In the fifteenth chapter of The Golden Compass, Lyra schemes with the other children caught by the Gobblers to find a way to escape, and in the process, she discovers more about the ramifications of intercision. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Golden Compass.
just please give me a break my brain and my heart cannot handle much more
CHAPTER FIFTEEN: THE DÆMON CAGES
I love that I get to absolutely lose my shit over the plot being spilled forth here on the pages, and at the same time, it’s not mutually exclusive for me to be able to pick up on the wonderful bits of prose and character development. And while this chapter does not provide us with a complete break from the chaos, it does allow us to see more of Lyra’s ability to adapt to a situation drowning in fear and do what she does best: act on her own moral compass.
It wasn’t Lyra’s way to brood; she was a sanguine and practical child, and besides, she wasn’t imaginative. No one with much imagination would have thought seriously that it was possible to come all this way and rescue her friend Roger; or, having thought it, an imaginative child would immediately have come up with several ways in which it was impossible. Being a practiced liar doesn’t mean you have a powerful imagination. Many good liars have no imagination at all; it’s that which gives their lies such wide-eyed conviction.
What we’ve seen from Lyra certainly fits into this. Her life at Jordan College was pragmatic and brutish, and even as she’s finding out more about the world and having her life changed each day, she still sticks to this solid base of what her life has always been. In this sense (and maybe she’s partially inspired by Iorek Byrnison), she doesn’t allow fear to take her over. She knows that there are quite a few people who are on their way to help her, and she decides it’s best for her to approach the situation with her everyday curiosity.
Curiosity. I would have died by now. Lyra, you are a badass forever.
I know that Lyra said she was going to go after Roger, but I never considered that we would actually find him. It seemed to be an impossibility (guess I’m too imaginative for this book) that he was still alive at this point. But there, in the canteen the next morning, he sits at a table with other boys and when Pantalaimon goes to speak Roger’s dæmon, you can feel the joy and excitement jump from the pages. As awful as this situation has gotten, I must say that this is the first time that I felt hope that Lyra would find a way out of this. When I think about the impossible, absurd odds she’s faced and she still manages to get to the North to try save Roger, I can’t help but feel this is finally a good sign.
Of course, I’m probably going to regret saying that. Christ.
It’s also great to see how the two friends fall back right into their Jordan College roles:
But he saw how she looked away disdainfully, and he followed her example faithfully, as he’d done in a hundred Oxford battles and campaigns. No one must know, of course, because they were both in deadly danger. She rolled eyes at her new friends, and they collected their trays of cornflakes and toast and sat together, an instant gang, excluding everyone else in order to gossip about them.
SERIOUSLY. I finally feel good about this. Roger and Lyra slide into this so easily and I have confidence that this is going to work in their favor. For the time being, this chapter is about waiting. This bizarre “station” treats the children in a way that ignores the reality of where they are. There are timed, scheduled activities and events. BEFORE INTERCISION. And this whole thing had already creeped me out, but it this pervasive air of detachment that is really getting to me. It’s even worse that those running the Experimental Station know that they aren’t even doing a good job at that. To a point, that will work to their advantage: these people are not quite that good at keeping an eye on the kids, their conversations, or what they are doing all of the time. Are they tired? Exhausted? Disinterested? We aren’t told and I’m not even sure it matters at this point.
Taking opportunity of the lack of attention paid to them, a bunch of the children have another conversation about dæmons, which piques Lyra’s interest when one of the girls mention Tony Makarios. That specific girl claims to know why these children are taken away one-by-one: It’s timed for when their dæmon stops changing. Now, she could be entirely wrong and I’m being misdirected, or it’s just a girl gossiping. Either way, the more speculation we get here in this chapter, the less I seem to understand about why the Oblation Board would need to continually cut away a person’s dæmon and how that has to do with Dust and the Aurora.
I’m more willing to believe the first girl, who says she was in the same room with Tony when he was taken, about what this process is like. She tells them that the nurse calmly told Tony that he was just getting an operation, “something to make you more grown up.”
what the fuck does this mean. More grown up? But grown ups have dæmons. And now we’ve seen what happens when a person is severed from their dæmon (THE SADDEST DEATH EVER).
I DON’T UNDERSTAND someone hold me. Is this just an example of how pervasive the lying is by the people in charge? Ugh, seriously my brain. And it doesn’t help that Sister Clara arrives to take away one of the girls and she’s certainly not going to come back.
The shouts of the children, the shrieks and hoots of the dæmons, filled the little gymnasium and soon banished fearful thoughts; which of course was exactly what the exercise intended to do.
OK I’M RIGHT. The people running this place are fucking awful.
But the chapter continues to swing from joy to dread, and just when I’m starting to slip away from feeling like there’s hope, BILLY COSTA FINDS LYRA. Oh my god, BILLY IS ALIVE. Lyra is quick to reassure him that the gyptians and John Faa are on their way and I simply cannot ruin the beauty of this moment. IT IS JUST SO WONDERFUL. And it changes what I expected Lyra to experience here in chapter 15: I thought she’d have to do this all by herself. Honestly! She didn’t know anyone here, she couldn’t have anticipated finding Roger and Billy, and everything about this book suggests this is a lonely journey for Lyra.
SO THIS IS A MASSIVE BOOST FOR ME. She now has TWO boys to help her out and for just a brief moment, this all seems all right to me. The first bit of that is when Roger reveals to Lyra that he found a possible hiding place in the ceiling, behind the panels. For Lyra though, it’s not a hiding spot: it’s a method of escape. This is yet another way that Pullman grabs me tenderly, hugging me, telling me that everything is going to be ok: Lyra has friends in this place, she has a hiding spot, and then a doctor announces that there’ll be a practice fire drill, pretty much setting this up for so much convenience that it would be foolish not to make an attempt to escape.
This carried me through the next scene and I bristled with excitement to learn more about the medical procedures that the Oblation Board carry out in the base. I didn’t feel that this was going to be an issue for Lyra; there’s no way that they’d cut away her dæmon so early into the story, so I was glad that this was just a chance for Pullman to give us some more hints towards what the Oblation Board is doing while building on the unsettling atmosphere of this place.
A lot of the talk between Lyra and the doctor isn’t too revealing, though it is fun to watch Lyra push all of the doctor’s buttons by acting so shy and knowledgable at the same time. The doctor continues to pass along the same old story, that they’re not hurting anyone, but he says something that is just weird to me.
“When we take children out, it’s because it’s time for them to move on to another place. They’re growing up. I’m afraid your friend is alarming herself.”
We know they’re lying. Right? Except…now I’m starting to doubt myself. What if there is an element of truth to what this man says? What does he mean by moving on to “another place”? Why was Tony so far from this place? Why is it so important to know the weight of one’s dæmon? What are they testing for?
Gosh, I simply cannot put the pieces together and because I’m doing this so publicly, I FEEL RATHER EMBARRASSED ABOUT IT. You know, since you all know the intricate pieces and I know nothing.
(PS: Someone pointed out how many times Pullman uses the word “Presently” to start sentences in the comments not too long ago and now I cannot unsee this at all. good god what have you done to my brain)
Oh, The Golden Compass. I was so comfortable for a moment. I felt like Pullman had patted me on the head, reassuring me that this was the time for the tides to turn away from all the bleak, awful shit we’d learned about the Oblation Board, about Lyra’s kidnapping, about the death of poor Tony. We are given that fire drill referenced earlier and I honestly, truly believed that we were going to witness Lyra’s escape from the Experimental Station. The disorganization works in the group’s favor and one beautifully planted snowball sets off a chain reaction that just adds to the chaos, enough for three young children to be able to sneak off and stumble away in the snow to see what they can find around the place they are being held in.
It wasn’t a disappointing realization to come to when I knew that this wasn’t going to be an escape mission quite yet, because it becomes clear to me that Lyra wants to utilize this tiny trip to gather more information about the place before she decides to escape. They come upon a “squat, square building” set apart from everything else. Adorned with a sign that says ENTRY STRICTLY FORBIDDEN, it is clearly where these kids need to break out into. RIGHT. I mean the sign should just say LYRA YOUR ANSWER IS IN HERE.
Oh gosh, and then Serafina’s dæmon arrives and THIS COULD NOT BE MORE PERFECT! John Faa DID NOT DIE! The gyptians are just a day’s journey out! And the dæmon has the ability to use snow to open the lock on the door! THIS IS SO AWESOME I FEEL SO GREAT EVERYTHING IS BEAUTIFUL AND NOTHING HURTS.
In a series of glass cases on shelves around the walls were all the dæmons of the severed children: ghostlike forms of cats, or birds, or rats, or other creatures, each bewildered and frightened and as pale as smoke.
I AM NEVER GOING TO HEAL FROM THE EXPERIENCE OF READING THIS GODDAMN BOOK. You have to be kidding me!!! THEY KEEP THE DÆMONS CAGED UP? And the dæmons literally lose their color once separated from their owners? WHY WHY WHY WHY IS ALL THIS. WHY. WHAT THE HELL FOR!!!!?!!?!?!?!? hold me close HOLD ME SOFTLY
In the dim light from a low-powered anbaric bulb she could see a name on a card at the front of each case, and yes, there was an empty one with Tony Makarios on it. There were four or five other empty ones with names on them, too.
Pullman has just tossed me out of my comfy and toasty bed and dumped a bucket of ice water on my head, reminding me yet again that nothing is sacred in this book. This is seriously awful. Disturbing. Unsettling. And it makes me pissed as hell. What the fuck is the Oblation Board doing to these children? How could anything that they are doing possibly justify what is going on here? How could an organization justify such suffering? For the greater good? For something else I haven’t come across yet? Ugh, seriously, y’all, this is so upsetting to me! And it is not even real. Props to Pullman for being able to convey just how horrible this so succinctly, too! We’re just in the first book and I already understand what a heinous act this is.
Everyone here in the story does, too, and Lyra almost lets her own rage and terror get the best of her, vocalizing her desire to smash open the cages and let the dæmons, but Serafina’s dæmon has a much better idea. (Thankfully.) They’ll make it look like someone forgot to lock the cages/door instead so as not to raise alarm.
And this is the sort of stuff that really does warm my icy heart. All of these folks risk death, pain, torture, and loss by choosing to do what they feel is right. For Lyra especially, Pullman has built up this character who is flawed in a few ways, but who is genuinely trying to navigate the world with her ethics intact. She listens to whatever voice she has in her head that nudges her the right way, and she’s able to react to these situations in remarkably unselfish ways. And she is eleven. We’ve also been able to see her growth from that bratty, snotty kid straddling two worlds at Jordan College, and over a short period of time, it’s been great to look back and see how some of those characteristics have disappeared.
Our little Lyra is maturing allow me this moment to sob
Lyra worked quickly, and within a few minutes every dæmon was free. Some were trying to speak, and they clustered around her feet and even tried to pluck at her leggings, though the taboo held them back. She could tell why, poor things: they missed the heavy solid warmth of their humans’ bodies; just as Pantalaimon would have done, they longed to press themselves against a heartbeat.
allow me to continue to sob. holy god this book. this is so gutting.
But feeling depressed about this is ok, because it’s such a traumatic idea. (I think the visual of gray-ish dæmons shuffling out of that building is just so difficult to think about for me.) It is both a sad and victorious moment. We are sad to learn that this is what the Oblation Board is doing to children, but we are lifted by the actions of Lyra and Serafina, who successfully free these captive dæmons. It is a good thing, and it’s one of the most redemptive scenes in the whole book. It’s hard to imagine something more evocative than the sight of a parade of dæmons being led off into the sky.
Knowing the full terror that could be brought upon them, Lyra, Billy, and Roger set forth to return to the group and begin plotting the mass breakout of the surviving children in the Experimental Station. Again, the mass disorganization by those running this terrible place is certainly going to help things, but the excitement I felt for this prospect was, once more, doused entirely by Pullman as the children realize that there’s a new wrinkle in their plan:
A zeppelin arrives just as order is returned to that arena-shaped area on the base and the spectacle of such a massive ship distracts everyone’s attention. And rightly so:
Lyra looked, and there was no mistake. Pantalaimon clutched at her, became a wildcat, hissed in hatred, because looking out with curiosity was the beautiful dark-haired head of Mrs. Coulter, with her golden dæmon in her lap.
THERE IS NO GIF FOR WHAT I AM FEELING RIGHT NOW.