In the eighteenth chapter of The Golden Compass, Lyra begins her journey to Svalbard to rescue Lord Asriel with Lee Scoresby and Serafina Pekkala along her side, where we learn even more about who Lyra might actually be. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Golden Compass.
CHAPTER EIGHTEEN: FOG AND ICE
You know, even for a rather “slow” chapter, this is fucked up.
But we’ll get there in a bit. I know Pullman has done it before, but chapter eighteen is another great example of his ability to shift who his third person narration focuses on and in a way that’s not jarring either. This book certainly focuses on Lyra almost exclusively, but when Pullman feels the need to talk about her or reveal information about her, he can switch to Farder Coram or Lee Scoresby when necessary and I don’t feel that it doesn’t fit.
He does that right away as Lyra falls asleep and Lee and Serafina begin to have a conversation that is ONE HELL OF A WEIRD TRIP. First of all, the conversation acts as a great way for Pullman to explain to all of us that the social and cultural differences between humans and witches, both to answer my questions about witch society and to create a fascinating dynamic.
Lee’s initial concern about traveling with Lyra is certainly natural for him to bring up: Lee is a practical man, and his pragmatism deals with the fee he was paid by the gyptians to provide a “normal” service. And surely what just happened in Bolvangar is not “normal” by any means.
“Mr. Scoresby,” said the witch, “I wish I could answer your question. All I can say is that all of us, humans, witches, bears, are engaged in a war already, although not all of us know it. Whether you find danger on Svalbard or whether you fly off unharmed, you are recruit, under arms, a soldier.”
I kind of adore the way that Serafina speaks. Like the gyptians, she is quite direct, matter-of-fact and simple, communicating exactly what she needs to precisely in the way she thinks will impart the message. I don’t want to say that she’s detached, because the strips what emotion she does show here, but she’s got a way of talking that’s an interesting parallel to Lee’s pragmatism. Her and Lee trade off about choice and you can see how they both come from two different worlds: one is concerned with human matters and the other….well, the world of witches has not much in common with what we are used to in life.
But this then brings up another issue that I was pleasantly surprised appeared in this book at all: free will. I suppose the thought had only briefly crossed my mind when Farder Coram spoke with the witch consul about Lyra’s bizarre destiny. I’m not a big fan of the idea, I suppose, and I commented that Pullman so far has avoided my distaste for it. And he still does and this section certainly helps that. Lyra is to be kept ignorant of her “destiny,” for whatever reason that is still left unsaid.
“We are all subject to the fates. But we must all act as if we are not,” said the witch, “or die of despair.”
Stripped of the context of Lyra, this is one amazing bit of philosophy dropped on us. The existential tinge to it all of course satisfies me, but as Serafina continues, she gives us a huge chunk of the reason why Lyra is so important:
“There is a curious prophecy about this child: she is destined to bring about the end of destiny. But she must do so without knowing what she is doing, as if it were her nature and not her destiny to do it. If she’s told what she must do, it will all fail; death will sweep through all the worlds; it will be the triumph of despair, forever. The universes will all become nothing more than interlocking machines, blind and empty of thought, feeling, life…”
WELL SHIT. What a head-scratcher! Does this mean she is bringing the end of destiny for herself or everyone? Does Serafina mean that all people are controlled by some unnamable idea of “destiny” and Lyra is going to free people of that? And why can’t she be told? Why will that cause mass death between all of the parallel universes?
The thing is, this still doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me, but I’m simultaneously way more interested in Lyra’s destiny than I was before. Serafina speaks as if the “fates” brought Roger to Bolvangar specifically because Lyra would follow and set into motion her own destiny.
I’m early into this trilogy, so I understand very little of this at this point. I don’t get it. And I’m ok with that because that’s the fun of the experience. But I’m itching to know why this is all happening, especially since it’s being hinted that there is a reason why. At the very least, though, I know that Serafina’s witch clan is on Lyra’s side:
“Whatever they were doing at Bolvangar, we felt it was wrong with all our hearts. Lyra is their enemy; so we are her friends. We don’t see more clearly than that.”
I find it interesting that the witches didn’t know what was happening in Bolvangar.
Their conversation takes a turn for the immediate future and it’s made clear to me that landing in Svalbard is not going to be an easy thing at all. Lee confirms (in a wonderful bit) that Iorek is on their side as well:
“I think he’s attached himself to the little girl as a kind of protector. She helped him get his armor back, you see. Who knows what bears feel? But if a bear ever loved a human being, he loves her.”
THERE IS NO GIF FOR WHAT I AM FEELING NOW!!!!! oh Iorek. PLEASE COME RESCUE ME NEXT.
Lyra awakes to a cold moonlit sky and she converses with Serafina about the oncoming difficulty of Svalbard. It’s actually kind of funny to me because Bolvangar seems to have set the bar for what “difficult” entails. I mean…HOW COULD IT BE WORSE THAN THAT. The problem, though, is that Svalbard is a much more treacherous geographical location, and the panserbjørne are going to be much harder to defeat than the Tartar guards and their wolf dæmons.
But Lyra doesn’t seem to set herself on this idea much at all, and I’m glad. It’s kind of neat how her conversation with Serafina sort of reads like a curious child who can’t stop asking a question, getting an answer, and then asking forty more questions to follow that. She interrogates the witch about Lord Asriel, about why witches don’t feel cold, how long they live, and whether they are all women. Actually, that little speech that Serafina gives about men is spectacular:
“You are so young, Lyra, too young to understand this, but I shall tell you anyway and you’ll understand it later: men pass in front of our eyes like butterflies, creatures of a brief season. We love them; they are brave, proud, beautiful, clever; and they die almost at once. They die so soon that our hearts are continually racked with pain. We bear their children, who are witches if they are female, human if not; and then in the blink of an eye they are gone, felled, slain, lost. Our sons, too. When a little boy is growing, he thinks he is immortal. His mother knows he isn’t. Each time becomes more painful, until your heart is finally broken.”
And this remarkably depressing passage is then used to explore the tragic past (that we didn’t know about) between Farder Coram and Serafina. Not only were they in love, but THEY HAD A SON TOGETHER. who died. AND THEN SHE NEVER SAW FARDER CORAM AGAIN.
seriously this book is going to make my heart stop functioning or something holy god.
Lyra’s little interrogation session is silenced briefly after she suggests that Serafina actually go see see Farder, but she asks a question I’ve wanted to know the answer to since the beginning of the book: Why do people have dæmons? Unfortunately, there’s no answer given. Even Serafina doesn’t know why. They just do. It’s simply the way of this world. And you know, thinking about it right now, I don’t suppose I ever need to know why, either. If that’s how the natural world works in this parallel universe, I’m at a point in the story where I don’t care to have an explanation for it. It’s not necessary. I accept it as it is. (At the same time….I won’t feel bad if I do get an answer!)
Their talk turns to the armored bears and I think I’m ready to make a bonafide guess as to what is going on with Iofur Raknison. When we first heard his name, I, like probably all of you, assumed he was a man, but we now know he’s king of the bears. I still think I remember it correctly, too: Iofur wants his own dæmon. So, reading this section about how Iofur is a different kind of bear in terms of the way he’s leading the panserbjørne, making treaties and alliances, living in a palace, working with humans. So…..IOFUR DOESN’T WANT TO BE A BEAR. Ok, this is probably a terrible theory that will never be developed beyond this, but I thought it was interesting that he wants a dæmon, he acts more like a human king than a king of bears, and…just seriously, THAT WOULD BE COOL. Also, this:
“When bears act like people, perhaps they can be tricked,” said Serafina Pekkala.
IT’S ALL SET UP TO COME TRUE. Oh god, I’ll be so embarrassed if I’m wrong.
We’d seen before that the witches didn’t comment on Dust, but Serafina pretty much confirms that witches don’t even know what Dust is:
“Witches have never worried about Dust. All I can tell you is that where there are priests, there is fear of Dust. Mrs. Coulter is not a priest, of course, but she is a powerful agent of the Magisterium, and it was she who set up the Oblation Board and persuaded the Church to pay for Bolvangar, because of her interest in Dust.”
So now I’m wondering…was Mrs. Coulter telling the truth? Well, I should rephrase that: Does she genuinely believe that Dust is actually bad? She mentioned that it makes people feel things that are evil and wrong and wicked. So it’s not an issue of her lying to Lyra: she actually believed what she was saying.
So what the hell does Dust do???
This momentary break doesn’t last long. It’s actually one of the very few “slow” parts I’ve had in a while and we’re back to chaos again when Lyra wakes up in the morning to discover Lee having some difficultly flying as the balloon starts rapidly descending into the “thickest fog Lyra had ever known.” It’s here that we get our first introduction to a “cliff-ghast,” some sort of creature “half the size of a man, with leathery wings and hooked claws,” that tries to claw its way into the balloon. I actually laughed when Iorek just swats it away and merely names the creature and then sits back. Cliff-ghasts are nothing to Iorek. Unfortunately, something hits the balloon and it begins to fall so quickly that Lyra thinks the basket may have separated from the balloon. WHICH IS FUN, RIGHT. And the jolts continue and even though she tries to hang on to Iorek’s fur, she is dumped from the basket into a snowdrift below on the ground, the sounds of cliff-ghasts and some sort of battle going on above them. As her and Pan try desperately to find anyone from the balloon (as she couldn’t have been the only one knocked out of the balloon), Lyra is relieved to see Iorek coming towards her.
BUT NO. NOT IOREK. ANOTHER ARMORED BEAR. WHO CALLS OUT AND BECKONS A SECOND BEAR.
The bears didn’t move until the first one said, “Your name?”
“Where have you come from?”
“In a balloon?”
“Come with us. You are a prisoner. Move, now. Quickly.”
Weary and scary, Lyra began to stumble over the harsh and slippery rocks, following the bear, wondering how she could talk her way out of this.
OH SHIT YEAH IT’S ON. Lyra versus bears LYRA WILL PROBABLY WIN.