Mark Reads ‘The Amber Spyglass’: Chapter 10

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.


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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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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127 Responses to Mark Reads ‘The Amber Spyglass’: Chapter 10

  1. Darth_Ember says:

    I was a bit iffy about the 'working together' bit when I read it; there's too much 'loners are freaks' out there. How dare one be introverted, or independent, or otherwise not want to just get along and agree and be buddy-buddy?
    I think I like it better as you interpret it, Mark, that it's simply another way of doing things.
    It's just… there are too many less balanced sources out there, giving the "all must work together, or be wrong forever" message without any such nuanced depictions, and as a result I get a bit edgy about it.
    Oddly, I'm fine with worlds being saved by the power of love/friendship/whatever. I just really don't like the version where disagreeing or working alone at all is bad and wrong.

    • cait0716 says:

      I know exactly where you're coming from. If I were suddenly living in a society as social as the mulefa, I would probably relish the alone time that tying knots afforded me. I think you have to find a balance between independence and teamwork and that balance is different for everyone.

    • hpfish13 says:

      It's funny, because I've always grown up around people who thought the opposite–that you must do everything all by yourself or else it holds no value or sense of accomplishment, that asking for help is a sign of weakness, not companionship–but I've always preferred to work on things together, and, as a result, I love this passage and the value it attributes to shared tasks.

      That being said, I love (and need) my alone time!

    • Quantum Reality says:

      The thing is, our society embraces individualism to an almost unhealthy extreme. Who’s idolized and fetishized the most in Western society? The so-called “lone wolves”, the “Great Men”, the Randesque New Man – people like George Soros, who before he turned over a new leaf was busy playing the world of floating exchange rates for his benefit, or Bill Gates, who for a decade-plus was reviled as a monopolist and oligopolist in certain sectors of the computing world. Or consider Ken Lay, who until his fall was lionized as one of the great men of the new frontier of energy derivatives.

      I could go on, but I think you get the point. Communitarian and collectivist impulses in Western society are now scorned and derided, and socially-minded schemes like government pension plans are deemed “unaffordable” – into the bargain purposely stoking those impulses to break the intergenerational compact by fuzzying the issues involved.

      So Pullman’s portrayal of the mulefa as a people who, by the very force of biology, have to act in community-fashion, is designed to get us humans to see ourselves through a lens that’s been disused for a generation at least.

      [WORDPRESS HASHCASH] The poster sent us ‘0 which is not a hashcash value.

      • notemily says:

        I agree. The idea that any social program is bad because "why should MY tax dollars pay for someone else's [retirement, health care, disability accommodations, etc]" is an attitude I hate, because it denies the fact that we're all connected in this society and we have to look out for each other.

        • Elexus Calcearius says:


          I think we need a balance between the two views. You need to work together and value companionship, but at the same time, there are some things you might need to do as an individual.

        • flootzavut says:

          THANK YOU YES!

          I have some dear friends in Texas and I like them in many ways, but some of their attitudes in this respect bug the hell out of me.

      • Darth_Ember says:

        …And they do tend to be men. A lone wolf is male; lone women are not seen anywhere near so positively. A male loner is bold, independent; a female loner is isolated… somehow defective. This particular notion disgusts me.
        Also, your thing with the pensions… not all of Western society is America. Just saying.

        As a side note, I don't mind 'caring for the community'… as long as I can get a bit of privacy while working on my contribution.

      • flootzavut says:

        YES. It's a fallacy to think that the Mulefa society is opposite to human society – it's opposite to Western/developed society. We have lost a lot in our passionate pursuit of independence.

    • notemily says:

      I think there's a difference between wanting to be alone because you enjoy solitude, and wanting to DO everything alone because you think you don't need anyone else. Everyone needs someone else at some point, even introverts.

      • sabra_n says:

        Yes, that's what I was seeing, too. I'm a very strong introvert, but that's not the same thing as priding myself on self-reliance. I do both, but it's only the latter that sometimes leads me to bang my head against problems uselessly where I probably should just asked for help. 😛 It's that mindset, that "I can do everything by myself", that's being argued against a bit here. Sometimes working with others is awesome.

      • Darth_Ember says:

        And if I need someone else, it won't be for tasks I can do alone. Because I refuse to limit myself to please others; why should I care if someone feels threatened by my refusal to play helpless for them?
        It has always been rather a sore point, because there seems to be this cultural narrative of women dumbing themselves down in order to seem unthreatening, and I steadfastly refuse to do so. If I think with a longer word, I'll use it when I speak. If I can accomplish a task, I'll do it. And working one-handed just to get along seems in that vein; that purposeful limiting of oneself just so that others will be somehow pleased by it.

    • notemily says:

      Ooh, interesting commentary implications there. Is Pullman saying that the "man's hand" of interference in other cultures and species is just as harmful as what the tualapi do to the mulefa?

    • Brieana says:

      Where in 1 Kings is this?
      I would have thought that maybe it was a reference to how that cloud guided the Jews out of Egypt and through the desert, but I think that story is well over with by the time we get to 1 Kings.

      • pica_scribit says:

        Quick search reveals: 1 Kings 18:44

      • ferriswheeljunky says:

        It's in the story of Elijah. Basically, there's been an awful drought and famine in Israel, and everything is pretty rubbish. And King Ahab is evil and has started to worship Baal instead of God. And Elijah's been hiding out in the desert and trying to avoid being killed, and then God tells him that he has to go and confront the prophets of Baal, because he's finally going to end the drought and send some rain.

        So Elijah meets up with Ahab and the prophets of Baal, and they have a pretty kickass showdown. They come up with a competition: two big stacks of wood, and whichever god can light his pile of wood on fire wins. The prophets of Baal get the first go, and they spend the whole day jumping around and cutting themselves and shouting out to Baal. Baal epically fails to light the wood.

        Elijah gets pretty sarcastic. He's all, 'Ooh, maybe Baal's busy! Maybe he's asleep! Maybe he's taking a crap!' Then gets them to pour some water on his pile of wood. Then more water, and more water, until the place is swimming. Then he asks God to set the wood on fire, and BAM! massive inferno! And then all the prophets of Baal are killed. And Elijah says to Ahab, "Get thee up, eat and drink; for there is a sound of abundance of rain."

        And then Elijah goes and waits on top of a mountain for the rain he's been promised. And he sends his servant to go and look for a raincloud, but there's nothing there. So he keeps waiting, and he keeps sending his servant to see if there's going to be rain. And the seventh time the servant comes back, he tells Elijah, "Behold, there ariseth a little cloud out of the sea, like a man's hand." And then Elijah goes back to Ahab and says, "Prepare thy chariot, and get thee down that the rain stop thee not." And soon enough, "the heaven was black with clouds and wind, and there was a great rain."

        It's a story about faith, really – about Elijah having the faith that God would light the wood on fire, and then that he'd send the rain he'd promised. And the little cloud coming out of the sea is the vindication of Elijah's faith.

  2. knut_knut says:

    I do not understand the Specters AT ALL. I need answers TO EVERYTHING! must. resist. urge. to read on…

    • Partes says:

      I genuinely don’t know how you guys can resist reading further into the book. It’s ridiculous. I imagine you as superhuman beings imposed entirely of willpower.

      STAY STRONG. It’s worth it in the end. The Mulefa give you their encouragement.

      • arctic_hare says:

        Edited your comment to say "ridiculous" rather than "insane", as the latter word falls under the "no ableist language" part of the site rules. This isn't up for discussion, particularly as it's been rehashed multiple times over at Watches and we're all sick of it.

        • Partes says:

          I'd never even heard that the term was offensive, but I wouldn't have tried to defend my usage. I wasn't trying to flaunt the rules, I'd just never heard of the term 'ableist' quite honestly, although I'm looking it up now and going over the expected conduct. It's not going to happen again.

          • Elexus Calcearius says:

            Well, if you've never heard of it, you can't be blamed, right? I only heard of it a few months ago on this very site, and I think the idea is still new to a lot of us.

          • flootzavut says:

            FLOUT the rules, not flaunt. Sorry, that really bugs me. The conflation of those two words doesn't do anything except makes one meaning out of two useful words.

            One flouts the rules by disregarding or disobeying them. One flaunts one's sexuality in order to be provocative. Two very different meanings.

            /here endeth the grammar lesson 🙂

  3. Maya says:

    I still refuse to believe that the mulefa aren't real somewhere. I remember reading this and wanting, more than anything, to go and visit them and SEE all of it.

    • momigrator says:

      I felt that way as soon as Mary found the trees, I was like, "I want to see THAT forest!"

    • flootzavut says:

      I feel a bit like that with the LOTR movies… I wish the world they created was real, I want to go to Minas Tirith and stuff… and Lothlorien and Rivendell…

  4. Noybusiness says:

    Hmm, it's been a while since I read but I don't remember Gomez repulsing the Specters. I thought there just weren't any around when he passed through.

  5. Noybusiness says:

    I found some tualapi fanart:

    • cait0716 says:

      Thanks for sharing. I would think the front wing would be behind the neck, though. They should have the same basic skeletal shape as the mulefa, whose front leg is definitely behind their head. Other than that, this drawing is really close to what I pictured.

    • Jaya says:

      This is from BTTS! I only just realised now that there's hardly any tualapi fanart anywhere. Perhaps people don't think them important enough, or most people just can't visualise them right either. I think we also have another image of tualapi in the background to some mulefa fanart… Might attempt a sketch myself of how I imagine them.

    • frogANDsquid says:

      I googled tualapi for images and on the third page an image of Mark came up. My mind=blown.

    • Lara says:

      For some reason, just from the way Pullman describes them as looking like triangular sails in the distance, I always pictured the tualapi as looking like those ships in Star Wars with the fold-up wings. Like this:

      (And yes, I know that makes no sense whatsoever.)

  6. James says:

    "What do they possess that makes them exceptions to the rule?"

    I always assumed Mary was being protected from them by the angels – they say she won't be harmed by the Spectres when they send her on her mission, so I just figured it was because of them. As for Gomez, I like to think it's actually a fantastic commentary on Pullman's part and that Gomez is ignored by the Spectres because he is ignorant of the world. He is so dogmatic and unquestioning in his belief that the Church's word is law that he's like a child to them; he has no real engagement or interest in the world.

  7. cait0716 says:

    I just love this chapter. It's the one that stands out the most in my mind from this book. All of the descriptions of the mulefa, the explanations of how this society works, and the general peacefulness that pervades the chapter.

    I like how much of the mulefa society is informed by the fact that they *have* to work together. They need to communicate with and trust each other or they'd never get anything done. And this treatment of each other extends to the treatment of everything else. I can picture the relationship between the mulefa and the trees growing as the mulefa selected pods that would actually last as wheels for a while, so the trees with harder seedpods eventually had their seeds spread wider and flourished (this sort of mimics certain pine and fir trees whose pinecones only open up in the extreme heat of a forest fire, because that's the best way for the species to survive such devastation, and it ultimately makes fires necessary for the health of the forest). The symbiotic relationship is just painted so well in a few broad strokes and the science works so well that it's really fun to think about.

    I also love the the diamond-shaped frame continues with the tualapi having a wing in front and one back, and their adaptation to use them as sails rather than for flight. I always picture them as like large swans with their torsos rotated 90 degrees, because swans are jerks.

    Whenever I think about this book, my mind flits back to this chapter with David Bowie's "Five Years" playing in the background. Somehow that specific moment got absolutely seared into my mind the first time I read this book.

    • Jeanne says:

      I always picture them as like large swans with their torsos rotated 90 degrees, because swans are jerks.

      Truer words have never been spoken.

    • flootzavut says:

      See I never thought the science worked well (and I have scientist friends who were the ones to point that out). The symbiosis as it's described works beautifully, but the evolution of it? Not convinced.

      • cait0716 says:

        It totally makes sense. So you've got the mulefa, who mostly just walk around awkwardly like the grazers. And then you've got the tress that, for whatever reason, developed disclike seed pods (which, given the variety of pod shapes isn't terribly far-fetched). One day a mulefa (or mulefa ancestor) figures out that he can hook the wheel around his claw. By accident or he figured out that tools are useful or whatever. And suddenly he can go farther than ever before. And impregnate more females all over the place. And their offspring are also smart enough to figure out the pod = wheel. Meanwhile, they choose the harder pods, because they last longer, so those pods get their seeds spread farther and wider and aren't immediately competing with each other. Both species are able to have more offspring that benefit directly from this relationship until eventually the relationship becomes necessary for the survival of either species.

        Granted, I'm a physicist, not a biologist. But I can definitely see this relationship evolving to the mutual benefit of both parties.

        • flootzavut says:

          My greatest problem is actually not with the Mulefa side of it, but with the trees. Granted, it's been a looooooooooong time since I read the books, but I seem to recall the very hard seedpods rely on the action of the "wheels" on the roads in order to allow the seeds to break out/spread. So if they are hard enough to be used as wheels, then they would perform badly as seed pods prior to being used as such, and if they broke open without that pressure to allow the seeds to spread, then they would not have made great wheels.

          I'm no scientist, though I'm pretty well read about such things for a scientist, but actually the problem with this symbiosis was pointed out to me by a scientist who had a problem with it.

  8. frogANDsquid says:

    I’ve said it before and i’ll say it again…i love the mulefa with all my being. The way there entire society works is so foreign and its genious that Pullman has one of the few characters from “our world” go there. Its such a clever way to narrate this new world by having Mary try to understand the new things she is experiencing by comparing it to what she already understands about her world. And by Mary doing thisfor herself she helps the reader get a better understanding without the entire narration being “dumbed down.”

  9. Partes says:

    I long for a Walking With Dinosaurs type documentary on the Mulefa. They're such an interesting culture, and to watch lifelike cg of them would be incredible. Never in a million years going to happen, but still. I can dream.

    So much love for Mary, though. I've become way more invested in her this time around than I was on my previous rereads. She's showing only the best of humanity to this new culture: our curiosity, ingenuity and compassion for each other (most of the time). When I was younger I liked her but never really focused on her, simply as I didn't feel like I had much to relate to. Age has given me the benefit of appreciating her more, though, and her chapters are now some of my favourites in the series.

    Well, what the hell? Is this related to the Specters? The angels? I AM CONFUSED.

    It's used a lot at this point, but so not prepared. Mwahahahahaha!

    • cait0716 says:

      I would have loved to see the mulefa on film. Just more fallout from the tragedy that was the first movie.

      • Partes says:

        The one thing I'm always going to regret about the movies not getting made is that we'll never see what that art team would have done with The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass. I've always had incredibly vivid visual references and images in my head that I associate with those novels, even more so than TGC, and the only way I can think to describe this is that the books have a great 'art' direction. They create incredible worlds that are easy to picture.

        I think about how well Lyra's Oxford was made, and the scene with the Zeppelins, and everything about the North and just feel like there was a missed opportunity when His Dark Materials wasn't finished. Especially (rot13ed for those who haven't finished The Amber Spyglass) gur ynaq bs gur qrnq naq Ylen naq Jvyy nf gur fxl oynmrf jvgu Qhfg. Gung jbhyq unir orra fhpu na vaperqvoyr fubg.

        • cait0716 says:


          I've taken to hoping that at some point in my life, all the controversy won't be such a big deal anymore. And then they'll re-release the "director's cut" of TGC and it will be awesome and make tons of money and they'll make the next two movies. Stranger things have happened, right?

          • Partes says:

            I would pay part of my soul to see an animated version of His Dark Materials, especially if done by Miyazaki. My soul.

            This would require me to completely ignore the message of the Harry Potter books, but totally worth it.

            • flootzavut says:

              "This would require me to completely ignore the message of the Harry Potter books, but totally worth it."

              LOL 😀

  10. Jenny_M says:

    My interpretation for why Gomez wasn't bothered by the Specters is that he is such a zealot that they would have no interest in him. He has no curiosity or interest in the world around him, only in the task at hand and his own scary fervor, and as such his mind would be worthless. I can't actually remember if it's actually explained why later in the book, but this is my re-read interpretation, since I never thought too much about it before.

    • arctic_hare says:


      • sabra_n says:

        It's an almost purely instrumentalist viewpoint with no respect for the inherent value of things – just what use they can be of for him. Somewhere my college thesis advisor, who spent entire seminars lecturing against that kind of thinking, is shaking his head at Father Gomez very sadly.

  11. Ryan Lohner says:

    I adore the scene of the juvinile zalif trying on a pair of wheels. Great piece of relatability there.

  12. Laurel says:

    I always imagine the mulefa living in a world with golden light, like the gold setting sun. I can see that color on the savannah, shining on the river, giving a glow to the mulefa.

    • momigrator says:

      You know in Ocarina of Time, in the forest they had all those floaty things in the air… I always imagine that in the world of the Mulefa they have shiny floaty things, too. Like dust, but REAL dust, not like Dust, which, of course, they ALSO have. Or like giant pieces of pollen, or bugs that light up and stuff. 🙂

  13. Danielle says:

    You are not prepared for any of the things.

  14. Christi says:

    This chapter might be my favorite in the entire book. Never before have I read a piece of fiction that has a character approaching a new culture the way someone as experienced as Dr. Malone is likely to do: from an anthropological/sociological perspective. This is my general field of study (I'm just starting out), and when I read this a few weeks ago, my heart leapt out of my chest with joy.

    • Araniapriime says:

      Never before have I read a piece of fiction that has a character approaching a new culture the way someone as experienced as Dr. Malone is likely to do: from an anthropological/sociological perspective.

      She's even better than that! A scientist is urged not to become attached to the society they're observing. Like a zoologist in Africa who would never dream of saving a gazelle fawn from a lioness, a "well-trained" scientist would never have dived into the water to retrieve seed pods. You can chalk it up to the fact that the mulefa are sapient and so more like "human" than "animal".

      Oh, and what does the word "sapient" — as in homo sapiens — mean? It means "wise", "self-aware" (e.g., the mirror test), And of course, the definition of wisdom is the ability to use a combination of knowledge, past experience and conscious thought to extrapolate your experiences and increase your abstract understanding of the world. It's the ability to think in concepts.

      In other words, Dust = conscious knowledge = wisdom = sapience. And as every math student knows, if A = B = C = D, then A = D and Dust = sapience raining down on your head!

      … this is all pure speculation of course. But I love playing with these concepts (sapience!) and I think it's cool.

      • cait0716 says:

        Scientists try not to become attached because they can't interfere. As soon as you start interfering with a society, especially by saving or killing someone or something, then you've tainted it. And you have no way of knowing whether you've changed things for better or for worse, but most of the time it's for worse. It's one of the reasons that documentary filmmakers, like for Planet Earth, never interfere with animal deaths. I know the policy seems heartless, especially in the short term, but interference can cause a lot more damage in the long-term.

        • Araniapriime says:

          Oh, I know that very well! I also remember reading a controversy about whether scientists and journalists covering war or famine should or should not help the injured and starving victims rather than just observing. Again, it's the difference between human and animal. I was just commenting on how the Christi championed Mary as a role model for anthropologists and sociologists. I pointed out that by saving the seed pods, Mary would not be considered a "good" scientist for exactly the reasons you mention. She would be considered a hero if she were helping sapients rather than animals, but still a "bad" scientist..

      • Christi says:

        You're right, it's not as detached (is detached the right word?) as a scientist is expected to be, perhaps, but I think she's sort of caught between the idea of being a neutral observer with elements of participation, and actively engaging outside of that realm of detachment. Which is why she's such an amazing character.

  15. TreasureCat says:

    Unless you are trying to kill Lyra Belacqua at this very moment AND I WILL FIGHT YOU TO THE DEATH ON THAT.

    Lyra's boys: Iorek, Will and Mark <3
    The mental image of a Lyra/Will/Iorek/Mark group hug warms my heart and makes me smile.

  16. Jen says:

    My theory is that the dust is avoiding Father Gomez and Mary, probably for very different reasons, and that's why the specters ignore them. Not sure why the dust is avoiding Gomez. Maybe because they know he has issues they don't want to be around? And Mary, they did guarantee her safety, so they probably stayed off her for that reason.

  17. barnswallowkate says:


    I love the part about the mulefas' trunk movements being part of their language, and I love the visual of Mary trying to incorporate it. I imagine her putting her arm up by her nose and flailing it around and it makes me (and probably the mulefa) laugh.

    • cait0716 says:

      I picture it that way too! I remember "playing elephant" with that motion as a kid.

      I love how prone to laughter the mulefa are. They just laugh at everything and it seems like they are a deeply happy people.

  18. arctic_hare says:

    This, this is why I love Mary so much. <3 I love her approach to living with the mulefa: the curiosity, the compassion, and the open-mindedness. She doesn't perceive them as lesser, just different, and she appreciates their way of doing things and living. She consults the I Ching because she's afraid that she can't stay there either, and needs to move on, but when it tells her that she should be sticking around, she's relieved and happy. She enjoys living with them, learning about them. It's a good thing the angels are protecting her from the Specters, otherwise they'd have gotten her long ago, such is the depth of her interest and curiosity about the world(s) around her. *shudder* Unlike Father Gomez. I can't remember for the life of me if it's ever explained why they have no interest in him, and I wouldn't tell you anyway if I did. :p My theory, as others have expressed before me, is that he's so uninterested in the world that the Specters just go "meh" and wander away to find a tastier victim. It's the only thing I can think of, and really, it makes sense: all this slimy jerk cares about is his mission to kill Lyra, to once again keep her from choosing knowledge and experience over ignorance. Little wonder the Specters want no part of him: it'd be about as nourishing for them as eating one of their own.

    Re: your whole thing about choosing knowledge… hm. IIRC, there's a line of thought that says that certain things, such as Lucifer's rebellion, and probably Adam and Eve's fall, were "just as planned", and though I'm an athiest, in the context of this particular theology, that does make sense to me. There is so much more I want to say, but it would be spoilery for something. And for something else that I'd love for you to review. So I shall stay quiet.

    In closing, I'm really happy you're enjoying this book. 😀 Just because I love it too.

  19. HungryLikeLupin says:

    I have a potential answer about the question of the Specters, but I can't remember if the conversation I'm thinking of has happened yet so I'll wait until you're finished with the book.

    It made my heart happy when Mary started talking to the mulefa, and my first thought was actually how much it reminded me of Jane Goodall (who happens to be one of my personal heroes SHE IS SO AWESOME). Here's a woman who was trained in something entirely removed from what she's doing now; she says herself that she isn't trained in biology or anthropology, but that's what she's working on when she's with the mulefa. Still, she doesn't let that stop her. She isn't working with a colonial mindset, trying to communicate with the mulefa simply by trying to teach them English; she's immersing herself in their culture, their language, their entire way of life.

    One of the most moving parts of this book for me is the moment when Mary's thoughts switch from thinking of the mulefa as 'creatures' to thinking of them as 'people'. It sums up everything I love about her, and about her relationship with them, and it does indeed make me feel as if everything is beautiful and nothing hurts.

  20. BradSmith5 says:

    Alright, alright, so all of this mulefa stuff DOES have some relevance to the plot. These Mary chapters still read like a frickin' encyclopedia, though. Sure, if the topic interests you it's not bad. But in my case, it's like picking a random volume, flipping to a page, and being forced to read about (insert topic that does not interest you here).

    I think it would be interesting to see Gomez cross into the mulefa world, and to see how his reactions contrast with Mary's. He'd probably make FRIENDS with the monstrous, bowel-voiding swans.

  21. notemily says:

    I like to think that Gomez doesn't have enough of a curious interest in the world to attract the Specters. Because he sucks. 😛

    The mulefa are a bit fantastical to me. They seem a little TOO perfect, you know? And the idea that they would have developed with a skeleton so different from those we know, but with the same two sexes, is a little implausible to me. If she had just said they had two sexes, that would have been more believable, but she specifically refers to them as he and she. I suppose she could have just been using terminology she's familiar with.

    I do, however, like the part where she realizes that the mulefa have more of a connection to each other because of their physical limitations. I like that. I agree that we're socialized to value independence, sometimes I think to the detriment of our connections with others. Needing to have someone help you out with something is seen as a weakness in our society, and I hate that. Everyone is going to need some help at some point, or just some human connection, and it shouldn't be anything to be ashamed of.

    I do think the oil has something to do with Dust, with conscious awareness. The mulefa were able to develop society when they first used the oil. I don't know how oil can be the stuff of consciousness, but I'm willing to go along with it because it's so awesome.

    (Does this mean the trees are also conscious?)

    I also like the idea that every seed is tiny enough to be the size of Mary's little fingernail, but they grow into these massive trees that support the mulefa and their way of life.

    I think that last line of the chapter makes this chapter the hardest one to stop at for me. WHY ARE THE TREES DYING. MUST KNOW.

  22. echinodermata says:

    Pullman's exploration of the Mulefa world is what I want as atheist fiction. I don't need allegory, I don't need a rebellion against god, I just want to celebrate life.

    The Mulefa world and the way it's explored shows a deep reverence for science and creativity and philosophy. I think the whole Adam and Eve thing is interesting, but given the choice, I'd rather explore parallel worlds from a biological and cultural perspective than to delve into, well, mythology. I think it's pretty fantastic Pullman is doing both, but for me, what draws me to this book as an atheist is these moments of wonder, and moreover the celebration of wonder. I want to delight at the wonder of life and existence. That's what I hold dear, and that speaks to what atheism is for me.

    (And that's a big reason why I consider Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy to be my favorite book. And why I give it a personal label of "atheist fiction" even though excluding a few jokes, it has nothing to do with theism and religion.)

    • Eye Zen Grim says:

      One thing that's great about the mulefa is that in a way they're a rather subtle critique of religion, in that (unless I'm deeply misremembering something) they don't appear to have any. Yet they're this perfect community of kind people helping one another, and so on. And it's all so believable that it can be seen as a refutation of the whole 'how can you be good without God' argument. Just look at the mulefa, they seem to be doing fine… So far we haven't really seen anything like this before: the bears appear to have no religion, but they're a bit of a scary society from the human point of view, because they're so foreign; the witches have gods, though apparently not religion; and so on. It's nice to have a bit of 'The god hypothesis is not required' around.

      • echinodermata says:

        This is a really good point! We're getting a sort of "quiet atheism" with Pullman's portrayal of the Mulefa society.

        I personally considered the witches to have their own religion in the sense that they have a way of life that is indeed guided by spirituality. But that's a tangential point.

        • xpanasonicyouthx says:

          Well, now you've convinced me to read the Hitchhiker series. I think I'll save it for Mark Reads though. Maybe after LotR?

          • echinodermata says:

            Firstly, yay!

            Now just so you know, H2G2 is a five-book "trilogy." ("The fifth book in the increasingly inaccurately named Hitchhiker's Trilogy.") So to do this for real is a biggish commitment. But each book is fairly short (same with chapters) and my 5-book-in-1 copy is 815 pages. It is humor, so I don't know how well it'll fit into the MR format to be honest. If you do save it for Reads, you might have to do multiple chapters at a time.

            It's definitely worth reading, but I have a feeling arctic_hare is gonna kill me if you delay Sandman because of me. I'd go ahead and read Sandman after LotR, which you said before was your order.

          • bradycardia says:

            Yeay!! Most incredible books ever! You should definitely read them, even if not for Mark Reads. Although that would also be fantastic as I love seeing other people's reactions to them.
            I agree with echinodermata about maybe doing multiple chapters at a time as they are quite variable in length (for e.g., some are only a page…)

  23. pica_scribit says:

    Yay, Mary the anthropologist!

    Again, here I am speaking up as the weird Christian who has a lot of problems with the Bible and biblical interpretation. I've been doing a lot of reading over the past year or so, trying to bring my own beliefs into sharper definition so that I can better articulate exactly what I think about all this. The conclusion I have come to is that the Bible is one of the greatest books to come out of Western civilisation. It paints a vivid picture of a certain region and era of human history. There's much to be learned from it, and it contains a goodly amount of wisdom and beautiful poetry.

    HOWEVER. It also contains a lot of contradictions, both historical and philosophical. It can be used to argue almost anything. I believe that the Bible is a great philosophical work and that it can teach us a great deal about the society which produced it, but trying to extrapolate morality from it or guidelines for life in the present day is impossible to the point of absurdity. The Bible was written by men (and possibly a few women), and reflects only an imperfect and painfully human understanding of God, as well as a lot of people's thinly-veiled cultural agendas for keeping people in their place and telling them that, if they don't make trouble or ask too many questions, they will be rewarded when they die.

    So yeah, I have a major problem with biblical interpretation, organised religion and human definitions of God. I believe that God (for those of us who believe in [pronoun]) is something that can only be sought on a personal level, and can never be fully understood in this world.

    OK, now why am I trying to articulate DEEP PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHTS on Mark Reads? Back to the fun!

    • t09yavors says:

      "[pronoun]" has got to be the best descriptive word for God that I have ever seen in the history of ever!

  24. sabra_n says:

    The mulefa are a bit fantastical to me. They seem a little TOO perfect, you know?

    A bit, yeah, but we're also seeing this through Mary's enamored eyes. She hasn't been with the mulefa long enough for the shine to wear off. 🙂

  25. lossthief says:

    gah, I've finally caught up in my reread to catch back up to Mark! I'd forgotten the vast majority of "The Amber Spyglass" so I had to try and find time to read in between getting shit straight with my college scholarship. (I really really hate my high school, and I don't even GO there anymore.). I'm glad to say I'm finding myself a lot more entertained than I was when I first read TAS. I can't really recall what in particular it was that made me so bored with it originally, but now I'm enjoying it a lot.

    Also, I'd like to think Mark for being one of my inspirations for starting my own review blog! ( ) /shamelessthinlyveiledselfplug.

    • BradSmith5 says:

      Your own blog! I'm so proud; I knew this day would come! I'm going to go read it all right now! And, uh, good job with that school thing. I'm sure that's important.

      But you can't remember what bored you to death the first time!? Try hard, Lossthief! FIND THE SNARK.

      • lossthief says:

        It was years ago, though! I was 13! A youngin'! I didn't even get all the allegories then! T'was a truly dark time when I just read books without analyzing them.

  26. dbmacp says:

    Here's a piece of fanart from BTTS involving Tualapi:

    I think the way they fly is probably against the laws of physics, but it's still fucking cool.

  27. MidnightLurker says:

    What the heck is up with the Tualapi, anyway? Why are they so… deliberately destructive and mean? There seems to be no point but to tear down what the mulefa have built.

    Maybe they're Magisterium agents?

  28. monkeybutter says:

    It's too hot to cook or eat or act like a functioning adult, so I drew fanart. I can't believe there's only one picture of these jerks on the internet. Here's my contribution:

    <img src=""&gt;
    So, here's a front view, sorry it's so tall, but I figure I'll be at the bottom of the comments, so whatever. In the book, it says their beak is as long Mary's arm, and the wings are twice her height. I wasn't sure if that meant wingspan, or each wing, but the larger wings would be closer in line with the huge sails she can see in the distance. Those are their wrists (or the bird equivalent) and their feet tucked under them.

    There's a second sketch in the reply, with more explanation.

    • monkeybutter says:

      <img src=""&gt;
      I'm too lazy to clean this up, but I think it gives a better overview of the tualapi, though the wings are half the size they probably should be. I went with a diamond frame like the mulefa, since they're described as having one wing in the front and another in back. The wings can rotate; I think they have ball and socket joints or whatever the equivalent is in this world, like hummingbirds, for a greater range of motion. I thought a tail and a rear wing would look weird, so I decided they would have exceptionally long scapular feathers on their rear wing that they could use as a rudder. I imagine their legs resemble those of ostriches since they're supposed to be strong, necessary for lugging around those ridiculous wings, except with webbed toes since they're aquatic.

      I hate drawing birds.

      Oh, and does anyone else think "tilapia" when they read tualapi?

    • BradSmith5 says:

      Amazing. I bet the book would sell three times more copies if this were on the front. You know what my cover has? A cat.

  29. Elaine says:

    I've always had confusion regarding how the mulefa function. I can imagine them well enough without the seedpod/wheel, but once you put that bit in I just can't wrap my mind over how it could possibly work. I have prepared a small graphic to illustrate my point lol:

    The only solution to this problem I can think of is that their front and back legs are built to curve around to the sides of the seedpod and hook in there, as in this:
    But even then, wouldn't their wheel-holding legs just get in the way of their lateral legs? Wouldn't it be so much better to use the lateral legs to hold the wheel, then use back and front legs as propulsion and brake respectively? :/

    I think if I were ever able to talk to Pullman, I'd ask him to draw a zalif for me.

  30. Elaine says:

    I've always had confusion regarding how the mulefa function. I can imagine them well enough without the seedpod/wheel, but once you put that bit in I just can't wrap my mind over how it could possibly work. I have prepared a small graphic to illustrate my point lol:

    The only solution to this problem I can think of is that their front and back legs are built to curve around to the sides of the seedpod and hook in there, as in this:
    But even then, wouldn't their wheel-holding legs just get in the way of their lateral legs? Wouldn't it be so much better to use the lateral legs to hold the wheel, then use back and front legs as propulsion and brake respectively? :/

    I think if I were ever able to talk to Pullman, I'd ask him to draw a zalif for me.

  31. Starsea28 says:

    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.

    You might be interested to know that there is an alternative interpretation of that story: God WANTED Adam and Eve to choose knowledge. The Gnostics believed that Adam and Eve could never have remained in the Garden of Eden. They had to break free and grow and develop. In this interpretation, Eve is the one who awakens Adam from his deep sleep and therefore deserves respect and veneration.

    This is a page which explains it better than I can. If you scroll down to the section 'A Different View of Adam and Eve', you'll be able to read how the Gnostics interpreted Genesis: the Temptation, the Fall, the Exile… they all take on a different meaning here.

  32. dbmacp says:

    Mark: you should get a His Dark Materials-themed tattoo.

    Probably too early to suggest it, but the thought occurred.

    (Also do whatever you want to your body, since it's yours).

  33. flootzavut says:

    Valuing independence so highly is actually a very Western/developed world thing, more than a human thing. There are plenty of cultures here in our world who don't consider independence the most important thing, or in some cases even very important at all, and cooperation, family and community are valued far more. Our fierce independence would be very foreign to them, just as it is to the Mulefa.

    Though one of my problems with the book is that the evolution thing doesn't make a lot of sense – the symbiosis described, it's just hard to see how that evolved; it doesn't really hold up as a good example of evolution.

    Just because I think MarkReads people might be interested, this link is to a company that provides microfinance loans to people in developing countries, and they are giving away 4000 "free loans", ie you get to donate $25 to a microfinance project without any outlay. MarkReads people being fabulous upstanding people I thought a few folks might be interested. Awesome opportunity, so I hope a few people here might like to be involved!

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