaching you through me.”
Oh god. OH GOD YES. WHAT DOES HE KNOW?
I did that sort of thing one does when you know you are about to finally get an answer to a long-asked question in a show or in a book where you sit way too close and you tune out everything and the apocalypse could be occurring outside my window and I could just not give any fucks because I AM GOING TO LEARN WHAT THE GOBBLERS ARE UP TO IN THE NORTH.
We learn that the Great Oblation Board has set up a “fake” organization called the Northern Progress Exploration Company, who say they are searching for minerals, but the witches know they are importing children. God, that sentence ALONE gives me the creeps. But not as much as when Coram asks Dr. Lanselius what the organization is doing with the children they are importing:
For the first time, Dr. Lanselius glanced at Lyra. She looke stolidly back. The little green serpent dæmon raised her head from the consul’s collar and whispered tongue-flickeringly in his ear.
The consul said, “I have heard the phrase the Maystadt process in connection with this matter. I think they use that in order to avoid calling what they do by its proper name. I have also heard the word intercision, but what it refers to I could not say.”
I DON’T EVEN. I am going to avoid looking these terms up, just so I can surprise myself, but that word looks quite similar to incision and now I’m thinking they actually do cut children in half. Which…WHY. WHY. WHY.
Contrasted with this, though, I couldn’t help but smile as the conversation moved towards ARMORED BEARS. BEARS. WITH ARMOR. Dr. Lanselius gleefully shares the location of one of the only armored bears that is not under the employ of the Northern Progress Exploration Company and suggests that they want to have a successful mission in the north, they should get an armored bear on their side. Oh, and that bear HAS A NAME: Iork Byrnison. Oh god IT IS SO MAJESTIC oh my god ARMORED BEARS!!!!!
And just when my excitement is at an all-time high, Dr. Lanselius tells Lyra, point blank, that he knows she has an alethiometer. My guess is that his dæmon told him, but how did she know? Regardless, he asks to see it, and Lyra obliges. Initially, Coram hides the fact that she knows how to read it, and Lyra, who sees that Dr. Lanselius’s dæmon is irritated by this, decides to tell him the truth. (I think that’s another sign that his dæmon somehow knows more than we think she does.)
We get a bit more backstory on how they actually came to be, constructed (apparently) in Prague, entirely by accident, and meant to be a way to measure the “influences of the planets,” yet they clearly respond to something else. That is used as the same explanation for the symbols, which were a product of their time, but Dr. Lanselius describes them as being used to “interpret knowledge that came from a mysterious source.”
Ok, what is this? There seems to be a steady reference to this idea, and I’m wondering how this ties in with both what’s going on up North and the Dust. I mean…they have to be connected somehow, right? But I’m jumping ahead of myself, as I always do, because there is even more ridiculous shit thrown at us regarding the greater point of this story. I don’t really have any desire to comment or summarize Lyra’s reading about the Tartars to Dr. Lanselius, because we all already know how bizarrely talented she is at this, and it’s just another scene to take us further in-depth to how the alethiometer works. (Lyra figures out that the number of times the fourth arm takes to become “clear” means that’s what level the meaning exists on.) Dr. Laneslius sends her on a second mission to do a reading to find which spray of cloud-pine Serafina used (that’s how witches fly in this world!), and it’s only now on my second read-through that I realize he did this on purpose to have a chance to speak with Coram about Lyra.
Their conversation, just like the one between the Librarian and the Master, hints at Lyra’s strange destiny, which I still don’t understand myself:
“The witches have talked about this child for centuries past,” said the consul. “Because they live so close to the place where the veil between the worlds is thin, they hear immortal whispers from time to time, in the voices of those beings who pass between the worlds.”
WHAT. Is this a reference to a spirit world or is this another clue that there is another parallel world? What the fuck??? Also, where is this “place”? Is it up here in the north? Is that why the Oblation Board is working up here too? WHY DO I HAVE SO MANY QUESTIONS.
“And they have spoken of a child such as this, who has a great destiny that can only be fulfilled elsewhere–not in this world, but far beyond.”
WHAT! Pullman, you are so lucky the context and details of this story are so fascinating to me, because I’m not too into the “Chosen One” trope these days because it’s been done so many times. And one of those details is this idea that Lyra will have to travel outside of this world.
“Without this child, we shall all die. So the witches say. But she must fulfill this destiny in ignorance of what she is doing, because only in her ignorance can we be saved. Do you understand that, Farder Coram?”
I prefer this more than the concept of telling Lyra her “destiny” and dealing with the inevitable struggle that comes with. This is far more interesting to me, that she’ll have to do this all without knowing what she is supposed to do.
All in all, though, I’m left feeling good about their meeting with Dr. Lanselius, and I’m hoping that the trust I feel for him will not be used against me later. The two of them pick up supplies, including winter clothes for Lyra, before heading back to the ship to speak with John Faa, who we learn has acquired a prospector with an air balloon that will be joining the crew. (He’s from the country of Texas?? AMAZING.)
But really, this chapter’s greatness rests solely on the magnificent shoulders of Iorek Byrnison, the armored bear that Coram and Lyra go to find in town. They find him behind a gate outside of a bar, gnawing on reindeer and FUCKING GETTING DRUNK. Oh my god bears with armor getting drunk. how is this book not mandatory reading for every child on the planet. As we’re introduced to him, we’re made clear that he is not a particularly likeable character and that employing him for the gyptians will not be easy. Iorek’s story seems depressing enough as it is: He works for the sledge depot, doing the work of men, in exchange for meat and alcohol. And that’s it. When presented with this reality by Coram, who is confused as to why a panserbjørne would choose this life, Lyra becomes terribly worried that Coram just ruined their prospects.
Iorek puts his face to the gate and blows my mind.
“I know the people you are seeking, the child cutters,” the bear said.
I mean, DO I NEED ANYMORE CONFIRMATION BETTER THAN THIS. When an armored fucking polar bear tells you something it is probably never a lie.
Iorek continues to explain how the people in the north turn their eyes away from what is happening because of the business these “child cutters” bring. And then he shares with us the fact that the he got drunk and the men here in Lapland stole his armor while he was passed out. Which….WHY. WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT TO IOREK. 🙁 🙁 🙁
“If you want my service, the price is this: get me back my armor. Do that, and I shall server you in your campaign, either until I am dead or until you have victory. The price is my armor. I want it back, and then I shall never need spirits again.”
I have just two words for you.