In the twenty-third and final chapter of The Golden Compass, Lyra discovers just how wrong she is about almost everything and how that plays out with tragic consequences. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to finish The Golden Compass.
TWO REVIEWS IN ONE DAY I CAN SURPRISE Y’ALL.
CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE: THE BRIDGE TO THE STARS
At this point in the story, this is now about a solitary journey. I suppose Lyra would always have had to face this alone. (Well, relatively alone. Of course, she still has Pantalaimon with her at all times.) After discovering the identity of her parents and now learning that both of them are rather selfish, violent people, bent on causing suffering for their own ends, this is a confrontation meant to be acted out by the most fucked up family I think I’ve ever come across in fiction.
No, seriously: Lyra was willingly “orphaned” by her parents, and they have both used her in order to lure in children to SACRIFICE in the name of science or religion.
Yet even though Lyra knows this is a journey for herself, she is also distinctly aware of what an extreme disadvantage she is at for all of this. She expresses that to Pantalaimon in the form of fear: She is terrified that she will not be able to save anyone, that she’s in too far over her own head, that even if she stops her father from killing Roger, her mother will just take him back to Bolvangar anyway. Out of everything though, she cannot reconcile the absurdity of her parents: they are causing children to suffer. It’s something that Lyra knows is innately wrong, something that everyone just accepts as a definite act of immorality, and yet they do it anyway.
How on earth do you process that?
“I wish…” she said, and stopped. There was nothing that could be gained by wishing for it. A final deep shaky breath, and she was ready to go on.
That is how you process it. She moves on. (Is this a subtle jab at prayer on the part of Pullman? I wouldn’t be surprised.)
Part of me thinks it’s a tad odd that Lyra is able to just walk through the Arctic tundra so easily and not…you know…FREEZE TO DEATH. But I suppose that’s not the point. We know this is difficult for her in both a physical and emotional way, and if she hadn’t frozen by now, perhaps she’s just properly dressed? why am i even thinking about this
Almost a sign of the bleak confrontation to come, the seemingly endless expanse of the Arctic spreads out before Lyra and the way that Pullman describes it all, it gives me a sense of futility. As he elaborates on the flat ice slabs and the thrusting mountains and white plains of nothingness, I can just imagine a tiny speck of a human with her dæmon almost disappearing amidst the massiveness of it all. Pullman makes it appear that Lyra is standing up against the impossible. And really, doesn’t it feel that way? How can Lyra succeed at this point?
Pantalaimon flew high, and swooped back to her wrist in his owl form.
“They’re just beyond the peak!” he said. “Lord Asriel’s laid out all his instruments, and Roger can’t get away–”
And as he said that, the Aurora flickered and dimmed, like an anbaric bulb at the end of its life, and then went out althogether.
Like intercision, it must be commended that Pullman can write about something that has no real bearing in our world (we can’t see a city in the aurora and it certainly doesn’t hold the same meaning to us) and do so in a way that we can understand how terrifying this. We know now that this flickering means that Lord Asriel is very, very close to cutting Roger’s dæmon away. Lyra has almost no time left. She hears the terrified cries of Roger, calling after her, and she stumbles to make it over the peak. It’s also a telling sign that Pantalaimon cannot seem to hold a single form because he is so agitated by the tension of the entire situation.
But the hope we had that Lyra would be able to rescue Roger dissipates quickly when she finally reaches the peak and takes in the situation. At least for me, I felt doomed: If Lord Asriel’s dæmon was clutching Roger’s, how would Pantalaimon be able to wrestle her away from the snow leopard? How would Lyra be able to fight a man thrice her size?
How upsetting is this?:
He tried again, crying and pleading, begging, sobbing, and Lord Asriel took no notice except to knock him to the ground.
For Lord Asriel, a suffering child is just a mere nuisance. What the hell.
All this Lyra saw by starlight alone; but then, as Lord Asriel connected his wires, the Aurora blazed all of a sudden into brilliant life. Like the long finger of blinding power that plays between two terminals, except that this was a thousand miles high and ten thousand miles long: dipping, soaring, undulating, glowing, a cataract of glory.
He was controlling it…
Or leading power down from it; for there was a wire running off a huge reel on the sledge, a wire that ran directly upward to the sky. Down from the dark swooped a raven, and Lyra knew it for a with dæmon. A witch was helping Lord Asriel, and she had flown that wire into the heights.
WELL, THIS CANNOT END WELL AT ALL. Is this why a group of witches attacked the bears in the last chapter? Did Lord Asriel attain their services to protect him while he opened the bridge to the parallel world? Either way, I’m aware of just how one-sided this is: Lord Asriel has virtually all of the power and Lyra has none. You can see this acted out when Lyra cries out in fear when Lord Asriel finally beckons for Roger to come to his side and the child obeys, desperate to get close enough to his dæmon. It’s pure chaos from here on out, as Pantalaimon manages to snatch Roger’s dæmon away from the snow leopard and the two begin to fight with Lord Asriel’s dæmon. Lyra manages to pull Roger away from Lord Asriel.
But here’s what is so striking about this: Lyra has journeyed to the North Pole, survived countless attempts on her life, and has learned how awful both of her parents are. She’s gained the confidence and respect of an armored bear, a witch, a Texan ballon man, and the gyptians. She has chosen, time and time again, to help other people when it might have a negative effect on her own life.
And after all of that, it doesn’t matter.
As the snow slips out from underneath Roger and Lyra, as Roger’s dæmon is captured once again, Roger’s body goes limp. It doesn’t matter. Lyra failed.
A jet of light, a jet of pure energy released like an arrow from a great bow, shot upward from the spot where Lord Asriel had joined the wire to Roger’s dæmon. The sheets of light and color that were the Aurora tore apart; a great rending, grinding, crunching, tearing sound reached from one end of the universe to the other; there was dry land in the sky–
Even in a moment of pure tragedy, there’s a beauty to this: Lord Asriel has successfully created a bridge to the parallel universe and sun is seeping into this world from it. But it is a beauty stained by the heinous act of a selfish man.
Sunlight shining on the fur of a golden monkey….
YOU. ARE. KIDDING. ME. But she’s too late, right? Lord Asriel has succeeded in creating the bridge. He’ll control it, right?
And thus begins one of the most shocking and confusing endgames I’ve read. If you’d figured out that Lord Asriel was actually working against Lyra’s interest, I’m convinced that it would have been virtually impossible for anyone to guess what Pullman does with that and what he does right here. I imagine each of you expected Lord Asriel’s and Mrs. Coulter’s dæmons to immediately begin to fight one another, and I imagine each of you were flabbergasted when they greeted each other with affection. AFFECTION!
And when Lyra looked up from them, Mrs. Coulter herself stood there, clasped in Lord Asriel’s arms.
I DON’T KNOW HOW TO DESCRIBE THE TURMOIL OF EMOTIONS THAT I AM CURRENTLY GOING THROUGH!!!!!
I CANNOT BELIEVE THIS. THIS HAS TO BE A JOKE. HOW ARE THEY GREETING EACH OTHER WITH LOVING AFFECTION
As these two previous lovers begin to speak to one another, every line aching with subtext and unknown meaning, I felt more and more confused. I felt more and more betrayed. I realized that I had bought a simple explanation for these characters, mostly out of my own desire to organize them into two-dimensional people. And now Pullman is rapping me on the head with a rolled-up newspaper, scolding me for thinking he’d write characters without depth as he’s done here.
You were absolutely right. There was absolutely no way I was prepared for this.
I can’t claim to understand this all. Or most of it, I should say. Now I know there are huge chunks of the story between Lord Asriel and Mrs. Coulter that are flat out missing. These two characters speak to each other with a sense of power, of mutual respect, of almost adoration. We were led to believe they despised each other, but this is clearly not the case.
So what gives??? Asriel says this to Mrs. Coulter:
“This will mean the end of the Church, Marisa, the end of the Magisterium, the end of all those centuries of darkness! Look at that light up there: that’s the sun of another world! Feel the warmth of it on your skin, now!”
And Mrs. Coulter’s immediate reaction is not complete anger. This leads me to believe Lord Asriel’s claim that, at heart, Mrs. Coulter got involved with the Magisterium to gain power is true. Does she not actually believe the things she is fighting for? Or are her beliefs half-hearted thoughts brought to fruition through the control she wields?
That’s when Lord Asriel surprises me yet again: He invites Mrs. Coulter to come with him into the parallel universe.
“Then come with me, away and out of this world!”
“You? Dare not? Your child would come. Your child would dare anything, and shame her mother.”
WHAT THE FUCK! I am just so lost. Is this Asriel’s messed up way of admitting that he sort-of, kinda, maybe respects his daughter? I feel he’s a pretty detached person as it is, but….what??? I DO NOT UNDERSTAND WHEN GROWN UPS ARE TALKING.
“You want her, still? Twice you’ve tried to hold her, and twice she’s got away. If I were her, I’d run, and keep on running, sooner than give you a third chance.”
I MEAN….RIGHT??? But this is so confusing to me! One minute he’s embracing her, then inviting her to COME TO A PARALLEL UNIVERSE WITH HIM, and now he’s insulting her?
His hands, still clasping her head, tensed suddenly and drew her toward him in a passionate kiss. Lyra thought it seemed more like cruelty than love, and looked at their dæmons, to see a strange sight: the snow leopard tense, crouching with her claws just pressing in the golden monkey’s flesh, and the monkey relaxed, blissful, swooning on the snow.
I UNDERSTAND ABSOLUTELY NOTHING AT ALL. I have never been so confused by a book during Mark Reads. WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON. Why do they act this way? What am I missing? What is with the unbelievable sexual tension that ripples through the pages? Lord Asriel flat out tells Mrs. Coulter that she should come with him, that he can imagine no greater feat that she would enjoy being a part of than destroying Dust, and he gives a hell of a line about how she constantly lies to everyone, including herself:
“Lie about everything else, lie about the Oblation Board, lie about your lovers–yes, I know about Boreal, and I care nothing–lie about the Church, lie about the child, even, but don’t lie about what you truly want….”
GODDAMN. He is putting her on BLAST.
And yet…even after he tells her that the only way he will stay interested in her is if she comes with him, she declines. Part of me sort of feels bad for Mrs. Coulter? Which is a weird emotion for me because I cannot ignore her past. But to have someone so ruthlessly set up a dichotomy like that is not easy to deal with. So she walks away, genuine tears on her face, and Lord Asriel turns and walks away into the light, and Lyra and the limp body of Roger are all that are left in that cold expanse.
She felt wrenched apart with unhappiness. And with anger, too; she could have killed her father; if she could have torn out his heart, she would have done so there and then, for what he’d done to Roger. And to her: tricking her: how dare he?
There’s something so remarkably sad about this, that these two children are left alone in the Arctic, no friends or parents to care for them or protect them. Iorek is miles away, and Lyra may never see him again. But Lyra is never truly alone, and Pantalaimon reminds me of this when he speaks up, right at the height of Lyra’s despair, to suggest something I’d not even remotely considered.
“Because if they all think Dust is bad, it must be good.”
oh…………..oh my god. WAIT. WAIT THIS IS TOTALLY POSSIBLE. As Pantalaimon describes, both he and Lyra, just like us, were meant to believe that Dust was bad in all situations. However, both Lord Asriel and Mrs. Coulter proved to be rather awful people about it. What if they were not trying to do something good and heroic? We’ve seen them both exhibit the most supreme capacity for lying to those around them. What if Dust was actually good???
The end of The Golden Compass is a gorgeous, haunting message of personal morality, of the determination to do what one believes is right. Assuring themselves that they will not accept knowledge without doubt, that they will not trust those with power, who have proven they cannot be trusted at all, they know that there is only one choice left:
They must leave the world behind.
She turned away. Behind them lay pain and death and fear; ahead of them lay doubt, and danger, and fathomless mysteries. But they weren’t alone.
So Lyra and her dæmon turned away from the world they were born in, and looked toward the sun, and walked into the sky.
Lyra and Pantalaimon just walked into a parallel universe. HOLY SHIT!!!! Best cliffhanger ever, or best cliffhanger ever?!?!?!
And here I am, at the end of one of the most exciting and enriching journeys I have ever taken through a book. I know it’s silly, but this book feels so specifically catered to me that it’s ridiculous. It’s exciting; it’s beautifully written; it’s challenging. And the ending is one massive surprise; but that’s not why it ends so well.
This book ends with Lyra shedding away the concerns for her own safety and instead deciding to take a personal stake in righting what she sees as wrong. She is leaving behind the (apparently) dead body of her best friend, who she feels she failed, in order to rectify the damage done to her world. In the process, she’s going to enter into a parallel universe to stop her father from betraying all of humanity, instead of only herself.
What an empowering message.
If the date is all right with everyone, I’d like to hold the liveblog for The Golden Compass on Mark Watches on July 2nd, 2011, at 11:00AM PDT. I did not want to split up the reviews to have the final one on a Monday like I always seem to do, but I am volunteering most of this weekend at SF Pride, so I don’t want to host a liveblog that I cannot attend myself.
I will begin The Subtle Knife on Monday, June 27th and will include predictions for the second book of the trilogy before the review actually starts. Oh god I am going to have AWFUL PREDICTIONS.
Since this is something I do whenever I end a book, I’d like to continue the tradition:
The Golden Compass is easily one of the greatest books I have ever read and I hope the trilogy will be (somehow) better than this.