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
CHAPTER FOURTEEN: BOLVANGAR LIGHTS
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