Mark Reads ‘The Amber Spyglass’: Chapter 4

In the fourth chapter of The Amber Spyglass, local villager Ama discovers a way to help Mrs. Coulter wake up her daughter, but soon discovers that Mrs. Coulter is not who she says she is. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Amber Spyglass.


God, Mrs. Coulter confuses me so much.

It’s interesting to think about how bizarre of an experience Lyra has had with both of her parents and how difficult it is to pinpoint either of them in terms of morals or motivations. Lyra’s had to make her own family, assembled with gyptians and a bear-king and a witch and a boy from a parallel world named Will. Her father betrayed her trust and murdered her best friend in order to start a war with God. (Again, will never tire of typing that sentence.) Her mother also betrayed her trust and is responsible for the deaths of hundreds of children in an effort to eliminate the occurrence of sin as children entered adulthood. We initially believed both to be entirely evil in terms of their own morality, but it seems that Lord Asriel is actually in the pursuit of something moral, and now Mrs. Coulter seems to be avoiding the organization she devoted her life towards using in order to forward destructive and oppressive terrors on the entire world. So is Mrs. Coulter actually doing something beneficial by keeping Lyra asleep and hidden from the Magisterium? Or is Mrs. Coulter planning to do something even more horrifying with her?

I haven’t quite figured this out, but chapter four still solidifies just how slimy, manipulative, and terrifying Mrs. Coulter is as a character, so much so that I wonder if she’ll ever be able to redeem herself in my eyes. What’s so frightening to her is that she uses kindness and charity specifically for malevolent ends, that her polite attitude and congenial nature is never for the sake of it. It always serves some other purpose.

Ama is the main focus of this chapter, and the tone of this bit of story starts off even more hopeful than usual, a great way for Pullman to convey the childlike wonder that Ama displays as she sets out to find a way to help the wonderful and beautiful Mrs. Coulter and her stunning daughter. Mrs. Coulter absolutely uses this to her advantage, and THAT MAKES ME SO ANGRY. Ama just wants to help! It’s not hard for me to imagine myself in that young girl’s shoes. I was (and still am, to this day) the kind of person who will go out of my way to help someone, generally without anything in return. It is this sort of unasked kindness that motivates Ama to make the long trek to the local healer’s residence with a singular goal in mind: acquire something, anything, that she could give to the beautiful woman in the cave to help her daughter.

We are introduced to Pagdzin tulku, the great “healer” that Ama visits, and also the first person whose dæmon is a bat. (He lives in a cave. It totally makes sense!) Desperate to acquire anything to help, she asks the old man first for instructions on how to concoct the potion, but soon settling for the medicine itself devoid of the wisdom of how to make it. The bat dæmon does a strange thing when Ama declines the opportunity for Pagdzin to actually see the alleged “boy” who has some strange sleeping sickness. I didn’t understand it at first, but it soon became clear that the bat was reacting to what Ama had said. Pagdzin tulku hands over a medicine, but not before chastising Ama for not telling all of the truth. My guess? The man’s dæmon could tell Ama was lying about who was sick. What I want to know is why he decided to hand over the medicine anyway. Hmmm.

Returning back to Mrs. Coulter’s cave hours later, Ama (BLESS HER) is so excited to help out that when she finds no one is there except for Lyra, she actually considers waking Lyra herself. HOW EXCITING/TERRIFYING WOULD THAT HAVE BEEN? Unfortunately, Ama does not learn about the truth in this manner. Instead, she is forced to hide when Mrs. Coulter and her monkey dæmon return to the cave.

It’s interesting to me that we have yet another young person, this time Ama, discovering that not only can adults lie to them, but they can absolutely betray them. For a young adult series, this is a message that is extremely powerful and, to be honest, was not one I encountered until much later in my life. I was brought up to believe that all adults, and most especially my parents, where infallible. I suppose I’d never openly touched on it before in any of my reviews, but a lot of what His Dark Materials is about concerns the fact that adults lie to children all of the time, and that this lying is not always harmless instances of protection. As Ama watches Lyra wake up and Mrs. Coulter express the exact opposite emotion as she should, she is shocked and horrified. Lyra begins to loudly protest Mrs. Coulter’s presence and the woman’s dæmon pounces on Pantalaimon, who changes shape more rapidly than Ama has ever seen from a dæmon.

But it’s the moment when Pantalaimon becomes a porcupine (GO PAN GO!), causing Mrs. Coulter to viciously slap her own daughter.

God, it crushes me now to read this because Pullman takes us right into the moment of Ama experiencing a jarring loss of innocence before her eyes. This woman lied to her, and she was going to be nice and help her! Not only that, but she is purposely harming her own daughter and keeping her asleep! What kind of mother does that? What kind of mother cuts a lock of her own daughters hair and saves it in a locket around her neck? What kind of mother allows her dæmon to RIP APART A BAT SLOWLY UNTIL IT DIES??? (JESUS GODDAMN CHRIST, TAKE THE WHEEL.)

This is a brief chapter, but still an important one. It’s painful and saddening to read of Ama’s heartbreak and fury at Mrs. Coulter, something hundreds of kids must have went through at Bolvangar when they found out why they were taken from their homes. However, Ama has escaped undetected, and Mrs. Coulter does not have the advantage on this one. Ama is the one with the medicine that can bring Lyra back to the waking world, and Ama is a young girl scorned for the first time. Despite being consumed by fear at the thought, Ama knows what she needs to do:
She needs to wake up Lyra.



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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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98 Responses to Mark Reads ‘The Amber Spyglass’: Chapter 4

  1. Emma says:

    The bat bit creeped me out SO MUCH. The way he just rips its wings off oh-so casually, like he's just bored.
    Ugh, I don't know why that gets to me so much, but it does… *shiver*

  2. enigmaticagentscully says:

    One thing I find really interesting in this series is the idea of Mrs Coulter's sheer beauty being used as a kind of manipulative force. It's sort of strange – we know she's an attractive woman, but everyone around her seems to become almost bewitched by her, and not necessarily in a sexual way. The children she took to Bolvanger willingly followed her because she was charming and beautiful, and Ama also gains a kind of romanticized view of the beautiful, kind mother caring for her daughter.
    It seems very odd that Mrs Coulter is able to affect people so strongly just by her physical presence, and it seems to come up quite often. I feel like Pullman is trying to make some kind of point here, but I'm not sure what exactly? I mean, just how beautiful could she possibly be?

  3. P__ says:

    In response to why the man gave Ama the medicine anyway, I imagine it was like Madame Pompfrey's situation; sure, you could demand the real reason the student has a dragon bite/turned into a cat/ect, ect, OR you could turn a blind eye, assume nothing too bad is going on, and let someone else handle the discipline. Hogwarts students totally have medical amnesty.

  4. Darth_Ember says:

    What kind of mother cuts a lock of her own daughters hair and saves it in a locket around her neck?
    Lots, actually, Mark. That's… kind of one of the things one does with a locket. They're generally used either for little pictures, or for a lock of hair. Or both.
    Mrs Coulter is creepy yada yada, but that's one of the few things she's done that actually wears the appearance of a reasonable gesture.

    That particular gesture is a rather old one, more often seen in genuinely loving characters. Keeping a lock of hair as a token is quite a common trope.

  5. Partes says:

    What kind of mother allows her dæmon to RIP APART A BAT SLOWLY UNTIL IT DIES???

    That was the start of a healing dance to keep Mrs Coulter's poison from accidentally killing Lyra. The poor Golden Monkey was sad that he must sacrifice another to help his human's daughter, but it is a sacrifice he must make. He is a true hero.

    Bet you feel guilty now. Pessimism is not the answer.

    That or he's an evil, creepy little deeeemon. Stress on the e. Ewwww.

  6. Ryan Lohner says:

    I love how proud Ama is of her idea to say it's a boy she wants the medicine for, such an honest kid moment.

  7. monkeybutter says:

    Mrs Coulter's desire to keep Lyra as a pet come to fruition. Blah. She truly is terrible, but in her own convoluted way, she thinks she's doing what's right (much like Lord Asriel in his quest for deicide) by poisoning Lyra or letting that creepy monkey tear apart bats. She's a really bad, really destructive, really controlling mother. Like Carrie's. Though I wonder if she's not getting an unfair portion of the blame and horrified reaction as a mom, because Lord Asriel is just as bad. He threatened to break Lyra's arm, impresses her through fear, and he abandoned her in the Arctic after killing her best friend. If only Lee was still around to adopt her. 🙁

    Tearing the bat apart limb from limb, with the concomitant crunching sounds, is much, much worse than Iorek's feast. At least that was sweet and had a reason.

  8. cait0716 says:

    I hate Mrs. Coulter. Worst Mother Ever.

    For a fleeting moment, I thought the bat that the golden monkey was tearing apart was the medicine man's daemon. I don't think that's the case. But still, creepy thought.

  9. Jenny_M says:

    I forgot how short these chapters are compared with TSK. With that book, everything is long, and everything is a punch in the face. So far, TAS is taking its time, and building slowly. In some ways, I like that, but I suppose I never noticed it before because I've never read them one chapter at a time before. Torture!

  10. Marie the Bookwyrm says:

    Oh, I want somebody in that book to KILL the golden monkey!!!!! Seriously creepy moment there.

  11. Kira Wonrey says:

    Ama is so nice! I like her very much… And the healer too. He knew Ama was lying to him, but gave her the medicine anyway so she could help Lyra.

    The golden monkey is just… ugh. Awful. Poor bat!

  12. @GalFawkes says:

    Theory: this is taking place in Sikkim (in northeastern India, in the Himalayas).
    Also, I'm glad to see so many people note the similarities between Asriel and Coulter. I'm just seconding those sentiments.
    Also, four for you Ama! I love Ama.

  13. Ryan Lohner says:

    And according to the audiobook, Ama is pronounced "Ah-ma," not the long A sound you'd think.

  14. muselinotte says:

    Pantalaimon changing into a porcupine LIKE A BOSS! – my favourite part of this chapter 😀

    Mrs. Coulter creeps me out so much, even her taking care of Lyra doesn't feel loving to me… it's just endless creepiness to me.
    And ugh, that golden monkey… that WRETCHED golden monkey!!! *shakes fist*

  15. arctic_hare says:


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    SERIOUSLY. That poor bat. ;_; I felt so nauseated and horrified reading that part. I don't know about you, Mark, but Mrs. Coulter is forever beyond forgiveness from me, just for what we've seen so far and what is happening now. She is drugging and physically abusing her own daughter, allowing her daemon to cruelly kill an animal… that alone would make me hate her even if I didn't know about what she did in the previous novels. She is a horrible piece of filth masquerading as a human being. God, both her parents suck, as far as I'm concerned. If only Lee hadn't died, he would've been a much better father for her and fuck I'm starting to cry again. NEVER HEALING FROM THAT CHAPTER.

    Lastly, yay Pan, and Ama, you are awesome, keep on rocking.

  16. BradSmith5 says:

    Adults aren't supposed to lie to children? Is that why Lyra freaks out whenever someone gives her a taste of her own medicine? Even in this chapter we see Ama lie with no problems, yet when Coulter does it all of a sudden it's the most shocking thing ever. I think I grew up distrusting adults, and believing that my fellow kids were the truthful ones. Then Jason stole my Spy vs. Spy Nintendo game and I learned. Oh, Iorek––where were you then?

    And where in the world did Coulter get a CANDY BAR!? Did Ama make it? Did someone find a dimensional gate leading to Hershey's? Pullman, you're killing me with the suspense!

  17. pica_scribit says:

    I somehow never noticed how short the chapters of this book are until just now. Mark, I would totally forgive you if you wanted to do more than one a day. *looks innocent and hopeful*

  18. stellaaaaakris says:

    I thought the bat was flitting from container to container because it knew Ama was bending the truth and was telling the healer what he needed for the true potion. So she was kind of telling him the recipe. But the bat daemon can kind of "feel" the truth, which is an interesting idea, since we've seen that daemons have powers humans don't (e.g. can translate languages their humans don't know).

  19. Becky_J_ says:

    Mrs. Coulter….. is the most confusing character in any series I've ever read. I spend so much time trying to figure her out! Sometimes, I think that maybe she's good, but she is so freaking evil! She is constant contradiction… for example, having a lock of Lyra's hair and yet she is poisoning her into sleep. Gah, Pullman, why do you torture me so??

    On a slightly different note, even during the times when I think Mrs. Coulter might be good, I absolutely HATE that stupid ape of a golden monkey!
    Thanks for my new favorite phrase, Mark, I will be using it for all the times now.

  20. Kate says:

    I think what's happening with Mrs.Coulter here is that she's a purely selfish charater. In one of the previous books it mentions that she first tried to get power by 'marrying right', but when that didn't work out she got envolved with the church – and then came to run the Dust investigations and the gobblers because people would fear and respect her position and she gained power from that, rather than any True Belief of what Dust may be (although she could have become to really believe in that? It seems that way).
    Now with Mrs Coulter's relationship with Lyra I think that she finds the idea of being a caring and perfect mother very appealing but she has no idea of how to go about what that really means. She wants a mini-me running around after her, like when they were living together in book one, but if there's one step out of line in her 'perfect picture' family her selfish vindictiveness shows itself and she lashes out until she gets her way again.

  21. pennylane27 says:

    Ugh that goddamn monkey! And Mrs. Coulter, I DO NOT LIKE. AT ALL.

    Here, have A Very Starkid Hug to make it better.

    <img src=""&gt;

  22. Brieana says:

    I wonder if PETA exists in Mrs Coulter's world.

  23. notemily says:

    Unrelated comment is unrelated: To Mark and the moderators, I just read this article about comment moderation, and it made me extra grateful for the awesome community we have here and the moderators who keep it awesome. Thank you guys!

  24. seekingoutfriday says:

    Mark, question:
    Will you be posting videos of LeakyCon?

  25. tanzan says:

    my main thoughts on this chapter:


  26. It makes me so happy that you've reached this chapter. I've only read this series once, a few years ago, and I think this chapter stands out for me the most and speaks most directly to my personal experience. I, too, love Pullman's uncompromising line on there being nothing intrinsically trustworthy about adults.

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