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.
CHAPTER FOUR: AMA AND THE BATS
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.
I LOVE THIS SERIES FOREVER
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