Mark Reads ‘The Subtle Knife’: Chapter 4

In the fourth chapter of The Subtle Knife, Lyra finds someone who knows about Dust at Oxford (sort of), and Will investigates his father’s mysterious disappearance years ago. Oh, and AHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!! Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Subtle Knife.


A Very Ridiculous and Lengthy List of Things Found in Chapter Four of The Subtle Knife That Made Mark Want To Pass Out From Excitement

  1. Will learns from his family lawyer that his father simply vanished, and that it has been at least ten years since the man has heard from John Parry.
  2. Oh, Will’s father disappeared on an expedition. In the North. ABOVE ALASKA. I see you, character parallel, I see you.
  3. Lyra, on her journey through this familiar/unfamiliar Oxford, finds the exact same initials (SP) carved on a street corner where, in her world, a boy named Simon Parslow had done just this. This makes her realize that it’s entirely possible that, in this world, Simon Parslow might have another version of himself. And so might she. And ;AKSDJFSD;LKFJADSFKL;JJKLAFSDJKDFS I LOVE THIS BOOK SO MUCH ALREADY.
  4. In a history museum, Lyra finds “doubles” of the exact Samoyed hunters who had sold her to the Gobblers in Bolvangar, and the sled appears to be the same sled, complete with identical fraying and knotting in the rope. CREEPY.
  5. Lyra also finds trepanned skulls in the museum, meaning that people in this world also cut holes in their skull on purpose. Was this for the same reason?
  6. Oh, and some CREEP is watching Lyra THE ENTIRE TIME SHE IS DOING THIS and his tongue is like a snake? Oh. Oh, I don’t like this man at all. Why is he so interested in Lyra and why is he so unsettling?
  7. The alethiometer confirms that the trepanned skulls are 33,254 years old and that there’s way more Dust around them.
  8. The creepy watching man confronts Lyra, introduces himself as Charles, and begins to talk to her about the skulls, and every inch of my body is shrieking at Lyra to RUN AWAY RUN AWAY THIS MAN IS BAD RUN AWAY.
  9. Pantalaimon helps Lyra realize that this man SMELLS LIKE IOFUR RAKNISON’S PALACE. I cannot even pretend to understand what this means.
  10. The alethiometer tells Lyra, once she is outside of the museum, that the scholar who can help her with Dust is in a specific room directly behind her. Oh, and she needs to focus on helping Will find his father. So the alethiometer can now speak to Lyra without her even asking a question? What the hell is that thing???
  11. At a library, Will begins to look into the public records surrounding the disappearance of his father. Look, I can’t ignore that both Will and Lyra “lost” their fathers to scientific expeditions. HELLO, CHARACTER PARALLELS.
  12. My brain is going to erupt from unpreparedness: Lyra, using that oh-so-wonderful ability to lie her way into anything, finds her way to the specific room where the alethiometer told her that there would be a Scholar who would know what Dust is. The sign on the door to this office says, “DARK MATTER RESEARCH UNIT.” I now have goosebumps. Of course it wouldn’t be called Dust in this world.
  13. YOU ALL: DUST = DARK MATTER. ka;sdjkf spdo8f S;kl :FDdfps78af s;l DF:KLas fasd;ofiyds fhjlsdfak ;DFAajks pioasdfkladfs fdsapaoifds ;asl
  14. We are introduced to Dr. Mary Malone, the dark matter physicist who works in this office, and Lyra proceeds to blow this woman’s mind open as she reveals so much about “dark matter” that this woman has spent years learning. And Lyra is eleven.
  15. Because the alethiometer told Lyra not to lie, this entire interaction is a thousand times better than it ever could have been because she is so forthright with Dr. Malone. Within the first minute or two, she tells the scientist she is from a parallel universe, though Dr. Malone does not initially understand this.
  16. I can’t claim to be an expert on dark matter, but I love how ridiculously complex this all is. It’s a challenge, for sure, to even be able to visualize the concept of something that holds the universe together that we can’t see. It’s a distinctly scientific explanation of the universe, though, instead of a religious one.
  17. The research team believes that dark matter, nicknamed Shadows in this universe, are PARTICLES OF CONSCIOUSNESS. what is this i cannot even oh my god this is the greatest book of all books to be a book.
  18. Dr. Malone begins to describe how the particles don’t appear until one puts their mind in a specific, relaxed state, and then some sort of communication appears on a device that relays what the particles mean to tell you. Yeah, I just fucking described the alethiometer to you, except here, it’s a computer called the Cave. No, I’m serious, this book is already better than The Golden Compass and we’re on chapter four. Hold me, please.
  19. Oh, Shadows only seem to react to objects associated with “human workmanship.” Why are humans so integral to Dust/Shadows? I DON’T GET IT.
  20. Dust did not exist until (my guess) 33,254 years ago. Historically, it’s about the time that humans appeared on earth. This. Is. Amazing. My. Brain. Is. So. Happy. Right. Now.
  21. Lyra demands to use the Cave. Dr. Malone declines because…well, an eleven-year-old girl with knowledge of a complicated physics theory just walked into her office and surely this is enough for one day. So Lyra pulls out the alethiometer and tells this woman that if she can answer a question that only Dr. Malone knows the answer to, then she should be able to use the Cave. Lyra, you are so beautifully demanding. Never change.
  22. Yeah….so Dr. Malone USED TO BE A NUN. WHAT. I do like that Lyra is shocked at the very concept of being able to leave a church, confirming pretty much outright that Lyra’s universe is run by the Church.
  24. Lyra on the computer….holy god I don’t understand this but i love it dearly
  26. Now we get an absolute confirmation that while the alethiometer is a unique device in and of itself, it appears people of every universe or culture have found ways to communicate with Dust/dark matter/Shadows.
  27. Oh, I adore the scene where Lyra just flat out explains that she is literally not of this world and the blank, shocked face of Dr. Malone is all she gets in response.
  28. How powerful is the moment when Lyra tells Dr. Malone that you can’t divorce good and evil from science? Ugh, seriously, you don’t understand. This trilogy, so far, has so many things that I adore intensely. HOW HAVE I NEVER READ IT BEFORE??!?!?!
  29. Lyra, in that demanding tone again, tells Dr. Malone to get the computer to “do words,” so that she can use it to tell her what the alethiometer hasn’t revealed yet to her. In exchange, Dr. Malone asks Lyra to come back to demonstrate what she just showed her to someone else. Lyra agrees. And shit is going to get so real.
  30. AS IF ALL OF THIS NEW INFORMATION IS NOT ENOUGH: We cut back to Will, who discovers that a “journalist” asked someone at the Institute of Archaeology for all of the information regarding the disappearance of John Parry’s expedition. DUN DUN DUN.
  31. As much as the Dust/Shadows reveal is about the coolest alternate scientific theory ever, there’s a reveal here that seems even more important to me. Will learns that the expedition was actually a survey, not a dig or an actual experiment, and that the team had a physicist with them, looking at PARTICLES IN THE AURORA AND THIS MAN HAD BALLOONS WITH RADIO TRANSMITTERS. Look, I could be totally wrong about this, but this universe has so many creepy doubles and parallels with Lyra’s world and I can’t ignore this. Is this Lee Scoresby? But in this world? Even stranger, John Parry was there to act as the survival guide, to manage the threat of polar bears, and I’m just going to potentially embarrass myself here by making a guess: Will’s father is a double for Lord Asriel. That would just…my god, my brain and heart would cease.
  32. The journalist who visited the Institute of Archaeology? It’s the man who’s been harassing Will and his mom. FUCK.
  33. This chapter ends with that very man entering the office of Will’s family lawyer. Oh, this is just the best chapter to ever be a chapter for all time. THANK YOU FOR INSISTING I READ THIS SERIES.

(A quick note! Thank you to RachelsaurusRex and her friend Jasonsan for coming up with the idea and the execution of the new banner, respectively. <3)

About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
This entry was posted in His Dark Materials, The Subtle Knife and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

147 Responses to Mark Reads ‘The Subtle Knife’: Chapter 4

  1. drop_and_roll says:

    She's in the Pitt Rivers Museum! Lyra's in MY Oxford! I still find this so exciting, many rereads later.

  2. Jenny_M says:

    OMG new banner FTW!

    This chapter is one of my favorites, mostly because we meet Dr. Malone for the first time. It's a massive infodump chapter, but I love the way Pullman does it. Mary is just…baffled by Lyra, and I think that drives a lot of their interactions. And Lyra is, well, Lyra. She's demanding and bossy and completely incredulous of the fact that this woman keeps asking what she perceives to be silly questions. You can almost feel her exasperation when she has to read the alethiometer just to use the Cave.

    Also, yay for nerds in universities naming their computers after nerdy things. I once named a server Ford Prefect.

  3. Saphling says:

    Why hello there Plato's Allegory of the Cave that I didn't notice the first time I read this. I see what you're doing there, Pullman. I'm on to you. >______>


  4. carma_bee says:

    About a week after The Golden Compass started here, I went on vacation to the UK and in the beginning I went to Oxford. I’m kind of sad that I didn’t purposefully look for any of the places mentioned in the chapter, but I did go to the museums that Lyra went to in the chapter. I only was certain that they were the same museums when I got to that part, and that was kind of exciting for me. It’s great because now I can imagine them in my head much easier, before I was really bad at imagining what they looked like. The first museum, the one with the dinosaurs and animals, is the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, and the second one with the skulls is the Pitt Rivers Museum. I liked the animals more, but they’re both free and worth a look if anyone ever goes to Oxford.

    Even though I wasn’t sure that the Pitt Rivers Museum was the one in the book, I still looked for some skulls like Lyra did. I found some with holes in them but I don’t remember seeing a card describing them, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they had something else in their place because the book was written so long ago.

    This is from one of the upper floors, where Sir Charles was looking down on Lyra.
    <img src="; border="0" alt="Photobucket">

    I love the part with Mary because we can see the equivalent of Dust in our world. Reading about what Dust is to Lyra is one thing, but seeing that it’s also Dark Matter is another, because I’m pretty sure I’d heard about Dark Matter before I read The Subtle Knife and I read articles about Dark Matter after I read this chapter. It makes the books feel more real. I remember thinking while I was reading this part of the series, “What if it was real?" Because it feels like it could be, to me.

    • cait0716 says:

      Awesome picture.

      I had the opposite reaction with dark matter. I have to separate it from what I actually know about dark matter in our universe to properly enjoy this book. I just keep telling myself that Pullman didn't get the science wrong, he's writing science fiction. It makes the book feel more fantastical to me.

      • FlameRaven says:

        To be fair to Pullman, from what I remember from my Astronomy 101 class a few years back, we've learned a LOT more about dark matter in the fourteen years or so since the book was written. I think in the late 90's scientists were just figuring out that dark matter was a thing, now we know a bit more. Granted it's still a really weird thought that something like 70% of the universe is made up of nothing.

        Feel free to correct me; I only vaguely remember the information on this.

        • cait0716 says:

          True. And it's not uncommon to adapt a scientific concept to tell a story. I mean, there's a whole genre built around it. A lot of the time the real world details simply don't matter as much as the story being told (see: Heisenberg Compensators on Star Trek). We have learned a lot more recently, and it's all still pretty theoretical. It's more just the idea of particles of consciousness that bothers me. That would imply fields of consciousness, which opens the way for telepathy and telekinesis. But I can accept it in a work of fiction.

          • FlameRaven says:

            Ahhh I see. Yeah, 'particles of consciousness' is definitely a sci-fi idea. I don't know enough about actual dark matter, so connecting the ideas for this book never struck me as that strange, but I can see why it would be awkward if you knew more about the science.

    • xpanasonicyouthx says:


  5. knut_knut says:

    Haha it took me forever to figure out what was different about the banner. MARK, YOU EN'T PREPARED AND NEITHER AM I BECAUSE I REMEMBER VERY LITTLE ABOUT THIS BOOK. Also, shit is getting CREEPY.

    Question time!
    So, if shadow particles are attracted to anything associated with human thought but not children, are they attracted to things children make?

    • Noybusiness says:

      I believe they said that shadow particles are attracted to children but very weakly compared to adults.

  6. Brieana says:

    Was this for the same reason?

    As far as I know, trepanning was done so that evil spirits will egress. I'm sure there are other reasons You can read up on it on wikipedia, though I suggest you stay way from the part where it mentions where it's is referenced in pop culture.

    "No, I’m serious, this book is already better than The Golden Compass and we’re on chapter four."
    I'm glad you're enjoying it!

  7. redheadedgirl says:

    So the alethiometer can now speak to Lyra without her even asking a question? What the hell is that thing???

    It's a tiny bit alive. Maybe more than tiny.

    Although Lyra uses the concepts of the alethiometer to use the Cave, so it's clear (at least, to me) that it's more the Dust that's alive than the Alethiometer- the Dust uses the alethiometer (how many times can I type the word alethiometer in this comment?) as it's user interface to communicate with people. Just like Dust uses the I Ching and the Cave (and probably Tarot cards, reading of bones….maybe even Ouija boards when it's not being used by kids at a slumber party with one or more kids diliberatly moving the thingie to freak everyone else out.)

    • Tilja says:

      That's true, one of the things I did after reading this book was take up my forgotten I Ching set and start using it again. Then I learned more tarot because I can.

    • Thank you for giving me the notion that when I'm doing Tarot stuff, I'm working with Dust. 😀

  8. Partes says:

    "Yeah, I want to use your highly expensive equipment to talk to the universe please. Oh, and I'm from another world. Stop looking shocked and let me use your computer! I'm LYRA SILVERTONGUE, I'm kind of a big deal, I know the King of the bears and all that, can we hurry this up?"

    Such a little badass.

  9. Shiyiya says:

    Man, I used en't for YEARS after I read His Dark Materials.

    • Jenny_M says:

      I do this all the time – I pick up the dialect and languages of whatever I'm reading and while I don't say them out loud, it's like I start thinking in that particular patois. I'm reading the Song of Ice and Fire series now, and it's a constant babble of medieval-type speech in my head. When I read The Secret Garden I spent ages trying to talk like I was Dickon on the moors. And yeah, Lyra had me saying en't for a very long time. Basically, I'm easily influenced by written language!

      • leighzzz31 says:

        Haha, I'm reading ASoIaF right now and I randomly quote everywhere I go! My friend was complaining how how it was the other day and my answer? "WINTER IS COMING!"

        • Jenny_M says:

          Every time someone annoys me at work, I find myself wanting to shout something along the lines of, "I am Daenerys Stormborn, your Khaleesi! Shut the fuck up and leave me alone or you're gonna wake the dragon!"

          But I try not to.

          • leighzzz31 says:

            Dany is so quotable when she's angry!
            Also, my advice to you about the people at work: "Stick 'em with the pointy end!" (No sword? Use a pen!)

      • Shiyiya says:

        I call it being a linguistic sponge 😛 I use a lot of typically british grammar patterns because so many of my friends I talk to online (and my primary partner) are british.

        • Jenny_M says:

          Yes! That's exactly it. I'm also bad when I visit a new place – I live in the south (US), but when I go up to Chicago I start picking up on some of the speech patterns, and I went to school in New York so I had that for a while. Plus, my mother's Scottish so I tend to slip back into that when I spend a lot of time with her. And I'm just in all sorts of trouble when I go home to Scotland to visit my family there!

          • Shiyiya says:

            My accent during family reunions on my mom's side (she's from Kansas) is RIDICULOUS.

            • theanagrace says:

              Awww! I love accents! But all I get is the stupid Ottawa Valley accent, eh bai?

              • Shiyiya says:

                Accents are so cool! My normal accent is…uninteresting. I think it falls under American Newscaster English or something. (I'm from Arizona.)

                • Accents are definitely interesting. Especially how they can change even between close neighbouring cities/counties. 20 miles and a new accent? Awesome.

                  I have an English accent with hints of American after living there as a kid. It leads a lot of people to think I'm Australian o_O But after my first semester at University in Wales I had an English/American/Welsh accent. Most. Horrific. Thing. Ever.

                • Ellalalalala says:

                  No one ever thinks their own accent is interesting. I bet I'd find yours cool!

      • monkeybutter says:

        ASOIAF speech would be so awkward. Calling people craven and asking if they've bled yet. At least en't won't get you strange looks!

      • drippingmercury says:

        I'm relieved I'm not the only one with medieval-speech babble in their head from rereading a Song of Ice and Fire. This time it's amplified because I've been reading the series aloud. The HBO show got my partner to start reading it (finally!) and I wanted to reread before Dance comes out… so rather than pass the books back and forth, we decided to take turns reading it to each other. It's awesome, except I cannot. stop. talking. like. that. We're only a third through Clash of Kings and I'm worried my speech is permanently stilted!

    • So, so happy I'm not the only one who tends to do this.

      Halfway through Wintersmith I started picking up Feegle dialect, which was … awkward. Like my own accent isn't thick enough as it is, lol.

    • hpfish13 says:

      I do this kind of thing all the time. I still use "shiny" in its Firefly meaning on a regular basis. This site itself has influenced my speech patterns, both online and out loud.

      • cait0716 says:

        I definitely still use "shiny", as well as "frakking" and "____ much?".

      • Shiyiya says:

        I actually said shiny all the time before I'd even HEARD of Firefly, leading to confusion when people asked me if I was referencing it. (I have no idea where or why I picked it up, but it was definitely not Joss.)

      • Niyalune says:

        I sometimes use "gorram it" ^^ and well, I have a tendency to swear in English, which is noteworthy, as my first language is French. I also think in English from time to time.

    • pennylane27 says:

      I do this too. Right now my inner speech patterns are a mix between HDM, Game of Thrones and Austen. It's interesting.

  10. anon says:

    You still en't prepared 😉

  11. Jenny_M says:

    I forgot to say above, I loved the way Pullman describes how Lyra sees certain technological things in our world. His description of a computer is brilliant – the bit about the dirty alphabet blocks sitting in a tray makes me laugh every time. And then look shamefacedly at my own keyboard, which is in dire need of a cleaning.

  12. cait0716 says:

    Hooray for the return of the list! I was just reading Mark Reads Twilight and sort of lamenting the fact that the form of your reviews has become somewhat standardized. Not that I don't love your reviews, but I miss some of the different formats we saw back in the day.

    Anyway, great chapter. I really like that the alethiometer leads Lyra to a female scholar as the resident expert on Dust/Dark Matter. It's such a clash with Lyra's worldview where there's a very distinct line drawn between genders. Remember how she looked down on the female scholars back in the first book? And now we have an awesome female physicist to explain dark matter to her. Very awesome.

    I think the computer and guillotine make the same sound by virtue of both being computers. It's not a sound Lyra is familiar with, so she connects them. But it's that weird white noise that you don't even notice when you spend enough time around computers.

    As always, love the predictions. I will just sit here with tented fingers, because I know something you don't know. 🙂

  13. FlameRaven says:


    I assumed it was just a general electric hum. Have you ever been around a TV that's on, say, the video channel? So it's a blank blue screen instead of a proper channel. Depending on how good your hearing is, you can hear a low, electric hum from all the stuff inside. The same kind of hum or whirr can be heard around power stations too. So the computer is just making this general electric hum, and presumably the guillotine had that sound because it had electric motors and such powering it as well.

    Oh, Shadows only seem to react to objects associated with “human workmanship.” Why are humans so integral to Dust/Shadows? I DON’T GET IT.

    Mary posits that the Shadows/Dust are particles of consciousness, yes? If that idea is true, then it makes sense that those particles would be attracted to objects that take concentration and workmanship to make. A bone is just a bone, but a bone with carvings on it is a bone that a person has spent time and energy and thought working on it.

    I love all the information we get here and the exciting new ideas. I also have to laugh on poor Mary's behalf: an eleven year old comes in unannounced and suddenly not only proves the existence of the very weird particles you are doing highly theoretical research on, but also makes them dance and put on a show in a way you couldn't imagine, and then calmly explains she's from another world. I'd probably have been overwhelmed too. What the fuck do you even say to all that?

  14. Mauve_Avenger says:

    Noatak, Alaska, is a real town of less than five hundred people, located 70 miles north of the Arctic Circle. There is also the Noatak River, and the Noatak National Preserve set up to protect the river basin, but no Arctic survey station. The name of the town comes from the Inupiat word for one of the groups that live there, the Nautaagmiut.

    The archaeologist at the Institute of Archaeology mentioned something called the Nuniatak dig. There's actually no such place as Nuniatak that I could find, but "nunatak" is the (originally Inuit) world that designates a large rock formation (generally a mountain) that projects through the glacier around it. They're often used by explorers as landmark references. A picture of a nunatak in Tongass National Forest, Alaska, from the USGS. It's partially covered by the Juneau Icefield.
    And another picture from the Kenai Fjords National Park in Alaska, in an article about the biodiversity on and monitoring of Alaskan nunataks.

    Alethiometer stuff…
    We've got three new alethiometer symbols in this chapter (alpha & omega, garden, and moon), for a grand total of twenty-seven out of thirty-six revealed. We also have the use of six previously-revealed symbols, three of which we didn't have meanings for before now: the angel symbol means 'messages,' the compasses symbol means 'calculations' or 'mathematics,' and the candle means 'understanding.'

    When the alethiometer talked about the I Ching, it used the symbols camel, garden, and moon. While the camel has been used to mean Asia before, I can't figure out what the next two symbols could possibly mean. I know that outside of the books the garden symbol is sometimes called 'the walled garden,' so maybe that's a reference to the Great Wall?

    • theanagrace says:

      I have an idea as to what those symbols mean, but I have a feeling it may be mildly spoilery. Courtesy of you, yesterday, I'll cypher it with that website;
      V unir n srryvat gur tneqra ercerfragf gur tneqra bs Rqra, gurersber xabjyrqtr, naq gur zbba znl unir fbzrguvat gb qb jvgu srzvavar cbjre, be fbzrfhpu.

      • hazelwillow says:

        Your link isn't working, but I looked it up –what a cool website! I'm going to use it from now on.

        About the Alethiometer, Lyra said it was saying "from the East, but not as far East as you can go" or something like that (right? I'm just going on memory here). Maybe the moon can mean degrees, because it waxes and wanes. The Camel could mean "east". So "Almost full moon" + "east" could mean "almost all the way east."

        Maybe the garden had to do with the sticks –trees and then sticks could be a sub-meaning of garden.

        I really like working out these alethiometer things. V jvfu vg jnf n erny fhowrpg bs fghql va bhe jbeyq!

        • theanagrace says:

          Awwwwww poop. And it was my first time using the code to make the link into words and I was so proud of myself too, lol. Oh well. I think I know what went wrong too, I thought there needed to be another " in there.

          That does make sense. I might have been over-thinking it for my interpretation. This is the first re-read where I've ever tried to assign meaning to the symbols that aren't explicitly explained. I always just focused on Lyra's translation.

          I know what you mean about the alethiometer too. 😀

  15. leighzzz31 says:

    I've had no time to read this chapter (grrr, exams!) but I just wanted to comment and say:

    -MARY MALONE! I LOVE HER SO MUCH! Female badass scientist? Check! Oh, Phillip Pullman, your female characters are an endless list of awesome.

    -DARK MATTER! One of my favourite things, in all the world ever. I find it so fascinating and I learnt about it from this book for the first time. Again, Phillip Pullman, you have taught me so much, all the applause in the world is not enough.

    -Science, science and more science! I love it when literature heavily borrows from science because it makes the story THAT much more believable and I adore how it flows so easily through this story. Plus, DUST=DARK MATTER! Can it get better than this? (Answer: Yes, actually. Yes, it can.)

  16. Tilja says:

    Since we're on the new banner (which, btw, I LOVE; Thanks RachelsaurusRex and Jasonsan!), is there any possiblity to create a banner like the one for HPDH, with hidden clues and things? Like the images on the alethiometer and stuff like that. A banner only for His Dark Materials, I mean. It would be nice if each book or set of books had its own representation, and this one is piled deep with symbols of all kinds so it looks even more tempting to do it.

    Thoughts and oppositions on this, please?

  17. majere616 says:

    God I love your lists Mark. Besides AIM convos they are my favorite review style.

  18. Mary Malooooooone.

    No, I’m serious, this book is already better than The Golden Compass and we’re on chapter four. Hold me, please.
    Yeah, The Golden Compass was awesome, but I think The Subtle Knife is even MORE AWESOME because it gets to build on that awesome with SCIENCE!!


    So happy you've finally reached Mary! She is an awesome lady and she has ALL THE SMARTS. Actually, I'm just so happy you've reached this chapter in general! Even Creeper MacSnakeytongue cannot take away from its headsplodey goodness.

    … Though he gives it a bloody good go ;_;

  20. rumantic says:

    "Pantalaimon helps Lyra realize that this man SMELLS LIKE IOFUR RAKNISON’S PALACE. I cannot even pretend to understand what this means."

    Oh Mark, you are so literal.

    • SybillTrelawney says:

      I lol'd at that as well – its this complicated comparison about the stench of something evil covered up by a disguise of perfume (I also think of President Snow's roses to cover the smell of blood) and Mark is all, "He smells like bear poo???"

  21. MaggieCat says:

    The heavy perfumes really do stick out, don't they? Especially in contrast to the mentions that Lyra frequently neglects bathing and is probably a bit whiffy a lot of the time.

    And since this is the first time I've re-read this book since reading The Hunger Games, I now can't shake the surreal impression that creepy museum guy is President Snow. THIS IS NOT A GOOD MENTAL PICTURE.

  22. @bambbles says:

    oh my god this is the greatest book of all books to be a book.
    I KNOW RIGHT!! Urgh, this series…

    Also, the banner made me lol. LOVE IT!

  23. Cazzatee says:

    I'm loving these reviews – it's like being able to read a favourite book for the first time again!
    I want to add – just because I think it's awesome – particles of consciousness are (were) a genuine scientific theory.

    Leibniz (a scientist/philosopher in Newton's time, one of his rivals) wrote a book all about "monadism" which was basically about paricles he called "monads" and which were a link between mind and matter, or mind and body. (for anyone who's as much of a science/philosophy geek as I am!)

  24. Cazzatee says:

    I'm loving these reviews – it's like being able to read a favourite book for the first time again!
    I want to add – just because I think it's awesome – particles of consciousness are (were) a genuine scientific theory.

    Leibniz (a scientist/philosopher in Newton's time, one of his rivals) wrote a book all about "monadism" which was basically about paricles he called "monads" and which were a link between mind and matter, or mind and body. (for anyone who's as much of a science/philosophy geek as I am!)

  25. @maybegenius says:

    I think I was 16 when I first read this book. SIXTEEN. I swear this book and A Wrinkle In Time sparked a lifelong fascination with so-called "science fantasy" stories — stories that aren't strictly fantasy, nor strictly science fiction, but a blend of the two. I remember reading this stuff and being like HOLY SHIT I LOVE OUTER SPACE AND EXPERIMENTAL PHYSICS AND THIS IS AMAZING.

  26. Stephalopolis says:

    Something i’ve been thinking already, but your comment about Will’s father/Lord Asriel makes it relevant enough for me to put it out there now… Does that mean Will is Lyra’s equivalent? Explorer fathers, they’re both good at deception, something brought them together, he’s been treating her like a younger sibling- Whig would be the closest relationship to relate it to without recognizing parallel universes might have parallel people….

    I dunno. Just something I’m pondering.

    • lindseytinsey says:

      Oooooh interesting. So who is Mrs. Coulter's double? Dr Malone? Oh god.
      But maybe your double has to be someone of the same gender? I dunno. On to chapter 5!

    • Mmsljr says:

      The way that he is lost makes me think his father is parallel to Grumman.

  27. sabra_n says:



    I have to go to class so I can't say much more, but I share in your glee, Mark! Gosh this book is happy-making.

  28. arctic_hare says:

    The whole thing about parallel worlds having different versions of the same person makes me think so much of Diana Wynne Jones' Chrestomanci series, where there are nine different parallel Earths, and yes, there are generally nine different versions of the same person, only the name isn't the same for each one. Certain people don't have these separate versions of themselves though… so instead they have nine lives, and are very powerful magically, and become the next Chrestomanci and regulate magic throughout all these parallel worlds. 😀 Intensely cool series.

    This chapter is also intensely cool. I love Mary Malone and the whole scene with her and Lyra. BUT WHO IS THAT CREEPY GUY WATCHING LYRA? AND FFFFUUUUU, THAT "JOURNALIST" IS GOING INTO THE LAWYER'S OFFICE. And what happened to Will's father? Aaah, so many questions.

    I love this book. <3

    • hazelwillow says:

      Oh! I've always wondered exactly what was the deal with those Chrestomancy books. I've only read about Howl. Thanks for the concise summary! Very cool. 🙂

      • arctic_hare says:

        You're very welcome! 😀 I love the Chrestomanci series, and highly recommend them. I hope you'll enjoy them too if you check them out!

  29. hymnia says:

    Even though I have issues with the series overall, I have to say that I loved this book–it was far and away my favorite of the three–and about the first 1/3 to 1/2 of it is my favorite part, too. So I'm enjoying these reviews immensely. And I'm enjoying how prepared you en't, Mark. XD

  30. Ms Avery says:

    There's more than one of everything.

  31. eleniel says:

    Pantalaimon helps Lyra realize that this man SMELLS LIKE IOFUR RAKNISON’S PALACE. I cannot even pretend to understand what this means.

    It made me wonder if he's a polar bear? WAIT HEAR ME OUT!!! Lyra saw a picture of the exact men who captured her, and the exact sled that she rode on. So either 1. in our world and Lyra's world parallel versions of INDIVIDUAL PEOPLE exist, or 2. someone somehow obtained a picture of the actual men from Lyra's world and the sled, so there aren't actually parallel-versions of people. But if 1 is the case, maybe since our world doesn't have armored bears, the alternate versions of Iofur and other bears ARE HUMAN? Evidence: HE WAS WEARING ALL WHITE AND HAD A WHITE HANDKERCHIEF. Okay yeah this is a stupid theory lol

    • Ellalalalala says:

      I love this theory. I don't buy it for an instant, but I love it more than most other things, if not ALL other things. 🙂

  32. That's really cool, thanks for sharing 😀

  33. pica_scribit says:

    Mark, I love the new banner. Heh. No, you en't prepared at all!

    9) I think the point being made here is that the man smells like corruption.

    14) I totally forgot Mary Malone comes into the story this early!

    20) I'm pretty sure what Dr Malone says is that Dust was not attracted to humans before this point; not that it did not exist at all.

    • Meg says:

      Wikipedia says that anatomically modern humans have been around for about 200,000 years. So if Dust has only been settling on them for the last 33,000…

      Interestingly, Wiki also says that 33k years ago is about when the Neanderthals went extinct, having been effectively supplanted by homo sapiens as the dominant species/subspecies of human. I'm not sure if that's relevant at all, though.

      • hazelwillow says:

        I would think that's relevant. 33K must refer to something or other of that nature, I would guess.

        • pica_scribit says:

          I figured the 33k figure was to do with when our minds started to work in modern ways, ie, self-awareness and abstract thought.

  34. pennylane27 says:

    I had forgotten all of this happened in only one chapter. It's just so amazing. And trust me, I know nothing about science, but somehow I managed to understand it. And just how awesome is it that Dr. Malone was a nun before? Mind. Blown. by this chapter.

    Also. this is the greatest book of all books to be a book.. YES. Best description of a book ever. I was grinning all through your review because I felt the same excitement and glee reading this book. It's just. SO. AMAZING.

  35. xpanasonicyouthx says:

    Oh, I can't wait to start reading this series on my own next week. So excite!

    • Jenny_M says:

      You know what's hilarious about this? The fact that GRRM writes the books with each chapter from the perspective of a different character. So even if you can read them without doing it one chapter at a time, you will still have to deal with UNENDING CLIFFHANGERS where you don't see the character again for like FOUR HUNDRED PAGES.

      The universe, Mark, it is conspiring against you!

    • knut_knut says:

      I hope you like them!!

    • @ladylately says:

      You're not doing reviews? DDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDD:

  36. drippingmercury says:

    Mark, the two things I have wanted you to read the most out of ~all the books~ were His Dark Materials and A Song of Ice and Fire. And so far you're loving HDM and the Game of Thrones TV show… IT'S LIKE ALL OF MY DREAMS HAVE COME TRUE. MY HEART IS FULL OF JOY. 😀 😀 😀

    • xpanasonicyouthx says:


      I'm going to start reading A Song of Ice and Fire on my own next week. Excite!

      • drippingmercury says:

        oh my god i think my heart is exploding with joy

        It's good you're reading it on your own, because you probably won't be able to put it down once it gets going. Not to mention how long reviewing a chapter at a time would take!

  37. Wang Fire says:

    I've been enjoying this a chapter at a time so far but I made the mistake of flipping through the book and now I'm eager to get moving. This series is far better than I remember it being (and I did have a good opinion of it).

    I love the introduction of Dr. Malone. She's running low on sleep and high on stress – (like me and Aang today. Pullman has superhuman parallel abilites apparently.) – and then this girl walks in spouting a far higher understanding of her research and she just goes into a complete daze.

    Mr Parry thinks he can handle polar bears, does he? Now I have an image of Lyra coming over the horizon riding Iorek.

    There are some fascinating developments but we still don't have the full picture yet. You really en't prepared.

  38. Emma says:

    Did you know that there is actually evidence that matter may actually be aware in real life?
    Scientists did an experiment called the Double Slit Experiment that basically showed particles doing the impossible- being in two places at once. They had the results, so wanted to see what was happening, because particles shouldn't behave like that, but here's the thing- when they set up a camera to watch the particles, they behaved normally, suggesting matter is aware.
    [youtube DfPeprQ7oGc youtube]
    So the idea of Dust/ Dark matter floating around us, aware, isn't so far fetched after all…

    • cait0716 says:

      In no way does this show that particles may be aware or exhibit signs of consciousness. It shows the wave-particle duality and how a probability distribution collapses when it is observed. The particles are not in two places at once. They have a possibility of being in a number of places, and an equal probability of going through one slit or the other. If you observe a particle, measure it's actual location, the waveform collapses. Quantum mechanics is weird, but particles aren't aware of anything.

    • Danielle says:

      I'm unsure how "matter behaves differently when observed differently" automatically leads to the conclusion "matter can THINK".

  39. Becky_J_ says:

    God, what an information overload, yes? First thought…. Sir Charles is a creepy motherfucker. Also, how awesome is Dust/Dark Matter/Shadows? SO AWESOME. I love how it is conscious, and I love how poor Dr. Malone is just floored by this eleven year old who is talking to the Shadows.

    Oh, and Mark? I have a reality check for you….. THIS IS ONLY CHAPTER FOUR. heheheheehehe

  40. bradycardia says:

    Oh man. So glad you are enjoying this. I love Will. And Mary Malone. And Lyra. And and and…
    Seriously, as I was rereading Northern Lights, and loving it again, I was getting more and more excited to get to The Subtle Knife, because I remembered how much I'd adored it!

  41. monkeybutter says:

    I prefer the abbreviated version, but either way I'm grinning!

    [youtube rxLOXUGmRKI youtube]

  42. lindseytinsey says:

    This book is soooo good! I don't know how long it will be til I can't read along with you any more. I remember with The Hunger Games I finished the series just before you started the 2nd book, haha 😀
    I like this list a lot! Especially #31. There was one point where I thought Asriel is both Lyra and Will's father. It's sooo confusing and interesting. What about those initials S.P???
    I want to see Lord Asriel NOW!

  43. Shiyiya says:

    To be fair, significantly different accents *do* tend to be difficult if you don't have enough practice parsing them. I still have trouble with the Welsh ones in Torchwood. And I have a couple of friends with veeeery broad Yorkshire accents that did a podcast for a while – it took me three or four listens to have any idea what they were saying (though I can now understand Yorkshire perfectly), and when I played part of one for a USian friend of mine she asked me if I was sure they were speaking English 😛

    • Ellalalalala says:

      Oh no, I definitely don't dispute that! But as you say, a lot of it is to do with exposure and "standard" accents are much more ubiquitous in the media.

      I was sort of thinking aloud and it's still a very clumsy thought which I'm just getting my head around, but there's something theoretically bizarre about how my speech is considered to be clearer than my Scottish friends, but you wouldn't be able to tell which 'paw/poor/pore/pour' I meant without context. Whereas if they just listed the words, you could tell at once. Seems strange.

      Scleugh, still thinking aloud (ascript?)! Will stop rambling now!

  44. Tyler says:

    Mark, I <3 you!! That is all I have to say!! I don't even care if it sounds weird. I just <3 you!!

  45. Amara says:

    My dad is reading these books just now, after I read them about eight years ago. He went NUTS about the Dark Matter stuff. He's an amateur astronomer and crazy about things having to do with the universe. He's apparently read many articles about Dark Matter and finds it one of the most interesting things in his scientific readings. And he thinks it's so cool that Dark Matter is being used in a book I've loved for forever. (he just finished the Subtle Knife and has the last book on his desk)

  46. pica_scribit says:

    I do NOT think this is the same thing as Dark Matter, because if Dark Matter is what holds the universe together, then it would have existed long before humans did.

    The way I understood the explanation was not that Dust has only been around for 33k years, but it has only been attracted to humans for that long. In other words, something about the way our minds work changed at that point in our evolution, and we began attracting Dust as a result.

  47. Ellalalalala says:

    This chapter has hit a new high for me. Friggin LOVED it. The Dark Matter stuff… Shadows (link to Spectres? ooooh…)… particles of consciousness… <3

    Quick question about the 31st point: I'm going to err on the side of caution here, but I too had a moment of PLAUSIBLE THEORISING whilst reading this chapter and I'm wondering whether it's appropriate for me to discuss it? I've never read these books before, but I'm assuming it's safest just to avoid any but the most bizarre suggestions about how this all turns out? (Still chortling over eleniel's man-wearing-white-is-blates-a-polar-bear theory!)


    I love how Lyra's responses to our world give us such clearer insights into her world. The one that stood out for me was her observation of different ethnicities on the street. Brytain being pretty ethnically homogeneous does seem to fit, but I still had a moment of huh, I see.

    The Samoyeds thing threw me so much — how does time work here? Is Lyra's time earlier than our time? I guess if you can travel from the North Pole to the Mediterranean(?) in a few steps then the fabric between the worlds is not geographically consistent – so is it temporally inconsistent too? I FREAKIN LOVE THIS BOOK AND THE QUESTIONS IT MAKES ME THINK. Don't even get me started on multiple Lyras – and the fireworks if they ever met. Oh my god, how would Lyra-and-Pan respond to a Lyra-without-Pan?!

    Two things that did bug me though:

    1. I don't know how I feel about the alethiometer going beyond telling the truth and actually telling Lyra what she should do. I've trusted it this far, but hmm, now it seems partisan and conscious of ~Lyra's destiny~ and that troubles me greatly. Not in terms of the writing, but in terms of THE BIGGER PICTURE.

    1a. That being said, I LOVED the line:
    Will had appeared out of nowhere in order to help her: surely that was obvious. The idea that she had come all this way to help him took her breath away.
    Please let Will be even more ~destined~ for something that Lyra, so basically Northern Lights was setting her up to be a sidekick rather than a hero! Not because Lyra isn't awesome, but because I adore subversions of the human propensity to see ourselves as the centres of the universe!

    2. Mary Malone. Don't get me wrong: she is awesome. But she is either ~*the Best and Goodest Person Ever Ever*~, or she is a FRAUD. Because, frankly, I have stayed up all night writing funding applications for evil University administrators, I know that in that sleep-deprived, panicked place, neither I nor any of my colleagues would give the time of day to a small child who came wandering in demanding to use my equipment and asking annoyingly pertinent questions about my methodology and epistemological approach. And I love children. Normally. But YOU DO NOT MESS WITH AN ACADEMIC TRYING TO JUSTIFY THEIR EXISTENCE IN MONETARY TERMS.

    And if the irritating little so-and-so pulled out a golden compass and started trying to tell my fortune, I dare say I'd've SMASHED IT WITH A HAMMER.

    2a. But then I would miss out on Lyra being AWESOME. There is a lesson in this.

    • Your enthusiasm is so cool. Never change. 🙂

      Please let Will be even more ~destined~ for something that Lyra, so basically Northern Lights was setting her up to be a sidekick rather than a hero! Not because Lyra isn't awesome, but because I adore subversions of the human propensity to see ourselves as the centres of the universe!

      I love subversions, but would personally hate this eventuality if it came to pass, with the fire of ten thousand suns. It's fantastic to have a book where the Chosen One(tm) is a girl, not a boy, and to turn it around in the sequel where she's demoted to the boy's sidekick and he's even awesomer than her — ugh. There are enough books in the world where female characters exist only as props in male characters' lives; I reeeeeally don't want this to be another one. Let Lyra and Will be equal heroes with equal stories. That's all I'd ask.

      • Ellalalalala says:

        You are absolutely right and I formally rescind my previous statement.

        OR!! Maybe Lyra could *think* she's not the centre of the universe and learn valuable lessons from the resultant crisis of identity and humility — lessons which stand her in great stead in the final book when it turns out that SHE IS THE LYNCHPIN THAT HOLDS THE WORLDS TOGETHER. Just as she comes to terms with her apparent peripheral status, HER CENTRALITY IS PROVEN.

        Let Lyra and Will be equal heroes with equal stories. <- or, y'know, that. That does sound better.

      • Ellalalalala says:

        Also, re enthusiasm, I was giving a paper not that long ago, and the sign language interpreter had to stop me halfway through:

        "Sorry, would you mind slowing down a bit?"
        "Oh sure, sorry, I gabble when I get mid-flow."
        "Yeah, and I didn't want to mention it, but could you, like, not hop from one foot to the other and dance on the spot as well? That would be really helpful."

        Reddest. Face. Ever. :$

  48. xynnia says:

    (A quick note! Thank you to RachelsaurusRex and her friend Jasonsan for coming up with the idea and the execution of the new banner, respectively. <3)

    *blinks in confusion*
    *scrolls back up to look at the banner*
    *bursts out laughing*


    I can’t claim to be an expert on dark matter, but I love how ridiculously complex this all is. It’s a challenge, for sure, to even be able to visualize the concept of something that holds the universe together that we can’t see. It’s a distinctly scientific explanation of the universe, though, instead of a religious one.

    Mark? I have a book for you to read. It's called 'The Science of Phillip Pullman's His Dark Materials".

    READ IT (after you've finished the trilogy, in order to avoid spoilers and so that you can appreciate its explanations fully). YOU WILL LOVE IT, I SWEAR.

  49. Rachel says:

    I am laughing so hard at the new banner 😀 It is glorious

  50. Dah! The banner! It's perfect!!!

    The first time I read these books, I think it was this chapter more than the previous ones in TSK that made me realize, "Oh. Wow. So we're really going to get serious now, huh?"

  51. Brieana says:

    I decided to listen to the audio book on youtube so I can follow along. I really don't remember this much at all. I thought Mary was to be introduced much later.
    Anyway, I have to say that the guy who played Will has a very nice voice indeed.

  52. Kelly says:

    Yes it is….I remember reading that for the first time, over and over. For like ten minutes, just reading that one sentence, my mind exploding. I LOVE that Pullman put that in there.

  53. cait0716 says:

    I like the idea that it's not really dark matter. I'm gonna go with that theory from now on.

  54. flootzavut says:

    I LOVE THE NEW BANNER. Made me laugh a lot, thanks for pointing it out as the change is so subtle I might not have noticed!

    Your headsposions on this chapter are most gratifying 😀

  55. Ash says:

    Dark Matter.
    Yes, science fiction YEESSSS!!

    Sci-fi, fantasy, magic, adventure, moral issues, death, awesome; is there anything these books don’t have?

  56. Shiyiya says:

    That h is SILENT!

    • Ellalalalala says:

      SO IS THE E!!!

      • Shiyiya says:

        The E is ALREADY silent! One doesn't say sconey! Silent, not invisible!

        • Ellalalalala says:


          Do you also pronounce 'done' in this clearly erroneous manner?

          (And yes, before you counter-thrust, I do pronounce 'cone' like 'con'. Yes. Absolutely. I am definitely not making that up.)

  57. Ellalalalala says:


    • Shiyiya says:


      (I would just like to note that I was telling my partner (who lives in Greater London) about this, and when I typed 'scone' and 'herb' I pronounced them britishly mentally. Sie's kind of rubbed off on me 😛 I even sometimes think baahsil instead of baysil! Herb seems to be staying stubbornly USian, though :P)

      • Ellalalalala says:


        (Note to self: do not ever say booyakashaaaaa again.)

        So, how does Sie pronounce scone? Because there isn't a consensus even in Britain (apart from the obvious Ella-is-always-right rule, which I'm pretty sure is enshrined in law somewhere)… AND! were you aware that there's a Scottish town called Scone which is pronounced Scoooooon? WHAT IS THIS MADNESS?!

        • Shiyiya says:

          Sie says scon! And I was not aware of the scottish town.

          (British placenames are FOREVER CONFUSING. When I was little I pronounced Worchestershire sauce like it's spelled (war-chester-shy-r). And I still say Thames looks like thayms not tems.)

  58. Allispin says:

    I read this trilogy years ago and loved it. I recently got done working my way through your reviews of Hunger Games, Harry Potter, A Game of Thrones, and A Clash of Kings, as well as Golden Compass, but I knew once I started reading this review that I'd have to re-read Subtle Knife, and probably Amber Spyglass again. I finally gave in and just started on Subtle Knife and once I get caught up I'm sure I'll enjoy your reviews even more. Your reviews are enlightening, hilarious, entertaining, sometimes heart wrenching, and almost always eye-opening. I literally think I am a better person after reading some of your commentary. Keep it up !

  59. Bex says:

    Hi Mark! Loving the reviews – this is one of my favourite chapters. Just a quick correction (late in the game, but I missed this when I first read this review) – Humans didn't appear on Earth 30,000 years ago (there have been many human species, Homo sapiens evolved c.200,0000 years ago in Africa) however, around that time there were two major changes.

    1) Neanderthals went extinct
    2) There was what Paul Mellars terms the "Great Leap Forward". Art, evidence for religion and ritual, complicated hunting weapons etc all expand significantly around this time. Make of it what you will!

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