Mark Reads ‘The Subtle Knife’: Chapter 1

In the first chapter of The Subtle Knife, OH YOU HAVE TO BE KIDDING ME I AM SO RIDICULOUSLY UNPREPARED FOR THIS BOOK. If you’re intrigued by that, then it’s time for Mark to start The Subtle Knife.

Let’s do predictions for this book first before things get underway. (Note: These predictions were actually written on Thursday, June 23, after I finished my final review for The Golden Compass.)


  1. Lyra is going to make a very important ally in the parallel universe who also knows what Dust is; she’ll make another ally who does not, but comes to learn what it is.
  2. About that parallel universe: I’m going to predict it will be yet another alternate world and not one that is supposed to be our own.
  3. Both Iorek and Mrs. Coulter will find a way to come into the parallel world.
  4. We will get confirmation that Roger is indeed dead.
  5. This alternate world will NOT have dæmons in it, and Lyra is going to get a lot of negative attention because of it, possibly even persecution/imprisonment?
  6. There will be a version of The Golden Compass’s Magisterium/Church in the parallel world.
  7. Someone will find a way to travel to a third parallel universe.
  8. Lyra will find Lord Asriel before the halfway point in the novel.
  9. The Subtle Knife will end with a cliffhanger. (OK DUH but gosh I have to have some predictions right.)
  10. We will get confirmation whether Dust is a good thing or a bad thing.
  11. Lord Asriel will NOT destroy the source of dust; additionally, we will obviously have to find out the source of it in this book two.
  12. Whomever Lyra finds to be her ally….I predict they’ll die. (If there is more than one, then I am saying one of her allies will die by the book’s end.)

It’s weird trying to predict because I have no clue at all to the direction of this trilogy. She’s entering a parallel universe, meaning that literally anything could happen. ARGH SO UNPREPARED. All right, on to the review!


Well, now I should just toss out all of those predictions. By the time I finished the first chapter of The Subtle Knife, I could not shake the utter embarrassment coursing through my veins. I wrongly assumed that we’d just jump into Lyra appearing on the other side, and now it’s clear that Pullman is sitting somewhere, far away from where I am right now, and he is laughing. He is tenting his fingers with a malicious expression of joy etched into his smile, and he derives pleasure from how unprepared my mind is for all of this.

Wow. What an opener.

In The Golden Compass, it was common for Pullman to give us brief bouts of narration from the point of view of just a single side character, and then return to Lyra. This chapter opens from the perspective of Will, a young boy from London, and I figured that this would be the same thing: We’d get a few pages of Will’s view and my guess was that Lyra would simply appear in front of him or something, having traveled from her universe to his.

My innocence is so precious.

What Pullman sets up here so wonderfully is a contrast of characters. As I’m sure was the case with each of you, I ached to find out what the hell happened to Lyra when she crossed the bridge to the stars and entered the world she saw in the Aurora. Instead, I’m given (what is initially) a very confusing story that transforms itself into an eerie escape. We’ve seen how willing Pullman is to develop characters. I’m reminded of all of the time that he spent building up the world of Jordan College, contrasting it with Lyra’s life in the streets; I’m reminded of how much of the first book was spent giving us the culture of the gyptians and how Pullman used this not only to build Lyra’s character, but to give us a greater sense for how this universe worked.

He does this here, but I can already see how he’s using it in a completely different way: to contrast Lyra’s life with Will’s. Will is not a child born into glamour, ease, or freedom. I must admit that I was worried about the characterization of Will’s mother in the early scenes of this chapter, concerned that this book would do a poor job of representing someone with a mental illness. But it’s clear that Pullman has written these characters with nothing short of adoration: Both adore each other, and Pullman has no qualms about making sure that there is absolutely nothing here to suggest that Will’s mother is not fit for the job or that Will doesn’t love her with all of his heart. Even if the opening scene with Mrs. Cooper is completely jarring and confusing, this isn’t about building a mystery as much as it is about showing us what life is for a single mother and her son and how those two cope.

Still, I can’t ignore how Pullman uses these opening scenes to create an environment of paranoid fear: Why is Will so desperate to leave his mother with Mrs. Cooper and then just disappear? Why won’t he tell this woman why he can’t go home? What strikes me is how prepared and insistent Will is: He already has everything his mother might need, even thinking to bring her food so it won’t cost the Coopers anything, and the way he speaks to Mrs. Cooper is both slightly demanding and completely confident.

What the hell is going on?

Pullman doesn’t answer that yet, and I am perfectly okay with that. He takes us through the (recent) life of Will and his mother, from their shabby house on a loop road to the green leather writing case. Will is insistent on finding this case and we aren’t told what it is the case holds that has made so desperate to find it. In exhaustion, he passes out out of hours of searching his empty house.

And almost at once, it seemed (though he’d been asleep for nearly three hours), he woke up knowing two things simultaneously.

First, he knew where the case was. And second, he knew that the men were downstairs, opening the kitchen door.

Even though Pullman takes brief breaks from the action to give us some more insight into Will’s life, it’s full speed ahead from this moment on. IN THE FIRST CHAPTER. Who these men are is anyone’s guess at this point. (Wait, that phrase doesn’t work here, does it? Since you all actually know who they are. OH GOD.)

Of everything Pullman is good at, he sure knows how to write suspense. How does he do this so many times and it never feels old?

Will braced himself as he heard the quiet creak of the top stop. The man was making no noise at all, but he couldn’t help the creak if he wasn’t expecting it. Then there was a pause. A very thin beam of flashlight swept along the floor outside. Will saw it through the crack.

Right, so…’s not like Will has magical powers. (OR DOES HE IN THIS UNIVERSE.) He’s going to be found once the door opens. So how does he deal with it?

BY RUNNING STRAIGHT INTO THE MAN. He doesn’t tackle him or knock him to the ground, but, in a bizarre bout of chance, Will’s cat Moxie is right behind the man and he ends up falling down the stairs and smashing his head on a table in the hallway. Hard. It’s such a rapid scene, and it’s eerie that Will manages to dash out of the house as the other man simply comes “out of the living room [to] stare.” At this point, I knew Will would be in shock, as I’m sure he didn’t expect to hurt anyone, but this quickly becomes worse than that. Will immediately hides in the bushes outside the estate boundary and recalls how the man’s neck was bent in an unnatural way and he knows in his heart the man is dead.

Well. That’s certainly a way to open a book, isn’t it?

We also have the very first sign of what sort of universe this is. Pullman makes a remark about how Will will most definitely be chased by the men “with their cars and their cell phones.” So that is distinctly something our world has that the other universe did not. I am going to assume, based on Lord Asriel’s description, that each world is experiencing time exactly, meaning that all universes are tied together by the same progression of time. So this has to be at least in the 90s, yes? Possibly later? Either way, we can see that no one here has a dæmon and there are cell phones. I’m assuming this is meant to be our world for now.

For the moment, though, Will is altogether concerned with another thought. He’d been preoccupied with getting the leather case as soon as possible, but now the young boy must face the fact that he may have just killed someone. Out of self defense, sure, but the man who fell down the stairs in his house is surely dead.

He has something new to fear instead of what he had come to accept at that point in his life. As Will moves on from his hiding spot, Pullman flashes back to help explain to us why Will and his mother are so close, and why someone needs to take care of her. I cannot pretend to know what sort of illness or disorder she has, but it’s one marked with confusion and paranoia. As a younger child, this was represented in a game in the supermarket, Pullman tells us. Again, as I mentioned before, these scenes are painted with affection. Even when Will begins to discover that the grocery store game of spies and enemies is a coping method of sorts for his mother, he doesn’t choose to demonize her for it. Instead, to keep her happy, he always humors her, even if it is to the detriment of himself. To me, that is love, and that is acceptance. When Will discovers that the “enemies” his mother speaks about are not real to him, he doesn’t lash out at his mother. He acknowledges that her fear is still very real to her, and that is all that matters.

Like Lyra, Will also has grown out with any real significant father figure, but because of his mother, he’s developed a personality and a moral sense to life that is far different than Lyra’s. First of all, he’s grown up with a more active sense of responsibility and duty, having had to take care of his mother. He inherently respects those older than him, too, and doesn’t possess the brattier tendencies that we’ve seen in Lyra. At the same time, he also views his father in an almost mythical way: his reputation precedes him, and he dreams of adventures with a father he’s never really known, off in lands far from here, exploring desolate terrains. Hell, in that sense, Will’s father and Lord Asriel share a pretty blatant similarity, too.

Make no mistake, though: Will loves his mother very much, and I adore that Pullman writes this so that it’s very clear. He loves her and it’s not in spite of anything either. He loves her at all times, happy or sad, joyous or fearful. As he says, he wants “nothing more than to live with [his mother] alone forever.”

As to why these mysterious men come looking for Will’s father, demanding to know where he is, assuming Ms. Parry (is this her name? Mrs. Parry? Something else? hmmm) knows: you’ve got me beat. I don’t even feel I have enough information to make a guess. But it’s certainly unsettling to me that they return again and again, illegally breaking into the Parry household, searching for something. Will reveals it: the case, which contains letters that are heavily implied to be from Will’s father. Why is Will’s father so important? What did he do?

So here we are, deep into the introduction of the second book of the His Dark Materials trilogy, and there’s not even the slightest acknowledgment of the last book. It’s as if this is its own story altogether, unconnected to anything, only tied to this all by the name of the author. To say I’m surprised is an understatement; more than anything, I’m impressed. None of this is uninteresting at all, and my mind is wandering to other conclusions. Is this whole book about Will? What does this have to do with anything at all? I started trying to find signs that this was linked to The Golden Compass. When we learn that Will has managed to hitchhike, walk, and take two buses all the way to Oxford (from LONDON!!!!), I of course thought that this is where he’d have some run-in with Lyra. Right??? I mean, if she was going to travel to a parallel universe, wouldn’t she try to locate the things most familiar to her?

But this is not the case. There’s no Lyra here. Will wanders Oxford, exhausted. He reaches a traffic circle and is unsure where to go, what to do, or how he’s going to rest. It’s here that Philip Pullman, yet again, can be heard cackling in the distance: We’re about to find out how this is connected to The Golden Compass. In this case, it’s a cat that draws Will’s attention, and he can’t understand why it is pawing suspiciously at the air, as if something is there, and then jump back, frightened, as if something touched it. He watches with curiosity as the cat seems to warm to the idea of this invisible entity, walks forward, and disappears.


Proving I know nothing about anything and tearing apart nearly every prediction I made, now I know Lyra is not in this world, which might be our world. For Will examines this invisible spot and realizes HE CAN SEE GRASS FROM ANOTHER PARALLEL UNIVERSE.

What’s so goddamn brilliant about this is that Pullman took the entirety of The Golden Compass to build up the world of dæmons and Lyra and the gyptians and Jordan College, only to bring that all crashing down in tragedy in the last third of the book. Lyra left her world to cross into another because she felt she had nothing left for her, that she needed to escape the evils that would certainly ruin. In just a handful of pages in the first chapter of The Subtle Knife, he tears apart the world of Will Parry, leading him to a hole in the fabric of the universe, and giving him a believable story that would make us understand why this twelve-year-old boy would climb through this spot in the world.

That is simply amazing to me.

The first idea that parallel universes don’t work the same as I had thought is here: Will does not end up in the “same” place as where he came from. He doesn’t end up in Oxford and it’s now obvious that this palm-tree-heavy universe is the same one that was seen in the Aurora throughout the last book. (It could not have been a coincidence that there were palm trees here. Will thinks it looks “Mediterranean” or “Carribean,” like “the kind of place where people came out late at night to eat and drink, to dance and enjoy music.”

Leave it to Pullman to then make this all like an episode of The Twilight Zone: There is not a person in the universe. Not a sound. Not a creature. Just an entire world with cafes and shops and hotels, like any other village or city, but not a living creature in sight or in sound.

WHAT THE FUCK. If every universe is the result of a choice, what kind of choice led to this????

I almost expected this to turn into a zombie movie at this point. I’m reminded of those creepy, unsettling scenes in 28 Days Later. If you’ve seen the film, you know what I mean. Here, the vastness of this city engulfs Will’s senses; there should be people here. Why does it look like everyone just disappeared in the middle of their lives? How can Will find COLD LEMONADE?

Yet as disturbing as this all is to me, it provides will with the most unique sense of relief. He heads out to the harbor, touching everything along the way as a method to ensure that this is all very real, and he finally decides to take a nighttime swim in the ocean. As if being baptized into this new universe, awash with the drifting sea water, he feels safe here: there is no way the men who were after the letters will find him here. It’s such a fascinating statement because I imagine I would have wet myself with fear at least five times at this point, but Will has entered this new world and feels safe.

Will continues exploring this vacant place, attempting to find some food, and comes upon a cafe that he discovers has an apartment of some kind above it. He heads upstairs; it’s clearly been lived in, but, like the rest of this place, there’s no one here. However, he learns that is not exactly true: he senses that he’s not alone, that there is someone or something behind the only closed door in the room, and before he can open it, some unknown creature bursts out of it and attacks him, punching and thrashing, and it isn’t a creature but a young girl, and not just any young girl, but a young girl who has a wildcat with her OH MY GOD YOU ARE KIDDING ME.


There are three distinct universes now. Oh, my head. my brain is exploding.

I’m not surprised that Lyra almost immediately asks Will where his dæmon is, though this is entirely understandable: given what she’d seen in Bolvangar, any human without their dæmon is cause for concern. But Will assures her he doesn’t have one, that the word means something different entirely, that in his world, it’s evil. I love that they don’t toy around with this at all: Both characters admit that they are not from this world, and I’m glad this very fact is dealt with in such a matter-of-fact way. I mean…they are in a city with NO LIVING CREATURES IN IT ASIDE FROM EACH OTHER. This needed to be acknowledged rather quickly, no?

To bring around what I mentioned in the beginning, it’s here that we see how Pullman is able to contrast these two young protagonists. Will has had years of practice in independence, and he sets out to make the two of them food. Lyra, on the other hand, is a bit confused by the whole thing. She’s always had someone at Jordan College doing things for her. On top of that, this third world has so much stuff in it that is completely foreign to her, but not Will. In essence, we get to see how Lyra is entirely out of her element. She’s uncomfortable. She is uncertain. And now she is in the presence of a boy who is confident and certain, and that makes her feel even worse.

Their night meal is a chance both for the awkwardness between them to grow, and for them both to start asking questions. When Will asks Lyra where she is from, she describes a fog of some sort that she had to walk to before she could see this world. Was that the bridge itself? Is this an entire world or is this just a village? Lyra turns the questioning around on Will, demanding to know where his dæmon is or if he’s hiding it from her. But Will doesn’t understand this; instead, the thought that Lyra has a constant companion makes him feel lonely.

There’s not much progress made beyond this; Will decides he needs to actually try to get some sleep. I laughed when Lyra immediately demanded, in that masterful tone of hers, to be taken to the spot where the hole in the universe was, especially after she learns he got here from Oxford. I do do understand it, though, because it sounds like Lyra and Pantalaimon have been alone for days in this city, and now this young boy has give her a link to something that sounds familiar to her. The two argue about it, both set on getting their way, but Will ultimately wins out.

It’s here that Pullman switches back to Lyra’s point of view, which I didn’t expect so soon. She waits until Will falls asleep, and then she sneaks in on him, curious to know what sort of person he is. I’d forgotten that you could read a person’s dæmon in Lyra’s world to help determine character, but there’s no such thing here. Instead, she pulls out the alethiometer, which surprisingly works in this world as well. When she asks if Will is a friend or an enemy, the alethiometer gives a more specific answer:

He is a murderer.

Oh no, I thought. This can’t end well. But for Lyra, this is a sign that she can give Will Parry her confidence. Worried that he wouldn’t be of the calibre to join her on her journey to find Lord Asriel and Dust, she knows that any twelve-year-old boy who has already killed someone is certainly not one consumed with fear or distrust.

This gives her comfort. This, however, gives me a distinct lack of preparedness.

What a genius opening chapter.

About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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184 Responses to Mark Reads ‘The Subtle Knife’: Chapter 1

  1. SporkyRat says:

    I have been  R for the last hour and then, right as I'm about go close up and get ready for work, MARK UPDATES. It's like you knew I'd need something cheery to face baking 1500 cookies and feeding 800 potential students at work today! Thank you, Mark!

    Your predictions. Bless. ♥

  2. HieronymusGrbrd says:

    I’m late for the theological discussion that occured for chapter 21 (real life interfered), but prediction time may also be a good place for this. I’m still waiting for my library copy of TSK, so I didn’t read further then the end auf TGC.

    Mark, I wonder why you and so many commenters think of this other world’s church as “essentially (pre-reformational) catholic, just there is no pope”. May this be because the catholic church felt officialy offended? In Germany, we have a proverb: “Der getroffene Hund bellt” (“The dog who is hit will bark”? This doesn’t translate well into english). From reading the book alone, I would never have suspected that this was meant to attack the catholic church.

    I was raised lutheran, so I can not estimate how much the magisterium feels catholic to you. From what was said near the end of chapter two (and then from the rest of the book) I got the impression that there are no catholics in this other world, because the reformation was far too successfull (and may have gone horribly wrong) when John Calvin became the last pope. So every christian in this world is a Calvinist? Or Pope Calvin’s church inherited the worst concepts from either side, beliefes that aren’t shared by any real life person?

    For the greatest part of the book, I wasn’t interested in the exact denomination. It seemed much more important that an undivided church could gain (or keep) much more power than it holds in our world, there was no era of secular Enlightenment and science is still governed by superstition and/or religious dogma (depending on what you call superstition and what you call releigion). But now, the weird concept of Erbsünde (inherited sin) has entered the discussion. I didn’t know that this is called “original sin” and may cause some jokes in english (very original, indeed).

    Short after comfirmation, I realized that I didn’t really believe much of what I had agreed to believe, and since this was decades ago, now everything is blured and I’m not even sure if I ever understood what I was expected to believe. If I got this right, Luther’s point (I don’t remember the other 94) was that you can not buy salvation, you have to regret and change your way of life. (It also wouldn’t be sufficient to just tell your priest, say some prayers, and be forgiven, but I hope this is only a caricature of what catholics really believe.)

    Anyway, if Lord Asriel and Mrs. Coulter hold the (calvinist?) beliefe that their fate is predetermined and nothing men or women can do will help their salvation, I can understand why they want to remove the possibility to sin. From their point of view this is they only way to make the world a better place to live in, because nobody can be expected to choose right over easy if there is nothing to gain. Getting the respect of people like you or me may not count much compared to eternal damnation, and if it may have been predetermined that somebody would be damned anyway, why shouldn’t everybody allways choose the easy way?

    I can also understand why Lord Asriel and Mrs. Coulter would use almost any means to reach their ends. If this was predetermined, they will stay in god’s grace regardless of what they do, so why not? But they probably wouldn’t use their daughter, so this strange beliefe still couldn’t totally destroy their conscience?

    Lyra will enter the “City in the Sky”, which in german will also be the “City in Heaven” (Markus Zusak made Death explain that “Himmel Street” ist meant to be “Heaven Street”, not “Sky Street”, because we don’t have different words for the blue Himmel and the spiritual Himmel). Lyra will meet God and we will learn that choices matter, because HE cares.

    No, I’m kidding. This is something C. S. Lewis might have done.

    More serious prediction
    Lyra will enter a world where “The Church” holds other beliefes than in her world, or where there are many different denominations, or where religion doesn’t matter and science is more rational. But in any and all of these worlds Lord Asriel and Marisa may be proofen to be wrong in some way, and they may or may not be redeemed. It will be interesting to see how (or if?) Pullman can show that choices matter although god can not care because he doesn’t exist. It will also be interesting to see the difference between predetermination and destiny. By now it seems that Lyra’s destiny contradicts her free will, while Serafina Pekkala could have chosen to ruin everything by telling Lyra what she is expected to do.

    Also, there will be people who don’t have daemons, but aren’t zombies, and stuff will happen, and my degree of unpreparedness will increase.

    • FlameRaven says:

      My understanding of the big difference between Catholicism and the Protestant branches is that the Catholics don't believe you can speak to God directly; that's the reason for all the different ranks of priests and the Pope and the whole tradition of confession. The whole idea in the Protestant church is that you can pray directly to God and he might answer. There's also a tendency towards austerity: Protestant churches tend to be very simple and open with few decorations: a cross and maybe some simple cloth banners are the most I've ever seen. I think the idea is to get away from any distractions and focus solely on God; early Protestants also felt the Catholic church with its intricate decorations and stained glass got too close to worshiping idols.

      The reason people seem to feel the Magisterium represents the Catholic church is probably the structure and bureaucracy of it, something that most Protestant branches lack.

      • HieronymusGrbrd says:

        I have seen protestant churches prettily decorated in baroque style (in old Europe, you may live in a region where every church built in the nineteenth century would be considered to be an ancient building), but generally you are right.

        The Magisterium feels protestant to me >because it is a bureaucracy with no obvious hierarchy and no official head (like the pope or the patriarch of an orthodoxe church) who may be held responsible for everything.

        • monkeybutter says:

          The Magisterium seems to be directly influenced by the Magisterial form of Protestantism that Lutheran and Calvinist reformers supported, so it makes sense that it would seem familiar to you (not that the Magisterium = today's Protestant churches, though). They believed that civil and religious authority should be interconnected, so while there is no visible head, there is a bureaucracy and authority supporting the church, and the church gives moral authority to the actions of the civil government.

          As Meg says, it's an amalgamation of different churches, and that combined with the universality of the Church's power is why it seems so fearsome.

    • Catryona says:

      "Or Pope Calvin’s church inherited the worst concepts from either side, beliefes that aren’t shared by any real life person? "

      I get that feeling myself — most of the magesterium beliefs aren't ones I've heard professed by any Christian. The whole Dust-settling thing does smack of age-of-accountability, though.

    • t09yavorski says:

      (It also wouldn’t be sufficient to just tell your priest, say some prayers, and be forgiven, but I hope this is only a caricature of what catholics really believe.)

      I may not be a good judge because I was never really into the "talking to the air" part of religion (and as an adult I'm not into the "requesting forgiveness" part) but as a young catholic this was how I had understood it. Also depending on who you talk to the description of confession might come out unintentionally sounding this way only in different words.

      • Kelly says:

        it's been years since I considered myself a Catholic, but here's how I was taught-there are certain conditions to receiving absolution during confession: First, that you confess your sins (not necessarily to a priest) Second, that you are truly repentant for said sins, third that you have an intent to not commit those sins again, and fourth that you do penance. The Church acknowledges that you might commit the same sins multiple times because humans are imperfect, but as long as you fulfill those conditions, you can receive absolution

        As for the role of priests and whether or not Catholics can talk directly to God-priests are convenient and more familiar. A lot of people feel silly 'talking to air' and a priest is (presumably) and expert in Church teachings, so formal confession to a priest is a way to make people both feel more comfortable confessing and receive expert advice on Church teachings and how to make up for their sins. What I've always been taught about the Protestant Reformation was that it was more a matter of corruption in the Church-nepotism, scandal, selling of indulgences, and abuse of power. Luther, Calvin, and the others felt that Church officials were more concerned with power and worldly affairs than the spiritual well being of congregations and worshiping God. Catholics CAN talk directly to God.

    • EmmylovesWho says:

      (It also wouldn’t be sufficient to just tell your priest, say some prayers, and be forgiven, but I hope this is only a caricature of what catholics really believe.)

      lol nope that is pretty much it as a descriptor. You have to be genuinely remorseful and sorry though, and truly repent, or else it doesn't count.
      The Priest acts in persona christi and restores the grace which through the sin, was lost.

      It has been a while since I've thought about this, mind.


  4. Rachel says:

    You are not prepared in the least.

  5. Brieana says:

    Your predictions amused me greatly. Tenting my fingers at you.

    Cell phones? I didn't pick up on that. And just so you know, this was published in the mid 90s.

    • FlameRaven says:

      1997 to be precise (at least for the US edition), so cell phones were around but still a reasonably new thing.

      • Brieana says:

        I meant as opposed to mobile phones.

        • Brieana says:

          Oh and the bit about it being published in the mid nineties was in response to Mark wondering what time period this was set it. I should have separated the two better.

        • flootzavut says:

          Probably changed for the US edition.

          • maccyAkaMatthew says:

            Cellphones is in the UK version – it is UK usage, and I suspect it was more common in the 90s when fewer people had them. Mobiles became settled more recently, I think.

            Because my copies are elsewhere, I downloaded the US versions but then I saw a cheap copy of The Subtle Knife so I got that. So I now have the two texts to compare.

            "Shopping bag" has become "tote bag", which really is an alien term in British English. The other change I noticed was "sidewalk" for "pavement".

  6. Laurel says:

    OOO! My favorite of the three.

    • Laurel says:

      Re: Lyra demanding Will to take her to the window: "The two argue about it, both set on getting their way, but Will ultimately wins out."

      Reminded me of the scene at Bolvangar where Lyra's and another girl have a minor scuffle over status. Lyra's daemon and the other kid's daemon face off too, but then the other girl's daemon (in the form of a cat) nonchalantly turns away and begins to wash herself. This time, with Will, Lyra is defeated but it's a little more subtle since Lyra doesn't have a daemon to get reference from. This is a nice little scene too since it shows that Will is not a pushover. He has a job to do and he's not going to back down.

    • notemily says:

      My least favorite! Woo! 😉

      • tigerpetals says:

        I don't remember whether it was my least favorite, but I definitely liked it less than Golden Compass, from when I first read it to the reread and now.

  7. Araniapriime says:

    Mrs. Parry exhibits symptoms of paranoid schizophrenia. Worrying about food that way is quite common in the condition.

    Yes, I know whereof I speak.

    • notemily says:

      The way she touches all the slats on all the benches in the park made me think of OCD. But I'm not a doctor and certainly not one qualified to diagnose fictional characters based on a chapter's worth of information.

    • Mmsljr says:

      I remember reading TSK and being touched with how he dealt with mental illness. I agree with you that she exhibits symptoms of paranoid schizophrenia.
      If she feels compelled to touch the slats, we have to know WHY she believes she had to touch the slats. With OCD she might have a feeling that something bad might happen to Will, or some other feeling that is the manifestation of an obsession, which could only be relieved by touching the slats (the compulsion). This behavior has to become ritualized in such a manner that it must be repeated on a regular basis to relieve the
      tension behind the obsession. It's the ritualization of obsessive thoughts and the corresponding compulsive behavior, paired with a disruption in everyday norm behavior that is OCD. She might have a co-morbid diagnosis of OCD with paranoid schizophrenia, which is not impossible. I don't believe that she has OCD however.

      The worry about food is not necessarily common, it's just how her delusions have manifested.

  8. redheadedgirl says:

    "He is a murderer." And Lyra relaxes and determines him to be a worthy companion.

    OH LYRA. BLESS. No, really.

    • FlameRaven says:

      My thoughts exactly. It's such a wonderful character moment that the alethiometer says "he is a murderer," and Lyra is immediately like "Okay, that's awesome, we can move on now." Only Lyra would consider "a murderer" to be a "brave and worthy companion."

      • Mmsljr says:

        It's completely wonderful that Pullman has written Lyra so well that we are able to believe and follow why she thinks this way.

    • monkeybutter says:

      This entire chapter is amazing, but Lyra's reaction to Will being a murderer is my favorite part; it makes me snort with laughter. I love the way she thinks!

    • Pixie says:

      This! I started laughing aloud upon reading that. Just…really, Lyra? You feel TOTES SAFE with a MURDERER.

    • Danika the Lesbrarian says:

      I love that. We're all, "THIS CAN'T BE GOOD, there will be tragic misunderstandings and chapters until they sort it all out and it will be so painful for both of them– Oh, wait, it /is/ good? Carry on, then."

  9. TreasureCat says:

    I remember reading this chapter for the first time and totally not twigging the girl with the wildcat was Lyra until it was spelled out, I was so enamoured with Will and his story >.>

  10. stellaaaaakris says:

    So it was birthday over the weekend and I feel like the universe(s) has given me two wonderful presents: My state has legalized the marriage equality bill and Mark is starting my favorite book of one of my favorite series of all time! YAY!!! The blurb advertising TSK at the end of my copy of TGC includes this line, "[Lyra] finds WIll, just twelve years old and already a murderer himself." OH, that line gave me chills when I was 12. I had to run out and buy it as soon as I finished TGC.

    There is a little blurb, maybe 2 sentences, that further explains where the book begins, but I won't quote it in case it's not in everybody's book (but I can't imagine it wouldn't be). It's right before the Table of Contents.

    Lyra relaxes when she hears Will's a murderer. Only Lyra. (But, assuming this is the only time Will's actions have resulted in the death of someone else, I personally wouldn't call him a murderer. A killer, maybe, but not a murderer. For me, "murder" implies some sort of intention to kill at some point. If Will had known his cat was going to be there and acted as he did, I think the description would be more accurate. However, it's possible the alethiometer doesn't have a distinct word/level for "killer" and "murderer" is the closest definition.)

    • FlameRaven says:

      Yeah, I'm pretty sure Will would at most be charged with manslaughter in the US, and that's unlikely. I can't speak for UK law, but in the US, you are totally within your rights to kill in defense of home/property. If someone breaks into your house, you fight them, and they are killed, you are still in the right. Also, Will is a minor and I doubt he'd be held responsible. The men broke in, Will was defending his home and his mother, and the death was accidental. I understand Will's terror, but by my count he really didn't do anything wrong.

      • sabra_n says:

        Actually, you're not supposed to use deadly force for defense of property, even in the U.S. 🙂 Deadly force is only to be used in the defense of human life – and even then some states impose a duty of retreat. Then again, a hard shove isn't deadly force, so yeah, Will would probably fall within some "castle" exception were he to be charged with a crime in the U.S.

        • John Small Berries says:

          As redheadedgirl says, the laws vary by state. In Florida, for example, "defensive force that is intended or likely to cause death or great bodily harm to another" may be used against a person "in the process of unlawfully and forcefully entering, or had unlawfully and forcibly entered, a dwelling, residence, or occupied vehicle" (Florida Statutes 776.013(1)(a)).

          Furthermore, according to 776.013(3), not only is there no duty of retreat in cases of self-defense, but you don't even have to be in your home to use deadly force in defense of self or another (just to be attacked in a place "where he or she has a right to be"); all one needs is a "reasonable belief" that deadly force is necessary "to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony".

          • sabra_n says:

            I know that the duty of retreat only exists in some states, such as NY – and even there there are exceptions. And I also know that deadly force can be used in the defense of human life/limb. That's what I said. 🙂

      • notemily says:

        Yeah, but the way he describes these men as all mysterious and shadowy, I'm guessing he isn't scared of legal prosecution so much as he's scared of them coming to find him and get back at him for killing one of their own. Also, for all Will knows, it'd be his word against theirs, and the police might be less likely to believe the twelve-year-old kid than the adult.

    • flootzavut says:

      I agree with you re murderer vs killer, but I think maybe Will feels like a murderer. Whether the alethiometer would differentiate between the two I don't know, but I would think a twelve year old boy who, although strong and brave and what have you, is still only twelve and has up till this point mostly just been his mother's carer, might well think of himself as a murderer even though the death of the man was unintentional. Am I making sense?? He is only twelve – he's been sheltered in some ways even though he's had also to grow up/be a care-giver. He is, as Lyra puts it, courteous and unhappy. It wouldn't surprise me if the alethiometer was characterising Will from Will's POV… Just a thought!

    • tigerpetals says:

      Happy birthday.

  11. Mauve_Avenger says:

    I'm kind of interested in how you came to the conclusion that Will is from London. I haven't read this book in quite a long time (I even thought I'd accidentally thrown it away), so I don't remember nearly as much of this book as I probably should and therefore spent the entire time reading this chapter wondering where the heck Will is supposed to live. I somehow misremembered it as Will being from Oxford or a nearby town, which is obviously incorrect since he had to hitchhike and take two buses to get there.

    I also misremembered the ending of this chapter as being a bit more sparse and open-to-interpretation than it really is. I basically remember the alethiometer scene as being, "What is he? A friend or an enemy?" "He is a murderer." "Oh. Good." and then Lyra closes the alehtiometer and the chapter ends.

  12. Alex says:

    Oh my god, WILL. I love Will. Like actually. He is the reason why The Subtle Knife is my favorite of the series, because of his introduction to the story. I just love his relationship with his mother and how different he is from Lyra. He's so responsible and mature and you can tell how much he cares for his mother and yet it's so tragic that he has to be the one to care for her instead of the other way around because of her illness.


  13. GCSKAS says:


  14. Avery says:

    I've fallen behind on Mark Reads/Watches and haven't posted a comment here in ages, so while I catch up: so excited you're starting my favorite of the three, and that this place is more active than ever!

    I love how immediately Pullman contrasts the lofty fantasy of TGC with not only Will's working-class life but also his entrance into the vacant world. Turns out you can enter a parallel universe by…..walking into it from the street. But to Pullman's credit, it's no less exciting. Every time I see a stray cat outdoors, I'm tempted to follow it. Take me to Jordan College! London! Narnia! I'm not choosy.

  15. I love that our two young protagonists are a liar and a murderer. Hurrah for children's literature!

    • pica_scribit says:

      I still can't bring myself to consider this "children's lit". The most I'm willing to allow is YA.

      • sabra_n says:

        Yeah. I wouldn't forbid my theoretical child from reading this, but I would encourage him/her to wait until (s)he was about Will and Lyra's age before reading. I mean, there is some pretty disturbing stuff in there.

      • Brieana says:

        This discussion is familiar. One does not have to understand every facet of a story to enjoy it. That's what makes it fun when you get to reread things and you keep discovering new things. Also kids can handle more than you might think.

        • pica_scribit says:

          I was a pretty advanced (and constant) reader as a kid, but I know there were definitely some books I read way too early and completely failed to comprehend. To Kill and Mockingbird and 1984 spring immediately to mind. Just because a child is physically capable of reading something doesn't make them the intended or ideal audience for it.

      • hazelwillow says:

        Why are you prejudiced against children's lit? 🙁 It really frustrates me when people allow that a "mere" children's book has deep literary merit but then, simply because they like it and they are older, deny that it's a children' book. Being a children's book doesn't mean it's only for children!

        Personally I see the Golden Compass as children's lit and the Subtle Knife and the Amber Spyglass as YA, but that's probably just because by the time those came out I was a (young) teenager, and I read the Golden Compass as a pre-teen.

        It was so important for me to have read them at that stage of life, I can't even tell you. They responded to certain themes in children's literature that had really affected me at that stage of life, and they really helped me come to grips with some things about being the age I was (and the age Lyra and Will are).

        Sorry for the strong reaction, but I encounter this so often, and it's so frustrating to me. i was a big reader of "children's lit" (JM Barrie, E Nesbit, Roald Dahl, CS Lewis, Tove Jansson, Lois Lowry, Megan Turner, etc etc), and I was definitely aware of the themes running through those books I was reading, and Philip Pullman made some rebuttals against some of those themes, and that was so important to me. So yeah. I'm sure we just have different descriptors in our heads when we think of "children's lit," but there it is.


  16. flootzavut says:

    Woooo hoooooooo I knew it was worth reloading!

  17. Brieana says:

    I am aware of that.

  18. Ryan Lohner says:

    And now time for more about how much the fans were turned off by the film: given how Billy Costa was used as the boy whose demon was cut away, and was assured that he could just get a new one, combined with cutting off before the book's ending, a lot of fans grew worried that in The Subtle Knife, not only would Roger survive (despite his death being essential to the story by opening the bridge) but he would take over Will's role. The other films weren't made so we'll never know, and it's probably better that way.

  19. ASLKJF;DKSDLS HOW CAN YOU READ THIS ONE CHAPTER AT A TIME? What is this freakish willpower of yours, I can't even.

    Also how amazing are the children in these books? Certified badasses, every one (in their own ways). I wouldn't have lasted five seconds tbqh ;_;

    • Ellalalalala says:

      Thankyou for appreciating the willpower. The willpower hurts and is very near to crumbling.

      If it weren't for Mark I probably wouldn't be reading this at all…
      …but if I hadn't vowed to keep level with him THEN I WOULD HAVE FINISHED IT LAST NIGHT OH MY GOD THE PAIN.

      I believe this is called the Pullman Dilemma.

      Or the Seriously Ella Why Did You Make A Vow To Yourself Which You Now Don't Feel Able To Break You Idiot What Are You A Literary Masochist Conundrum.

  20. Becky_J_ says:

    I wrongly assumed that we’d just jump into Lyra appearing on the other side, and now it’s clear that Pullman is sitting somewhere, far away from where I am right now, and he is laughing. He is tenting his fingers with a malicious expression of joy etched into his smile, and he derives pleasure from how unprepared my mind is for all of this.

    Hey, psst, Mark… I'm gonna let you in on a little secret.

    We're ALL doing this to you right now. MWAHAHAHAHAHAHA

  21. hpfish13 says:

    I remember finishing the first book, opening this one up and starting reading and being utterly perplexed. I put it down, checked and double checked it to make sure I was reading the second book and not the third (because I thought I had missed something–also I have done this before, I read the first 50 pages of the third Dune book, thinking it was the second!). And then, deciding that Pullman just wanted me to be confused for a while, I picked the book back up and pressed on.

  22. stellaaaaakris says:

    Oooh, that's interesting. I was referencing more of my own definition of "murder" than any official one, but I'm sure it was partly crafted due to my understanding of the US legal system. Which reminds me of how my dictionary defines racism as the prejudice of one race against another and nothing at all is said about oppression, which is the definition used on the Mark Does Stuff sites.

    I also thought the alethiometer would tell the truth, no matter what the subject was thinking. So if Mrs. Coulter truly thought she was acting in the best interests of the children and Lyra asked it "Is she helping children?" it would answer, "NONONONONONONO." But I do definitely agree that Lyra wouldn't pick up that distinction (and it's entirely possible that they are the same word to the alethiometer) and that the alethiometer knows what she needs to hear to get her to trust Will. It's the sassy best friend that lives in her pocket.

  23. Hanah_banana says:


    Here enters Will, my first real and proper fictional crush. Oh my god little Hannah LOVED him heart and soul and totally, he is so awesome. We have become used to Lyra being kind of bossy and domineering and let's be honest, all totally love her for it. We love that she can just lie and be sneaky and get her way. But suddenly Will is all 'no I need some SLEEP first damnit!' and Lyra is suddenly not getting her way anymore. And it's actually kind of awesome. Lyra has met her match, basically, and it is massively exciting. 😀

    Also my god I'd forgotten how long this chapter is. I haven't read this book for years so when you started the chapter I was thinking 'oh yeah he runs out of the house then the chapter ends' but then it kept going so I thought 'huh, must be when he goes through the hole into the other universe' and then it KEPT going and then I could have sworn it ended with him meeting Lyra as just 'suddenly there appeared a girl and a snarling wildcat' or whatever but then they had dinner and chats and the awesome, awesomeness of Lyra deciding that because he's a murderer he can be trusted (let's be honest, her best friend basically is now Iorek Byrnison A GIANT KILLER ARMOURED BEAR I'm so not surprised she feels safe around murderers) and I am just bowled over by how long this first chapter actually is. Rock on Pullman.

    Also I am home now so that means I can start re-reading these books along with you and maybe bring some actual coherent and well thought-out posts rather than just my half-remembered ramblings. At least, that's the plan!

  24. Hanah_banana says:


  25. monkeybutter says:

    I fell in love with Will just as fast as I fell in love with Lyra, and I remember being so excited to keep going the first time I read this because now there were TWO fabulous lead characters. I love the way Pullman introduces us to these kids, and how much more feral Lyra seems outside of her world. Granted, she's been alone and starving for days, but a ragged girl with a wild cat seems so much more out of place when she isn't surrounded by other kids with daemons or panserbjorne.

  26. xynnia says:

    Eeeee this is going to be so much fun!! ^^ I just dug out my (brother's) copy of The Subtle Knife and I'm gonna do a reread-along with you. It's been too long since I reread this trilogy. :3

    You should really make a new set of predictions now that you know what you know from the first chapter. XD


    Well of course it's Lyra! You'd already established that this was definitely the city in the Northern Lights, so where else would she be? xD I'm surprised that you're surprised by this, because you correctly figured out that it was the same one Asriel had been trying so hard to reach throughout the first book, and we know that Lyra walked across the bridge he'd created at the end. But I had not made this connection when I first read TSK and so was rather blindsided by the revelation, I think.

  27. Ellalalalala says:

    Oh my goodness, so much excitement about this book. I know even less about it than Northern Lights, but that first chapter has already made me think I'm going to like it more… Mainly because Will makes my heart hurt something rotten.

    …Will realised slowly and unwillingly that those enemies of his mother's were not in the world out there, but in her mind. That made them no less real, no less frightening and dangerous; it just meant he had to protect her even more carefully. …Part of Will's mind was always alert to her anxieties.
    I have no experience of or with paranoid schizophrenia (accepting Araniapriime's diagnosis, above), or with being the main carer of a loved one, but this passage resonated enough that I had to put the book down for a wee bit. I think Pullman does an excellent job of hitting exactly the right note for children with a mentally (and physically, perhaps) ill parent. The sense of responsibility (often pre-emptive damage-limitation strategies), the constant hyper-sensitivity to the tiniest fluctuations in mood or well-being, and the passionate defence of the parent themselves and the family unit… I completely believe in Will as a character. I hope he is ok.

    7. Someone will find a way to travel to a third parallel universe.
    And bang, there it is, right in chapter one. Plus, assuming Will becomes an ally, she has one who doesn't know about Dust (but presumably will learn), and the palm tree world seems to be different to ours (assuming Will's is ours). I feel qualified to say that MARK IS A MYSTICAL MAGICAL PREDICTION-MAKER.

    However, if Will-as-Lyra's-ally dies, I will never ever forgive you

    • notemily says:

      I love that so many commenters are reading these for the first time along with Mark! With Harry Potter it was like EVERYONE in the comments knew what was coming, but I feel like it's more evenly mixed now.

    • Mmsljr says:

      I love that part where he realizes her enemies are only in her mind. It's so stirring how Pullman has put it down. It's so true to reality when someone who is young and innocent is taking care of a parent (who is supposed to know everything, so the kid believes everything is real). Will's empathy towards her illness is so beautiful. People with mental illness need that compassion.

  28. Ellalalalala says:

    Oh I forgot! Today I nipped into the bookshop to buy The Amber Spyglass while I remembered to do so, but they only had one copy and I really didn't like the cover. (I know I know, I am ridiculous. But I am not above asking bookshops to order in differently covered copies because I am shallow and picky. Own your weaknesses.)

    So I went up to the desk and said:
    "Hi, I'm a bit embarrassed to ask you this, but I was wondering whether -"

    And the assistant said (with judgement):
    "Do you want to buy Twilight?"


    It is possible that I swore very loudly in the middle of the Children and Young Adults section.

    I have shame.

    • ABBryant says:

      It is possible that I swore very loudly in the middle of the Children and Young Adults section.

      At least you didn't loudly and colorfully cuss in a Waffle House at 11:30 at night only to find out there was a five-year-old sitting in the booth behind you.

    • knut_knut says:

      I completely understand your book cover weirdness. I CAN NOT find editions of The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass that match my TGC, but I really like the new editions I've seen floating around. Do I live with a set that doesn't match and die a little bit inside every time I look at my bookshelf, do I search for the matching set and secrety pine for the pretty set I don't have, or do I buy TWO sets, one I've read and one for vanity, with money I don't have?

      Do not worry about your shame 😀 Over the weekend I was pointed out by some woman to her daughter as an example of how NOT to be when she grows up 😐

      • stellaaaaakris says:

        I feel the same way. I have all of Tamora Pierce's books (I love them; they're so comforting and a good break for my brain) and for the Circle Series, my copies of The Circle of Magic books and the first three of The Circle Opens are these beautiful earthy colors, deep red/magenta/purple, forest green, hay yellow, etc. and illustrated with shadows and awesomeness. But Shatterglass is bright pinkish lilac and Tris is clearly a cartoon and everything's bright and cheery and it makes me sad. When I reread books, I have a need to read them in order (which means for the Tortall books I need to reread Daine over again) but I'm always tempted to skip over Shatterglass because I hate looking at how it just does not match the rest of them.

      • Ellalalalala says:

        You buy two sets, duh! Book vanity is a perfectly valid reason for spending money, especially the money you don't have.

        And THIS is why I'm in debt.

        I'm actually having a similar dilemma at the moment, because my Northern Lights
        ( – I can't embed things, sorry)
        doesn't match my new Subtle Knife
        and I've ordered The Amber Spyglass in the same set as TSK but then NL is left out and I'm obviously going to have to get the whole set of both types because they are pretty and AURGH I DON'T HAVE ANY MONEY for this sort of spending!

      • SueW says:

        I never realized how lucky I am that my ex-boyfriend bought me a boxed set of the series for Christmas (or was it my birthday).

        At the time, I had never heard of it. Neither of us was prepared. 😀

      • meguca says:

        I'm the same way with the covers, as well. I live in the US but have family all over Europe, so I visit there often, and I tend to buy books while on holiday, so lots of my series are split between British and American editions.

        It bothers me with the Hunger Games books, where my lovely US hardback of Mockingjay doesn't match the not-quite-as-nice British paperbacks of the first two. It bothers me even more with Harry Potter, where my US paperbacks of SS through GoF don't match my US hardbacks of OotP & HBP, which even more egregiously don't match my UK hardback of DH. What I really want to do is buy all of them except HBP in brand-new US hardback (I somehow lost the dust jacket of OotP so I'd want that one too) so they'll all match nice and neat on my shelf. But, you know, expensive.
        At least my copies of His Dark Materials match!

      • @muselinotte says:

        And I was already feeling weird about the fact that my Hunger Games edition didn't match the edition of Catching Fire and Mockingjay I BORROWED from a friend! They never touched my bookshelf, but still!

    • FlameRaven says:

      Now I'm curious, what cover did they have that you didn't like? The only one I've seen for Amber Spyglass is the first edition one, with the crowd of people and the dragonflies.

      (Interestingly, I just checked amazon and they have many covers, but none that match mine. I have this one although I lost the gold outer cover many years ago.

      • stellaaaaakris says:

        Mine has what I'm going to assume is an amber spyglass surrounded by a stream of what appears to be gold and blue confetti. The spine has a young man running through a vortex of color and the sparkling gold confetti is there too. The young guy also looks like how I imagine a teenage Matt Smith would look like. And he's running! The Doctor does a lot of running….

        • FlameRaven says:

          That is… certainly an interesting choice for the book. o_o And by interesting I mean "completely unrelated to much of anything."

          Searching for covers, I found these two covers which were done by John Howe and are completely gorgeous and badass, but alas, were not approved to be published. I'm so disappointed. D:

          • notemily says:




            • FlameRaven says:

              I KNOW RIGHT. As soon as I saw those designs I was like "omg these are awesome I need to buy this edition IMMEDIATELY" and then I saw that they weren't actually published. DDD:

        • t09yavorski says:

          Thats the cover I have. I believe it is from the same set as my golden compass (… ) Though sadly I never found a TSK to match.

      • Ellalalalala says:

        The only Amber Spyglass one they had was this one (apologies for all the links – if anyone wants to give me a hyperlinking HTML tutorial it'd go down a treat!):
        Which, I think you will agree, SUCKS BUM.

        My Northern Lights one was this one:
        But they didn't have the Subtle Knife or Amber Spyglass ones in, and I was in too much of a rush for TSK to order it, but LOOK HOW PRETTY THEY ARE!

        So instead I went for the nicest Subtle Knife they had in stock:….
        And I've now ordered Amber Spyglass in the same series, for continuity's sake:


        I say eternal dilemma, but we all know that in the end I'll have two different matching sets so I might as well cut the crap and just get ordering.

        If I had only had the foresight to think ahead and order online, then all of this angst could have been avoided!

        • FlameRaven says:

          Those are really pretty. I have totally mismatched books since I bought them as they came out (resulting in a first edition Amber Spyglass which would be cool if it weren't completely destroyed) and while I really like the Golden Compass copy I… will probably at some point end up getting a new set of matching books. Maybe the ones you linked, because they're nice, or the more abstract/constellation editions. Too many choices. ):

          Also, for hyperlinks, just type < a href=" insert url here" > type text here < /a > without the spaces, and it should give you a text link instead of the whole url.

        • knut_knut says:

          I LOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOVE those covers! Except for the first one…is that really the cover for Amber Spyglass? It looks more Northern Lights/Golden Compass to me. Weird.

        • Marie says:

          Good gracious those covers (the second through forth of your links) are BEAUTIFUL! I just can't get over them

        • notemily says:

          Oh dude, I already have a set with matching covers (dis wun), but the set you linked to makes me want to buy all of those instead. Are they hardcovers? Because the ones I have now are paperback, and I'd love to have them all in hardcover so they'll last until my niece is old enough to read them… (Okay, she's only a month old, but I AM CONVINCED SHE WILL BE A DEDICATED READER OF AWESOME BOOKS. And I will GIVE HER ALL OF THE BOOKS.)

        • notemily says:

          Also, when I was looking at Subtle Knife covers, I found this badass version. CAT.

    • maccyAkaMatthew says:

      This should cheer you up a bit:

  29. frogANDsquid says:

    Oh yeah this kids a murderer NOW i can sleep well and trust him.

    Oh Lyra.

  30. hpfish13 says:

    In other words, they are Lyra?

  31. flootzavut says:

    I read it that way, as well – that Will considers himself a murderer.

    Interesting note about the Alethiometer knowing what Lyra needs to hear, hadn't thought of that but it makes a lot of sense.

    • hazelwillow says:

      I think the Alethiometer might refer to Will as a "murderer" not because *Will* considers himself one, but because that is how *Lyra* would label his actions. After all, the Alethiometer and Lyra are from the same world, and the laws and or definitions there might be different than our modern legal distinctions.

      I agree, though, that what Will did was manslaughter or some lesser charge. It was accidental and in self defence.

  32. Kira Wonrey says:

    I was very confused when I first read this chapter. I assumed we’ll go on with Lyra, maybe after some description of this new universe, but NO. And for the first pages, I was wondering about where was Lyra and what was happening to her… Don’t get me wrong, I loved Will’s story and his relationship with his mother, but I didn’t like him that much, I don’t know why. So I was very happy when he found Lyra. I just love that she thinks she can trust Will because he’s a murderer. Amazing.

    Oh, and that universe they are in… It’s so creepy.

  33. flootzavut says:

    I just had a quick skim read through TSK to get back up to speed.

    Mwahahahahahaha. Your level of unpreparedness is EPIC, Mark. Truly epic.

  34. Twistedlilstar says:

    I remember the first time I read this chapter, my mind was BLOWN. Who is this person? What is he doing here? Where is my Lyra? But then he's so awesome, and Lyra does turn up, and then there's the "He's a murderer" line. For me, it just clinches the chapter and sums up Lyra so well: She the kind of person who'll ask to see a severed head and trust a stranger because he is a murderer. HOW AMAZING IS THAT.

  35. @Shoganate says:

    I *really* liked that this chapter dealt with a mentally ill character and not at all in a negative way. We are very familiar with mental illness in my family; I have been diagnosed with major clinical depression and my brother was diagnosed with bipolar when he was only 6. Growing up he had frequent manic episodes of laughter, crying, mimicking, fear etc. that he couldn't control. We [my family] have always loved him and taken care of him when he needed it but never thought any less of him or held his illness against him. That's not to say that a lot of my childhood wasn't a bit tough, for example (when I was too young to remember) my brother tried to kill me in my sleep. So having someone in your family that has a mental illness is not easy but your relationship is still built on love and trust.

    The story of Will and his mother really struck me as when I was preteen and early teen (and actually to this day still) my best friend was an only child raised by her single mother who suffers from borderline personality disorder. She's spent most of her life taking care of her mother, but unlike Will and his mother, their relationship was not as, I don't know, I don't want to say loving because they surely love each other very much, but her mother being so dependent on her when she was growing up was a major cause for resentment for her in the past.

    Anyways, sorry to get all serious and whatnot but I just really, really liked Will's relationship with his mother. =)

    Also, on a different note, I think I may already like this book better than the first! I enjoyed the first book but I wasn't absolutely in love with it or crazy about it; I felt like I didn't enjoy it nearly as much as everyone else on here… >.>

  36. Viyamusic says:

    I think you're right. Although there are certain ideas Pullman criticizes that pertain to specific denominational ideas- predestination and the like- it's the bureaucracy and corruption of the church in power that he is specifically against. And though I'm a Christian (a very liberal one) I definitely get behind his overarching theme of not letting religion get so powerful that it can control and manipulate the masses.

  37. @Leenessface says:

    Philip Pullman?

    <img src="; border="0" alt="Image and video hosting by TinyPic">

    Reading this along with you this time, I think!

    I love Lyra's whole "Welp, he's a murderer, that's awesome, best friends forever"

  38. drop_and_roll says:

    Just wondering why you said that Will travelled from London, as it's not actually mentioned in this chapter where he's from.

    • xpanasonicyouthx says:

      Isn't that the only major city that's like forty miles from Oxford? It was a guess/assumption on my part.

  39. _Sparkie_ says:

    No! Library?

  40. Laurel says:

    Go to Half Priced Books and get it there. There's gotta be a zillion copies there!

  41. redheadedgirl says:

    All the text says is "He is a murderer." And if I remember correctly, the alethiometer (you spelled it right) first told her who Iofer's victim was, and then, when she asked it for more information, told her the circumstances. It doesn't say she asked for more info, and I am disinclined to put words into Pullman's mouth- er, pen.

    • @Shoganate says:

      You're right, it does say she asked further in regards to Iofur but just the one question for Will. I guess it just doesn't make any sense to me that she would trust him based on so little, I know that Iorek, who trusts the most, is a murderer, but so too is her father and mother and she doesn't trust them in the slightest! But I guess that just proves that I am a suspicious and untrusting person, or just completely prejudiced against murderers!!

      • redheadedgirl says:

        OMG HDY (of course I want to be a criminal defense attorney when I grow up, so…)

        Anyway, it wasn't jsut "oh btw, he's a murderer" that made him worthy- he knew how to find food and understood how some of the nonsense (like…. soda cans and can openers and doing the dishes) in this world worked- he was capable of finding shelter and taking care of himself and was willing to show Lyra how to do the same. It was more his…. strength of character that she was worried about. He could do all of those things, but still be utterly useless in helping her figure out Dust. And his being a murderer indicated there was steel in him, which would make him not-useless and probably even useful.

  42. @Shoganate says:

    Argh, ReDeath, damn automatic smileys!!

  43. redheadedgirl says:

    Are you reading a US edition?

  44. arctic_hare says:

    They might have altered it for the American release, just as various British terms were changed in Harry Potter.

    • maccyAkaMatthew says:

      Nope, to repeat another reply, it's cellphones in the UK version as well. I think cellphone and mobile were used fairly interchanageable when not as many people had them.

      "tote bag" and "sidewalk" are unique to the US version, though.

      • FlameRaven says:

        Is it tote bag? I saw a lot of the word "rucksack" in my copy, which I think is much more a UK use. US would more commonly say "backpack," I think.

  45. FlameRaven says:

    I second the suggestion of the library or Half Price Books, if you have to spend money at all. D:

  46. rumantic says:

    My version states that he's twelve in the blurb on the back, too.

  47. Hellen says:

    I got the His Dark Materials audiobooks recently, so now that I've read/listened to this for the first time since I was 10 years old (WHY DID I WAIT SO LONG), I can finally leave comments!

    I really love the contrast between Will and Lyra. I think at the beginning of Northern Lights it's stated that Lyra doesn't really know what a family is, whereas Will has such a strong tie to his family, and is pretty much responsible for it. But they both have idolised fathers (well, not Lyra so much any more). I can't wait for them to interact more.

    Seeing Lyra from an outside POV was very strange somehow, though.

  48. cobaltazure says:

    This chapter is a great way of showing off Will's BAMF credentials. The kidlet looks so unassuming, but the way he makes the creepy men back off from his mother just makes me smile every time. I also like that, unlike Lyra, Will isn't the type to launch into a situation unprepared and improvise. Which isn't to say that the way Lyra does things is bad. It's just to say that Will brings a different way of dealing with danger to any partnership with Lyra.

  49. Kate says:

    Yep. So that was pretty much a fantastic way for this book to start. Can't wait for the next chapter! (But unfortunately I must – curse this one-a-day thing).

    Something that struck me as a bit odd though – why is Lyra so adamant that cooking and doing the dishes is servants work and beneath her? From what I remember of her living with Ma Costa for a few weeks she was fine with helping to cook eels and clean and didn't look down on them for not having servants to do it? Is she just being defensive and trying to make herself look more powerful because she's out of her element? Hmm.

    I love how being a murderer is the one true way of being 'In' with Lyra, though. She's a special snowflake.

  50. Tilja says:

    Do you know what this chapter reminded me of? It reminded me of Stephen King's Firestarter. Somehow I felt in the same way, like we were going to get more definite information about why Will was running away throughout the story, some sort of flashbacks or people discussing events (like in TGC). The way it continues rooted that belief, so you're in excellent hands with this story telling 😉

  51. pennylane27 says:

    It's just too good. I mean, you're totally expecting something, and Pullman goes "No no, I'm going to start in our world and let you scratch your head as you frantically read through the chapter trying to find Lyra's name in a sentence and leave you thoroughly confused as to where this is going because I am totally evil."

    That is how Pullman speaks in my head. don't judge me

    Seriously though, I am so in love with these books. And I'm never getting tired of saying it, but to all of you who are reading along, I am laughing at your unpreparedness. Just so you know.

  52. Ellalalalala says:

    That is so far beyond a tragedy I'm not sure if I can breathe.

  53. Ryan Lohner says:

    It says:

    "The Subtle Knife is the second part of the trilogy that began with The Golden Compass. That first book was set in a world like ours, but different. This book begins in our own world."

  54. Ash says:

    Calling it now.
    Will is my favorite character in this whole trilogy and whatever happens, whoever we meet after this, I'm not taking it back.

  55. Andrew (Chagrin) says:

    Don't actually have time to read the whole review because I have to leave for work but I just wanted to say that as soon as I saw Will's name I broke into a pseudo-theme song. "Will Turner Will Turner, awesome dude! Will Turner Will Turner, what a guy!"

    There was clapping.

  56. ChronicReader91 says:

    Hi Mark! Longtime reader, first-time poster here. Unfortunately I found your site after your reviews for Harry Potter and THG were already up, and real life interfered with my reading of The Book Thief, so The Golden Compass was the first book I’ve had the pleasure of reading “with” you. I have to say, while reading the book in and of itself was an experience, reading your review of each chapter is one of the highlights of my day. I always get excited when I see a new one has gone up.

    Since I haven’t read TSK before, you’re level of unprepared-ness is about the same as mine. And that is a very, very high level. I initially assumed we’d be picking up right where TGC left off. Then a few pages in I was like: “Oh, so… no Lyra in this book? Nothing from TGC at all? Ohhh OK I get it this book will focus on this new character, then they’ll meet in the third book of the trilogy.” Wrong again! (See, someone IS worse than you at making predictions!)

  57. ChronicReader91 says:

    Also, this:

    She had asked: What is he? A friend or an enemy?
    The alethiometer answered: He is a murderer.
    When she saw the answer, she relaxed at once.

    Just made me burst out laughing. Oh Lyra, you’re like no other fictional character I’ve ever encountered. NEVER CHANGE.

  58. Ronni says:

    Mark ≠ Prepared

  59. lilygirl says:

    Just one of those asides, Will's Mother has a lot of reasons for her paranoia, they were followed and people broke into their house. Be afraid, be very afraid

  60. hokieblood says:

    when i first read this series nearly ten years ago…didn't know this was the second book till i started it…i read this one then TGC…then TAS….lol it was an interesting experience

  61. sabra_n says:

    Oh my god, the spring-gun. You totally went to law school. 😛

    Right now I'm studying for the bar, so what I had to memorize is the multistate rule – which I guess is just the most popular trend among states – that deadly force should only be used in defense of human life. But again, what Will used was non-deadly force that just ended up having deadly consequences – not to mention the fact that he was defending his own personal safety – so he'd be okay.

    • redheadedgirl says:

      I will be you next summer- I'll be a 3L next year. I'm working in the school lawbrary this summer and I am kind of terrified watching the bar exam studying happening. It's traumatic to watch, I can't imagine how traumatic it is to do.

      • sabra_n says:

        You'll be okay! I'm not going to pretend it's fun or even particularly pleasant, but it's just another stupid hurdle on the way to the legal profession. Like the LSATs and the writing competition and the MPREs and…heh. 😛 You know the drill.

  62. BradSmith5 says:

    When I was half-way through this chapter I flipped ahead to see how long I had to go. And I gotta admit: when I saw Lyra's name, I skipped to that part. I mean, I was SO BORED with Will. Walking around. Going to Burger King. Taking a swim. That's what I DID on my way to buy this book today––why am I reading it again!? "My character is going for a stroll; be amazed!" RRRGH.

  63. Ellalalalala says:

    It's Lyra-esque in its awesomeness!

  64. t09yavorski says:

    I'm that way about the new Animorphs books covers, except they are being rereleased (Yes I am an adult. It is a collection (and i havent read them all yet !!)). I only need 6, cant they just give them to me in the old covers?

  65. Shay_Guy says:

    Well, technically not ours. After all, His Dark Materials presumably doesn't exist in Will's world, and it does in ours. Plus I don't think it's possible to leave ours like he did his.

  66. notemily says:

    I just want to say that my copy of The Subtle Knife is currently in a cardboard box in my storage closet, and my roommate's is in the same situation, because we just moved into a new apartment and we don't want to unpack books until after we paint the walls and get all the furniture where we want it. I would have unpacked it, except there are like twelve boxes of books (we have a lot of books) and I have no idea which one it's in. SO, my point is, I made a special trip to the library today, just to get a copy of this book so I could read the first chapter and your reaction to it today. That may not seem significant, but the thing is, I work at a library and I have to work tomorrow, so I could have just waited until tomorrow to get a copy, but I DID NOT WANT TO WAIT EVEN ONE DAY to see your utter lack of preparedness for this book. And it was so worth it.

  67. hazelwillow says:

    Yeah, he's from somewhere else. I assumed it was in this chapter but I guess it isn't?

  68. bradycardia says:

    Hurray for The Subtle Knife! I love Will so much! He's one of my favourite ever fictional characters.

    I've discovered a neat feature in my edition of the book. There is a symbol on the side of each page showing which world we're in! A tree for Will's home world, an alethiometer for Lyra's and a knife for the world they meet in.

  69. notemily says:

    Oh don't worry, I have lots of strong opinions about fonts. Don't get me started on Arial versus Helvetica.

  70. Stephalopolis says:

    Well folks, I read and read and read to catch up to Mark, and I'm almost there!! But for now, time to start The Subtle Knife.

    Again, a forewarning. I have never read this series. I watched the movie a looong time ago, but like Mark, I only remember the Polar Bears. Plus, now that we've reached the second book, that's not even a problem anymore. I literally have NO CLUE what is about to happen. So as I comment throughout this book, just remember, I haven't read it, have no clue about anything. So if I accidentally say something that's going to happen later in the book, it is pure coincidence and just a random guess from myself, not an actual spoiler. You can point it out to the mods, but commenting back on my reply will not only point out to Mark that my random guess is a spoiler, but to me as well 🙁


    1.) We won't see Lord Asriel right away. In fact, we won't run into him until the halfway mark, and that will be only spotting him. Lyra won't speak/run into/confront him until 3/4ths of the way in.
    2.) There will be no daemons in this world. Pantalaimon will have to hide or pretend to be her pet
    3.) Lyra will be very alone on this journey. She might make 1 or 2 allies, but for the most part she will be running/hiding/not have a large group of people with her.
    4.) There will be a knife? And it will be used subtly?
    5.) Lyra will stop Lord Asriel from destroying the dust, but something else bad will happen, that she has to stop or fix.
    6.) This book will have more religion references than the first.

    Whew. And now time to read Chapter 1…


    Wow. Just, wow. What a way to open a sequel. I've already got questions— What is in that book??? And how in the world is Lyra going to complete her quest when there are MULTIPLE WORLDS connected??? She has no clue which world Asriel could be in right now….

    So far, I really like Will. I love his sense of responsibility, and that even when he's dead tired, he still makes sure things get done, and they do the "right" thing (leaving money in the till, cleaning up afterwards).

    And yes- empty town= creeeepy.

    I am heartbroken though that Moxie didn't find a way to come with. Alas poor Moxie, we only got to know you for such a short bit of time.

  71. Stephalopolis says:

    No. Just no. Do NOT support her in any way, whatsoever. Library library library. And hell, if you don't want to use the library, I sadly own the book (present… luckily the "bookmark" in it was money, so at least a part of the present was wanted) so anything you need looked up, just let me know and I can find the page number and whatnot for you. Just DO NOT SEND HER MONEY OR INCREASE HER SALES IN ANY WAY.

  72. maci says:

    Oh Mark,
    Good luck =/

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