In the tenth chapter of The Amber Spyglass, Dr. Mary Malone is the best fictional character and everything is perfect and nothing hurts. Ever. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Amber Spyglass.
CHAPTER TEN: WHEELS
I’m convinced now that Dr. Mary Malone is going to get all the best chapters out of The Amber Spyglass. I really do adore that Pullman has chosen her out of everyone else to spend so much time in the world of the mulefa. Coming from the world of science, it’s so fascinating to me to read about the way in which she approaches this mysterious and jarring place, and you can see the tender respect she has for the mulefa through her interactions with them.
But first: Father Gomez. BOO HISS BOO HISS. What a slimy character. I’m perfectly fine with a lone character without a layered treatment or a nuanced meaning. He’s a villain who believes he is saving the world by murdering a child. I really don’t think I need another meaning or motivation to that. I get what he represents to the story: he’s a personification of a person who uses their religious belief to harm others. The end? I mean, he’s clearly not a representation of every religious person, just those that this analogy applies to. Which is probably not you specifically? Unless you are trying to kill Lyra Belacqua at this very moment AND I WILL FIGHT YOU TO THE DEATH ON THAT.
I jest, though. I cringed at the conversation Father Gomez had Paolo and Angelica. It figures that Gomez would go through other children to get to Lyra and Mary, though I can’t ignore the fact that Will technically caused the death of Tullio. I also can’t ignore that both Mary and Father Gomez seem to be the only adults who don’t attract the Specters, though Gomez uses that to his advantage. Why is it that these two are exempt from the effects of the Specters, though? What do they possess that makes them exceptions to the rule?
We’re given no answers, nor any clues that I can discern, and Pullman quickly moves on to Mary Malone and the world of the mulefa. Thankfully, this chapter is a lot longer and more comprehensive than our first visit. Because Mary is a scientist, a lot of this is approached in a narrative sense from the perspective of science, including talk of evolution and adaptation. But beyond the beautiful nerdiness of this all, it’s so fascinating to be able to learn about the way the mulefa have built a form of a society on their own. It was initially shocking to me, but that’s only because so much of this was inconceivable to me. I mean, I couldn’t even picture these creatures in my head, and now I learn that they can communicate, BUILD HUTS, and adopt Mary into their group as one of their own.
What is deeply important to me is the fact that throughout all of this, Mary has not one malicious or bad-intentioned bone in her body. While I’m certain that her scientific background helps, I think that what we witness here in chapter ten is the growth of a character before our eyes. It may seem like a silly characterization out of context, but Mary is a good person. There are so many qualities to her that come out during this chapter that just make my heart want to burst. She avoids letting her selfish desires cloud her judgment. She opens her mind and her heart to accepting other living things that have almost nothing in common with her. She doesn’t think about how she can benefit or exploit from this parallel world. Hell, if anything, all that happens here is that Mary enjoys the journey. That is a beautiful thing to me. There are so many characters (religious and scientific) who don’t act this way at all in the trilogy, and if anyone is going to be a part of the “destiny” the witches spoke of prior to this, I’m glad that Mary will be integral to this all. I’m already thinking of what it means that she’ll act as the “serpent,” and how that relates to the concept of knowledge within His Dark Materials.
Actually, let me hold off on that for a second.
Mary continues to explore this world and learns more about how the mulefa communicate with one another using sounds and their trunks. I adore that after just a few days with these creatures, Mary is already working to teach them how to say words in English while she works on learning words herself. (It’s not one-sided with Mary, and that’s admirable.) All of this wouldn’t work, though, if it wasn’t give such a realistic sense of detail. The fact that Pullman actually talks about how the mulefa cannot comprehend Mary using one hand to accomplish a task, or using both hands at the same. This is something we never think about because it’s so natural to us, but in this world that Pullman has created, he thinks about all the different ways that he can contrast our world and our customs with a place that is unfamiliar to us. He gives us the inner workings of this society, from how children are raised, to how they grow up, to how the round seedpods play such an important part in their lives.
I just really enjoy how thought out this all feels, that it’s planned to such a minute detail that it doesn’t ultimately seem like it’s fiction at all. For me, it’s a sign of Pullman’s talent as a writer, and as he uses this to expand on the idea that this world developed through evolution, like ours, I just…seriously. This is my soulmate. Right here. I need no other companion for the rest of my life. SERIOUSLY. I mean…Pullman thought of how the mulefa ate and killed the grazers for food, and how to locate fish, and how to MAKE NETS. They make nets!!!! Also, this:
When she saw how they worked, not on their own but two by two, working their trunks together to tie a knot, she realized why they’d been so astonished by her hands, because of course she could tie knots on her own. At first she felt that this gave her an advantage–she needed no one else–and then she realized how it cut her off from others. Perhaps all human beings were like that. And from that time on, she used one hand to knot the fibers, sharing the task with a female zalif who had become her particular friend, fingers and trunk moving in and out together.
Do you see what a profound statement this is? We are socialized to believe that independence is the ultimate goal for nearly everything we do, but the mulefa view this as a disadvantage. And I don’t think that Pullman is necessarily saying our independence as a species is really a bad thing, but that sometimes we never even consider that there’s another way of doing things. In that sense, this chapter is both a learning experience for Mary and us, as the reader. We are experiencing all of this right alongside her, and these ideas are just as foreign to us as well.
But let’s talk about what seems to be the real point of all of this. Mary finally sees how in tune the mulefa are with the giant trees and the strange, round seedpods. But this is not just an opportunity for Pullman to talk about evolution. I’m more interested in this passage.
It was hard to understand, but they seemed to be saying that the oil was the center of their thinking and feeling; that young ones didn’t have the wisdom of their elders because they couldn’t use the wheels, and thus could absorb no oil through their claws.
And that was when Mary began to see the connection between the mulefa and the question that had occupied the past few years of her life.
HOLY SHIT I THINK I FINALLY UNDERSTAND THIS. The oil is Dust is dark matter. It’s what the Specters feed on. It’s the knowledge of experience, isn’t it? It’s the pursuit of that knowledge and what comes with it. Is that what this whole series is leading up to? Are we going to see a confrontation between the forces who want to keep their knowledge and those who wish to suppress it?
It certainly falls right in line with what the Fall is: Eve sinned, then Adam sinned, and then we gained the knowledge of the world. It was the knowledge that made us feel shame, and it is heavily implied that this act was not good or moral. It seems this is what the Magisterium wishes to change: they do not want Lyra to choose knowledge all over again.
For me, though, this is the one aspect of Abrahamic theology that will always rub me the wrong way. Right from the start, given the information from the Bible, this seems flawed. I don’t believe any sort of loving or just God could create a situation where the two most ignorant people in the history of creation are in any capacity to choose between right or wrong. If what the Bible tells us is indeed true, then Adam and Eve were born into the very definition of ignorance. They knew not of the concepts of right and wrong. Good or bad. They knew not of the death that God warned them about. In their eyes, that word holds no meaning: no one has ever “died” before. As I said in an earlier review, I feel that the God of the Bible/Old Testament stacked the cards against us. If he set up all creation as an experiment of sorts, or a test of our free will, then he created a situation in which we, as his creations, would always lose. Did he expect any less? Did he expect these two humans to understand his threats when they had no concepts of the words he spoke?
By gaining knowledge after the Fall, Adam and Eve learned why they should have obeyed God. But instead of feeling shame for learning of their nakedness, they should have felt cheated. God knew what the stakes were; how on earth could they have known what he meant when he told them they would die?
By the way, don’t tell me if I’m right about my prediction. I mean, it goes without saying, but someone always seems to forget that.
The last segment of chapter ten is the first bit of action in this part of the story, which is not to say that anything before this was boring or uninteresting. Far from it! But the mulefa are suddenly attacked by a group of white-winged creatures from the sea. Called tualapi, these objects are…holy shit, TERRIFYING. Again, I seem to be unable to actually picture them in any capacity at all, so any fan art will be GRACIOUSLY WELCOMED. As these horrifying creatures set out to destroy the mulefa camp, Mary does something that filled my heart with such respect and love for her. In a moment that risks her own life, Mary dives into the river to retrieve as many seedpods that the tualapi discarded into the water. Now the mulefa watch as Mary does something that is entirely alien to them, as they’d never gone in the water themselves. It’s an act of gratitude on behalf of Mary, who has learned so much from these creatures, and I dearly adore her for it. She didn’t have to do this, but she did, without the slightest hesitation. Out of deep respect for her, the mulefa finally share with Mary the reason for their concern about losing the seedpods that were their life force:
But something bad had happened many years ago–some virtue had gone out of the world–because despite every effort and all the love and attention the mulefa could give them, the wheel-pod trees were dying.
Well, what the hell? Is this related to the Specters? The angels? I AM CONFUSED.
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