In the nineteenth chapter of The Golden Compass, Lyra’s imprisonment by the panserbjørne inspires a rather brilliant idea to do exactly what Serafina suggested: trick a bear that acts like a human. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Golden Compass.
EVERYTHING IS BEAUTIFUL AND NOTHING HURTS.
CHAPTER NINETEEN: CAPTIVITY
Finally, we have an entire chapter that’s not just endless intensity, and you know what? It still rules. BECAUSE SERIOUSLY, EVERYONE, HOW AWESOME IS THIS CHAPTER. We’ve got more info dumping, Lyra’s uncanny ability to lie, a new character, some spectacular world-building from Pullman regarding the bears’ palace, and one HELL of a con that Lyra sets up that will certainly lead to the spectacular confrontation between Iofur and Iorek.
The stone palace that the panserbjørne live in, commissioned by Iofur, is not at all what I expected. I sort of assumed they would live in an ice palace, and that probably makes me racist against bears or something. While the place certainly is grand, it’s also not what I had in mind because I’d just assumed it was like any ol’ palace. Nope. THESE ARE BEARS.
She had to take his word for it, because every projection and ledge on the deeply sculpted façade was occupied by gannets and skuas, which cawed and shrieked and wheeled constantly overhead, and whose droppings had coated every part of the building with thick smears of dirty white.
And this sort of visual theme continues, reminding us that the bears do not live as we do and do not have the same standards as us either. On top of that, these bears also seem to dress in no way similar as Iorek, aside from having armor. Iorek’s armor is worn, rusty, stained with blood and war, and these bears seem to exist more for show than anything else.
Lyra is directed further into the palace, the stench of fat, dung, blood, and other such things overpowering her sense of smell. This is not the palace I anticipated. She is then unceremoniously dumped into a narrow cell with a bench and a pile of rags for bedding. She is now a prisoner of the panserbjørne. Well….at least she is inside, right? IT’S A STEP IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION.
It had been so long since she’d used it, I’d almost forgotten about the alethiometer. Lyra is so excellent at using it now that it’s no longer a prolonged process, even in terms of Pullman’s narration. As he puts it, it’s as natural “as her muscles moved her limbs.” She learns that Iorek is just a day’s journey away, on board Lee’s balloon, and is heading to the palace to break Lyra out, regardless of how dangerous this might be. (LOVE YOU IOREK.)
That pile of rags in the corner of the cell then reveals itself to be a MAN. Which in the book is not that scary, but in a PROPER cinematic adaptation, would probably have been terrifying. Lyra learns that she’s sharing a cell with a professor from the University of Gloucester. I’m starting to wonder why so many academic places have such a marked interest in the north. I mean, obviously if it has to do with Dust, but….ARRRGGGH I am so close to figuring this all out.
I don’t know that Jotham Santelia actually helps me any, to be honest. He starts babbling about Professor Trelawney (LOL THAT NAME I SWEAR) and a paper the man stole from him on “gamma-ray photons,” and I’m not sure any of this really matters to the story as a whole. Well…ok, that sounds mighty dismissive. Obviously it is important because this is how Lyra gets the idea to trick Iofur later, and Pullman doesn’t introduce pointless characters, either. For Lyra, this provides her with the opportunity to lapse into her wondrous ability to lie, and she feeds into Santelia’s anger at Trelawney for the theft. I didn’t understand why she was doing it at first. What could she possibly serve to gain from this man?
Knowledge. And I really do adore that this is a valuable thing for Lyra, who knows that Santelia can help her more than anyone at this point, for he has lived amongst the bears for a long time now. (Well, there’s also a mention of that Barnard-Stokes hypothesis again, but I have a feeling that might not be mentioned or explained again until the next book.) He reveals to Lyra, after some questioning, that a fight between Iorek and Iofur would be impossible: Iorke, when exiled, lost the right to even challenge another bear to a fight. And while this provides a new challenge for Lyra, it’s not as bad as when the mere mention of Lord Asriel’s name causes Santelia to curl up in fear.
Her father’s very name causes Santelia to shrink against the wall. What the hell? Turns out you cannot even mention his name because Mrs. Coulter came round to specifically ensure that Iofur keep Lord Asriel locked up and out of Mrs. Coulter’s way. It seems the king of the bears is willing to do anything for Mrs. Coulter. (Is he in love with her???)
But he’s a new kind of bear, one who makes deals and alliances with humans, so I found it funny that despite obeying Mrs. Coulter, he also agreed to bring Lord Asriel the tools that he needs for whatever experiments with Dust he’s carrying out. He’s pleasing both parties and, as Santelia says, this balance cannot last much longer.
For Lyra, though, she has all the information that she needs. As I so masterfully figured out in the last chapter because I AM A BOSS WHO FINALLY FIGURED SOMETHING OUT BEFORE HAND THIS NEVER HAPPENS, Lyra remembers that Iofur wanted a dæmon more than anything in the world:
But now it was plain. Everything she’d heard about the bear-king added up: the mighty Iofur Raknison wanted nothing more than to be a human being, with a dæmon of his own.
It’s like I just got BINGO on the first five numbers. allow me to revel in this fine moment, rare like an aged wine.
The next morning, Lyra’s idea, inspired by her conversation with Santelia, gets the chance to be carried out. It’s a real treat to read these passages where Lyra assumes a new character to act out and it’s a definite talent of hers. While she may not always be a confident young girl, when she lies like she does here…she’s real good. Real good. Having seen the way the palace runs and the slightly haphazard arrangement to it all, she decides to initially play into that when one of the bear guards sees her that morning. She demands to be taken to see Iofur, and will only pass along her urgent message to the king himself. Isn’t that the way things are done around here?
Preying specifically on the fact that these bears still haven’t quite figured out how to deal with their king’s ways, the bear obliges, and I cheer inside just a little bit harder. Finally, something is working without a single hitch. And to be completely honest, that is a smaller reason why I enjoy chapter nineteen so much: This actually isn’t depressing or harrowing or stressful at all. It’s just Lyra being waltzed right into the main throne room with Iofur and being a straight up BAMF.
Initially, there’s a hint that this might be a lot harder than she expected, as Iofur is the most massive bear of the entire kingdom. Creepily so, he also looks kind of like a person as well, giving off such a supreme sense of power and control that Lyra worries that this is not going to go off as planned.
But she moved a little closer, because she had to, and then she saw that Iofur was holding something on his knee, as a human might let a cat sit there–or a dæmon.
It was a big stuffed doll, a manikin with a vacant stupid human face. It was dressed as Mrs. Coulter would dress, and it had a sort of rough resemblance to her. He was pretending he had a dæmon. Then she knew she was safe.
I know that this provides comfort to Lyra–and I’m very glad it does–but this just creeps me out so hard. Honestly, why does this disturb me so much? Maybe it’s because it’s dressed like Mrs. Coulter and WHY WOULD YOU WANT TO IDOLIZE HER she is an awful person.
Lyra gets her audience with the bear king and surprises even me with what she came so far to tell him:
“I am a dæmon, Your Majesty,” she said.
He stopped still.
“Whose?” he said.
“Iorek Byrnison’s,” was her answer.
A SDKFJA SDF;AKLJF AS;DKF AWEF89AF DS;KDJSF ASUFA;KSDFJ WHAT WHAT WHAT WHAT!!!!!!! Oh my god lyra WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!?!?!?
What Lyra unfolds here to Iofur–and to us, really–is just….perfection. Well, as close to it as an eleven-year-old girl, who just set up her friend Iorek to fight to the death in a battle with an armored bear who is bigger than him, can get. Using information that Iofur could superficially confirm if he was so inclined, she weaves a complicated story about how Bolvangar was used for experiments to assign non-humans dæmons and how it worked for Iorek, but only him, and how she would rather be Iofur’s dæmon instead of Iorek’s, and how the only way for Lyra to be transferred to another bear is through DEFEAT IN A SINGLE COMBAT.
It is amazing. Astounding. Shocking. Lyra, seriously, you just blow me away. And when Iofur demands that Lyra prove she is a dæmon, right when I begin to think this whole lie will far apart, she tells him that she can find out anything that he knows and no one else, as long as she has privacy to do it, since she’s not his dæmon.
AND SHE USES THE ALETHIOMETER TO DO SO. Brilliance, just pure and simple brilliance. And when Iofur demands to what the first creature he killed was, the alethiometer gives us a chilling insight into how Iofur came to be who he is now: HE KILLED HIS OWN FATHER. Well, he didn’t know he was his father initially, but he still committed a crime by killing a fellow bear in a mere quarrel. The fact that this bear covered up the murder of his own father….ugh. I shudder to think what else he is capable of.
For now, though, we don’t find out. Pantalaimon correctly suggests that Lyra should treat Iofur as if the murder of his father is a good thing, and it works. Even though Iofur is properly satisfied that Lyra is a real dæmon, he does ask Lyra what Mrs. Coulter promised the bear king and….uh…..what.
“She promised you that she’d get the Magisterium in Geneva to agree that you could be baptized as a Christian, even though you hadn’t got a dæmon then. Well, I’m afraid she hasn’t done that, Iofur Raknison, and quite honestly I don’t think they’d ever agree to that if you didn’t have a dæmon.”
Well, now Lyra has probably turned Iofur against Mrs. Coulter, too, and learned that Iofur wants to be a human so badly that he’s willing to get baptized as a Christian.
We end this chapter on a high note (for once), as Lyra, now with Iofur fully on her side and believing such an elaborate lie, helps plan out how Iofur will convince the other bears to allow Iorek into Svalbard without being killed and setting up their battle for dominance in a way to make it look like Iofur planned it all along.
I’m just glad that Lyra is doing all of this for good, because…shit, I wouldn’t want to cross her. She’s got one hell of an ability to lie and manipulate. Is this going to come back at her in a negative way?
Whatever, who cares, ARMORED BEAR FIGHT ARMORED BEAR FIGHT ARMORED BEAR FIGHT.