Mark Reads ‘The Golden Compass’: Chapter 21

In the twenty-first chapter of The Golden Compass, DUST DUST DUST DUST DUST DUST DUST DUST DUST DUST DUST DUST DUST. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Golden Compass.

Well, I wasn’t even close to guessing what Dust is.


Before we get into that head-melting conversation, there’s quite a lot to talk about regarding Lord Asriel and the story that Philip Pullman is telling us.

This is unmistakably a fantasy book, even if many elements of this world are grounded in a sort of reality. Even as Pullman now moves into commentary on Christian theology, there’s no exclusion of the fantasy world or mythology at all. It merely adds a new context to the entire book. As I come to understand just why this trilogy is so revered and despised at the same time (as well as why the Catholic Church has had such a marked interest in being as negative as possible about The Golden Compass via the effort to get it made into a film), I have come to realize something else about this book: It honestly topples a lot of fantasy archetypes and storytelling devices that are expected from a book like this.

This was not a thought that I had while reading through chapter twenty-one the first time, but one that popped into my brain when I was on BART on my way to work. While the reveal of what Dust is absolutely overshadows the first half of the chapter, I realized that the portrayal of Lord Asriel was an obvious sign that Pullman was willing to subvert both the genre and novels in general.

Now, I don’t want to put forth the idea that Pullman is some EXPERIMENTAL RADICAL when it comes to fiction, because that’s not at all what he’s doing here. But Lord Asriel’s abrasive appearance here made me think back to how The Golden Compass is unfolding and there’s quite a bit that isn’t the norm. If you think about the pacing and structure of this book, it seems to slowly build to this gigantic climax in Bolvangar, which could very well be the end of the book. (Which I did bring up at the time.) But Pullman chooses not to end things there, but bring us to yet another point of furious intensity in Svalbard, where we’re brought to an emotional high that victoriously comes crashing down and WE ARE STILL NOT AT THE END. In terms of pacing, this does not fall the single track of a “rise and fall” narrative.

On top of that, we have the character of Lord Asriel, built up over the course of this novel as a man to be feared, but one with a fierce sense of individuality and moral certainty, a man who defies a powerful organization to do what he thinks is right, even while in captivity at THE NORTH POLE. Everything about his image is grandiose, radiant, and spectacular. He is a man wronged by those in power, a man stripped of his rightful earnings, and a man dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge. Everything I’ve just said is not only typical of fantasy heroes, but it’s hard to pain any of this as negative. And that’s why Pullman deserves so much credit for what he does here:

He makes Lord Asriel a raging, unsympathetic asshole.

All of the signs were certainly there, but the way in which he consistently and brutally dismisses Lyra over and over was jarring and shocking to me. Here is a man who is a hero, a legend of sorts, in Lyra’s eyes, and he completely destroys that in just a couple minutes. We learn of the immense lengths he went to inspire both fear and camaraderie in Iofur Raknison to get exactly what he wanted. AS A PRISONER!!! And Lyra views this with such an intense respect, paralleling it with the power that Iorek Byrnison possesses. After all of this, I almost feel silly expecting some sort of glorious reunion between daughter and father. Yet, I could not help but feel a sense of excitement as they came upon that glorious glass structure upon that black mountain. We would finally find out what Lord Asriel was up to and Lyra would get her father back.

Lyra’s father stood there, his powerful dark-eyed face at first fierce, triumphant, and eager; and then the color faded from it; his eyes widened, in horror, as he recognized his daughter.

“No! No!”

He staggered back and clutched at the mantelpiece. Lyra couldn’t move.

“Get out!” Lord Asriel cried. “Turn around, get out, go! I did not send for you!”

Pure and simple shock. I could not believe it. Why was he acting this way? Why wouldn’t he be ecstatic to see his daughter?

If this is nonsensical, what continues to happen after this just makes it all the more confusing. Asriel calms down, but his tone is not one of relief. Or joy. Or excitement. He sounds EXHAUSTED. As if Lyra’s very appearance has irritated him, as if she just gave him an extra day’s worth of work, but he still has to be somewhat respectful of her. Just…what the hell is going on, Lord Asriel????

Roger’s quick to pick up on how wrong this and vocalizes it to Lyra while he’s taking a bath.

“I’m more scared of him than I was of Mrs. Coulter, and that’s the truth.”

In just one sentence, he’s able to communicate a disturbing truth: suddenly, even for me, I now fear Lord Asriel. Have I been tricked by the mythology that precedes him? Or is this foreshadowing for something worse to come? Lyra asks Roger if she can check the alethiometer for him, and his response is just….well, christ, I have to quote this:

“Seems to me everything I heard of since the Gobblers come to Oxford, everything’s been bad. There en’t been nothing good more than about five minutes ahead. Like I can see now, this bath’s nice, and there’s a nice warm towel there, about five minutes away. And once I’m dry, maybe I’ll think of summing nice to eat, but no further ahead than that. And when I’ve eaten, maybe I’ll look forward to a kip in a comfortable bed. But after that, I dunno, Lyra. There’s been terrible things we seen, en’t there? And more a coming, more’n likely. So I think I’d rather not know what’s in the future. I’ll stick to the present.”

As of right now, this is my favorite quote from the entirety of the book. What an amazing way to depict that sort of bleak fear of the future. Given what we learn just after this, I’d say that Roger is absolutely spot-on: The future holds no guarantees of happiness. We should enjoy the present.

But the “present” time for Lyra is only about to get worse. Well…and a whole lot more confusing, too. After her bath, she joins Lord Asriel next to the fireplace and he continues to act detached and disinterested in her. It takes only a few exchanges for the two of them to stop pretending to be polite to her and Lyra lets it rip. (And I adore her for it.)

“I’ll tell you if you tell me something,” she said. “You’re my father, en’t you?”

“Yes. So what?”


“So you should have told me before, that’s what. You shouldn’t hide things like that from people, because they feel stupid when they find out, and that’s cruel. What difference would it make if I knew I was your daughter? You could have said it years ago. You could’ve told me and asked me to keep it secret, and I would, no matter how young I was, I’d have done that if you asked me. I’d have been so proud nothing would’ve torn it out of me, if you asked me to keep it secret. But you never. You let other people know, but you never told me.”

I just….I tried to find an applause GIF that was appropriate and they all weren’t strong enough. THANK YOU, Lyra, for telling your father what a ruthless asshole he is being.

“Then there’s not much left for me to tell. I don’t think I want to be interrogated and condemned by an insolent child. I want to hear what you’ve seen and done on the way here.”

OH. OH. YOU HAVE GONE TOO FAR. I mean…the utter nerve that takes, the amount of self-important narcissism a person must have to say that to their daughter who just survived a journey to one of the most dangerous places in the entire world. WHAT GIVES.

Lyra explodes with rage and I back her every step of the way at this point. After the ridiculously frightening journey she just went through to get Lord Asriel the alethiometer, he treats her like this???? After nearly dying multiple times, after reaching points where turning back would have made more sense than pressing on, she still did it. And this is how he thanks it? I find it incredibly powerful that Lyra stands up for herself this way and is also able to assert the fact that just because Lord Asriel is her father does not mean she has to love him. As someone who feels that way about a family member and inevitably has to deal with people trying to tell me I have to love my family regardless of their actions, there’s a great sense of validation I feel towards reading this. Thank you, Pullman.

BUT ENOUGH ABOUT ME. Lyra’s rant towards her father suddenly loses steam when she announces that she knows that Mrs. Coulter is on her way to kill both of them, by order of the Magisterium, and even that does nothing to stir any sort of emotion in Lord Asriel. He simply states, calmly, that they will never reach this place. He expresses no interest in the alethiometer, and I think this is what keeps Lyra from leaving. After all of this, shouldn’t his selfishness at least be interested in the one thing he needs from her?

So she stays and she relates the entire experience of what just happened to her, and at the end of it, she demands one thing, since Lord Asriel never told her that he was her father: She demands to know what Dust is.

can you hear my heart tingling in suspense CAN YOU

“Dust is what makes the alethiometer work,” he said.

oh hey we KNOW THIS BY NOW. I actually laughed at this because it feels like Pullman is teasing us. Like: HAHAHAHA I KNOW EVERYTHING YOU KNOW NOTHING. But this is not a red herring or a sleight of hand. Pullman finally, FINALLY delivers on Dust and…oh my god. oh my god.

There’s no real point in making this a recap because it’s almost a bit too pedantic for me. AND THAT IS SAYING SOMETHING COMING FROM YOURS TRULY. However, there are things we absolutely need to talk about. This huge info dump (at the end of the novel, too!!!!) has changed everything we’ve experienced so far. I sort of figured that Mrs. Coulter was holding back a lot more than she was letting on regarding Dust, and her comment about the “wicked” nature of those elementary particles hinted at what we get here. She actually was telling the truth (at least in her view), but she was also leaving out a whole lot.

Dust, as we learn from Lord Asriel, is intricately tied in with the Church’s past, as the man who “discovered” Dust was put through interrogations and his lab was given an exorcism, all determining that it was real:

“That left them with the problem of deciding what it was. And given the Church’s nature, there was only one thing they could have chosen. The Magisterium decided that Dust was the physical evidence for original sin.”


Did I mention yet that this book seems written specifically for me? Have I? Then there it is. With this single paragraph, a billion thoughts flew into my head, a million things I desperately needed to talk about. But I couldn’t help but think about the heinous experiments that were being acted out in Bolvangar, and all of this was done because of original sin?


As Lord Asriel began to explain the concept of original sin to Lyra, he pulled out a Bible and began to read from Genesis and…well, I’ll be honest. I groaned. It seemed way too obvious for me, and if Pullman was going to try to make a point about the theological concept, surely he didn’t have to spell it out for us? So, being a terrible reader, I skipped to the end of the italic section and continued on:

“And that was how sin came into the world,” he said, “sin and shame and death. It came the moment their dæmons became fixed.”

Wait. What? That’s not what the Bible says, I thought. And I turned back and began reading the quote from Genesis and HOLY SHIT IT IS NOT OUR VERSION OF THE BIBLE IT HAS DÆMONS IN IT.

As my now-exploded brain tried to adjust to this new concept, I could see what was being set up here. The scientists in Bolvangar were separating children from their dæmons BEFORE they had settled. Meaning….seriously. SERIOUSLY IS THAT WHAT THIS IS ALL ABOUT oh my god my little atheist heart is going to explode.

Even with the story of how these particles came to be called Dust, I needed the confirmation spelled out for me. (Funny, given that before this section, I didn’t actually like this idea spelled out at all.) The Oblation Board was set up by Mrs. Coulter for what seems like a couple of motivations: her quest for power and for the severance of dæmons. I think that we’ll be exploring Mrs. Coulter’s sense of power in the future, as it seems it’s only passed over here my Lord Asriel. The context for intercision is given by Lord Asriel, though, from the Church’s acceptance of castration. (For what it’s worth, I kind of hate that Lord Asriel refers to some castrati as “half-men,” as I don’t like the idea that having genitals is a requirement for manhood.) But I understand the point: like circumcision and castration, the Church has a history with controlling people’s bodies, so why would it be at all immoral to find a new way to control others? And that’s when Pullman finally spells it out:

“She guessed that the two things that happen at adolescence might be connected: the change in one’s dæmon and the fact that Dust began to settle. Perhaps if the dæmon were separated from the body, we might never be subject to Dust–to original sin. The question was whether it was possible to separate dæmon and body without killing the person.”

So there it is. The Church wants to STOP PEOPLE FROM SINNING AT ALL. I can already see the massive problem with that, both from a position of Christianity and where this trilogy is heading. In terms of the story we’ve gotten in The Golden Compass, it means that we now have a worldwide organization that is forcing people into a specific fate and destiny, at complete odds with what Lyra and Lord Asriel are fighting against. If what they say about Dust is true, then does that not mean that this is a world without choice and agency? If people cannot sin, how can there be any sort of free will left?

And even in terms of Christian theology, that is such an offensive idea. I was a Christian for most of my life and if you had told me during my Christian years that people had figured out a way to make sure NO ONE EVER SINNED AGAIN, I probably would have slapped you and then followed it up with a sassy remark. I mean….right? Even I can admit that Christian theology rests somewhat heavily on the idea of choice. (Well….we can get into more of that later.)

As if this is all not enough for our brains to handle, Lord Asriel’s motives in the North Pole are slightly revealed and I DO NOT LIKE IT AT ALL. Being the scientist that he is, he’s discovered that when the dæmon is cut away from the body, a gigantic blast of energy dissipates that caused people to feel “shock, or disgust, or moral outrage,” so those working with intercision ignored this.

“And what were you doing?” she said. “Did you do any of that cutting?”

“I’m interested in something quite different. I don’t think the Oblation Board goes far enough. I want to go to the source of Dust itself.”

Here’s what I dislike: Instead of denying that he was cutting, he says he is interesting in GOING FURTHER THAN THEM. I think it’s very telling that he phrased himself this way. Asriel quickly moves to explain that he thinks Dust comes from the universe seen through the Aurora, and the explanation he gives to Lyra about what parallel universes are is kind of amazing? It’s not a new theory at all, and anyone familiar with science fiction has seen this represented before, but it’s nice that it’s explained in a way that is quite digestible, especially given how confusing this whole chapter can be.

So we know Asriel wants to travel into the parallel universe and build the bridge there. Mrs. Coulter wants to control it herself. These are not surprises. What is a shock is Asriel’s reason for this:

“Somewhere out there is the origin of all the Dust, all the death, the sin, the misery, the destructiveness in the world. Human beings can’t see anything without wanting to destroy it, Lyra. That’s original sin. And I’m going to destroy it. Death is going to die.”




It’s as if everything I just typed up there about free will and choice was completely destroyed. Or, at the very least, it is about to be tested. What I’m confused by is this: Does Lord Asriel accept that original sin is real and is caused by Dust? By destroying the source of it, wouldn’t that have the exact same logical end as cutting a dæmon away? Wouldn’t people be left without a choice between right and wrong?

Part of me feels that I’ve simply misinterpreted this or that I haven’t received all the information that I need to put it together. I can admit that. So it leaves me with a few options to consider:

  • Lord Asriel believes Dust actually causes original sin and wants to destroy it.
  • Lord Asriel believes Dust has nothing to do with original sin, but human misery instead, and he wants to destroy it.
  • Lord Asriel believes Dust is….God? Or the concept of God? Or where God came from? And he wants to destroy that? look i know nothing at all.

At the very least, this chapter does end on a sort of high note: Lord Asriel tells Lyra that he has no use for the alethiometer at all. “It would be no use to me without the books anyway,” he tells her. If anything, it appears that the Master of Jordan was giving it to Lyra herself. So the alethiometer is Lyra’s. But I said that this was only sort of a high note. Lord Asriel abruptly leaves the room, a distaste in his voice, and Lyra is left just as bewildered as we are.

So if Lord Asriel didn’t need the alethiometer to complete his task, why did Serafina tell her that she had something to give him? christ I DON’T GET THIS AND IT MAKES ME REALLY NERVOUS.

damn it.

About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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289 Responses to Mark Reads ‘The Golden Compass’: Chapter 21

  1. @impsy says:

    I haven't read these books in YEARS but I adored them when I did, and I'm so glad you're doing these awesome reviews! I am dying right along with you and it's gonna get SO MUCH BETTER AND ALSO WORSE oh man 😀

  2. TreasureCat says:

    Can I just say that I am so happy to be able to finally read and discuss this book/its sequels in the depth they deserve? I know a bunch of people who have read the series, but none of them are really interested in getting into the meat of what they're about beyond the basic fantasy story. There is clearly so much more to them though and Ive never had the chance to properly dissect it all before with people I can bounce ideas off, people who offer a different perspective or have interpreted things differently. For example, the little speech Roger gives has never really resonated with me before, but now you've highlighted it I appreciate it a lot more. This is amazing and so much fun and I am so glad you're reading these books Mark <3

    • @Leenessface says:

      YES. I already have my whole theory on what this series is about, but no one I know really cares and most internet people are all "BUT THE BEARS!!! IN ARMOUR!!!11!!"

      So I greatly look forward to discussing with you fine folk in the end.

  3. Sara says:

    OH MY GOD I AM DYING. The paragraph you quoted from Roger really sums up how I FEEL ABOUT THIS BOOK RIGHT NOW. WHERE NOW U TAKE US, PULLMAN?????

  4. Avit says:

    It's a tired, tired cliche of a phrase by now, Mark, but the depth of your unpreparedness is unplumbable by any line.

    • SporkyRat says:


  5. blis says:

    Lord Asriel being the King of Assholes didn't really bug me all that much, I was expecting it from the beginning, remember how he grabbed Lyra's arm?

    His rude dismissive behavior and responses were fine with me, until…he fucking belittled Lyra's relationship with Iorek Byrnison! She was obviously hurt and emotional when she told him something along the lines of how she hated him and loved Fader Couram and Iorek Byrnison. And he throws it in her face that Iorek was just doing his job.

    You don't make a kid feel insecure about their friendship with an Armored Bear! Bad Form Lord Asriel!

    • knut_knut says:

      It was actually this chapter when I realized how similar Lord Asriel and Lyra are. Some of the things he said seemed like things Lyra would say. I wouldn't say that Lyra is an asshole,…but she can definitely be a bit of a brat

      • Sara says:

        Oooh, I totally agree. Lyra does take after her father a good deal–and her mother, too, we've seen again and again she is a marvelously good liar in addition to being a high-tempered brat on occasion. But they are both assholes (or worse, in Mrs. Coulter's case) and she is AWESOME.

  6. carma_bee says:

    You're so close to the next book I can't wait! And please do some predictions before you start it : )

    • FlameRaven says:

      Yes. There must be predictions! Mostly because I want to laugh and laugh because no one can predict these books, srsly.

  7. Maya says:

    So yeah. This begins to explain why my bff who is Catholic has never read these books. Which I think is a shame since I know she enjoyed the Sally Lockhart series, but I can't really blame her. Maybe at some point I can convince her to give them a try as an intellectual exercise since they really are quite fascinating from a theological standpoint as well as being kickass books.

    As for shit getting real….those words basically haven't been invented yet as far as this trilogy is concerned.

    • FlameRaven says:

      I can sympathize; when I was 11 and reading these I found myself pretty shocked by all these new ideas, since I was a pretty devout Christian at the time. I think I had the actual thought of 'omg is it blasphemous just to read these?' but still I was fascinated and had to read the rest, and I chewed and chewed at all the ideas over and over again in my head until I started figuring out how these ideas meshed with my own world view.

      When I was that young, I eventually just thought it was a neat exercise to consider this other idea and that it didn't matter because it was just a story. Now that I'm older and have sort of given up on religion, though, I find Pullman's message both more in line with my own beliefs and a rather brilliant idea… but most of that gets into the events of the later books so I won't talk about that now.

      I do think it's important for everyone to read these books, perhaps particularly religious folk. Challenging what you believe is an important thing, to make sure you actually believe what you think you believe. I came across this quote attributed to Thomas Jefferson awhile back, and it's still one of my favorites: "Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blind-folded fear."

      • Tilja says:

        I like that quote. I also wish more Christians would read and understand these books instead of fear it would take away their souls. Seriously, that's what they think! If a book can take your soul so easily, then was it ever yours to keep?

        • Maya says:

          Haha, she's definitely NOT in that camp. We went to a Mass at her church where the priest railed against the Da Vinci Code movie…the morning after we had seen it. I think it's some of the stuff later in the trilogy that bothers her, which I can understand. I think at some point she'll get around to it, but I don't blame her for it not being high on her to-read list.

      • Partes says:

        The Archbishop of Canterbury agrees with you, actually, and had a conversation on BBC Radio 4 with Philip Pullman. He's stated that he's a fan of the trilogy.

        NO REALLY

        He also made some very, very interesting points about the books that I'd never thought about, making my rereads more entertaining when I approached them considering what he said.

      • hymnia says:

        I agree. I'm a devout Christian and I read these books a few years ago, partly because I was interested in the story, and partly because I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. I didn't mind having my beliefs challenged by the books–personally, I think they stand up to the challenge just fine.

        Having said that, though I wouldn't recommend them to anyone besides adults. And I know they are aimed at young people, so…yeah, that makes me a bit uncomfortable. I don't think it's a good idea for impressionable kids to read them. Not that I would campaign to remove them from school libraries or anything silly like that, but I personally couldn't, in good conscience, hand them to a kid to read.

        • Shanna says:

          I am Roman Catholic born and raised and while I still identify myself as this, I am a somewhat lapsed Catholic. I definitely do not agree with all of the teachings of the Catholic church (and would say that most of my Catholic friends are more of the liberal mind set as well), and I don’t attend mass regularly (though I was singing in a chuch choir this year, but mostly as a social outlet). It’s more of a cultural thing, I guess. I grew up with the Catholic tradition as much as with my Canadian traditions and my German/British grandparents’ traditions – it just shaped who I am.

          I read these books in 2005 when I was 23. I think I knew they were controversial, and that just made me want to read them more. I am contrary like that, I guess. I thought the whole series was enjoyable and the ‘controversy’ didn’t bother me a whiff. I do not think people should avoid a book/story just because someone else said so. You should always investigate for yourself and make up your own mind.

          My dad is heavily involved in the church and quite devout, and my mom works there! Most people I know from church are accepting and kind, and just go because it is a social thing. Anyway, I read HP in 2005 as well (after HDM). At first my dad wasn’t sure what to make of the books. But I have always considered my dad to be well read and fair (even though we disagree very much on one or two sticky issues). Eventually he read HP and LOVED it and couldn’t understand why anyone would have issues with it.

          A lady I work with was slightly opposed to HP (she used to see me reading it @ lunch) but really only because her elderly father thought they were devil books. She’s in her mid 40s and I wondered at what age do you start making up your own mind? I encouraged her to try them for herself but don’t think she has yet.

          I don’t know what my point is – maybe that people should try things for themselves before writing a book/food/experience/whatever off. The idea of losing your SOUL because you read a book is absurd nonsense to me (that is also if there is such a thing as a soul to lose, anyway!).

        • summeriris says:

          I am also a Christian and I read and enjoyed these books. One of Mark's points was that the Church in this universe wants to remove free will and choice. Both in these books and in the Harry Potter books choice is extremely important. If we don't have a choice in our beliefs then we might as well be the mindless automatons that we saw in Bolvangar. As a Christian I would have to say that the freedom of choice is the most important thing about being a Christian. With choice comes freedom.

          • hpfish13 says:

            Flat out the biggest problem in the theology of the Church in these books is that they are attempting to use man-made means to remove sin. The Bible pretty much shows this to be impossible (that's why grace is so important).

            The fact that the books (up to this point, I'm rather fuzzy on the rest of them because it's been 5 years since I've read them) are anti-Church doesn't really throw me is largely because of one important factor: Alternate Universe! This is clearly not our world and the Church is therefore, not the church of our world. As someone else stated, it mostly seems to resemble a pre-Reformation church, when things were very screwed up.

        • hummingbrdheart says:

          I disagree — the fact that children are "impressionable" is exactly the reason they should be given the opportunity to read and learn about many different ideas while they are young, before they become stuck in a belief system they may later want to leave behind. Give them these books and the Narnia books. Let them see that there are other ways to believe than the way you or I might want. Kids deserve that much respect.

          • leighzzz31 says:

            I agree with this SO MUCH. Kids are impressionable but they're supposed to be! We're supposed to see the world when we're children and decide for ourselves how we look at it. When it comes to religion, I think it's all about choice and letting children form their own beliefs by being 'exposed' to both sides.

            Kids deserve that much respect.
            If I could give you all the upvotes for just this comment I would!

          • Jenny_M says:

            Plus most kids at that age, well, they won't necessarily get the underlying themes. It'll just be a cool book with an awesome polar bear. I never understood that Aslan = Jesus until I got older, and then it was like "OH, OF COURSE."

            • Hanah_banana says:

              Oh god, this so much. I knew my Bible stories inside out when I was little but someone had to point out to me that the Narnia books were supposed to be religious allegory before I got it, by which point I think I was basically a teenager.

              • t09yavorski says:

                I had to right a paper on religious allegory in high school and had something similar happen. I randomly picked Star Wars (or someone suggested I should) and before that moment I never realized that it counts as one. Also I never realized Anakin had no Dad but I can (try to) blame that on the script.

            • luckyduck says:

              I would have to agree with this. I read this when I was really young, and I'll admit it confused the hell out of me with the theology, but I got the message that the Church in THAT universe was bad, and that is why I didn't have a problem with these books. If this book was like, "The Church in our world is bad and anyone who believes in it is bad!", then I would have had a problem.

              Also, I, like many other people, was totally surprised at the whole Aslan = Jesus and I was like WHAT? And then after rereading them, I felt so dumb that I missed it.

          • Appachu says:

            All the upvotes for this.

          • Ellalalalala says:

            You. Minister for Childhood, right here. 🙂

          • monkeybutter says:

            Hear, hear!

        • Hanah_banana says:

          As someone who was ten when I read this book I can't help but feel slightly insulted on behalf of my ten year old self – I don't think I was in any way damaged or made more or less religious than I was at the time from reading these books. Children are much smarter than we give them credit for and I think it's so easy for children to mimic the beliefs and actions of those around them (not just in terms of religious belief but in everything from political affiliation to diet and exercise habits) that it's more important to give them reading matter which challenges those actions and beliefs so that they can get a more rounded perspective on the world to come to their own decisions, to know more thoroughly why they are making certain choices.

          Personally I think children should be able to have access to everything – give them Narnia and Philip Pullman and the Bible and the Torah and the Koran and Paradise Lost and Richard Dawkins and whatever they're interested in, and then we should be there to explain what they don't understand and answer any questions they have from reading it. If my children want to be Muslims or Christians or Jews or atheists I have absolutely no problem with it, so long as it comes from a place of understanding and if reading anything at all, even if somehow that thing ends up being Twilight, helps them to fully understand their beliefs and to make informed choices then I couldn't do anything but celebrate that. But then I'm a notorious hippy. 😛

          • hymnia says:

            I'm sorry, but I still think that adults who are in a place to guide children (parents, teachers, pastors–I include myself because I'm a teacher) have both the right and the responsibility to select what ideas children are exposed to. I have the right and responsibility to select what books I place on my classroom bookshelves for my students to read, and I refuse to put the HDM books there. But because I believe in the basic principles of freedom of speech and freedom of thought, I don't consider this selection of ideas a public matter, but a personal one. As I said, I'm not at all interested in campaigning to stop children from having access to these books in any way. If another teacher in a neighboring classroom wants to put HDM out for kids to read, or even read one of the books as part of his/her curriculum, I wouldn't object. But I, PERSONALLY, could not encourage a child to read them.

            • Ellalalalala says:

              I think there's a distinction between having the right and the responsibility to select what ideas children are exposed to and having the right and the responsibility to select what ideas we ourselves expose children to (or facilitate their exposure to). You do make the distinction later in your post in terms of not objecting if others do encourage children to read these books but not feeling personally able to do so, which I definitely respect and appreciate (if I were a teacher, I don't think I could bear to facilitate exposure to Twilight because of the glorification of abusive relationships), but I think we have to be careful to make that distinction explicit. I also think the explanation for why an adult doesn't feel able to get on board with a particular text can be extremely educative for children as well.

            • notemily says:

              I think it's naive to think that you can control what ideas children are exposed to. Only by keeping them at home all the time and never letting them talk to anyone else can you do that.

          • Ellalalalala says:

            You are clearly also an official in my newly established Ministry for Childhood, and win all the things.

        • notemily says:

          People hand the Bible to kids to read all the time, though.

          • hymnia says:

            Yes, they do. And there are plenty of people who object to it. I think it's important to recognize that the books we read do shape our ideas–the Bible, Harry Potter, HDM, the Chronicles of Narnia, Shakespeare, Twilight–any of these books are capable of shaping the way we think, whether or not they purport to take place in a fantasy world. We all have to form our own opinions on whether the net effects are positive or negative. For my part, I would happily give children some of those books I just listed without much instruction or comment. Others–including the Bible–I would give ONLY with instructions/comments/qualifications, and others I wouldn't encourage children to read at all because of the ideas they contain, although I might recommend them to adults–probably with qualifications. And I feel it's my right to make that choice. As I said above, this is not some campaign to make sure no one else can give these books–and the ideas they contain, which is the crucial point–to children. This is about my personal conscience. And if someone else feels that the can't, in good conscience, encourage a child to read the Bible, that's their right, too. And while I emphatically don't share that view, I couldn't really fault them for feeling that way, because the Bible is full of potentially life-altering (and society-altering!) ideas.

            • notemily says:

              See, and I completely agree with you if it's just for your own children. It's when you start applying the same philosophy to other people's children that I get iffy. There's no right answer here, but it does make me think of the way pharmacy employees invoke their "conscience" in order to refuse to dispense birth control. That is not their choice to make.

              I work in a library so the issue of book selection comes up a lot, and the idea is that the children's librarian reads a bunch of reviews and orders not only books she thinks are of good quality/have good ideas, but also books that will be popular. Because as a public library, our job is to give people access to the information they want, and that includes children. Of course, each individual parent can decide not to let their children check out certain books, and we have no objection to that. It's when someone comes in and says we should take a book off the shelf because NOBODY's children should be allowed to read it that there's a problem.

              Like I said, there isn't one right answer here because nobody knows what's best for ALL children in a public school or public library. But I'd rather err on the side of freedom than on the side of restricting access.

              • drippingmercury says:

                It's when someone comes in and says we should take a book off the shelf because NOBODY's children should be allowed to read it that there's a problem.

                This just drives me up a wall, seriously.

                A fellow employee at the library where I used to work was like this. His problem was with "And Tango Makes Three" (among other books, but he really had it in for those penguins). He was too much of a Good Christian to outright steal books, but he would make it damn hard for anyone else to check out. I really, really hate book banning and the fact that a library employee was facilitating that… AND NEVER GOT IN ANY REAL TROUBLE FOR IT… ARG MY RAGE.

              • hymnia says:

                You know…that does make sense. If I were in the position of librarian, I probably would prefer to err on the side of freedom, too. But as a classroom teacher? Meh. There are so many other books I can put out for my kids–some of which are even a bit critical of organized religion–that I, personally, would feel more comfortable with them reading–I just didn't feel right putting HDM on my shelves. That isn't really restricting access, because my classroom bookshelves are not meant to be a comprehensive selection of YA lit anyway. They're more like…well, you know how video stores sometimes have shelves that are "employee's picks"? Maybe your library has something like this, too. To me, that's what the bookshelves in my class represent–they are my own, personal recommendations.

                And not to invite another dogpile of comments, but I do actually think the pharmacists should have freedom of conscience as well, although I think there should be safeguards to make sure birth control is still available. I recognize that's a tricky issue, and I won't even pretend to have the one true answer to it, but basically, I feel that freedom of thought/freedom of conscience is as extremely important human right–it trumps a lot of things, IMO. And it's not just for religious people. I also feel very strongly–and have had plenty of arguments with my Christian friends–about not imposing ceremonial thesim/deism on unbelievers, frex removing "under God" from the pledge of allegiance.

                • notemily says:

                  I believe in freedom of conscience, but I also believe that if you believe something strongly enough, you should be willing to lose your job for it. Not saying it's always right for people to lose their job because they stand up for their beliefs, but it does happen, and sometimes it's because your belief goes against the actual job description, as in the case of the pharmacists. If you believe very strongly that no animals should ever be killed for food, enough that you would refuse to serve them, working in a burger joint probably isn't the best job for you.

                  I agree that there's more gray area in your case, as a teacher. Teachers do have a responsibility to choose what material they think is best for children, and while there are some restrictions such as curriculum requirements and such, I imagine there's a lot of leeway as well.

                  (Also, I believe very firmly in the welfare state, so in my ideal world, people would be able to quit their jobs because of conscience reasons and still be able to eat and have a place to live. I recognize that often people can't afford to lose their jobs in the actual world, though.)

                  And I agree with you about "under God." It wasn't in there originally!

                • Mmsljr says:

                  Even though I don't agree wit you on some topics, you seem like a teacher who has their head on straight. Please don't take anything I said as an affront against you.

    • EmmylovesWho says:

      I grew up Catholic, and my dad, who bought it for me in the first place, couldn't finish them. He didn't stop us from reading the books but he was kind of meh about it after this point.

  8. Brieana says:

    "Did I mention yet that this book seems written specifically for me?"
    I felt the same way! And I love that Adam and Eve had daemons (but OF COURSE they would)! And I love Lyra being a badass.
    (For what it’s worth, I kind of hate that Lord Asriel refers to some castrati as “half-men,” as I don’t like the idea that having genitals is a requirement for manhood.)
    Well it has already been established that Asriel is an asshole.
    As for the Christianity, do remember that there are a lot of Christians out there, meaning that there are different ways to be Christian. Plus, it's in a different universe anyway.

    • Ellalalalala says:

      I really really want to know what forms Adam and Eve's daemons took.

        • FlameRaven says:

          Serpents seems too obvious, and wouldn't really encompass their whole selves.

          • Brieana says:

            When I think of Adam and Eve, I think of original sin and them being fruitful and multiplying. Did they even do anything else according the the Bible?
            Huh, so anyway, I can't think of a daemon more fitting.

            • FlameRaven says:

              Snakes don't really multiply that much, though. If you want an animal that is a breeding machine, rabbits would be more fitting.

              • Brieana says:

                Oh, that's a good one I'll admit.
                Maybe there's an animal that breeds a lot and is thought of as "dirty" so that we can have both reproduction and sin all in there.

                • FlameRaven says:

                  Rats. Cockroaches. Pretty much any 'vermin.'

                  • Brieana says:

                    I thought of something. Pigs are dirty. They roll around in mud and they were possessed by demons in the NT. They also breed and are intelligent. Adam and Eve ate from the tree knowledge of good and evil, meaning I think they would need an intelligent daemon.

            • Brieana says:

              Oh hang on. What about a worm? Like a worm that you might find in an apple?

      • Saphling says:

        And see, my first thought was that I wanted to know what Jesus' daemon was!

  9. cait0716 says:

    Lyra has the worst parents ever. I love the reveal that Lord Asriel is just a power-hungry asshole, though. On my re-reads, the journey to see him always fills me with dread now, instead of hope, because I know what a jerk he is and how he just doesn't want anything to do with Lyra. Poor girl. 🙁

    I've always loved the biblical passage "Remember man that you are dust, and unto dust thou shall return". To me, it denies the existence of any afterlife, be it heaven or hell. It's saying that we are temporary and insignificant, and I find beauty and peace in that. Pullman twists this around by equating dust with knowledge and sin, which is an interesting choice. This chapter, I think, is one of the main reasons the Church condemns this book so much. It sets the Church up as the bad guys, once and for all, meddling and trying to make people "better"

    I love this book.

    • FlameRaven says:

      Pullman's point with this seems to be that the Church here always latches onto the "sin" half of that equation, even though what happened was that they gained sin AND knowledge. Pullman is essentially saying here, "yes, they disobeyed and became sinful, but it's better to have the knowledge with sin than not to have the knowledge at all."

      Which is obviously massively problematic for the church, since it pretty much overthrows their whole message. But since in this world your sin is intrinsically linked to your soul and free will, it seems impossible for the one to exist without the other. You can be sinful and alive, or sinless and basically dead/zombified. Not a really good choice.

      • cait0716 says:

        Not a choice at all if the Church gets their way.

        Knowledge and free will are always dangerous. They lead to the recognition that if you don't like the people in power, you can do something about it. It terrifies any ruling power – religious or political. So the church would rather have a bunch of zombies they can control than free-thinking humans.

    • blis says:

      "I've always loved the biblical passage "Remember man that you are dust, and unto dust thou shall return". To me, it denies the existence of any afterlife, be it heaven or hell

      becoming dust and dust leaching onto people made me think of thetans and Scientology.

      • cait0716 says:

        I hadn't thought of it like that. I don't know very much about scientology, but they have the whole genetic material being passed around in dust and infecting or possessing humans or something, right?

        I lean a bit more towards Carl Sagan: "We are all star stuff", since I don't ascribe consciousness to dust.

        In Pullman's world, dust appears to be conscious, or contain consciousness, or is at least attracted to it. I wonder how this story would be interpreted in the context of scientology

        • hpfish13 says:

          Quick question: have you read any of the Peter and the Starcatchers series? They are fantastic prequels to the Peter Pan series. In those books they call the stuff that transforms Peter Pan into what he is in the original novel, makes the mermaids, fairies and such exist is called star stuff. As a result, I can't help but giggle every time I hear the phrase used in another context.

          • cait0716 says:

            I haven't. I hadn't even heard of them. Carl Sagan talks about star stuff in Cosmos (and probably other things, too)

            • hpfish13 says:

              I've seen a video where he refers to star stuff (I can't remember when or where I saw the video), but I had already read the books at that point and had the hardest time paying attention because I was trying to connect the two in my head.

              The Peter and the Starcatchers books are great! They're co-written by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson and the audio books are read by Jim Dale (who reads the HP books on tape). My grandmother introduced me to them

    • MsPrufrock says:

      I thought Pullman's twisting around of the "dust to dust" passage was interesting, especially as it relates to what Dust is in the series (which: WHAT), but I have to say I was taken out of the story/a little skeptical of the whole 'scholars have always puzzled over the translation of that verse' thing. I get that the actual meaning and thought behind the verse can be taken different ways– as Asriel explains– but I thought the words themselves have a fairly straightforward translation.

      This is probably because I studied religion and learned biblical Hebrew in college, so I always took the "dust to dust" comment to parallel the notion that Adam was created from "adamah," meaning ground/earth. (Plus, the biblical authors loved puns, yo. Seriously, they were pretty much obsessed with them.) I guess I'm more prone to look at the Torah as a piece of literature anyway, so I look for meaning from the original Hebrew first, but is there really debate on how to translate this verse?

      And really, this doesn't have much bearing on the book, but it distracted me a bit. I get distracted by things like this fairly easily, though, because knowledge of biblical Hebrew isn't a skill that gets used much in the real world, and I like to pretend I learned useful skills when I was studying religion and English in undergrad.

  10. The Other says:

    This is without a doubt the best building-up chapter I have ever read.

    Mark, you are not prepared.

  11. Ellalalalala says:

    Why hello brains splattered all over the table. I believe you once belonged to me. I believe you escaped through my ears or out of this gaping chasm at the top of my head at some point during this chapter because WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK???

    This is so good. SO GOOD. I… just…. can't…
    Not reading more last night was seriously one of the hardest things I have ever done.

    Lord Asriel… WARNING WARNING DANGER DANGER DANGER SIRENS FLASHING LIGHTS BACK AWAY. I don't know what he's up to, but MY GOODNESS, no not want. He's so callous about it all. No of course ripping souls from bodies isn't gentle, but did I tell you about the amazing burst of power it produces? Neat, huh? And can he not hear himself?! Humanity's impulse to destroy is its original sin – so yeah, I'm gonna go off and DESTROY that impulse, amn't I awesome? Just… paradox… what the… MY BRAIN HURTS

    And and and and and! I am not OK with Lyra ignoring the alethiometer. When has that ever turned out well?
    So although she held the alethiometer in her hands for a little longer, it was only for comfort; she didn't turn the wheels, and the swinging of the needle passed her by.

    I think we're in for a rough finale. Just sayin. This Asriel character IS BAD NEWS.

    The theological explanation for Dust, however: many, many thumbs up. And a glorious reminder that science and religion need to be kept nice and separate. Exorcising a lab and subjecting a particle physicist to the Inquisition my god.

  12. Mauve_Avenger says:

    I don't know if this was intentional on Pullman's part, but Thorold's daemon's name, Anfang, means 'beginning' in German. And I think it's safe to say, with fifty-five chapters remaining until the very end, that this is just the beginning.

    • notemily says:

      Oh, cool! I just assumed because it was a dog with fangs = Fang = Anfang… because I'm dumb. Or because I don't know German, that too.

  13. knut_knut says:

    greatest info dump of all time or greatest info dump of all time?

  14. Kaci says:

    I actually sighed aloud as I was listening to this chapter on the audiobook because I felt it was so heavy-handed. I've probably chosen the wrong book to read-along with you, Mark, because I'm someone who prefers a complete lack of religion in her entertainment. Which isn't to say this isn't a good book, only that I'm starting to realize it's probably not for me. Until this chapter, everything was much more…I don't know, subtle, and then suddenly I felt like a sledgehammer was being taken to my head.

    But I really want to emphasize that I'm not trying to say that this is a bad book–it's obviously not. It's quite good, in fact. I just have an extremely low tolerance for religion in my media.

    (I hate being the Debbie Downer. I'm sorry!)

    • MichelleZB says:

      Yes, well, this isn't an atheist book in the sense that there's just no religion in it. In some ways, it's sort of hyper-religious and all about theology, etc.

      • Kaci says:

        I definitely agree with that. I'm not really an atheist, though. I just tend to prefer, if there's going to be religion in entertainment I consume, that it be slightly more subtle. Which it was, in earlier parts of the book.

    • monkeybutter says:

      I don't like being preached to in books — whether it's religion or atheism or any sort of philosophy — because I just end up arguing (in my head, occasionally aloud) with whatever the author is saying, which can be a frustrating experience. It's why I'll never read Dawkins. However, I like religion here because Pullman is writing his own world's mythology, and it's interesting to see how religious texts and creation stories have changed to accommodate the existence of daemons and Dust. People try to explain the world in different ways, and I find it interesting to see the religious approach that people in Lyra's world have taken. At the same time, I can see why you would be annoyed by the lengthy religious exposition in this chapter. People's tolerances differ, but too much information all at once can be irritating and take you out of the story.

      • I was just going to post something like this. Astral-plane high-five!

        To me, what Pullman is doing is what all good SFF (and literature in general) does: hold up a mirror to our present reality to make us think about it. This book, and this chapter particularly, struck me as a thought experiment. What if there were a world where the Reformation never happened, John Calvin became Pope, people's souls were externalized as symbolic animal forms, etc. etc. — what results follow from those premises? And then let the reader take that where s/he may, as a kick-ass adventure story, a meditation on free will, both, or neither.

        Pullman doesn't step outside as a direct narrator (as he did with the "Lyra was not an imaginative child" thing a few chapters back), so I didn't feel like he was telling me what to think. Of course, my own biases play into it: I'm an atheist and not a fan of organized religion; I don't have a dog in that whole fight, and it is only a thought experiment to me. YMMV!

        • monkeybutter says:

          <img src=""&gt;

          Well put! It's similar to what Jenny_M said above about not getting that Aslan was Lion Jesus when she wsa a kid — depending on your background and how you approach the book, you can take away different messages than other readers might.

          I'm also an atheist and not a fan of organized religion, but I've always been curious about other people's beliefs, so working out the implications of the altered Christianity that Pullman has created is fun to me!

        • Brieana says:

          I agree with the both of you and I'm also an atheist who isn't a fan of organized religion. For me, I had been taught about Christianity all my life but it was very one sided. Here it was like "oh, nerdgasm!" because this was a different point of view that I had never previously read about.
          The bit about Dust and original sin is what made this trilogy for me.

      • hassibah says:

        It's interesting as far as alternate histories go (I don't find it that incredibly fascinating since ya know big religious based states and empires already exist) but I definitely feel some preaching to the choir. And I agree it's kind of a cornerstone of sci-fi which is why I don't like a lot of sci-fi. In theory, I love a good political allegory. In practice, most of the people writing the books either don't have the skills to pull it off or are not people whose views I ever want to know about.

        I think it just doesn't work for me because the point of reference is so obvious. I looked at this book and instantly was like "oh this is about the church's child molestation scandals" if JK Rowling in HP had been directly referencing I dunno, specific welfare reforms that were being implemented in Britain in 2002 instead of broader class issues I'd prolly feel the same way about those books too.

        I wouldn't put Pullman anywhere near the same category as Dawkins but some parts here are just way too close to the things I dislike about CS Lewis. That said, the preaching doesn't really take up a lot of pages so regardless TGC is still my favourite.

  15. blis says:

    this is it. don't get scared now!

  16. markymark says:

    SPOILER ALERT, SPOILER ALERT…. aw, just kidding.

    The next chapter is……….. must – resist – must-

    Gifts are nice.

  17. Jenny_M says:

    I first read these books when I was in my junior year of college. I had been Catholic, but gone to an evangelical K-12 school, and considered myself "saved." When I was in my junior year of high school, I figured out that I didn't actually like Christianity all that much, but still considered myself religious. By the time I graduated, I still went to mass but hated my fundie school a whole lot. When I got to college, I found myself moving more towards agnosticism. But by the time I read this book, I was toeing the line between agnosticism and atheism, which made reading it just…mind-blowing. I didn't know about any of the prominent atheist authors, so Pullman was my first experience with someone who was actively confronting every ideal that I'd grown up believing. I think that's part of the reason why these books are so, so close to my heart. I teeter currently on the edge between atheist and anti-theist, and rereading the books is once again helping me sort out my feelings and giving me a bit of an anchor. All that to say: I like you, Pullman. You're a peach.

  18. Wang Fire says:

    It's been a while since I read the series so it's been fun to rediscover this book while taking the time to digest each chapter. I remembered a lot of scenes but had forgotten how all the pieces fit together. So it was very exciting when Lyra asked point blank for an explanation on dust. And Lord Asriel's declaration that he plans to kill Death… It should come off as the ravings of a madman but the scary part is how sure of himself he is. (And the plan is near completion?)

    I want to talk about the depiction of religion in this chapter. I belive that religion at its most sincere is a good thing. It's all about teaching good morals, why wouldn't it be? The problem is humanity. Ignorant people proclaim that Jesus agrees with their bigotry and, historically, the church with political power has always been a very bad thing. Now, I don't think Pullman is all that interested in the distinction between Church and theology but the anti-religious senitment in this book is aimed solely at the Church.

    The world he creates is like ours but different and, while all the discussions on dust and parallel worlds in this chapter help our understanding, the actual reason for this was given all the way back in chapter two. The splitting point is one John Calvin in Geneva in the 16th Century. In our world, he brought about a rival to Catholic Church. In this world, he made that Church stronger. And it is Calvin's all-powerful Church that Mrs Coulter takes advantage of to gain power and further her own agenda. The Church has poor approach to scientific advancements. Mrs Coulter still has to hide the realities of intercission far away from prying eyes in order to pretend that it isn't entirely evil.

    • hpfish13 says:

      "The problem is humanity. Ignorant people proclaim that Jesus agrees with their bigotry and, historically, the church with political power has always been a very bad thing."

      A Christian humorist/blogger I love named Jon Acuff wrote something similar on his site within a post called "Being Slightly less nice than Mormon's"

      He postulates that people sometimes use Christian to reinforce their jerkiness

      "And here’s why. Sometimes when jerks become Christians it’s like a bully learning karate. Instead of them allowing it to transform their heart and attitude, they now have a new reason to be right all the time. Their formerly judgmental personality is now backed up by a new found spirituality. What was once just “forcing everyone to agree with your opinion” is now “forcing everyone to agree with your opinion in the name of God.” It’s altogether a weird situation."

    • redheadedgirl says:

      Isn't one of the main tenants of Calvinism utter pre-destination? You think you're making choices, but really you're not, and the list of who's getting into heaven and who's not has already been set in stone, and nothing you do, ever, can change it (but you better not dance or smile or have any fun ever anyway because…. I'm not sure why?)

      Of course, as a Lutheran, I'm curious what happened with Martin Luther in this reality. Did no one take the 95 Theses as a rallying cry?

      • I bet the Magisterium disappeared Luther before he ever became a factor.

        Yes, Calvinism is known for its doctrine of predestination, but also for that of total depravity: Because of original sin, every human is fallen, subject to sin and unable to follow God's precepts, but only his/her own natural impulses (which are bad mmkay). Basically, all good comes from God, not from humanity. Which doesn't sound like a very nice way to view humanity, I have to say.

        I like what Wiki says: This idea can be illustrated by a glass of wine with a few drops of deadly poison in it: Although not all the liquid is poison, all the liquid is poisoned. In the same way, while not all of human nature is depraved, all human nature is totally affected by depravity.

        • redheadedgirl says:

          Ugh, that's depressing.

          Isn't there something about Calvin becoming Pope and then dissolving the Papacy after his death in Lyra's universe? That would affect the Magisterium's view of human nature significantly- a weird hybrid of Catholic and Calvinst thought into a GIANT MESS OF DYSFUNCTION.

  19. RoseFyre says:

    So, so beyond not prepared.

    And it's odd when you know what's coming and can see the foreshadowing from the very beginning of the book as to what's coming next…and then we can't talk about it!

    Mark, if you end after the next chapter and make us all wait until Monday…I don't know how we will deal!

  20. Ryan Lohner says:

    Hell, even the title of the next chapter should give you a hint of how unprepared you are. I'm fully expecting another Man with Two Faces here, where the last chapter is entirely the chapter itself interrupted with random symbols. That's how much my mind was blown, at least.

    My favorite part of this is how it changes our perceptions of Mrs. Coulter. With a motivation assigned to her experiments, she's suddenly not a chaotic force of evil but someone who's willing to do some evil for what they see as the greater good. Kind of a precursor for the Operative from Serenity, really.

    • cait0716 says:

      I was thinking of the Operative, too!

      • hummingbrdheart says:

        That is SUCH a good reference that has never, ever occurred to me. Ever. Holy shit that makes so much sense.

        She even (when she's explaining it to Lyra) alludes to it being too late for her/other adults, just like how the Operative said that he would never get to be in the good world he was helping make because of the things he was doing to make it. Holy shit.

        <img src=""&gt;

        [Image description: An animated gif from the TV show Bones. Angela makes motions beside her head to indicate that her mind has been blown.]

  21. pica_scribit says:

    Still not prepared, Mark. Can't wait for your review of the final chapter…and your predictions for the next book.

  22. MRB says:

    So. Everybody. How many times during the reading of this review did you shake your head softly and go 'oh, Mark' and/or any variation of 'not prepared, you are'?

  23. MichelleZB says:

    I feel like you shouldn't even read these comments because they are brimming over with Dust, which is basically, in our world, the physical evidence of spoilers. Nothing spoilery exactly, but it's all just Dusty. Just read, read, read, and ignore us 'till the end of the book.

    Also, a completely non-spoilery video about Dust:

  24. monkeybutter says:

    He was, and Mary was, too (the Immaculate Conception). So I guess neither of them would have had a settled daemon.

    • FlameRaven says:

      Was Mary born without sin? Because I was always under the impression that Mary was just a normal person, but the miraculous thing was that she got pregnant without sex and so that made Jesus more perfect…. or something. The more I think about this the more unsure I am, but I was raised Lutheran and we never really bothered about Mary, although I know she's a saint (?) in the Catholic tradition. I don't really understand saints, either.

      • Jenny_M says:

        I believe in the Catholic tradition she's born without sin, but in the protestant tradition she's not. But it's been a while since I've been in any sort of theology class.

        • hpfish13 says:

          This is correct. I don't know if this is official Catholic belief, but I think some Catholics believe that she remained a virgin even giving birth to Jesus and his entirely mortal brothers. But no, Protestants believe that Mary was an ordinary person chosen by God to be the mother of Christ.

          • FlameRaven says:

            Okay. Good to know I've got the beliefs right. It's been a long time since I went over most of this stuff, and a lot of it we didn't really cover anyway.

            • hpfish13 says:

              Yeah, I essentially majored in church history in college, so I'm glad to help out! It's good to know my degree is useful for something!

              • FlameRaven says:

                Indeed! Most of my knowledge of church history actually comes through art history, which can be useful and interesting, but not really complete.

          • Tauriel_ says:

            Actually, according to Catholic teachings, Mary only gave birth to Jesus. When the Bible refers to "Jesus' brothers", it means his cousins (as apparently the original word was used for both).

            And the Immaculate Conception has nothing to do with Jesus – it means that from the moment of her conception by her parents, Mary was protected from the original sin. People tend to get that mixed up with Jesus' conception by the Holy Spirit. 🙂

            • hpfish13 says:

              Thanks for letting me know! This makes much more sense. 🙂

            • Bonnie says:

              Really? Weird I was raised Roman Catholic and was always under the impression that Mary and Joseph got busy after JC and thats where his brothers came from. I always thought it would have been unfair if Mary had to give birth with out even a taste of the fun part.

      • monkeybutter says:

        Haha, I should probably have remembered the OP's comment about different denominations and specified that in the Roman Catholic Church, as the Immaculate Conception isn't doctrinal for other Christians. And since John Calvin was Pope, Roman Catholic doctrine might not be as relevant here.

        • EmmylovesWho says:

          And since John Calvin was Pope, Roman Catholic doctrine might not be as relevant here

          ohh this is a good cathch.

      • EmmylovesWho says:

        she was born without sin,according to Catholicism at least.

  25. Kelly says:

    Oh Mark! This is one of those chapters (like Snape's final reveal in Deathly Hallows) that I couldn't wait for you to get to so I could see your mind blown. I'm so glad you're loving this.

    Had to giggle that you were so surprised at the different Bible. Come on Mark, like someone said earlier, this is a different world and Pullman isn't a wasteful writer.

    Have to add my plea for predictions when you finish this!

  26. monkeybutter says:

    Yeah, but that's what we do here!

    I suppose they would be in the history of the Christian world, but that's assuming that the Church's explanation of Dust is true, and they only came up with it recently. It'd be interesting if what their world's New Testament says about Jesus and Mary's daemons is consistent with Dust being a marker of original sin.

  27. shortstack930 says:

    Oh man I couldn't help myself and I finished the book last night. You are definitely not prepared, because I certainly wasn't!!

  28. BradSmith5 says:

    I'm kind of sick of the "Dumbledore explains everything" device, but this is the most imaginative one I've read in a while! And this whole story is starting to remind me of RPGs like "Final Fantasy X" and "Tales of Symphonia." Both games use religion-backed organizations as antagonists and parallel worlds as settings, so I'm quite interested to see how far "His Dark Materials" will take things.

    And come on, Mark! You SKIPPED the Bible passages!? Oh, I get it. You already have all of Genesis memorized, I understand. 😉

    • xpanasonicyouthx says:

      Hahaha, I do have a lot of the Bible internalized in my head. TWO YEARS OF SCHOOLING TO BECOME CATHOLIC WILL DO THAT.

    • lossthief says:

      The biggest difference between HDM and FFX though, is that HDM has more than one character that I actually like. And no Seymour. That's always a plus.

      • BradSmith5 says:

        Now, Lossthief, I found Seymour's unholy quest to discover the most embarrassing hairdo quite thrilling.

        Ha,ha,ha, no, you're right. Or should I say: "HA! HA! HA! HA! AH-HA! HA! HA!"

        Egh, no wonder that was the last Final Fantasy I played. 🙁

        • lossthief says:

          From the reviews I've seen, you aren't missing much. FFX wasn't quite enough for me to drop the franchise, but "Final Fantasy X-2" was the last straw.

  29. Lily says:

    Did I comment under cait0716????? Sorry >< I meant to post a new comment. I'm not replying to anyone @-@ oops

  30. Jenny_M says:

    +1. Cair Paravel is the city in the lights, I am pretty sure.

  31. Hanah_banana says:

    My little atheist theologian's heart is exploding with joy reading this. <3 Oh Mark, thank you for having all the same thinky thoughts I do. THE VALIDATION I FEEL FOR MY DEGREE RIGHT NOW, LOL THAT IT IS COMING FROM A WEBSITE ABOUT A KID'S BOOK IN YOUR FACE SOCIETY THE INTERNET GIVES ME ALL I NEED.

    I have to go have a very late lunch now but I will totally be back later with all my ~thoughts on the theologies of grace and sin and free will and OH GOD IT'S LIKE THIS WAS MADE FOR ME I'M SO HAPPY.

    • Jenny_M says:

      Days like this make me want to go back to school and become a Professional Atheist.

      • xpanasonicyouthx says:

        MY GOD ME TOO.

        • Jenny_M says:

          Can we start an online university ala University of Phoenix only call it University of Order of the Phoenix?

      • Hanah_banana says:

        That is basically what I am turning my degree into, it's fabulous. I had a meeting yesterday with my very Catholic lecturer and we started planning my MPhil which is basically going to be on atheism and how it is the Most Awesome. Well, that is what it is going to become – right now my lecturer thinks it's going to be an analysis of various theologies on salvation but I know what the conclusion will be. 😉

        • That's awesomesauce! Good luck!

        • Jenny_M says:

          I have the option of doing a Masters of Arts & Science (generic) where I work (at a University) and I'm wondering if there's any way I could turn it into a theological studies + why being an atheist is cool and not evil and you shouldn't fear us thing.

          • Hanah_banana says:

            There has totally got to be a way, I have no idea what that kind of MA is belonging to the English system of individual subjects, but with Arts in there it has to be possible to give it an epic theological bent and prove how great atheism can be and that we're not all crazy evil people. (In other words that Richard Dawkins IS AN ANOMALY CAN PEOPLE PLEASE STOP SAYING 'oh like Richard Dawkins?' WHEN I SAY I'M AN ATHEIST??) I think that would be a fabulous study and I would read it!

            • Brieana says:

              A bit off topic, but I think every group out there has their "Richard Dawkins" so to speak. Vegans, Atheists, Christians, feminists, you name it all have the kind of pissed off very vocal activist or organization which gives their group "a bad name".
              Of course my belief when it comes to fixing that situation is to add more so there's not just one face to your group or belief system or whatever. I don't actually blame the pissed off activist for giving me "a bad name" though. People should understand that one person or organization can't speak for everyone with the same beliefs and do they ever claim to anyway?
              Anyway, I would also totally read that.

  32. Jenny_M says:

    Honestly, it seems like the church in Lyra's world is more like the Catholic church of the pre-Luther vintage. Like, there was never a 95 Theses. And that church, if my history isn't failing me, didn't want people to have choices about anything. They wanted priests interpreting scripture, not the common people. They wanted them to pay (literally) to have their sins absolved through the selling of indulgences, and the Pope pretty much ruled Europe. Nowadays ,the church doesn't hold the political sway that it once did, but it seems that in Lyra's world, the church never lost its grip on the governments that it once controlled.

    • Lily says:

      But you had to have choices, it was part of being human. Society and the Church was strict, but free will has to factor in (and I' basing that off the theology and philosophy of the Catholic Medieval philosophers). And the selling of indulgences was an abuse that some priests/bishops did, not "the Church" or the Magisterium, and even at the time that was considered a sin (Simony). And "common people" often couldn't read inorder to interpret scripture, but many Saints of the day were common (if not dirt poor) and were highly respected by their communities in life and sainted by the Church after death. That's another thing that bugs me. This book furthers the myth that the pre-Luther Church was pure evil. It wasn't! There were definitely issues under some Popes, but nothing like people say there were. There were SO MANY philosophers and scientist who were Catholic and who were respected by the Church at the time.

      • Jenny_M says:

        I don't think we're going to come to any agreement on this. I feel that the Catholic church in medieval times was more bad than good – not necessarily individual Catholics, but the body of power as a whole. However, I'm also a former Catholic who has a lot of problems with the modern church as well (again, not necessarily with individual parishioners, but with the position of the Church on many issues), so I will just leave this as it is!

  33. Lily says:

    >< Disregard this!! I meant to post a new comment, not a reply. @_@ Is there anyway to delete the above post and copy/paste it into a new comment?

  34. leighzzz31 says:

    I was eleven when I first read the books. I had no idea what atheism was. And I'd never bothered to doubt what I'd been taught about Christianity and God. And then I read this book and I was totally and completely terrified that I was doing something wrong, especially since the atheist aspects of it completely resonated with me. This chapter and many more from the other books opened a whole new world to me. It had never entered my mind that people could just NOT believe in god. And when that idea hit me, I realised I was one of those people too. My leap was from christian (certainly not devout but very aware of the fact) to atheist pretty quickly and I was so amazed at how easy it was. It took a lot more than this book to make that leap (it's possible the other two were a lot more significant factors as I was a little older) but I cite this book as what made me realise I didn't actually believe anything I'd been taught. So that's why they're so precious to me, these books. They helped me realise pretty early on who I was (even if that's a bit dramatic) – they helped me realise how I saw the world. And for that I'll aways be grateful to Phillip Pullman.

    PS.SERIOUSLY IS THAT WHAT THIS IS ALL ABOUT oh my god my little atheist heart is going to explode.

    I laughed so hard at this, Mark. This was my reaction, at eleven years old, though I had no idea back then that my little heart was atheist.

    • So, these books helped your daemon's form settle, in a way. (Sorry if that's flippant! I mean it sincerely and with great respect. Yay for free-thinking in any walk of life.)

  35. My little atheist, book-loving, Mark-fan heart is all happy at this review. Why yes, this WAS written just for you. 🙂

  36. monkeybutter says:

    And having a theological discussion with another atheist, LOL. I deleted part of my reply that said "assuming the Judeo-Christian god exists, and is the only god." So I agree with everything you say, and I'm sure the Chruch would find a way to justify their settled daemons. Perhaps a belief that it settled at their baptisms? Pullman's done a great job.

    • Jenny_M says:

      Yay, we should be atheist superfriends! And yeah, Pullman has. And, you know, it's funny – I don't think I would have gotten the overt atheist tones of the book if I'd read it when I was a little kid, much like I didn't get that Aslan was OMG!JESUS when I was little. I would have just thought it was a badass book!

    • FlameRaven says:

      Hm, the baptism thing could work. I recall that at that time, it was much more common to be baptised as an adult rather than the baptism as a baby/toddler that I'm familiar with.

  37. hpfish13 says:




    This was precisely my reaction to the end of this book: shock followed by disbelief, followed by utter confusion. I don't know how you are managing not to go on!

  38. knut_knut says:

    So when I originally commented I could not for the life of me remember this question that I had while I was reading this chapter last night, but I finally remembered! It's more of a series of questions…

    So Lord Asriel said that cutting a daemon away from a person makes them a zombie and they physically look like corpses, but the nurses at Bolvanger were cut, right? But they weren't corpses or anything (I guess their nature was kind of zombie-like). So are there different outcomes depending on how someone is cut? Or does it depend on when they're cut? Once your daemon has settled is the procedure somewhat safe (the nurses didn't react to their operation the same way poor little Billy did)? Does Dust still settle on an adult who has been cut?


    • Brieana says:

      (the nurses didn't react to their operation the same way poor little Billy did)
      Small correction: it was Billy in the movie but Tony in the book who had their daemons cut away.

      And, yeah, I do think that they way that they got cut matters. Before it couldn't have been done without the kid dying right away. They got better at it.

  39. FlameRaven says:

    hummingbrdheart said most of what I would say to this, but a few more points:

    1) I take the Church to represent organized religion in general. Yes, it has a very Catholic feel, probably because the Catholic Church was the only church for a good chunk of history, and it did have a history of abuse of power. This is outside information, but apparently in this world the Protestant Reformation just did not happen, and so you don't have the massive branching out that the various versions of Christianity became in our world. So you shouldn't see this as "all Catholics are evil." It's really talking more about the dangers of any large organization. Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely, and in this world, no one but the Church has power. It's not surprising they're doing some heinous things.

    2) Pullman explicitly connects intercision to castration. You could also make the connection to the sexual abuse of children by priests. The efforts our world's Catholic church goes to to keep covering that up is certainly worthy of some criticism.

    The church has historically not reacted well to ideas that humans/Earth are not the most important thing in the universe. It took a lot of fighting to get them to accept things like a heliocentric solar system, and a lot of early scientists and philosophers were imprisoned/excommunicated/put on trial by the church for finding things out that the church didn't agree with. Galileo and Copernicus, for a start.

    3) I'm not actually sure that membership is optional in the Magisterium. It sounds like in this world, at least in Europe, the Church has absolute power. If you're human, you are under their rule, and if you're not human (witches, bears) you don't really count anyway.

    4) I suspect Pullman is going with irony here: the Church is essentially saving people's souls by cutting them away. I'm pretty sure there is some commentary as well in a world where having a "demon" makes you human, but I'm still working that out.

    5) I don't think Pullman is saying children aren't sinful. As you said, up until 7 children aren't responsible for sins. I think Pullman is making more of a connection between puberty and sexual (ie, adult) desires, and that being sinful. I think he also makes it clear that this is not a perfect metaphor: the Church here thinks that Dust=sin because adults have more of it, but I think there's a good hint that the Church is oversimplifying things and Dust is much more complex than that.

    • Jenny_M says:

      You have said all the things I wanted to say in ways that I could never say it. Four cookies for you, you smart, smart person!

      • FlameRaven says:

        Aw, thanks! Like I said in a post up above, I have read and reread these books so many times and chewed and chewed at their ideas, trying to figure them all out. It's been an interesting process, especially since I started out a very devout Lutheran and now am leaning a lot more the other way, although I still haven't decided where I'm at between deism (god exists but doesn't care/interfere) and straight-up atheism.

    • leighzzz31 says:

      Very well put! All the applause and upvotes for you!

    • notemily says:

      Love this comment.

  40. sarasingsout says:

    I have been waiting SO LONG for you to get to this bit, because I basically every time I've started to write a comment I've realised that it's full of spoilers about Dust and original sin and FANTASY THAT LOOKS CRITICALLY AT CHRISTIANITY ZOMG FANGASM.

  41. hummingbrdheart says:

    Flawless victory.

  42. sabra_n says:

    I thought it was more that being truly alive means having the ability to choose sin, should one so desire. Or to choose otherwise. The thing is, you don't get the alive-ness without the choice, and you don't have the choice without the presence/possibility o sin.

  43. I'm so relieved to get to this chapter.

    All along, I've been biting my tongue every time Mark or someone in the comments talks about what a horrible, horrible parent/person Coulter is and how heroic and awesome Asriel must be. I mean, I have no quarrel with the low regard in which we hold Lyra's mother, but Asriel wasn't exactly sympathetic when we first met him, right? But he's standing up to the Magisterium, so that makes it All OK. It just started to smack of a double standard — men are forgiven assholery in the name of ambition, and women who aren't good parents are TERRIBLE UNNATURAL UN-WOMEN.

    (Again, not saying that Coulter's villainous portrayal is just sexism speaking. Coulter is evil. Coulter does evil. This is demonstrable. But the adulation of Asriel next to the demonization, however deserved, of Coulter sure reminds me that even if she'd never had a hand in Bolvanger but had, at worst, only ever rejected motherhood in favor of ambition, that would have been enough in some circles to condemn her as evil. Whereas Asriel's rejection of fatherhood in favor of ambition? Heroic! Strong! Brave! See?)

    But, see, I've read and re-read these books countless times. I forget the way Pullman builds up The Legend Of Asriel through the course this book, the way he does it deliberately to yank the rug out from under you. Of course people who are reading this book for the first time will get the impression that Coulter is the villain (we have seen how pure evil she is, right?) and how Asriel is the hero (under house arrest and sentenced to death for blasphemy — he's totes Gallileo!)

    Even remembering that, it's a relief to get here and see Asriel revealed as A) an asshole and B) also quite possibly wrong about Dust, and C) still not entirely forthright about what he's up to.

    Now I feel like we're finally all on the same page.

    • Huh. That was meant to be a B followed by a right-parentheses. I keep forgetting some online media turn that into a sunglasses-wearing smiley.

      • I liked it. And I like your comment! Good read on the sexism angle, which I saw as supported by the way the Bolvangar scientists remarked on Mrs. Coulter's involvement with the project. Oh, she's ghoulish and awful and everything unladylike ever, whereas they, of course, are Scientific Men of Science and rational and good. Puh-leeze.

  44. hallowsnothorcruxes says:

    My favourite chapter so far.

    <img src=" "/>

    I think a distinction has to be made here. The Oblation Board and Lord Asriel believe that Dust is the physical manifestation of original sin but what if they are wrong? What if Dust is something else? My brain is rife with possibilities.

    I have the most horrible suspicion that this book is not going to end well. Just like Mark said about the rise and fall structure of this book. Right now there is a momentary dull but the ending might bring even more hardships for Lyra.

  45. hummingbrdheart says:

    Being sinless does, however, make a person somehow less human, no? For all have sinned and all that.

    The point (as sabra_n said) is that without having the chance to choose, being sinless is meaningless. Jesus was sinless but tempted, and the temptation is what matters. Had he not struggled, his sinlessness wouldn't have mattered. The point is to experience temptation and to choose how to react. In this universe — again, not necessarily in the real world — the all-powerful never-really-reformed Church wants to take away the option to choose. And that is horrifying and does in fact reduce people to automatons. Sin and pain and stupidity are part of being human, and this fictional Church wants to eradicate those parts and only keep the parts they like. That's why they're villains; Pullman, as someone who doesn't necessarily subscribe to the idea of sin, is pointing out that some people choose to "protect" "innocents" rather than allowing them to, y'know, live.

    • catryona says:

      Exactly. There's no virtue in refraining from sin if you're doing it because it's impossible for you to sin. Just like there's no virtue in, say, a hungry cow not attacking and eating a nearby human.

      It's interesting that in Pullman's world it's the church that believes that removing an essential part of a person will make them "better people", since the only real-life parallel to an intercision I can think of would be a lobotomy.

  46. Ash says:

    *Notices rug under feet* Damn it Pullman what are you setting up here.
    I have such a bad feeling right now.

  47. redheadedgirl says:

    I am not an athiest- I was born and raised Lutheran (we were protestants before it was COOL, man. ORIGINAL HIPSTERS YO) but I was also raised by my scientist mother who demonstrated that science and religion don't have to be at odds with each other. And I was always wary of ultra-organized religion that tells people not to think for themselves- don't worry, the church will do it for you.

    Luckily, I was also raised in a church that was liberal and let me process everything in my own way. But I saw people who believe everything their church tells them without thinking critically about it, and I saw what various churches do to their parishioners to keep them scared and dependent and, well, I find it scary and sad.

    So I find any examination of organized religion and blind allegance thereto to be fascinating.

    • pica_scribit says:

      Episcopalian here. And my dad was a biology teacher. Liberal, science-loving Christians represent!

      • redheadedgirl says:

        I remember coming home from Sunday school after having learned about the Creation and musing to my mother that a week seemed like a really short time to create the world. (I think I was about 5 or so.) And my mother said that while the Bible said "seven days," it did not specify how long each day was. This made a great deal of sense to my pointed little head.

        I was too young to understand the concept of allegory, so my mom translated into terms I could grasp. Seriously, my mom is awesome (but you must never tell).

      • hassibah says:

        Yeah my bro is a scientist and the most religious person in the fam by far. I'm kind of lucky AFAIK I don't live in an area where the kind of churches that think science that religion are at odds aren't influential or really all that popular, so even though I was raised with religion the concept is pretty foreign to me. I really don't think I could handle that.

        • pica_scribit says:

          Yeah…my dad may be an agnostic (or at least non-religion-discussing) biology teacher, but my mother is an Evangelical and a Young Earth Creationist. Sometimes I feel like my life could be a reality TV show.

  48. Very true! Listen to this wise advice, Mark!

    What do you mean by "slatternly," by the way? I haven't seen that word used to describe writing before. 🙂

  49. Good point. This book is coming to us through not only an alternate-universe filter but a time/era (and social class) filter.

  50. xpanasonicyouthx says:

    omg lily thank you for commenting I WILL RESPOND WHEN I GET SOME WORK DONE <3

  51. hpfish13 says:

    I don't really remember the details of the end of TGC, but I remember loving The Subtle Knife way more than TGC, so I cannot wait for those reviews!

  52. Andrew (Chagrin) says:

    Aaaaaaaaand this is where my problems with the trilogy begin.

    Mainly, it started with Lord Asriel. This is one reason I've been meaning to reread the books: my reaction was so strong and so negative to him that it kind of soured me on everything at the end of this book (when up until this point I'd loved it), which in turn made me take months before I finished the trilogy. But your point, Mark, that it does a fine job of subverting tropes is a valid one, and I wonder if I wasn't so thrown just because of my own expectations.

    As for dust and the religious contexts: I'd pretty much figured that all out. The daemons 'settling' obviously had to do with puberty, and my mind thought it an obvious leap. And I guess this is where my other issues started: it felt too obvious to me, and didn't feel like it had much nuance. I mean, okay: I'm an atheist, which is one reason I was excited to read these books. And I'm not even sure how much I can say at this point (I don't think it's a spoiler to say that the church will continue to be an influence over the books, obviously) but, as valid a parallel as Lord Asriel (and, of course, Pullman himself) makes between intercision of castration, it felt too a bit too blatantly one-note evil to me. But I'll get into this more later.

  53. That would be pretty badass, you have to admit. 😀

  54. Bloop says:

    This was not a thought that I had while reading through chapter twenty-one the first time, but one that popped into my brain when I was on BART on my way to work.

    Very OT, but I SWEAR I saw you on my way to school. But then I convinced myself that there was no way you'd be on a BART in Millbrae/San Bruno. WERE YOU?

  55. Inzhuna says:

    All the kudos you. Agreed so much.

  56. Elexus Calcearius says:

    When I was little and reading this, I was really confused by this because even though I was raised Protestant, I didn't really have any notion of Original Sin. Sure, I knew about genesis, and that eating the apple got Adam and Even kicked out of the garden. But I didn't see what this had to do with the human race. Why should we all be held accountable for something someone else did?

    I certainly don't want to start a religious war here; I respect Christians, and have studied the faith, and think many of the things it advocates. But I just can't understand the concept of Original Sin, it seems completely un-fair to me. And while I don't necessarily agree with everything Pullman will say about religion in this book, I do appreciate him bringing this concept up for discussion. I only wish I'd been better able to understand, and evaluate, the points he makes (will make) on it when I first read the novels.

    • cait0716 says:

      I am right there with you. In high school I wrote an essay about how Cain was just being punished because God was a big jerk and the whole thing was a huge misunderstanding. Yes, he murdered his brother, but he wouldn't have done that if God hadn't rejected his sacrifice for no good reason. I used this premise to argue that Grendel (of Beowulf) was just a poor misunderstood creature, not inherently evil. My teacher gave me an F and told me I had completely missed the point. There's a lot of stuff in the bible that I just don't get.

      • WHAT. You used one book to make a parallel argument in another book, in a very thoughtful and critical way, and you got an F for it? I think your teacher missed the point, frankly. Ugh, schools sometimes.

      • Ellalalalala says:

        Have you read Jenny Diski's novels Only Human: A Divine Comedy and After These Things? They're a retelling of Genesis, and – well, I think they're gorgeously written and fascinating and everyone should read them, but I dare say your teacher would have given her an F as well.

        • cait0716 says:

          No. I finally got around to reading Genesis and Exodus in their entirety last year and am so far not a big fan of this God character. I fully intend to make it all the way through the bible eventually (I'm told He comes around in the New Testament), if only so I can discuss it all a bit more knowledgeably. I'll definitely keep those books in mind for a fresh perspective on Abraham and Isaac.

          • MichelleZB says:

            Yeah, God's a huge asshole in the Bible. He's like, "Kill all the children! I am God BWAHAHAHAHA!" Not cool, God.

      • sabra_n says:

        Ha. When I was a little kid I thought about Adam and Even and Samson and Delilah (two of the very few Biblical stories I was familiar with) and was all, "Why do women always get blamed for the downfall of men?" I never wrote that in a paper because I never had occasion to, but…yeah, I was all grumpy proto-feminist about it at the time. 🙂

    • hassibah says:

      I haven't really been religious in a damn long time but for me I always understood the concept is basically nobody's perfect other than god/Jesus.
      I always like this concept (or at least my own personal take on it) really because it puts all people at the same level: we're all sinners, and everybody should STFU about it.

      • Elexus Calcearius says:

        No, I get that, I really do. However, at least as I understood it, that’s not how Original Sin is perceived. (Mostly. I know that this differs from person and denomination.)

        For example, let’s look at the Problem of Evil and Suffering. A lot of people have tried to explain how if you have an all-powerful, all-loving and all-knowing God, he still allows pain and misery. On the whole, its excepted to be because of Free Will, which I completely support. It would be wrong for God to intervene in suffering caused by people’s choices, like rape or murder.

        What it doesn’t explain is natural evil (suffering caused by nature, such as famine and plague), which isn’t caused by people, and can affect anyone from the kindest person on Earth, to a newborn innocent baby. One of the theodicy to explain it is St. Augustine’s theodicy, which says that all natural evil is because of eating the apple, and thus all human-kind deserves to be punished. Even if that human is a little baby, born just a day ago, and is too young to have done anything to deserve punishment. Also, although we’re all sinners, I don’t like how natural evil is indiscriminate, so it obviously doesn’t correlate to how good a person is. That’s the part of Original Sin I dislike.

        (On a side-note, I much prefer the Irenean Theodicy, which explains that Evil and Suffering could be possible because its needed to develop into the ‘perfect’ human, and that all suffering will be evened out in the afterlife.)

  57. @ladylately says:

    I support children getting this series, Narnia, the A Wrinkle in time series, many books on mythology, and ALL THE FAIRYTALES at ten years old.


    • pica_scribit says:

      They should get Tamora Pierce's fantasy books, too, so they can be scrappy, feisty feminists.

      Also, if you missed out on Edward Eager's Tales of magic series, you do not know what a deprived existence you are living. Same era as the Narnia books, but about American children, and without the religious overtones. Seriously good stuff.

      And of course there's a million other fantasy series that could be added to this list. Harry Potter. Unfortunate Events. The Dark is Rising….

      • notemily says:

        Edward Eager was great! I'll always remember those, especially Half Magic because it was so frustrating to work out how to phrase things to get what you want.

        • pica_scribit says:

          My favourites were Magic or Not and The Well-Wishers, because there was no actually magic going on; it was just the power of people in a community doing nice things for one another, but it all *seemed* like magic.

  58. Mauve_Avenger says:

    Apropos of a couple of chapters ago: I just got my copies of Lyra's Oxford and Once Upon a Time in the North today, and I noticed something. In Lyra's Oxford there's a pull-out type map of Oxford, and on the back there are in-world advertisements for things like maps, travel gear, and books (some from names we'd recognize), including:

    A Prisoner of the Bears
    by Jotham D. Santelia,
    Phil.D., F.R.A.S., F.B.A

    And then immediately below that:

    Fraud: an Exposure of a Scientific Imposture
    by Professor P. Trelawney,
    Ph.D., F.R.A.S., F.B.A

  59. EmmylovesWho says:

    It seemed way too obvious for me, and if Pullman was going to try to make a point about the theological concept, surely he didn’t have to spell it out for us?

    Not everyone will know Genesis off by heart though. Or at all, even. I reckon it was necessary – also he incorporated the bit about demons, which is cool.


  60. SecretGirl127 says:

    I just caught up to you, so I fnally get to read the comments.
    1. I had to settle myself down when I read haughty Asriel say Mrs. Coulter sought power through the tradiional way, marriage, but she was smart and moved on to religiion. Sad but true. It was not that long ago that a smart woman had no outlet except to manipulate a husband or the church. It kills me that women now have opportunity but seem to keep relying on me. Probably why I hate all those damned "Housewives of…" shows.
    2. I too half read the Genesis part until my eyes caught on the word daemon and I had to reread. And reread. And wow. That was amazing how Pullman brought the Bible into this world so matter-of-factly. Probably the only time I have not minded the Bible in my fiction.

    • Elexus Calcearius says:

      I know what you mean. Its very interesting to see how he tweaks something familiar and re-contextualizes it all.

  61. frogANDsquid says:

    June 23rd 2011 3:58pm:

    I open my copy of The Golden Compass to where i left off yesterday and something falls out of thr book that was not there before. I pick up the card and see that there is a huge picture of Jesus Christ on it…

  62. Danielle says:

    "So if Lord Asriel didn’t need the alethiometer to complete his task, why did Serafina tell her that she had something to give him?"

    …Oh my god I JUST GOT THAT. I am SO DUMB.

  63. Billie says:

    Man, imagine what an asshole Lyra would be if she'd grown up as her parents child. SHE SURE DODGED A BULLET THERE.

    Every time I read a new review I get all excited and teary eyed because you are seeing into my soul and saying everything I would like to say but am not eloquent enough to. If I tried to say anything about the thoughts this chapter brings out in me I might go "ha ha ha, oh, oh, this thing, it's like…and then…and Dust, you know?" and my very best friends would understand perfectly but the whole rest of the world would go "….." so now I can just link people to this and nod wisely while they read your eloquence and say "yeah, that's exactly it huh…" So, you know, thank you.

    • RoseFyre says:

      "Man, imagine what an asshole Lyra would be if she'd grown up as her parents child. SHE SURE DODGED A BULLET THERE. "

      Yeah, really. I mean, you can totally see that Lyra got traits from both of her parents, but if she'd been raised by either or both of them…

      *shudder* Horrible, horrible thought.

      • sabra_n says:

        Asriel seems to be so constantly on the move I have a hard time imagining him raising Lyra at all, but we did get a small glimpse of what Mrs. Coulter might have been like as a mother, and it is not pretty.

        She would give Lyra more material comfort than she had at Jordan, probably, and more systematic formal education, as well as more mentoring in "feminine" things – all the stuff about makeup and clothing and gossip that so fascinated Lyra when she first moved to London. But Mrs. Coulter is also a control freak abuser – she would regiment every minute of Lyra's life, give her no measure of privacy or agency.

        The Lyra who grew up in Jordan is fiercely, wonderfully herself at all times, but I can imagine a Coulter-raised Lyra being a lot more compliant, always trying to earn her mother's approval and avoid her wrath by being the perfect child. Depending on Mrs. Coulter's ultimate attitude, this Lyra could either end up meek and "intercised" by psychology or a mini-Coulter herself, at least until she got old enough or exposed to some kind of stimulus that would let her break free of her mother's influence. That would make an amazing AU fanfic in the hands of a really good writer.

        • notemily says:

          And with this world's idea of many universes, the two Lyras could meet! AND THERE WOULD BE AWESOMENESS

          • Elexus Calcearius says:

            Holy crap, that is such an awesome idea for a fan fic. Someone write it.

          • Billie says:

            Hahaha, I bet real-Lyra would find Lyra-Coulter so annoying. Or, she would totally mess with her considering Lyra-Coulter would probably be very used to taking orders/being a proper little pet and real-Lyra is very used to telling lies/manipulating-if-necessary/giving orders like a proper little BAMF. IT WOULD BE CHAOS

  64. MissRandom says:

    I know that this isn’t strictly relevant but…

    A while ago I recommended the Chaos Walking trilogy by Patrick Ness on the ‘Suggestions’ page here. Today, the final book, ‘Monsters of Men’ was awarded the Carnegie Award, for YA fiction.

    I just wanted to say that here because a lot of what Mark has been saying about liking villains that have depth and complexity can be applied to the trilogy. Hell, I spent half of the second and third books trying to figure out who the villains *were*.

    I actually finally figured out today why I like the books so much. None of the characters ever felt anything less than completely real to me.

    So…yeah. Just wanted to say that.

  65. fantasylover120 says:

    Oh Lord Asriel I think we can put you under the bad book father category for sure.
    Am I the only who sort of didn't get the theology stuff the first time around? Maybe it's because I haven't stepped foot in a church in like years. But honestly I didn't get what the big deal was until this most recent reread and that's probably because I know a bit more about theology now due to having a course or two in religions at college. Now I do understand why Christians hated it (but I still think they overreacted and took it too personally).

  66. cait0716 says:

    I agree with you. Fiction exists as a product of and to comment on our world. It's pretty clear that Pullman is drawing parallels between the Catholic Church as it exists in our world and the one in Lyra's world. He makes his views pretty clear. The fact that those views are controversial means that these books are controversial. He is presenting an argument against the church and not everyone has to agree with it or like it.

  67. notemily says:

    I think this is where power and privilege comes in. There is already a wealth of literature out there that portrays religion and specifically Christianity in a positive way, and the Catholic Church is pretty enormous and has had a lot of power at certain points in time. (Not to mention it has ignored some truly evil shit being done by its priests.) So to portray it negatively is challenging that idea, and that power and privilege that the Church has. There are plenty of sources for positive portrayals of the Church. Pullman is in the minority here.

  68. Jaya says:

    Glad you're enjoying it, Mark! This chapter had a LOT of revelations and information…some which become clear sooner rather than later. And some which you'll have to wait for….

  69. xpanasonicyouthx says:

    OK, Lily THANK YOU FOR SHARING. Here are some of my responses to this. First of all, I am an ex-Catholic myself. I think it's important to acknowledge that as we continue.

    1) I don't think it's fair to equate what the Church does with its practitioners. If you think of the inverse, is it fair to blame the Catholic Church for what its members do? So I don't buy that you specifically are being portrayed as a villain. This entirely reads as a critique of institutional power, not individual power. Pullman only talks of the Church as an organization, never as the collective acts of the individuals that are a part of it.

    2) People have already brought it up, and it sort of needs to be repeated, consider how unfortunately ironic it is that you say that, "Child experimentation is up there with rape for me in terms of atrocities."

    Well, the Catholic Church has been allowing and enabling priests to molest and rape children for decades, possibly centuries, and that is absolutely fair game to criticize. So, this is not a rhetorical point in that sense. But even if we keep it at that level, the point I wanted to make about intercision vs circumcision is that this is about the Church controlling bodies. I am of the belief that a person's body is their own property (and no one else's) and that they are the only sovereign ruler over that domain. There are numerous parallels, rhetorical and actual, for the Catholic church's inability to respect body sovereignty: opposition to abortion, sex work, their stance against birth control, their stance on sexuality, their stance on mental illnesses….I could go on, but I wont.

    As far as believing in other universes….it was drilled into my head repeatedly in Catholic school that we were the only universe ever created, there was no life outside of Earth, and that we were unique and special because of it. We were God's children.

    3) Well….we haven't seen much of the Church? We've only seen it's leaders, so this is not a fair assumption. He has made Mrs. Coulter unlikable. He has made no one else unlikable.

    4) I actually don't believe that most forms of Christianity theologically provide free will at all, but that's for another review. I'll talk about it in the future.

    5) Literally one of the most absurd and distasteful things the Church has ever decreed. If there was ever one thing that I could never understand and constantly fought about, it was original sin. It's completely nonsensical. What happens at age seven that makes you different than the year before? What happens in your mind that you suddenly "get" what morality is and what right and wrong is? Nothing does because it's absurd statement.

    I thought Pullman was talking more about when "sin" takes over a body, i.e. after puberty, when a person is not a child anymore. I did not get the sense that he was saying that's when sin first has an affect on a child.

    • catryona says:

      My understanding of original sin was always that it was something you had from the moment you were conceived, not something that comes out of nowhere when you were seven, but then, I'm not Catholic, I'm like … Episco-presby-luther-calian … or something. Actually some people believe that original sin is an actual physical thing, as in something in the DNA that's passed from father to child (but not from mother to child) — which is an interesting belief because it would explain why Jesus was born without original sin.

      Er … I guess that was fairly off-topic. I'm sorry, I just really like weird theology. D':

    • redheadedgirl says:

      A lot of legal systems start the process of holding kids to be culpable for criminal actions at seven. Not in the sense of "off to prison you go, you little delinquint" but before 7, you're looking at a Child in Need of protection (something has clearly gone wrong and the state needs to step in and see what's what) and after 7 to 14 you're looking at the juvenile justice system, and from 14-18 it ends up depending on the crime and any mitigating circumstances. This is not a blanket system, but lots of systems follow the general progression.

      Part of that is that around age 7 (obviously one size doesn't fit all) kids are beginning to develop the neural pathways of cause, effect, and rules, and right and wrong. It doesn't happen overnight (god knows it doesn't even finish up by the end of adolescence) but that's the age it begins.

      • bradycardia says:

        This always intrigues me – the "age of reason". I think it's sometimes 7, sometimes 10, depending on jurisdiction. But then, as you point out, the worse the crime, the more likely it is that there will be arguments for the child to be tried as an adult. Instead of maybe questioning whether that child has less of a sense of right and wrong!

    • bradycardia says:

      Original sin, as I understand it, is the sin "passed down" from the sins of Adam and Eve, the loss of innocence. So you are born with it. We all are, according to the church. And that is why babies need to be baptised, to "wash away" their original sin. Mary (mother of Jesus) was conceived without sin (the Immaculate Conception) – that's what made her special enough to bear God's child. She is the only person since Adam and Eve (besides Jesus) never to have sinned.
      The concept of babies being sinners is a disturbing one, especially when you consider limbo ie the place where babies who die without being baptised "go". They cannot go to heaven because they still have the "stain" of original sin.

      Sorry for all the inverted commas – I figured it was the most straightforward way of explaining things as I understand them while indicating that I don't necessarily agree!

  70. Sara says:

    I'm SO curious about the Church in this world (or Magisterium as it's called more often). It seems WAY NOT our Catholic Church (more like a bureaucracy? is there any mention of a sitting Pope?) and like how Texas seems to be its own country I wonder if there is a significant sort of "moment of divergence" between our history and their history. What happened, or didn't happen, so that the Church became the Magisterium? also HOW IS TEXAS ITS OWN COUNTRY and why are people from what is I guess the United States (?) referred to as 'New Danes'? IDK I JUST WANT A HISTORY BOOK OF THIS WORLD, PLEASE.

  71. hpfish13 says:

    I had no idea that this was a gendered term! I feel like I've learned something today. Thanks!

  72. hpfish13 says:

    I think the Bible portray's God as trolling people (for learning purposes, much in the manner of Uncle Iroh). I love the passage where Jesus is talking to those two guys (followers of his) on the way to Emmaus, explaining life's mysteries to them, and it's not until right as he disappears that he lets them know they've been talking to Jesus.

  73. redheadedgirl says:

    I think God trolls people ALL THE FUCKING TIME. "You think you have shit figured out? I GIVE YOU THE PLATYPUS. EXPLAIN THAT SHIT."

    • Ellalalalala says:

      Snorted tea onto my keyboard. Thanks for that. 😉

      (I have now decided that my daemon would be an ARMOURED PLATYPUS! How awesome would that be?!)

  74. leighzzz31 says:

    I totally get what you mean. Like I said, this book opened my mind to the possibility of atheism which I had never considered before but it didn't make me an atheist. It made it easier to articulate and understand what I felt towards the Church and religion in general. So, yeah, I'm a firm believer in letting kids decide for themselves what to feel about these books; they won't suddenly become atheist or religious by reading them but they might be able to better explore things they're already feeling and maybe shape their world view a little differently.

  75. notemily says:

    "Well what shall I do?" "Uh, drink five Bloody Marys, and you won't remember…"

  76. pica_scribit says:


    I'm just gonna set aside my pride for a moment and get on my knees to BEG you to do yourself and the rest of us a favour and finish this book tomorrow. The last couple of chapters are both pretty short, and it seems like unnecessary torture to put yourself through waiting the whole weekend for some kind of resolution. Please, Mark? *looks pitiful*

  77. not enough semicolons

    Siriusly. Semicolons are love.

  78. As if there were only one true meaning for a given story. Oy.

  79. MichelleZB says:

    You know, I heard he was nicer in the New Testament, so I was all excited to read it. SPOILER: it turns out he bloodily crucifies his own son to enable him to be able to forgive the possible future sins of people that didn't even exist yet! I mean, dude, you could learn to let stuff go without having to go through all that, couldn't you? It's pretty brutal stuff; not recommended for children.

    God basically makes Lord Asriel look like Dad of the Year in the New Testament, is what I'm saying.

  80. pennylane27 says:

    Before I start reading the 200+ comments I just wanted to say that I cannot stop laughing. I seriously can't, I keep remembering my state of mind reading this chapter and comparing it to your reactions and it's just too funny for some reason.

    Going to gulp down dinner so I can get into the discussions!

  81. Tilja says:

    He was said to have travel far and wide. I wouldn't be surprised if he had that initiation as well.

  82. cait0716 says:

    You're right! I can't believe I forgot that. Disregard previous comment

  83. fakehepburn says:


  84. Tilja says:

    WAIT. WHAT?! Let me get my dictionary, I used the word in its pure meaning, not on any slang meaning. Is it really used as a slur? I'm not a native English speaker, I took the word at face value. Here are several dictionaries on the same word:

    According to Longman: n; old-fashioned dirty, untidy woman. [no mention of slang anywhere]

    According to OED: adj; dated (of a woman or her appearance) dirty and untidy. [no other mention]

    According to Merriam-Webster: 1: untidy and dirty through habitual neglect; also : careless, disorderly
    2: of, relating to, or characteristic of a slut or prostitute [there it is!]

    I don't know what to draw from this except that the entire language of any place is used to shame women as often as possible. Still, this is in general considered a common word as far as dictionary definitions go from what I can see. I haven't tried on the Urban Dictionary nor will I because if I go that far I'll find that the entire English language was created to shame women and this is not the issue here.

    I used the word in its original meaning to indicate untidiness, disorder, haphazardly; I couldn't think of a single word that could define this other than that. I used meyer as an example because her works are consistently written in this fashion and Mark has read them and would understand the reference. Should I have used the example of My Immortal instead? That would also be willful bad writing.

    I don't know what to say except I never meant to use slur words and didn't know this was one. Since written dictionaries tell me one thing but the slang of a language tells me another not well conveyed there, I can only say I didn't know and wait for a veredict from a mod. But this still means I won't risk using this word again.

  85. Brieana says:

    Which reminds me of times when I was around thirteen or so when I would think "if Jesus was perfect, did he do this?" Specifically, when I was thirteen I very much wanted to know if the perfect son of God ever pooped or had any other unpleasant bodily functions.
    Of course taking a shit doesn't make you a bad person and it's perfectly natural, but surely it makes you imperfect?
    Also, assuming that Jesus was perfect by the Bible's standards, did he have a sex drive? Lust is one of the deadly sins, so how can you have a sex drive without experiencing lust? Maybe I just think of lust differently.
    Um. But assuming that God was perfect, maybe his daemon didn't settle. I don't even think that Jesus' puberty stage was even mentioned in the Bible. You see him as a kid and next thing you know he's an adult performing miracles.

  86. giga_pudding says:

    hey after this can you do ASoUE?
    or maybe after the whole series?

  87. @Shoganate says:

    I love how everyone is having ~*intense philosophical debates*~ over this chapter and my main reaction was only: LORD ASRIEL YOU ARE NOT AT ALL COMPARABLE TO CHUCK NORRIS' AWESOMENESS!!! I DO NOT TRUST YOU AT ALL, YOU ARE RAGING ASSHOLE!! WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU UP TO!?!?! >.<

    • @sab39 says:

      Um, but, isn't IRL Chuck Norris also a raging asshole? I vaguely remember getting a pretty bad impression of the guy during the 2008 election season, but I don't remember the details…

  88. FlameRaven says:

    Then again, Mrs. Coulter is a lying liar who lies, so she could have just been bullshitting him.

  89. drippingmercury says:

    That's fine, I understand that completely. A teacher is welcome to decide what materials to offer in the classroom. I'm just not sure what is so bad about HDM that it is "adults only", not for impressionable children, especially compared to the other works hymnia has approved for their classroom, even with adult guidance. Hymnia has even said they are fine with other books that question Christianity, with appropriate guidance… I'm just wondering why they think it's an adults-only book.

    • hymnia says:

      It's really as simple as that I don't agree with the ideas. Okay, maybe there's a little more to it. Compared to other books that are critical of Christianity that I wouldn't be as concerned about, it propagates some ideas that I find especially specious to teenagers–ideas that I think they'd find attractive (wrongly, IMO). And these ideas are presented in a VERY attractive way. Can't get into specifics without spoilers (and honestly, I'm not sure I remember the specifics well enough, as it's been years since I read them). Perhaps we can discuss this in more detail in later reviews.

      In some ways it's more a gut feeling than anything. But really, it's not just that these books are critical of religion. Pullman has been called the anti-Lewis and "the one atheists would have prayed for, if atheists prayed." These books go beyond being critical of religion. They are essentially anti-theist propaganda. And I don't use that word as an insult–I consider Lewis's books propaganda, too. Both sets of books are actively pushing certain ideas to kids in the attractive package of a fantasy story. Maybe the truly high road would be to put *neither* set of books on my classroom bookshelves. But in the end, I put out Narnia and not HDM because, though I enjoyed reading both sets of books, I think the former has (mostly) ideas that I would be glad for kids to adopt and the latter has (mostly) ideas that I'd rather my students didn't embrace.

      As far as it being a book for adults, I'll say that while it's clearly aimed at kids, it's also one of those kinds of stories that can be enjoyed by all ages–like HP–and I personally do recommend it to adults, especially other Christians. This is partly because I think it's an enjoyable read, partly because I think it presents some criticisms of organized religion that are genuinely worth listening to, and partly because I think we need to be aware of this opposing viewpoint that is out there so that we are able to make an intelligent response. So far, I admit, I haven't had much success in getting my Christian friends to read the books. When I first read them, I was trying to push them onto a lot of people because I really wanted to have someone like-minded to discuss them with, but I only managed to get one friend to read them. And based on the comments to Mark's reviews so far, I'd say that I'm very much in the minority for being a still-practicing Christian who has read these books. Pretty sad.

      • Mmsljr says:

        I do hope that we remember in the later reviews to bring this up because I am also interested in what ideas you find to be specious.

        • hymnia says:

          I definitely plan to stick around and while I'm usually a lurker, I probably will chime in from time to time when it comes to analyzing the anti-theist aspects of these books–especially since it seems there are very few other practicing, go-to-church-every-Sunday kind of Christians commenting on the HDM posts. So yeah, I think we can plan on addressing this again later, as long as things stay friendly, which I'd say they generally have. 🙂

          • drippingmercury says:

            Thank you for taking the time to reply to me. There’s a lot I’d like to respond to here, but can’t because of spoilers! So I’ll just say that I hope to see you around in later chapters. I’m glad you delurked, differing opinions make for a much more interesting discussion. 🙂

  90. Catryona says:

    Brieana's referring to a story in the New Testament where Jesus relocated a number of demons from two men they had possessed into (at their own request) a herd of pigs (who promptly stampeded into a lake and drowned),

  91. Stephalopolis says:

    Okay… so at the beginning of the series, I expressed my doubt of Lord Asriel. For some reason, there was something about him that was putting me off and I was extremely distrustful of him. Chapters later, when everyone kept talking about how awesome Asriel was… I finally retracted my statement and decided that perhaps Asriel was an alright guy.

    But… now that we've spent time with him… I'm going back to my original feeling. There is something not right about Asriel. I don't like him, and I don't necessarily think he's on the "right" side of things. Or at least not on Lyra's side of things.

    I don't know folks… I might be wiping egg off my face later, but I have a really really bad feeling about him…

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