Mark Reads ‘The Golden Compass’: Chapter 14

In the fourteenth chapter of The Golden Compass, Lyra and the gyptian contingent are surprised by a force none expected and Lyra is suddenly thrust directly into the main conflict with the Gobblers. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Golden Compass.

i am going to pass out soon holy shit



how is this book so good

how is it so painful to read and experience

how can shit get any realer than this

It’s almost comical at this point that I keep picking books/series that are so unbelievably intense and it seems each one is somehow worse than the last in terms of the suspense. The pervasive violence and the threat of death in The Hunger Games trilogy was pretty gut-wrenching; the way that Markus Zusak built an inevitable terror through The Book Thief was unbearable. But just when I think I have The Golden Compass figured out, Pullman thrusts the story in a new direction that is all the more awful to live through and read, and I am living on the edge of my seat each day that I tackle an additional chapter of this book.

I’d sensed that it was going to be inevitable that Mrs. Coulter’s spy-flies would have an effect on the mission to Bolvangar and that Lyra would have to confront her mother and the atrocious things she’d done. Yet here I am, in utter shock at what I just read, and I realize that I wasn’t even close to guessing what was going to happen. What’s so unsettling is how ruthless and brutal Pullman is with pulling out the rug on Lyra, separating her almost instantaneously from all of the people and creatures she’d come to feel safe and comforted with, an air of death and tragedy hanging over it all, and then he sticks her into an environment that slowly reveals itself as even more fucked up than that.

I will never stop thanking all of you for telling me to read this book. It is so goddamn wonderful and I just feel so….happy. I feel so happy right now.

Chapter fourteen opens up with a growing sense of dread in Lyra, who knows that the inevitable is coming, which is why I believed that this is when we’d see a reappearance from Mrs. Coulter. Lyra expects this, which is why not a single person about the sledges anticipated the RAIN OF ARROWS THAT KILLS THREE GYPTIANS IN A MATTER OF SECONDS.

Three gyptian men wen down at once, and died so silently that no one heard a thing. Only when they slumped clumsily across the dog traces or lay unexpectedly still did the nearest men notice what was happening, and then it was already too late, because more arrows were flying at them. Some men looked up, puzzled by the fast irregular knocking sounds that came from up and down the line as arrows hurtled into wood or frozen canvas.

Just…honestly, that is one of the most jarring mental images I’ve ever had while reading a book. I think it’s so scary because there’s no fanfare from Pullman, no build up, just a stating of facts. And that’s part of the reason that this whole section is deeply overwhelming to me: Pullman’s diction and style for this section is dry and matter-of-fact. I don’t think it’s unnecessary or out-of-character for the book, so this is not a complaint at all. I’m just saying that it’s a really fascinating change from some of what we’ve seen throughout the book and it works incredibly well. The fact is that this is terribly chaotic as arrows rain down on the gyptians and Iorek takes off to fight…well, we don’t even know who is sending the arrows their way. All that Lyra can hear is “screams, snarling, crunching, and tearing” and what the holy fuck is going on. As I try to run through the evidence we’re given (and I came up with nothing, for the record, about who this might be), I’m completely broadsided by the fact that Lyra is then attacked as a dæmon goes after Pantalaimon and then hands grab her, “lifting her, stifling her cry with foul-smelling mittens,” and pressing her into the snow. She cries out to Iorek, but it’s very obvious that this is hopeless. He is far away. Hell, everyone is far away at this point. A hood is stuffed on her head and I start feeling claustrophobic about all of this. Without being able to see from Lyra’s point of view, now we, the reader, also have no idea what is going on. On top of this, Pantalaimon relates to Lyra that he thinks that John Faa was hit by one of the arrows, and christ, THIS IS JUST SO STRESSFUL TO ME.

The reality of this all sinks in. Pantalaimon thinks these are Tartars and I guess that these men have taken Lyra in order to turn her over to the Gobblers. Lyra thinks the same thing and the most ridiculous sense of dread came over me. If she is taken to Bolvangar in this method, she will risk having Pantalaimon cut away from her and Pullman, PLEASE DO NOT DO THIS MY HEART WILL NOT HEAL EVER AGAIN.

Oh gosh, what is this book becoming? Lyra is captured by strange men and after a long bout of traveling, she has even less of an idea what is going on with her. This is not Mrs. Coulter. These are not faces she remembers or knows or recognizes. But at the same time, she recognizes she has an advantage here: none of these people recognize her. I expected people working for Mrs. Coulter to capture Lyra, but these men appear to just think she is some strange young child who they managed to capture incidentally. So she starts lying: She lies about her name. She lies about her personality, her behavior, her tendencies. Knowing that she is probably going to be handed over to the Oblation Board/Gobblers, she is smart to realize that she cannot let them know exactly who she is.

And yet, despite this, holy god this is so suspenseful. I never thought that Lyra would see the lights of Bolvangar in this manner and here, passing through rows of poles with electric lights adorning the top of them, she gets her own introduction to the infamous town of Bolvangar after a particularly horrific journey with these strange men. At the end of the row, after passing through a gate, they pass through “a wide open space like an empty marketplace or an arena for some game or sport.” This large, smooth, and white open space has a metal fence running around it and then the moment is over and the space is unexplained. What the hell is this for? Why would the Oblation Board need an arena?

Lyra has no time to contemplate this as she is freed from her captivity and she is brought to a room with someone who looks nothing like the men who had taken her. Lyra remarks that he “could have been a Jordan Scholar,” and he asks her one hell of a weird question:

“Does your dæmon always take that form?”

Oh fuck. It’s the Gobblers. It’s definitely them. Why else would he ask such a weird question? Oh god, this is not going to turn out well, THIS IS A DISASTER ABORT THIS MISSION IMMEDIATELY be still my heart

And what Pullman builds from this section out is an impenetrable sense of tension as he slowly builds the world inside this place in Bolvangar. I’d been wondering all along exactly what was going on in this place, and while Pullman is obviously saving some huge reveal for a later point, I’m adoring the way he’s chosen to give us the Gobblers’ base one small detail at a time. For example:

They were in a space about eight feet square, with corridors to the right and left, and in front of her the sort of reception desk you might see in a hospital. Everything was brilliantly lit, with the glint of shiny white surfaces and stainless steel. There was the smell of food in the air, familiar food, bacon and coffee, and under it a faint perpetual hospital-medical smell; and coming from the walls all around was a slight humming sound, almost too low to hear, the sort of sound you had to get used to or go mad.

I think it’s the clinical nature of it all that perturbs me, because it seems designed to separate the reality of what exactly happens in this place. This has to be the place where intercision happens. But what’s with the humming sound? What could that be?

What frightens Lyra, though, is how this place seems to typical to those who run it. No one is surprised to see her. No one is truly interested in her as a person. The Sister she interacts with seems to have no desire to find out if Lyra is actually ok, going about her routine so detached from it all that Lyra can’t process how truly weird this all is. Thankfully, the fact that no one knows this is Lyra Belacqua continues to work in her favor, as Sister Clara doesn’t recognize the alethiometer as anything other than what Lyra calls it: “a sort of toy.” After taking a much-needed shower, having to feel shamed to undress in front of this strange woman, she gets a set of pajamas to dress in and manages to ask Sister Clara where she is.

The Experimental Station. A name that I do not like.

Lyra does get her alethiometer back, as well as taking the chance to sneak the tin with the spy-fly into the same pouch. (And it must be said that the scene where the Sister asks her to pick out a toy from a group that clearly belonged to children who are probably dead and most certainly severed is FUCKING TERRIFYING. good god what the hell is this book.) She’s taken to the canteen to eat after this (which has FAKE BEACH SCENES ON THE WALLS TO ACT AS LIGHTING, which scares me forever), and every single detail thrown at me continues to make my stomach turn with discomfort. Truthfully, I could not have imagined just how creepy this medical-like base was going to turn out, and Pullman is not helping it. When a new man comes to talk to her, he quizzes her rather nonchalantly about how she came to arrive in the North and it seems he believes her fabricated story about traveling with her father on a trading expedition. I’m not sure why Lyra decides to be truthful about the attack on her friends, but I suppose it doesn’t really matter, since it’s the man’s reaction that is more important to me.

He says that she imagined it.

I had to read this section again to fully grasp how completely bizarre this is. And I suppose it fits right into what Mrs. Coulter was doing earlier in the book. She tricked children into coming with her, seemingly erasing reality through this type of talk in orer to comfort those she kidnapped. This man tries to comfort Lyra by lying to her, but he has no idea that she knows exactly what happens in this cold, lonely place, and that makes what he says all the more absurd and chilling.

But of everything given to us by Pullman in this monumental chapter, I adore the scene where Lyra is woken by the un-severed children who have also been stolen away from their families and their lives. I’m unsure why Lyra was drugged and why it was necessary, but, like the previous section, the details about this place pour out with every sentence spoken. And while it helps to get a better picture of the place in my head, I’m still entirely confused by the whole thing.

We learn that children are usually brought in batches, so it’s strange that Lyra was brought in by herself. (Was it rare for the traders/Tartars to bring in children like they brought in Lyra?) The girls in the same room as Lyra also argue about the purpose of why they’re there, one of them insisting that they are measuring Dust up here in this strange place. And that one by one, children are taken away and never come back. Lyra is smart to not reveal what she does know about that place and that is tested when one of the girls, Annie, says that it’s mostly boring until Mrs. Coulter arrives:

“They all talk about her, the other kids. When she comes, you know there’s going to be kids disappearing.”

“She likes watching the kids, when they take us away, she likes seeing what they do to us. This boy Simon, he reckons they kill us, and Mrs. Coulter watches.”

what the flying hell is going on I DO NOT LIKE YOU AT ALL, MRS. COULTER.

“They’re always going on about dæmons too,” said Bella. “Weighing them and measuring them and all…”

“They touch your dæmons?”

“No! God! They put scales there and your dæmon has to get on them and change, and they make notes and take pictures. And they put you in this cabinet and measure Dust, all the time, they never stop measuring Dust.”

“What dust?” said Lyra.

“We dunno,” said Annie. “Just something from space. Not real dust. If you en’t got any Dust, that’s good. But everyone gets Dust in the end.”

I seriously don’t know how much more my brain can take. So there’s Dust in dæmons? Or in their connection to their human companions? WHY DOES MRS. COULTER WANT TO MEASURE DUST. Oh god, I don’t understand any of this MY BRAIN HURTS.

And to top this whole horrific chapter off, Annie reveals that the day after the next, Mrs. Coulter is scheduled to arrive. Meaning that Lyra essentially has just twenty-four hours to figure out what this place is, escape, or be rescued. Because if Mrs. Coulter finds her, it’s certainly the end.

what the hell is this book

About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
This entry was posted in His Dark Materials, The Golden Compass and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

66 Responses to Mark Reads ‘The Golden Compass’: Chapter 14

  1. Saphling says:

    Mark, I'm so glad you're enjoying this book. And oh, oh… you are so unprepared.


    • Sherry says:

      Yes, I can't help but laugh when he says shit just got real. I want to hug him and tell him, "Nope, Mark. It's not real yet."

      • Saphling says:

        Yes! So much. It's very "Oh hon. You think shit is real now? Keep reading. We'll have tea and extra exclamation points on hand for when you need them."

    • flootzavut says:

      There is no way to be prepared. I remember the first time I read this book. There is just simply no way of earth to be prepared, despite how many of the clues Pullman has already stirred liberally into the text.

  2. Arione says:

    Can’t sleep, Mrs Coulter’ll eat me. Can’t sleep, Mrs Coulter’ll eat me!

  3. monkeybutter says:

    Lyra can keep up her lies even when she's drugged. She's an expert. The adults at Bolvangar shouldn't even bother trying to manipulate a pro like her.

    Just a small correction, but the people who brought Lyra in were Samoyeds, not Tartars.

    • flootzavut says:

      Random factoid: In Russian "samoyed" sounds like it means "self-eater", ie cannibal, and that's why it's gone out of favour even though there's a strong chance it was never actually intended to mean that. (Samoyed could be interpreted to mean "self sufficient", or it might simply be the Russian spelling of a word that wasn't Russian to start with, apparently "same-edne" means land of the sami)

      In an almost unrelated note, medved is the Russian word for bear and literally means "honey eater".

      I love languages. Can you tell?

      And now I badly want to know how armoured bears and Iorek were rendered in Russian…

      • ldwy says:

        Thanks for sharing all these language tidbits. I find them so interesting!

      • monkeybutter says:

        I knew it was deprecated like Tartars, but the history of the word is really nifty! I like the attempt to spell something not Russian explanation best. Thanks for sharing this!

        I was curious, so I looked at the Russian wikipedia page for His Dark Materials characters (which I can't link because apparently Cyrillic pisses off my browser, so I guess you can go to the English page and choose the Russian version, then click on the link to the character page, but beware that there are SPOILERS EVERYWHERE). It looks like Iorek and panserbjorne were transliterated, and armored bears translated, but it's just wiki, so I don't know.

        • Avit says:

          Welp, that makes sense from a functional/relativist standpoint. (the terminology is mine all mine I can use it however I see fitttttttttttt) After all Iorek and panserbjorne are non-English — transliterated basically, except those languages just happen to be written with Roman-plus alphabet — and armored bear is, so when translated the same foreign/native dichotomy may be maintained to approximate a similar reading experience.

        • flootzavut says:

          Yeah I found something similar, and found the same thing… which on the one hand is kinda sad and then on the other… well now I know how to say armoured bear in Russian, which is Very Cool 🙂

  4. FlameRaven says:

    How much realer can shit get? SO REAL. You are not prepared. Never, ever, ever prepared.

  5. Maya says:

    Lyra, you are so freaking awesome. Bella Swan could take a few lessons from this girl in common sense and badassery.

    • dbmacp says:

      Bella Swan could take a few lessons from Lyra in How To Be a Real Person And Not A Stand-In For Stephenie Meyer Because She Just Really Wants Two Hot Supernatural Dudes Fighting Over Her, Okay?

    • kara says:

      for that matter, meyer could take a few lessons from pullman in descriptions of clinical places – "almost like a hospital", anyone?

  6. blis says:

    I was filled was so much RAGE and ANGER when that man was lying to Lyra! I have no idea how she was able to keep her cool at that point.

  7. stellaaaaakris says:

    Mark, hate to break this to you (actually, no, I'm really cackling in glee), but this chapter is relatively low on the Shit Gets Real scale for this series.

    Pullman is pretty much an awesome sauce writer. Love his stuff. I've adored this trilogy for nearly a decade and I still have such a hard time putting it down and it raises such a great questions and builds such an amazingly detailed fictional world. Whenever I decide to reread this series, I get such happy thrills of anticipation knowing I'm going to immerse myself in his words again.

  8. cait0716 says:

    I didn't get the sense that the man was trying to comfort Lyra so much as manipulate her view of reality. It may be trying to assert some control over her, or he may be trying to convince her that what she saw wasn't real in an effort to keep her from scaring the other kids or sparking a rebellion. He wants her to believe she was rescued instead of kidnapped, but given what they do to kids here, I doubt it was for her own comfort or peace of mind.

    They drugged Lyra because that's what they do. There was nothing specific to her in that. Some of the adults probably think it's to keep her from having bad dreams. Some probably just want to make sure she sleeps through the night. But I got the impression that this is just standard procedure.

    This entire chapter is just so creepy. The institutional feel. The children disappearing one by one. ::shudder::

    You really aren't prepared for how real shit is going to get. I will just sit here and cackle evilly at your ignorance.

    • starrrface says:

      I think it's more HIS view of reality that he is trying to manipulate. With the white coat and sterile setting, the man must see himself as some sort of scientist or doctor, and has somehow convinced himself that what they are doing is okay. So he must also convince himself that they are rescuing the children, not that children are being stolen to come to the 'Experimental Station.'

      • cait0716 says:

        I hadn't thought of that. I'm so quick to assume that all of the adults involved in this are malicious and actively evil (because Mrs. Coulter certainly is). It doesn't excuse him, but if he's lying to himself it puts a different spin on things. It gives him a chance to be redeemed possibly.

  9. Tilja says:

    what the hell is this book

    This book is a veritable prize. And this book hasn’t even begun the work of Unpreparing you for Everything. I had to point that out.

  10. andreah1234 says:

    what the hell is this book

    This book IS FUCKING AWESOME. Just sayin'.

  11. hallowsnothorcruxes says:

    Wow what a chapter!
    As far I understand it, the Oblation Board is kidnapping children because Dust doesn't seem to affect them. But I don't understand how the intercision comes into play. They seem to be afraid of the Dust but I can't understand why if everyone is eventually exposed to it?

    “We dunno,” said Annie. “Just something from space. Not real dust. If you en’t got any Dust, that’s good. But everyone gets Dust in the end.”

    Do they perform the intercision when Dust begins to settle on the children?

    Dammit this chapter by chapter read is really difficult.

  12. ComputerizedWoman says:

    This book is epic. And you, my dear sir, are so unprepared for everything. Shit gets realer by each chapter and you got two other books after this one.

  13. tigerpetals says:

    I am going to miss everything because I won't be able to follow the blogs for a few weeks!

    You are going to have several heart attacks from these books.

  14. knut_knut says:


  15. ldwy says:

    This chapter freaked me out. The "Experimental Station" just gives me the heebie jeebies. The name is so detached and clinical, it must be hiding terrors under a facade of cleanliness and medicine and science and for your own good. The fact that Lyra knows so much, but the adults she interacts with have no idea how much she knows and treat her like someone coming to the station not knowing what it is just fills me with dread. She knows and we know that they are lying to her, big time, and even though we expect that, the detached, uninterested way in which they do it is really strange and unsettling.

    It makes me wonder if only the "upper-level" members of the Oblation Board or Gobblers or whoever at Bolvangar know what's going on. Like, if the nurse and the interviewer-man honestly didn't know exactly the whole situation, it might explain why they're so blase about it? (Obviously they know at least part of the situation and it's a bad situation, so this wouldn't excuse them…but it might explain things a bit?) Just an idea.

    Poor Lyra. I didn't expect her to end up here in this manner. I expected her to swoop in with the Gyptians and stage a rescue mission. I expected it to be difficult, yes. But I didn't expect her to be on her own in danger of be intercissioned with Mrs. Coulter slated to arrive. It seems so impossible that she can help all these children! I know I AM NOT PREPARED.

  16. BeckyJ says:

    God I love this book. But pertaining to the arena….. After reading the Hunger Games, every time I see the words "arena" and "children" within a couple of pages of each other my mind just automatically jump to children killing each other. So when I saw this I thought to myself "Oh, no, they're going to sever the daemons from the children and then force them into the arena and have the daemons battle their own children to the death!"

    • ldwy says:

      That is terrifying and I hope you are wrong. But I know what you mean. The word arena has a new nuance of meaning.

  17. Sparkie says:

    What the hell is this book? You ask.

    Fucking awesome! I answer 😀

  18. arctic_hare says:

    what the hell is this book

    Something for which you could never have been prepared, and are still not prepared for. 😀 Enjoy the ride!

    Man, when that guy was telling her that there wasn't an attack, that she'd imagined it, etc. I blurted out "Oh my god, he's fucking gaslighting her!" It amuses me that this comes the day after all the mind control in Avatar yesterday.

    It's all so damn creepy, though. It's clinical and cold and claustrophobic; I can't imagine being in a room with no windows, just a big picture. WTF. Sister Clara unnerves me too. And the stories about children disappearing… brrr.

    In closing, fuck you, Mrs. Coulter. You are awful.

  19. John Small Berries says:

    I don’t know where you get the willpower to stop reading at the end of each chapter, Mark. After your first few installments, I decided to pull out the book again and follow along with you, read up to where you had stopped and said, “I’ll just read the next chapter so it’s fresh in my mind when Mark reviews it”, and then it was “Well, maybe just one more chapter”, and then “Okay, one more, but then I absolutely have to stop there”, and then the next thing I knew I’d finished the book and was pulling The Subtle Knife off the shelf.

    [WORDPRESS HASHCASH] The poster sent us ‘0 which is not a hashcash value.

    According to Wikipedia, dust in homes, offices, and other human environments contains small amounts of plant pollen, human and animal hairs, textile fibers, paper fibers, minerals from outdoor soil, human skin cells, and many other materials that may be found in the local environment. I conclude that Mrs. Coulter is trying to construct some sort of human-animal-plant-textile-paper creature.


  21. George says:

    So after the brief respite that was the previous chapter, shit has most definitely got real once again!

  22. hummingbrdheart says:

    Oh, gawd, the little trotting chipper sterility of it all, when we've come to see and know not only Pan and other children's daemons, but also the way adults' daemons are so much an extension and reflection of them! That image wouldn't have worked in the beginning, when we didn't know how much the daemon's form and personality matter — if it had been introduced right away, this nurse with the little terrible thing that looks like a daemon but is missing that spark and reality and passion, we wouldn't have thought anything of it. Pullman kicks ass.

  23. t09yavorski says:

    Now I'm a little sad I missed MK & A's Gangster Sleepover Party as a kid. That vid is terrifyingly hilarious.

  24. theanagrace says:

    It seems so far like daemons can touch each other, the kids' daemons back in Oxford would fight when they were squaring off, and there are other mentions of it. It sounds like a person touching someone else's daemon is what is taboo. As for your other questions, I would like to know too!

  25. BradSmith5 says:

    I thought the attack scene was a bit TOO matter-of-fact. And this is an ambush! Why in the world is it so long-winded!?

    "Only when they slumped clumsily across the dog traces or lay unexpectedly still did the nearest men notice what was happening, and then it was already too late, because more arrows were flying at them."

    Cut out the adverbs, smack down a semicolon instead of the "because," do anything to cut it down. Maybe even break out the boxes of periods, Collins-style. I mean, I thought that Lyra was being taken to safety when she was, in fact, being kidnapped!

    The rest of this chapter is perfect though, holy crap. And the title! Thank you so much, Pullman, for not ruining the surprise by calling it "A Startling Ambush!" or "Gobbled!"

  26. pennylane27 says:

    I got chills just from reading the review. AWESOME.

    Also, I'm impressed with Lyra's lying skills, and how she manages to keep track of what she's said. I'm such a terrible liar, even if you knew me just a little you'd be able to tell I was lying. Which is a good thing most of the times, but I definitely wouldn't survive this situation.

  27. Brieana says:

    Speaking of the taboo, what if it happens by accident? Like, in our world, when you walk by someone and accidentally touch their butt and it's really super awkward.
    I'm getting the feeling that those kinds of accidents don't happen in Lyra's world.

  28. flootzavut says:

    sooooooooooooooooooo freaky, that vid! lol

  29. Brieana says:

    "which has FAKE BEACH SCENES ON THE WALLS TO ACT AS LIGHTING, which scares me forever"
    Ha. Chilling.

    "And it must be said that the scene where the Sister asks her to pick out a toy from a group that clearly belonged to children who are probably dead and most certainly severed is FUCKING TERRIFYING"
    I so did not catch that one.

  30. @Leenessface says:



  31. dktragonizer says:

    I think it's interesting to note that despite how clearly FUCKED UP these guys are, they still refuse to touch other people's daemons. I'd almost think people who, erm, cut them away wouldn't really care, buuut.

  32. Brieana says:

    I remember watching those Mary Kate and Ashley videos back when I was in elementary school. Even if I weren't a vegan I so would not eat that nasty pizza and I like me some pizza.
    Byy the way, to embed a video you click on the "embed video" link on top of where you write your comment.

  33. ohheyitsalliek says:

    I got a little bit of a Hunger Games flashback when you mentioned the arena. I've read these books before and never noticed that… I love the little things you pick up!

  34. Ellalalalala says:

    Aurgh I've had three flat out days and no chance to read either the book or the reviews – BUT NOW I SHALL CATCH UP! RA!

    Utterly creeped out by this place. The tension is just too much.

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