Mark Reads ‘The Golden Compass’: Chapter 20

In the twentieth chapter of The Golden Compass, two gigantic polar bears fight to the death. No, seriously, there is nothing wrong with the world. This is perfection. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Golden Compass.

I am just at a point where I am so ready to proclaim this as one of the most fantastic books I have ever read. And I mean….this honestly might replace books I’ve cherished for years. I know that is not something one should say lightly, but I truly believe I am going through an experience where, at the end of this, I’ll have no problem ranking this book amongst Dostoevsky and Camus and Sartre and Carson McCullers and Jane Austen and Alice Munro…this. is. so. good. Gorgeously written, with poetic prose that builds a universe that feels so very real to me, all of it tied together by a riveting, chilling, and emotionally difficult story about the fight against destiny and about the closest thing to genuine evil that I’ve ever come across.

And on top of all of this: A BRUTAL, BLOODY BATTLE BETWEEN TWO GIGANTIC, ARMORED POLAR BEARS. Just…..HOW IS THIS ALL IN ONE SINGLE BOOK. This is also only the first of three books in a series. Oh god, there is more after I finish this.

Let’s just get to it, shall we?


I can’t lie: the title of this chapter made me snicker. I mean…Pullman had to be aware of the video game series, right? Whatever, I can excuse this because what follows is horrifically violent, terrifying, and immensely entertaining.

Fights between bears were common, and the subject of much ritual. For a bear to kill another was rare, though, and when that happened, it was usually by accident, or when one bear mistook the signals from another, as in the case of Iorek Byrnison. Cases of straightforward murder, like Iofur’s killing of his own father, were rarer still.

But occasionally there came circumstances in which the only way of settling a dispute was a fight to the death. And for that, a whole ceremonial was prescribed.

Thus, this is what opens chapter twenty. It acts as another way for Pullman to pull us further into this culture to understand how violence is an inherent part of bear society, but that its as much a spectacle of ritual as a brutal behavior. The bears prepare the armor of Iofur Raknison while others clear the combat ground. Others sharpen his claws. It’s Lyra’s observation of this ritual, though, that causes her to break. After experiencing so much trauma, I’m a bit shocked that Lyra hasn’t had time to sort of address the reality of what she’s gone through, but at the same time, we know she is one tough gal, motivated by her desire to do good, and that provides enough catharsis as it is. We’ve seen her put aside her fear before when she confronted Tony that first time and chose to comfort him instead of feel bad for herself.

But this is suddenly too much for Lyra, and I really adore that Pullman addresses this here in the way that he does. He forces Lyra to admit that she may have actually gotten in over her head, that her actions can have deadly ramifications for other people. It’s an accountability based on the fear of losing one you love, and it’s why Lyra has to get away from Iofur to have a good cry.

(Unrelated: THERE ARE SHE-BEARS. omg YES.)

(Also another thought: The scene where Iofur discards his “dæmon” and the rest of his bear admirers don’t know what to do with theirs. seriously hilarious.)

Pullman moves the narration to focus on the oncoming battle between Iofur and Iorek, and he chooses a particular word to describe it all: uncertainty. That’s not only for us to think about; it’s a way to explain the actual atmosphere amongst the bears who have gathered for this fight:

They weren’t sure what they were. They weren’t like Iorek Byrnison, pure and certain and absolute; there was a constant pall of uncertainty hanging over them, as they watched one another and watched Iofur.

He’ll build on this in a bit, but it’s really about a clash of two ideologies in a way. After Iofur had enacted so many new changes to the culture of bears, where would they stand?

She found herself crying, with tears that froze almost as soon as they formed, and which she had to brush away painfully. She was so frightened. Bears, who didn’t cry, couldn’t understand what was happening to her; it was some human process, meaningless. And of course Pantalaimon couldn’t comfort her as he normally would, though she kept her hand in her pocket firmly around his warm little mouse-form, and he nuzzled at her fingers.

As the fear builds in Lyra, she comes to realize she may have actually made a grave mistake in setting up this entire confrontation without Iorek’s knowledge. Despite that she believes in Iorek wholly and completely, she cannot ignore that he is at a distinct disadvantage: he’ll be hungry, tired from traveling, and he’s half the size of Iofur. His armor is not new, freshly cleaned and oiled, and it does not cover the underside of his body. And it looks like he is going to lose.

It was when she saw this that Lyra finally realized that she had betrayed Iorek Byrnison, for Iorek had nothing like it. His armor protected only his back and sides. She looked at Iofur Raknison, so sleek and powerful, and felt a deep sickness in her, like guilt and fear combined.

It’s actually a bit difficult to read this section because I don’t think we’ve ever experienced an admission like this from Lyra and it’s starting to make me feel bad about this. After everything that Pullman has thrown our way, all of the terror and trauma, it’s now evident to me that there is a very real chance to Iorek is going to lose. That’s something he deserves credit for, too. Thinking of either way this could go….both options produce a fascinating storyline that I could foresee. That’s what was so exciting about reading this section: I honestly believed it could go either way.

So when Iorek does finally arrive and, sticking with the plan she made with Iofur, she runs to Iorek’s side, “pretending” to be his dæmon. She wastes absolutely no time with this either, immediately sharing as much of the plan with Iorek as she can, trying to describe how she tricked him into believing she was an actual dæmon and that now he’s got to battle the king of the bears.

“You tricked Iofur Raknison?”

“Yes. I made him agree that he’d fight you instead of just killing you straight off like an outcast, and the winner would be king of the bears. I had to do that, because–”

“Belacqua? No. You are Lyra Silvertongue,” he said. “To fight him is all I want. Come, little dæmon.”

She looked at Iorek Byrnison in his battered armor, lean and ferocious, and felt as if her heart would burst with pride.

SWEET, SWEET VICTORY. For me, now it didn’t matter if Iorek won or lost. Lyra just won his complete respect. There is no need for guilt. Lyra has just helped Iorek with an impossible task again, and he will serve her until the day he dies.

Like many of the moments in this book that had me clawing at my face and t-shirt in suspense, Pullman, like Suzanne Collins or Alfred Hitchcock, has an innate sense of creating scenes that are painful in their intensity. Like the battle at Bolvangar, the fight between these armored bears does not shy away from the explicit violence that would naturally be a part of it. I don’t need violence explained graphically to me in order to believe the narrative. Hell, I’d say my overexposure to horror films for the last decade has satisfied that more than I could ever ask for. For Pullman, though, he’s built a fantastical world that is only somewhat similar to our own, and he grounds that all by writing in terms that are real to us.

I’ve been revisiting my old Twilight reviews as I convert them to book form (!!!!!! excite !!!!!) and a particular part of mine in the final review of Twilight stuck out to me: Stephenie Meyer wrote her books as if a fantastic world and realistic storytelling were mutually exclusive terms. Pullman, in contrast to that, does not do this at all. This world he’s built is full of ghasts and witches and truth-telling instruments and talking bears and souls personified as animals that live with humans their entire lives. The parallels are there, but what makes it all feel so real is that everything that governs these people and these creatures is so familiar, in both an emotional and physical sense. Even if we don’t understand the panserbjørne entirely, since we are not armored bears (omg why not tragedy), Pullman writes them with a fully-formed culture of behaviors, rituals, social stigmas, acceptable mores, and then describes their conflicts with anger, rage, honor, duty, and A SHITLOAD OF BLOODSHED. I do remember maybe five minutes of the film version of The Golden Compass and I do recall enjoying this fight a lot, but this….this. THIS IS SO MUCH BETTER.

Then with a roar and a blur of snow both bears moved at the same moment. Like two great masses of rock balanced on adjoining peaks and shaken loose by an earthquake, which bound down the mountainsides gathering speed, leaping over crevasses and knocking trees into splinters, until they crash into each other so hard that both are smashed to powder and flying chips of stone: that was how the two bears came together. The crash as they met resounded in the still air and echoed back from the palace wall. But they weren’t destroyed, as rock would have been. They both fell aside, and the first to rise was Iorek. He twisted up in a lithe spring and grappled with Iofur, whose armor had been damaged by the collision and who couldn’t easily raise his head. Iorek made at once for the vulnerable gap at his neck. He raked the white fur, and then hooked his claws beneath the edge of Iofur’s helmet and wrenched it forward.

Even in a moment of pure brutality, Pullman doesn’t avoid assigning a poetic, natural beauty to this all, using an extended metaphor of an avalanche of rocks to give the motion and sheer force a proper mental image.

Seriously, this book is amazing.

The enormous power between these two bears is felt through the pages as Iorek and Iofur crash into each other and Iofur is the first to draw blood from Iorek:

Drops of hot blood were flying through the air: one landed on Lyra’s furs, and she pressed her hand to it like a token of love.

jesus christ oh my god 🙁 🙁 🙁 🙁

The first sign of hope comes when Iorek manages to rip away a large portion of Iofur’s gold armor, which is not as strong as Iorek’s sky-metal, and the two bears stand facing each other, waiting to see what is next. Iorek takes the opportunity to attack as Iofur is occupied with his hanging armor, and the battle becomes more chaotic than ever.

Iron clanged on iron, teeth crashed on teeth, breath roared harshly, feet thundered on the hard-packed ground. The snow around was splashed with red and trodden down for yards into a crimson mud.

Yeah, I don’t remember any of this at all from the movie. I mean, I suppose I can understand that they probably didn’t want to have a scene with bears ripping open wounds and shedding blood all over the snow to keep an accessible rating, but good christ, this is so intense. As the damage is clear on both bears, it’s Iorek who is suffering the most: he has an injured forepaw, blood seeping from wounds on his bodies, and his physical disadvantage is more clear than ever.

Lyra was in tears. Her dear, her brave one, he fearless defender, was going to die, and she would not do him the treachery of looking away, for if he looked at her he must see her shining eyes and their love and belief, not a face hidden in cowardice or a shoulder fearfully turned away.

What a depressing scene. I suddenly stopped feeling positive about this fight once Iorek’s flaws were spread out for all to see. However, this is not the end, not by a longshot. I couldn’t figure out what Iorek was doing, but Pullman described him as “moving backward only to find clean dry footing and a firm rock to leap up from…” Was he trying to trick the king of bears who wanted nothing more than to be a man?

That was when Iorek moved. Like a wave that has been building its strength over a thousand miles of ocean, and which makes little stir in the deep water, but which when it reaches the shallows rears itself up high into the sky, terrifying the shore dwellers, before crashing down on the land with irresistible power–so Iorek Byrnison rose up against Iofur, exploding upward with his firm footing on the dry rock and slashing with a ferocious left hand at the exposed jaw of Iofur Raknison.

It was a horrifying blow. It tore the lower part of his jaw clean off, so that it flew through the air scattering blood drops in the snow many yards away.

HOLY SHIT HOLY SHIT !!!!!!1!111!1!11!!!!

Once again, Pullman uses a metaphor about the fury of nature to give us the image in our minds. As Iorek finishes off Iofur by tearing his “life” from his throat, I was completely shocked by this:

There was one ritual yet to perform. Iorek sliced open the dead king’s unprotected chest, peeling the fur back to expose the narrow white and red ribs like the timbers of an upturned boat. Into the rib cage Iorek reached, and he plucked out Iofur’s hear, red and steaming, and ate it there in front of Iofur’s subjects.


I mean….can you imagine including this in the original script adaptation and trying to convince studio execs that you need to include a scene of a polar bear ripping out the heart of another bear he just violently killed and still keep it PG-13. Oh, this book is just PRECIOUS I LOVE IT SO MUCH.

From this point on, immediately, the change in tone in chapter twenty is both obvious and incredibly necessary. We’d been given so much doom and gloom and Iorek just conquered a seemingly impossible conflict. He is now king of the bears. From being exiled to king. The new king’s first act: to throw away all signs of Iofur’s reign and to topple the palace that once stood to honor him. The human prisoners are released and Lyra tends to Iorek’s wounds. Actually, that scene is a great sign of how much Iorek now respects Lyra: Instead of letting other bears help him, as is tradition, he allows only Lyra to place bloodmoss on his wounds.

Ah, shucks. My heart is warmed.

After a brief nap in the snow (SERIOUSLY YOU ARE SUCH A BAMF LYRA), Lyra is reunited both with Roger and a healing Iorek. Who is king of the bears!!! I can’t get over this. He started off as an exiled bear, drinking his sorrows away, and now he is king of the bears. Also:

It turned out that Iofur Raknison’s dominance over them had been like a spell. Some of them put it down to the influence of Mrs. Coulter, who had visited him before Iorek’s exile, though Iorek had not known about it, and given Iofur various presents.

“She gave him a drug,” said one bear, “which he fed secretly to Hjalmur Hjalmurson, and made him forget himself.”

Hjalmur Hjalmurson, Lyra gathered, was the bear who Iorek had killed, and whose death had brought about his exile. So Mrs. Coulter was behind that!

Seriously. Most malicious villain ever. Oh god, should I just ask for the earth to open up and eat her? I’d like that, a lot. I mean, she was going to set up a second station like the one at Bolvangar and eventually try to basically make the bears her slaves. Oh, I cannot wait until she is crushed.

But…well, that’s not the only thing she wants to do. There’s a long segment right here where Lyra consults the alethiometer to learn what has happened with Lee Scoresby and Mrs. Coulter and what their plans are, but Lyra learns why Mrs. Coulter is so intent on killing Lord Asriel:

“It’s why she wants to kill Lord Asriel: it’s because she knows what he’s going to do, and she fears it, and she wants to do it herself and gain control before he does…It must be the city in the sky, it must be! She’s trying to get to it first!”

WHAT???? Why does she want to open the bridge between worlds? What possible benefit could she gain from that? I DON’T UNDERSTAND IT.

But I’m guessing that, very soon, I will learn what all of this is. Knowing that lord Asriel needs the alethiometer to finish whatever he is doing in his cell, Iorek agrees to accompany Lyra to where Lord Asriel is being held.

Oh god, shit is just going to get so real, isn’t it?

About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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141 Responses to Mark Reads ‘The Golden Compass’: Chapter 20

  1. Sarah says:

    I'm sorry but like
    Lyra Silvertongue
    /So cheesy/

    I dunno, again i am just not as excited about this. I'm sure that the writing is great by whatever standards people measure writing on but I just can't really get into it/LOVE it as much as you guys. It kind of really annoys me at some points, just the way things are described/people talk.
    It's definitely fun watching you all get excited, though.
    /DEBBIE DOWNER omg I'm sorry. 🙁

    It is funny though how Mrs. Coulter wanted the bears to do what she wanted and then her daughter turns around and gets them to do what /she/ wants; it's different, I know, but it's still true.
    Duh, Mrs. Coulter. Clearly the correct way to get bears to follow you/love you is to… lie? ;D

    LOL FOREVER at "Mortal Combat" though. Now imagining a fighting game where you play as /armored bears/.
    Not sure if want. :'D

    • laleia says:

      I agree with you in part. I find the plot vastly interesting but the writing doesn't do very much for me. I understand that objectively it is very good writing in that it conveys a lot but if I were reading at my own pace rather than Mark's pace, this would be the kind of book I quickly zoom through so I can find out what happens next and then never pick up again. (Which … is what I did, when I read this the first/only time way back when.)

      To me, the writing style if kind of reminiscent of older books, in that the sentence structures and the way things are described (as you mentioned) don't sound natural to me but sounds like it might have been some time ago. The first time I read this, I actually thought Philip Pullman was a dead author from a long time ago.

    • notemily says:

      I loved "Lyra Silvertongue"! I wanted someone to name me after some awesome attribute of mine! Don't know what that would be, though. I'd have to go do something badass first.

  2. Maya says:

    I think I remember that Iorek actually does rip off Iofur's jaw in the movie, mostly because I was shocked that OF ALL THE THINGS that's what they kept in.


    And I am SO SO SO glad you are enjoying this. I've never really been able to share my love of these books before, as my bff who would read this type of book is Catholic and has avoided them on principle. *le sigh*

    • knut_knut says:

      Original plot? noooooooooo, too dangerous for children's fragile minds! Ridiculous violence? YES! =/

  3. leighzzz31 says:

    The chapter is called Mortal Combat? Oh, American editors, why??? It's À Outrance in my edition! And I was going to brag about how I finally understand the title! Uni has finally taught me something useful, other than how to wage war and and international politics! [Attaques À Outrance was a military philosophy of the early 20th century/First World War]

    On another note, I get nervous every time I read this chapter without fail, as though I expect the outcome to be different. I can so easily imagine how bad it would be if Iofur won. Iorek would be dead (Nooooo!) and Lyra would be killed within seconds after the King realised he'd been tricked. I seriously get a knot in my stomach every reread.

    As for the battle itself: I find battles and wars and fights in books unbelievably tedious. There are a couple of books on my shelves I like well enough but completely skip anything to do with battle. This one, though? I relish this one, it's the only way to describe it. I get chills and get excited and picture every single detail which Pullman makes so easy. I can literally piece together the whole thing in my head and watch it like a movie scene, it's wonderfully rich and detailed.

    • Sarah says:

      That happens to me in some books, I worry it'll be different the next time. :'D !
      Or I'll hope it WILL be different, only to be terribly let down.

      This one I didn't have any doubts that Iorek would win, though, because then like you said Lyra would probably die and like… the book would be over?
      Even if she didn't die, I feel like he isn't going to kill of Iorek. /IN BEFORE I AM PROVED WRONG/STUPID/ETC
      And there are two more, so. I'm not too worried for Lyra.

    • FlameRaven says:

      It's weird but I never actually see titles when I'm reading. They just don't register most of the time. So it's been weird seeing these reviews and having the titles so prominent; I didn't even know most of them until now.

      • leighzzz31 says:

        Usually I don't register titles either – I completely ignored every single chapter title of the Harry Potter books on my first read, though probably because I read each book in a matter of hours after bying them. I go a lot slower though when i read things again, so I catch any details I missed, like the titles (and in this book the chapter icons which I didn't appreciate the first time).

        • Tilja says:

          In my case, I always read name titles, so that I can promptly forget them when I begin reading the chapter and then I can't remember the breaks in the story because I can't remember the names I read and forgot immediately. xD

          On re reads is where I try to focus on chapter names more. It doesn't work either, I end up forgetting them every time.

          • leighzzz31 says:

            Urgh, name titles are the worst. I usually read books straight through with no break so it's incredibly annoying to start reading a chapter with one character's voice in your head and realise halfway through you've got it wrong. Actually the last two books I read (The Chaos Walking trilogy and the Game of Thrones) did this so I got frustrated with myself pretty easily.

            • Tilja says:

              I like name titles, it gives me a sense of correlation with the subject in each part, especially in those very convoluted plots that need a reference to know the time and place of the actions to be able to follow the pattern and understand the ending. Even so, I can never retain the names easily and many times confuse the order of the actions because of it until I check the names of the chapters to find it.

        • cait0716 says:

          Even when I try, I never manage to read chapter titles my first time through a book. When I was reading The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, I noticed somewhere around the 4th chapter that all the chapter titles were dates and thought that was probably important. But then I just forgot to check the chapter titles because I cared more about the plot.

  4. Roonil Wazlib says:

    Mark, only you would refer to a bear ripping out another bear's heart and eating it as PRECIOUS. haha

    I wish I remember my reactions to reading this book for the first time – I was in 5th grade (how was I not traumatized by some of this reading it as a 10 year old?!) so I don't even remember my reactions. Other than wanting a daemon WICKED BAD.

    and yes, shit is going to get SO REAL. and then there's two more books where shit gets successively more real and more real until you can't even take it.

  5. _Sparkie_ says:

    Interestingly the original UK title for this chapter was À Outrance, but it was changed in later editions and on the audiobook to Mortal Combat. I kind of like the original though, even though I never had any clue what it meant!

    • Mauve_Avenger says:

      Apparently, it's often used to mean "to the end" or "to the death," which is fitting.

      I just looked, and the book was published in 1995, which I'm pretty sure is the same year as the Mortal Kombat movie was released.

      • evocativecomma says:

        Mortal Kombat was a worldwide sensation in 1992, when the first videogame was released. There's no way anyone who works in media didn't know about it in 1995. Personally, I don't care about the title (the term "mortal combat" certainly predates the video game by, like, forever), but no way he–or his editors–didn't know of the game.

  6. Avit says:

    I don't remember, did Lyra have any other part in the post-battle semiceremonies?

    • monkeybutter says:

      Not really. She felt like she was sort of in the way and didn't have any useful role after telling Iorek about the prisoners, so she curled up in the snow for a nap until Iorek sent for her.

      • Sarah says:

        At this point, I am most worried she is going to freeze to death than anything else. D8
        After the incident at Bolvangar, and now here…

  7. cait0716 says:

    Those extended metaphors were a bit too extended for me. They pulled me so far out of the fight that I ended up skipping some of the later ones.

    Other than that, this is a great chapter. The fight between Iorek Byrnisson and Iofur Raknison is so epic. Pullman does a great job making you think that Iorek might actually die here. And I just love the image of all the other bears immediately denouncing Iofur, ripping off their gilded clothes, and tearing down the palace. They got their identities and their certainty back and it's just so heartwarming.

    And now it's off to see Lord Asriel! He certainly has made a strong impression, given that he's been imprisoned for most of the book. I can't wait to see him again.

    • pennylane27 says:

      The long metaphors reminded me of the Iliad or the Odyssey, they didn't bother me, but then again I love those books. 😉

      • Yup, and they're very Norse-epic as well, which suits the bear culture quite nicely, IMO. They out-Viking the Vikings!

        The structure of the sentences match the similes, as well: the long buildup, the crashing release. Form married to function — Pullman knows what he's doing.

    • BradSmith5 says:

      Yes! You found my only problem with this chapter! I loathe comparisons; I think they're just a lazy way to describe something. And that rockslide metaphor was like seven lines long in my book! But the rest, yeah, amazing. I thought Iorek was goin' for the ol' "anvil behind the snow" tactic myself––then BOOM! T-T-Tiger Uppercut! I could almost hear a deep voice announce "FINISH HIM!" and then "FATALITY." This is how fights between bears are played out! Screw guns! Screw "polite essays describing my opinion." MORTAAAAAAL COMBAAAAAAT! 😉

    • Esther says:

      I love the wave metaphor, and the part of the avalanche one that says "avalanche". Other than that, I couldn't focus on them and skipped over to the rest of the narrative.

  8. Sarah says:



  9. drop_and_roll says:

    Nice Homeric similes, Pullman.

  10. stellaaaaakris says:

    So Silvertongue might be a more accurate descriptive last name, but I really liked Belacqua. It sounded so BAMF. Silvertongue is too literal. And Belacqua was already so awesome! But at least it's finally something she doesn't have to share with Mrs. Coulter or Lord Asriel. It's all for her. Plus Iorek gave it to her, so I guess I'll deal.

    All the names of the bears that we learn ends in 'son'. I'm going to go ahead and guess that Iorek's father was called Byrnis or Byrn or Byrnie or something.

    Also, I can't find the gifs to describe how I imagine the bear fight to look like but it was epic, I am sure.

    This book, this book.

    • cait0716 says:

      How did I never notice the "son" thing before? That's amazing.

      I liked Silvertongue because it's a name Lyra earned. I like the idea of someone naming you based on a quality or skill you possess. It seems more deserved, like something to be prouder of. Also, isn't Belacqua a fake name? It sounds cool, but I sort of wonder where that surname came from, given that her parents are Asriel and Coulter.

      • FlameRaven says:

        I think Lyra mentions that she originally thought her parents were the Count and Countess Belacqua, who died in an "aeronautical accident." Quite possibly the name was made up by the Jordan scholars or Asriel himself to hide Lyra's identity and keep her safe.

        • Niyalune says:

          I thought that the Count Belacqua was really Asriel’s brother and that Asriel used him as a cover so Lyra would be his niece instead of his daughter.
          So I figured Lord Asriel’s last name was also Belacqua, especially since “Asriel” sounds more like a first name to me.

          I like Silvertongue as a name for Lyra. It fits her, although I always find myself thinking about Parseltongue XD

      • Mauve_Avenger says:

        For some reason I've always just assumed that Asriel is his first name, even though that doesn't really make sense.

        And I just looked it up. There's an HDM wiki with "His Name" as a header in the Lord Asriel article, but underneath someone just wrote "blobloblbolbob." So apparently Lord Asriel succeeds in travelling to another universe, where he disguises his origins by becoming the lawyer known as Bob Loblaw.

  11. FlameRaven says:

    Seriously. Most malicious villain ever. Oh god, should I just ask for the earth to open up and eat her? I’d like that, a lot. I mean, she was going to set up a second station like the one at Bolvangar and eventually try to basically make the bears her slaves. Oh, I cannot wait until she is crushed.

    You can always hope.

    One of my favorite lines from the book: You could not trick a bear, but Iofur did not want to be a bear, he wanted to be a man, and Iorek was tricking him. It does so much to describe the conflict between them.

    I've also enjoyed being able to reflect on the structure of this book, and at how good Pullman is at sneaking in tiny things that become so important. The best of this is the first two chapters, where we learn basically the entire plot (Iofur, severed children, a city in the sky) and have absolutely no idea how important any of it is, but he manages it as well with things like Lyra sparring with Iorek. It seemed like simple flavor at the time, but that sparring match enlightens this entire fight, because it would not be nearly as effective if we didn't know that you can't trick a bear, yet Lyra and Iorek have managed to do it.

    You are still not prepared.

  12. monkeybutter says:

    There was one ritual yet to perform. Iorek sliced open the dead king’s unprotected chest, peeling the fur back to expose the narrow white and red ribs like the timbers of an upturned boat. Into the rib cage Iorek reached, and he plucked out Iofur’s hear, red and steaming, and ate it there in front of Iofur’s subjects.


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    I think my exact reaction was "Holy shit, Iorek." He's a bear though, so the brutality makes sense. I'm glad Pullman was that graphic in describing the fight because it's the only way to illustrate the panserbjorne's nature. The humans act like humans, and the bears are still quite bear-like (I laughed about the fops with their fake daemons, too!), so it's a fantastical world that we can connect with. And I love that what did Iofur in was trying to changed what he was, which Serafina Pekkala warned against. This is an amazing chapter, and I'm glad you're loving the book so much!

  13. Jamie S says:

    THIS is where the movie ended. (Well, maybe five seconds after this chapter.) Holy crap, I'm still so bitter over that, knowing what was left in the book. Because still: you are not prepared.

    • cait0716 says:

      I never got mad about that. I could understand them chopping the story up differently. And I do think it makes sense to end here and move the next few chapters to the beginning of a second movie. But of course that movie was never made because the first movie was terrible. Still, I agree with that decision.

      • Jamie S says:

        You're right, and Lord of the Rings did that quite a bit. But still. It felt like a giant cop-out to me. It WAS a giant cop-out. That, along with everything else they cut out earlier, made the entire movie almost a different genre of story than the book. I know, i know… movie adaptations of books can't be exact re-enactments. But ending the movie here didn't feel like a storytelling decision. It felt like a political one.

        (Plus, maybe I'm remembering wrong, but didn't trailers for the movie have scenes from later chapters? I'll have to go investigate. This is very serious business, after all.)

        • notemily says:

          Lord of the Rings was different because it was all filmed in one go, so they could move things around and still know that the entire story would be told eventually. Sigh…

      • t09yavorski says:

        I wouldnt say that the next movies wont be made because this one was terible. TGC actually did well enough over-all (internationally) that making the Subtle Knife would be worth taking a shot on. The producer as well was/is determined to see the sequels made someday but the "controversy" is what keeps the necessary people from taking that chance.

    • @Leenessface says:

      The movie ended there, but they actually shot the entire damn thing. It just isn't in the movie because Newline was screwing with it so, so badly. Newline really screwed up by not letting Chris Weitz just do his thing. Sure, not everything Chris had was perfect, but he had it all there in some capacity.

      It makes me really sad that he looks back on his time with Golden Compass bitterly because they interferred so much, while he looks on Twilight fondly because those producers let him do his thing.

  14. Roonil Wazlib says:

    Also, I LOVE the symbolism of Iofur's fancy armor actually being weak as shit. He has all this decoration and this palace and servants, but Iorek with his rusty armor is actually way stronger and better than Iofur. The reader starts to panic with Lyra as the fight is beginning and she is comparing the two bears, but after that sentence about the gold armor ripping away like tin foil (or something like that) I regained a lot of my faith in Iorek and started to see it as at least an even fight.

  15. Sarah says:

    That's what I thought, that Asriel was his first name? And even if not, we don't know what Mrs. Coulter's maiden name was (I think?!)

    I always think it's funny, naming people after their skills (despite that so many last names now /are/ that, like Baker? And Farmer? Etc?) because I'm like… What would my last name be?!

    Sarah Vegetableeater?!
    Sarah Internetsurfer?!
    Sarah Hooker?!
    Sarah Drawsbadly?!

    Seriously, I cannot think of things I could do that would work for a last name! Vegetarian, internet-surfing, rugby-playing artist?!

    • barnswallowkate says:

      Hahaha the Internetsurfer family would be a large one indeed. I'd join you in it!

  16. Ellalalalala says:

    This, right here, is my favourite chapter so far – if only because the relationship between Iorek and Lyra is so beautiful. I think up until now I just took it for granted that hey, Iorek's awesome, Lyra's pretty cool, they like each other, it's great without really feeling it. (Apart from when Iorek castigates the gyptians for not showing as much courage as her; that was incredible.) Whereas here… there's something so wonderfully unified between them in this chapter. "To fight him is all I want. Come, little daemon."

    My heart. It is burst.

    I think my favourite line, though, is this one:
    But his armour was his soul. He had made it and it fitted him.
    I love that he has crafted his own deepest, purest level of identity – that it's not arbitrary or assigned, but forged by his own skill and will – and that it fits him both literally and existentially. Everything about that armour is Iorek. I think there's something very lovely about the idea of creating your own soul – or, rather, manifesting your soul through the work of your hands.

    Or, y'know, paws.

    The clash of ideologies is wonderful as well. The bizarre grotesque palace being torn down; the bears returning from being 'uncertain semi-humans, conscious only of a torturing inferiority'; and Lyra showing Iorek that a bear who doesn't want to be a bear can be tricked. IT'S JUST ALL SO GOOD

    A couple of things near the end though:

    1. Seal blubber tastes of cream flavoured with hazelnuts? I FIND THAT VERY HARD TO BELIEVE. Can I get some external verification here, please? It seems a leeeeeetle bit too convenient to me that, hey, the only food that's available and will keep you alive in the frozen Arctic wastelands tastes like ~*your favourite dessert*~

    2. Something was troubling her, and she didn't know what it was… The alethiometer had a different way of referring to itself, and this wasn't it.
    Foreshadowing, I SEE YOU THERE. What does Lord Asriel actually want?? I'm thinking, is it Lyra herself? Because she can read the alethiometer, and he can't, and it's worthless without being able to read it? Because of the prophesy? THERE HAS TO BE SOMETHING MORE.

    • Mauve_Avenger says:

      I've actually heard about the supposed creamy/nutty taste of whale and seal blubber before…among other things, from Bizzare Foods, probably. Apparently that's what it's supposed to taste like raw, and it goes all fishy-tasting when it's cooked. I would imagine that it also tastes very salty, as well, but I'm guessing it would get soaked in water for a while before being eaten, to counteract that.

      This is probably strange, but I don't really think of cream and hazelnut as necessarily a dessert sort of taste. I guess cream is sort of sweet, but the only reason I would associate hazelnuts with sweetness is because it's used a lot in chocolate products. To me, hazelnuts mostly just taste nutty and slightly bitter, sort of like a Brazil nut but less…bad. (Maybe I've just been eating crappy hazelnuts.)

    • hallowsnothorcruxes says:

      I've been waiting to see Lord Asriel the entire book as well but that bit of foreshadowing has actually made me a bit hesitant. I don't think Asriel wants the alethiometer because he had it before donating it to Jordan College. I think he requires Lyra for something else though I've no idea what. I feel like I'm missing a part of the puzzle.

    • evocativecomma says:

      People who have eaten seal blubber raw say it does taste like sweetened hazelnuts. Cooked seal blubber is more like nasty fish tasting.

      • Ellalalalala says:

        I stand corrected and enthralled by this piece of information!
        I demand raw seal blubber!

    • t09yavorski says:

      "To fight him is all I want. Come, little daemon."

      This line will forever be in Ian McKellan's voice in my head.

  17. drop_and_roll says:

    I think Asriel is a surname. People don't tend to refer to someone as Lord Firstname, but as Lord Surname. For example, Lord Sainsbury of Preston Candover, who would send boxes of apples to my primary school for all the pupils to eat.

    • cait0716 says:

      I thought the same thing, without the specific example.

    • stellaaaaakris says:

      True, but doesn't Lyra call him Uncle Asriel? (Don't actually remember if she does, but I always call my uncles by their first name.) And while you're right that men tend to be called Lord Surname, don't some levels of aristocracy get called by their first name, such as kings and princes? Obviously they're higher up so they have other privileges. But are there any other levels that get referred to by first name? I'm unsure since I didn't grow up in a culture with titled aristocracy and my study of history didn't focus on those kinds of things or time periods. Maybe Asriel is ~special~ enough to be known by just his first name (like Cher or Madonna hehe). Unlikely, but these are just the conclusions my mind went to. Your explanation makes a lot more sense though.

      Plus, once again my personal preference for naming things based on how they sound, Asriel would be an awesome first name. And Asriel Belacqua is just incredibly badass.

      • drop_and_roll says:

        Prince Charles, Prince William etc. don't have a surname so they can't be known as Prince Surname. William and Harry had to adopt the surname Wales when they joined the armed forces. Or maybe when they went to school, I don't remember.
        You're right about Lyra calling him Uncle Asriel. I always felt that she was using his surname because he was quite stern and not around very much. I don't know though.

        • evocativecomma says:

          "Wales" isn't a surname; it's a country that falls under the Crown Prince's purview. The last name of the royal family is "Windsor" (though it actually isn't but they changed it so that they'd sound English and not German, which they are). Prince Charles is the Prince of Wales. He is styled "His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales." William and Harry are "of Wales," but that was never their surname. All of them have the same surname, which is Windsor, or Mountbatten-Windsor, as of 1960.

          EDIT: I forgot that William got married, now he's the Duke of Cambridge. Prince Harry is still simply "of Wales."

        • flootzavut says:

          Their surname, if it's anything, is Windsor. The family's adopted name (to disguise the fact that they are actually mostly German…)

      • FlameRaven says:

        Lord Asriel is so badass he doesn't need a last name.

        However, it occurs to me that it's quite possible he doesn't have a last name anymore or can't use it– we know that after the scandal with Mr. and Mrs. Coulter, he was stripped of all lands and wealth. It's possible that included his surname, if Belacqua is somehow related to those properties. Possibly he's Lord Asriel because he can no longer be Lord Belacqua.

    • theanagrace says:

      Lol, all I can think of right now is a dapper man in a top hat and monocle saying;
      "How do you do? I am Lord Firstname Surname of Very Important Place."
      I need more sleep. 😛

  18. cait0716 says:

    I assumed it was his last name because I thought titles usually went with last names. You talk about Doctor Smith, not Doctor John, and the same goes for teachers and professors. It feels more formal. But maybe there are different rules for royalty. I suppose I could be mistaken.

    • flootzavut says:

      There are different rules for royalty and nobility – the titles don't work the same as things like Doctor or Professor. So it could go either way, depending on Asriel's title and whatnot.

    • esther says:

      Or just the Doctor. Who is occasionally John Smith.

  19. (Unrelated: THERE ARE SHE-BEARS. omg YES.)
    I'm curious as to where you thought baby bears came from before this astounding revelation.

    Why does she want to open the bridge between worlds? What possible benefit could she gain from that?

    • cait0716 says:

      I just figured the bears sprung fully-formed from the snow. Because they're awesome 🙂

    • Tilja says:

      He should have known there are she-bears as Iorek fought the other bear over a she-bear. Seriously, sometimes he's a lightning genius to see plot devices and their tiny markers, yet at other times little details escape his notice. Endearing is the word I'd like to use.

  20. Kae says:

    You are still not prepared; but this was a very awesome fight scene.

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

  21. cait0716 says:

    Also computer hacking. I'm undecided as to whether I want to re-read before I see the movie in December.

    Also – Daniel Craig plays Mikael Blomkvist and Lord Asriel. This thread was totally on topic.

    • leighzzz31 says:

      Totally on topic.

      I know. Can I just say I'm ridiculously excited to see Daniel Craig as Blomkvist? I feel he's going to be good. Did you watch the Swedish adaptations? Noomi Rapace was PERFECT as Lisbeth so Rooney Mara has a lot to live up to for me. But I'm definitely OK with Daniel's casting, if only for very shallow reasons.

      Also. James Bond. Mikael Blomkvist. Lord Asriel. I'm sensing a pattern here…

  22. Tilja says:

    THANKS FOR THIS! My chapter is also called À Outrance but I never looked for the meaning.

    I'm glad Mark is reviewing this and enabling me through you to learn more about it. 😀

  23. cait0716 says:

    Three chapters left. Mark will finish on Monday. Unless he's nice and does two reviews one day this week so we don't have to wait for the conclusion

  24. Jamie S says:

    Another one of my favorite parts from this chapter is that the alethieometer scolds Lyra for asking the same question twice. It's such a fascinating concept. If the tool works on Dust, does that mean Dust has some sort of personality?

    • FlameRaven says:

      It certainly behaves like an intelligent thing, offering Lyra information she didn't ask for (but it knows she needs) and then scolding her. It's not a person, but it does seem to have a personality.

  25. leighzzz31 says:

    Procrastination is your friend. Or my enemy. Whatever XD All I know is I recently spent a good few hours watching the fims instead of studying. They were good but not great, so I have high hopes for the new one.

  26. Zozo says:

    True fact: I am related to some Dingwalls by marriage. Dingwalls and Atholes. I'm not even joking.

  27. sabra_n says:


    This does often get cited as one of the few things the movie didn't completely screw up, but in my opinion? It did screw up, badly. Yes, Iofur's jaw went flying, but everything we learned about bear culture, about how they couldn't be tricked, about how Iofur was losing his true nature because of his desire to be human – pretty much none of that was in the movie. So Iorek's trick was just that, a regular piece of combat deception, and not the moment of triumphant awesome it was in the book. It also took away from Lyra's trick of pretending to be a daemon. No wonder they switched up the order so the battle at Bolvangar became the climax instead – with the way the bear fight was defanged, so to speak, Bolvangar became the emotional peak of the film.

  28. cait0716 says:

    Damn that story. It just keeps ruining things

  29. Becky_J_ says:

    Oh man. This chapter. Where to start……

    I think this is one of the only books I have ever read that made me a little queasy with its violence…. mostly the part after Iorek rips off Iofur's jaw and there is a quote about his tongue falling over the giant hole in his throat. Guh. Gross.

    One of my favorite quotes….

    "Lyra was in tears. Her dear, her brave one, her fearless defender, was going to die, and she would not do him the treachery of looking away."

    Gah, excuse me while I go cry ALL THE TEARS.


    "….we fell out of the balloon, Lyra!"

    …said by Roger when he is reunited with Lyra. I was FORCIBLY reminded of Colin Creevey relating his story of falling into the lake. I started laughing when I read that, and had to control myself.

    • stellaaaaakris says:

      Pretty sure it was Dennis Creevey who met the giant squid first hand when he took a little tumble into the lake.

      Comparing him to Roger is pretty accurate. And adorable. Roger, you're pretty awesome.

  30. @Leenessface says:

    I'm so glad you love these books. They're so damn good.

    "Fight well, Iorek, my dear! You're the true king and he en't! He's nothing!" Lyra <3

    And yeah, I love this scene in the movie (sorry y'all, I love book adaptations, almost no matter how much they get wrong. I just like to see things on screen). I loved the dialogue they added. I actually thought it was in the book, so when I went to go and re-read the fight this morning, I was surprised it wasn't there, haha. I'm glad they added it too, cause it wouldn't have been as triumphant without it. I'm pretty sure my theatre clapped at "Yes, that is all!"

    "Is that all? Is that all?! IS THAT ALL?!"

    Fuck yeah.

  31. Becky_J_ says:

    Haha. Ha. Remember when Mark wished for that to happen in the Hunger Games and IT ACTUALLY DID?! Never underestimate the power of wishing, Mark!

  32. FlameRaven says:

    Structure and emotion are things I'm thinking about a lot lately for writing, as I am slowly trying to piece together this story I've had in my head for years. So it's fascinating to look at books and see how they're effective, not just for the story they tell, but how it's told, and where the author places his/her clues.

    If I could achieve even half the gutting emotion that this book delivers in chapters like the finding of poor Tony Makarios or Pantalaimon being grabbed or this fight between the bears, I would count myself wildly successful.

  33. majere616 says:

    Would you rather:
    a) Have a dæmon?
    b) Be a panserbjørne?

  34. aficat says:

    <img src="; height="300px" width="400px">

  35. majere616 says:

    I s ripping out his jaw and eating his heart really intense enough for a Mortal Kombat Fatality?

  36. Starsea28 says:

    Honestly, I think this is my favourite chapter of the book. The fight is so intense and even though Lyra is terrified for Iorek and sick to her stomach about what she's done, she refuses to look away, she knows he must see her watching him. Re-reading is making me appreciate not just her courage but her integrity as well.

  37. Ellalalalala says:

    Lovejoy <3

  38. barnswallowkate says:

    Some comments up above said it was "À Outrance" which had some interesting definitions that I'm too lazy to copy & paste here 🙂

  39. xynnia says:

    I mean….can you imagine including this in the original script adaptation and trying to convince studio execs that you need to include a scene of a polar bear ripping out the heart of another bear he just violently killed and still keep it PG-13. Oh, this book is just PRECIOUS I LOVE IT SO MUCH.

    Yeah… This is the scene in the book that, reading it at age nine, kind of scarred me a bit XD It was awesome, but I just couldn't get that imagine of the jaw being ripped away and the tongue lolling over the bloody hole out of my head. I'm squeamish as it is, so graphic descriptions of violence DO NOT HELP. But it's Pullman, so we'll let it slide. X3 I remember reading it at primary school and being like "OH MY GOD" and then this guy in the year above me was like "What? What?" and so I read out the whole fight scene to him and he was like "OH MY GOD COOLEST BOOK EVAH." Then a couple of girls came in and he was like "YOU HAVE TO HEAR THIS" so I started reading it again but then they were like "Ewww no stop it that's disgusting D<"

  40. @ladylately says:

    You'll always be an Armored Emotionally Volatile Bear to me, Mark.

  41. monkeybutter says:

    Oddly enough, it's not the ripping off the jaw or the heart out that bothers me, but the mental image of the tongue lolling out that does me in.

  42. EmmylovesWho says:

    I am just at a point where I am so ready to proclaim this as one of the most fantastic books I have ever read. And I mean….this honestly might replace books I’ve cherished for years. I know that is not something one should say lightly, but I truly believe I am going through an experience where, at the end of this, I’ll have no problem ranking this book amongst Dostoevsky and Camus and Sartre and Carson McCullers and Jane Austen and Alice Munro…this. is. so. good.

    I KNOW. 😀

  43. EmmylovesWho says:

    Also, re the title, in my British version this chapter is titled "À Outrance". I have no idea why.

  44. Rachel says:

    Silvertongue is one of the most BAMF nicknames EVER!!!

  45. EmmylovesWho says:

    Going by British titles, Asriel would be his surname. Pullman may not be following the usual rules though.

  46. EmmylovesWho says:

    But saying that, it depends.

  47. Brieana says:

    While I was a bit annoyed by the interruption, I did like that we got to end the week on that big intercision reveal and the next week ended with the end of part 2.
    I do hope we get two reviews in a day this week, though, so we can finish the book by Friday.

  48. feanna says:

    The only thing I remember about the movie is that Mrs Coulter chokes her own demon. Which I've always found a fantastic way to portray the way she's evil, but also how evol persons are often incredibly damaged. Since she's basically stranglingher own soul there.

    Iorek is BADASS!

  49. t09yavorski says:

    My most prized possesion:

    <img src=""&gt;

    With real jaw-snapping action.
    I also have a Iorek pez dispenser and an Iorek Christmas tree ornament.

    About the movie, I never realized but the fight is almost word for image the same, except with less gore and no heart eating.

  50. Kate says:

    I JUST looked for a picture of this, I am so thrilled that someone else got here first! Whoot!

  51. t09yavorski says:

    I hate to say this because I am a firm fighter FOR the movie but his attack wasn't even a trick. In the movie Iorek's left paw is the one that gets hurt but when he attacks Ragnur/Iofur he uses his right paw to knock his block off.

  52. flootzavut says:

    Yeah I was surprised that bypassed Mark's attention actually!

  53. rumantic says:

    He said in his speech thing that he would have displayed his head in the palace.

  54. "Belacqua? No. You are Lyra Silvertongue,” he said. “To fight him is all I want."

    Oh my heart. This line makes me tear up every single time.

    Lyra arranged this because Iorek's arrival was inevitable, and all she could do was make sure he wasn't just shot on sight — flamethrowered on sight, whatever — while still half a mile away. And Iorek's short speech shifts our perspective on it. What was an act of desperation on Lyra's part becomes to be the answer to the prayer Iorek's been praying since his exile. The alchemy performed by those few words just takes my breath away.

    "You just did the impossible and handed me my heart's desire on a silver platter. You think I'm going to quibble about timing? Shut up. I love you."

    Oh my heart.

  55. CuriousApe says:

    "It tore the lower part of his jaw clean off, so that it flew through the air scattering blood drops in the snow many yards away."
    I first read the Golden Compass 9 years ago, and I remember exactly where I was when I read that sentence. Also how I had positioned myself, what candy I was eating, how I wore my hair and what the room I was in looked like (the latter only being remarkable because I wasn't at home at the time – I was actually on a skiing trip with my school. Only remember reading this book, though.). That's how intense this battle was to 11-year-old me.

    There are a couple of other sentences in the series that have stayed with me like that, but this is the first one and the one that triggers the most detailed memory.

  56. notemily says:

    Ha, you're thinking of that "best metaphors from high school english papers" thing. Like:

    Long separated by cruel fate, the star-crossed lovers raced across the grassy field toward each other like two freight trains, one having left Cleveland at 6:36 p.m. traveling at 55 mph, the other from Topeka at 4:19 p.m., at a speed of 35 mph.

  57. notemily says:

    Was anyone else thinking of Megatokyo with all this mortal combat/Mortal Kombat stuff? No? Just me then.

  58. Patrick721 says:

    I have only one thing to say about this chapter, and I cannot find an adequate reaction image. (Also, too lazy to create a photobucket account and upload my own.

    Two armored polar bears fighting to the death, with the looser getting his jaw ripped off and heart eaten?

    Anyone have an appropriate gif/macro/whatever?

  59. esther says:

    It makes me uncomfortable whenever Lyra refers to Iorek as "her dear", and all her other endearments for him. It makes me uncomfortable – like I'm listening in on someone's most private thoughts. Also, it sounds awkward to me. Like when an author writes about a character's "small breasts".

  60. esther says:

    get it?

    • Tilja says:

      Took me a looooong time to makemy head understand the connection because I wasn't even reading my own comment, but GOOD ONE!

      I guess I can mess with language both sides and it's OK :^P

  61. Stephalopolis says:

    [youtube m8lKO1W6IjU&feature=related youtube]

    • Patrick721 says:

      Oh my god. I had forgotten about this episode. How did I forget. This is amazing. I mean, it's up there with The Touch from the 80s Transformers movie.

      This video is totally relevant, btw.

  62. AnHibou says:

    "Oh god, should I just ask for the earth to open up and eat her?"
    So beautifully appropriate, considering what happened to her.

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