Mark Reads ‘The Amber Spyglass’: Chapter 7

In the seventh chapter of The Amber Spyglass, Dr. Mary Malone discovers just how disorienting her trip into parallel worlds is going to be. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Amber Spyglass.


Okay, so it’s no mystery that I deeply love and adore Mary. (Also, I almost typed out her full name there and realized that it basically spells out the name of this chapter. HOLY SHIT  ~it’s a clue~.) Therefore, I am ecstatic that when Pullman finally gives us what is arguably the first “slow” chapter in The Amber Spyglass, it belongs to her. That’s because he lets her explore AN ENTIRE NEW PARALLEL WORLD.

Oh, there is so much here that is right and holy. Shall we?

Reasons Why Chapter Seven of The Amber Spyglass Is The Best Thing Of All Things

1) Mary Malone is a magical badass.

It’s left completely unexplained (and I like ascribing such things as “magic” because you can’t tell me otherwise), but Mary repels the presence of the Specters in Cittágazze. Do I care if it’s convenient? Nope. She’s Mary Malone. She is an amazing scientist and probably has all of experimental physics working on her side or something. Or the Specters are like OH SHIT IF WE EAT HER WE WILL EXPLODE.

2) We learn more about the symbols of the I Ching and Pullman writes another segment of someone reading Dust and it is absolutely nothing like the others.

That’s what I want: variance. If we’re inevitably going to have a trilogy where multiple characters have to do the same thing in their own way, I want something that doesn’t feel repetitive or rehashed. Is it a lot to ask? Maybe. But now that we know that Dust is essentially rebel angels and that humans can openly communicate with them, Pullman is able to make Mary’s session seem so brand new and exciting. Unlike the alethiometer or the Cave, the I Ching method of divination gives a person “enigmatic” guidance through the use of slightly ambiguous bits of poetry. Through this, Mary is able to determine that she should head towards some sort of mountain or summit for both good fortune and nourishment, as well as “openings,” which she takes to mean the windows into other worlds. What’s so fascinating is that it seems as if the angels use this method to communicate because it inherently means the user of whatever device is interested and curious about the world. They seek knowledge and self-discovery, and it is exactly what the rebel angels have needed all along to stage their war against the Authority.

I love this book.

3) Mary travels to a brand new world we have never seen like she’s going next door to a neighbor to borrow a cup of sugar.

I mean….right? Think about it: A computer in a lab hooked up to Mary through neuron sensors told her to walk through a window into a parallel universe and find Lyra and that dark matter is rebel angels and that she needs to be the serpent and all of this is the most ridiculous shit of all time and she just does it. Yes, she’s a tad reluctant, and yes, she experiences fear, but WHO CARES when you are this awesome? Sometimes, I just want to BE her.

4) Pullman gives a new world that is both nothing like our own and one just like our own.

And he does a hell of a job communicating this very concept. A lot of that is done through Mary Malone, who approaches her experience in this new world from the point of view of a scientist. She knows what is familiar to her while still acknowledging that things don’t necessarily have to work in the same way they do in her world. The only way to describe nearly everything here is to compare it to something else:

…and there were flowers like poppies, like buttercups, like cornflowers, giving a haze of different tips to the landscape.

Even the hummingbird that Mary interacts with is a bee to her until she takes a closer look. It’s the only reference she has until she realizes she has to stop putting things in her terms. That’s especially important when she meets the herd of mysterious grazing creatures right after this. Oh, yeah.


It’s so strange that I LITERALLY CANNOT PICTURE IT IN MY HEAD. I don’t think this would be particularly spoilery, but is there fanart for these creatures? I can’t work out what they look like because….seriously, there’s no precedent for their appearance. I CAN’T DO IT, please help me Internet.

6) This chapter is the “multiple worlds” idea of quantum theory in action.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Schrödinger’s cat showed up. NO OKAY, JUST KIDDING, LOL. But seriously, every world splits off from another with every path taken, and we’re looking at a world that probably split off from one a long, long time ago. Diamond-shaped leg formations? Seedpods shaped like discs? Trees twice as big as the California redwoods? Not nonsense, but reality. Gorgeous.


Yes, they aren’t actual wheels grown on their bodies, but who cares about the details in this case? I mean…this is all so beautifully weird and strange, and none of it is written in a state of terror. Mary approaches these creatures with such an affectionate curiosity that it simply fills me with excitement. I LOVE THIS.

8) Oh, and Mary talks to the wheeled creatures.

I don’t even care to know the mechanics of how that’s possible. They repeat what Mary says by mimicking the phonetics of the words, but soon learn from what she says. THIS IS SO COOL.

9) Oh, and one of the creatures feeds Mary milk.

Okay, that might be a tad weird, but it was offered up! What was she going to do? I saw it as a rather touching moment, an act of diplomacy of sorts. Mary approached the mulefa, as she refers to them, with respect, and they seem to have returned that.


I am so incredibly jealous!!!!! How awesome is that? The amount of trust they have so rapidly from their first meeting is astounding, and I mean that in a good way. Mary gets to ride one of the mulefa. WHY ISN’T THIS BOOK REAL.

Oh god, I never want this to end.

About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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110 Responses to Mark Reads ‘The Amber Spyglass’: Chapter 7

  1. Jathi says:

    This honestly has to be my absolute favorite chapter of the whole trilogy, and the one that cements Mary in my mind as a truly wonderful character.

  2. enigmaticagentscully says:

    I love Mary! I swear, at this point I would be panicking so much if were her, but she just explores the new worlds and has an endless fascination about what's happening to her.

    Oh, and a quick image search gave me this for a Mulefa…

    <img src="; border="0" alt="Image and video hosting by TinyPic">

    That's pretty close to how I imagined them anyway. 🙂

    • starrrface says:

      Funny, I had always pictured them with just one wheel, and both legs hooked into it in the middle, like a unicycle. It seemed unwieldy, but maybe their balance is suburb? I was quite surprised to google mulefa this morning and see that all the images have two wheels. It makes a lot more sense that what I have always thought, although that hook into the wheel has got to be strong!

      • Maya says:

        I always kind of imagined that too. I never really imagined them being four-legged animals, but that seems to be the popular idea.

        • FlameRaven says:

          They're definitely described as having four legs in a diamond pattern, but I too always pictured them with one wheel. I could never figure out how that would work though. This picture does work, although it's still incredibly strange. What I'd really like is for someone to do a skeletal sketch of the mulefa, because I really want to know how that anatomy works out. o_o

      • Elexus Calcearius says:

        That's what I thought too, just based of Pullman's descriptions. Using the foreleg and hindleg to hook one wheel at the front, then middle legs at either side.

        Whatever! The Mulefa are wonderful! And its such a thrill to see an intelligent, passive species so distinctly non-human.

    • Tilja says:

      It's somewhat like I imagined it when I first read the description, although I couldn't get it quite right in my mind. Beside that, I thought the hoofs were in the shape of hooks to fit into the wheels, not a hook protrusion over it.

    • cait0716 says:

      I found this image on deviantart when I was searching for the mulefa over the weekend. The artist said that he actually sent this picture to Pullman who verified that this is what the mulefa are supposed to look like. And he goes into some detail about why he chose to draw them this way, using evidence from the book. It's all here (mild spoilers for future mulefa descriptions):

      Thanks for posting the image! I love all the fanart I get to see on these sites (since I'm mostly too lazy to go find the good stuff myself)

      • ldwy says:

        Ah, me too. I loved seeing all the HP fanart I never looked up myself back in the day, and then the art people posted as we read The Hunger Games was fantastic.

        I pictured the mulefa as not having a spine, and all four legs coming from one hub, more. I don't know if that could work, anatomically (I guess we can't really, as there's no model). This picture is an amazing representation, though!

        • cait0716 says:

          I spent so long trying to figure out how they would work anatomically. They're so completely alien and I'm fascinated by them.

          • ldwy says:

            Yeah. I think basically without a spine, I pictured them as not having such a "long" back…? But it's so fun to puzzle over because that's not a morphology that exists in our world! I love that Pullman took the time to so totally describe a wold that would have "branched off" so far back that all the standards are different. I feel like this is ignored a lot in scifi and fantasy–we're told we're in a totally different world, and yet somehow the environment and people and creatures all seem so similar to the basic forms found in the real world? I mean, most authors would only have experienced the real world, so that's what they have to draw on, and I respect that. And it's not something that is a real detriment to me in exploring "other worlds" in literature, tv, movies, etc. But it makes me respect all the more the incredible imagination Pullman has shown us he posesses!

      • cait0716 says:

        I should clarify that the image in the link is the same one enigmaticagentscully posted, it just has the artist's commentary included.

      • Elexus Calcearius says:

        I don't know- it just looks like those wheels would fall out so easily!

    • That's interesting, I kind of imagined a hook that inserted into a hole in the disc. Yes the wheel wouldn't be able to turn but does it need to? I kind of thought…in the same way as the stalk goes into the apple, that sort of arrangement. Anyone else?

    • ComputerizedWoman says:

      I always imagined them with only two legs for some reason with a seedpod in them both.

  3. James says:

    I'm so glad it's not just me who had such difficulty picturing the grazers and the mulefa! I was very perturbed by this as I'm a visual thinker so reading about something I can't visualise is like *BRAIN IMPLODES* but I got more of a handle on them second time around and then there's wonderful fanart. Not spoilery, (though I can't speak as to what's on the original pages if you click through!) image search for mulefa:

    Also, Mary is amazing, I'm so glad you love her.

  4. James says:

    I'm so glad it's not just me who had such difficulty picturing the grazers and the mulefa! I was very perturbed by this as I'm a visual thinker so reading about something I can't visualise is like *BRAIN IMPLODES* but I got more of a handle on them second time around and then there's wonderful fanart. Not spoilery, (though I can't speak as to what's on the original pages if you click through!) image search for mulefa:

    Also, Mary is amazing, I'm so glad you love her.

  5. knut_knut says:

    for some reason, when I was younger I thought the creatures Mary met looked like the Wheelers from Return to Oz O_O Mary is a certified badass, though 😀

    • momigrator says:

      OMG, I always thought about the wheelers, too, even though I imaginse the Mulefa looked entirely different. HAhahahahaa.

      • SorrowsSolace says:

        I always thought the muelfa had put their feet into the wheels/seed pods and used those to move around. I did like the expression and intelligence in the mulefa pic that Agent Scully posted 😀

    • @Cowashee says:

      OMG the Wheelers terrified me when i was little. So creepy, but I still loved that movie.

  6. Darth_Ember says:

    The stuff with the I Ching fascinates me; Mary navigates with it like a pro.

  7. Maya says:

    I loooooooooove the mulefa. Although the image in my head from my childhood is completely different from all the images I see from the Google search, probably because I was younger and didn't read as closely. For some reason I always imagined them rolling around on two legs like roller skates. Totally wrong, I know, but I can't see them any other way now.

  8. momigrator says:

    The mulefa are hands-down my favorite people introduced in the entire series. I want to be one. 🙂

  9. Ryan Lohner says:

    I was very much looking forward to your pleas of "Why aren't the mulefa real?"

    For a while I wondered why the title of the Avatar episode Zuko Alone was so familiar, then I remembered this chapter. Awesome.

    • Elexus Calcearius says:

      So, Mary should totally travel to the Avatar universe and scientifically study bending, right? Because I clearly think this is what it means.

  10. muzzery says:

    I think it was stated in The Subtle Knife that the Angels would protect Mary from the Specters, so that was how she repelled them I think.

  11. Araniapriime says:

    One of the things that I'm either realizing or making up as we go along is an interesting correlation of items and ideas here. I don't know if it's relevant or I'm grasping at straws, but it seems to me that the different "tools" people use to communicate with and manipulate Dust (the items in the title of each book, for example, plus names like the "Cave") correlate to different philosophical and/or scientific "tools" used in logical thinking.

    When we learned the name of the Cave and subsequently what the Cave is for, I couldn't help but think of Plato's Cave ( and how Mary's Cave functioned the same way. Then I realized that the Subtle Knife is Occam's Razor — it springs from the concepts of reductionism ( and succinctness. Think about how the Knife gently pries apart the large mystery of multiple worlds into discrete smaller steps that can be more easily managed.

    I'm trying to figure out how the alethiometer and the I Ching work into this — if they do at all. As I said, I'm just making this up and it may all be rubbish.

    • monkeybutter says:

      I think the I Ching and alethiometer fit in. They're ways of organizing or expressing knowledge, and because they use symbols with different depths of meaning, they're simple and mutable, but with some consistent structure. I don't know if any of this constitutes spoilers, so rot13'd:

      Gur gvghyne tbyqra pbzcnff pbzrf sebz Zvygba:

      Gura fgnvq gur sreivq jurryf, naq va uvf unaq
      Ur gbbx gur tbyqra pbzcnffrf, cercnerq
      Va Tbq'f rgreany fgber, gb pvephzfpevor
      Guvf havirefr, naq nyy perngrq guvatf:
      Bar sbbg ur pragrerq, naq gur bgure ghearq
      Ebhaq guebhtu gur infg cebshaqvgl bofpher

      Rira gubhtu Zvygba'f ersreevat gb gur xvaq bs pbzcnff lbh hfr gb qenj pvepyrf, gur tbyqra pbzcnffrf ner fvzvyne gb gur nyrguvbzrgre va gung gurl pbagnva gur fhz bs nyy perngvba. Gur nyrguvbzrgre vf n jnl bs betnavmvat nyy bs gur vasbezngvba va gur havirefr fb gung fbzrbar jub xabjf ubj gb ernq vg pna bognva gur xabjyrqtr gurl frrx. V ernq fbzrguvat ernyyl vagrerfgvat ba ghzoye nobhg gur "gurngre bs zrzbel," naq yvxr gur nhgube, V jbaqre vs Chyyzna qerj vasyhrapr sebz guvf jura ur perngrq gur nyrguvbzrgre. V guvax vg dhnyvsvrf nf n ybtvpny gbby!

      I don't know if it's relevant or I'm grasping at straws

      I see what you did there 😉

    • ldwy says:

      I think that's a very interesting idea!

    • Helena says:

      Oh my gosh, you utter GENIUS! Of course the Cave is like Plato's Cave, it seems so obvious now!! Wow, I love all the philosophy, theology and myth that goes into these books 😀

  12. Jeanne says:

    I think this is my favorite rendition/explanation of the mulefa, because it explains how their anatomy could work, instead of just showing the artist's rendition.

    • FlameRaven says:

      Looks pretty solid. I do think the wheels are described as larger than she depicts, but I definitely appreciated the skeleton drawing because I was always really confused by the diamond formation.

      • cait0716 says:

        Oh, you're right. I'd forgotten that those seed pods have a diameter of something like 3 feet. I guess these feet don't match what's in the book like I was hoping.

      • Jeanne says:

        I wasn't sure about the wheel/seedpod size, either, though I like the idea of them being smaller- if they were too large, wouldn't they be too unweildy for one mulefa to handle by themselves?

        • FlameRaven says:

          Depends on how heavy they are; I don't have the book with me and I can't remember when the seedpods are described in the most detail, but I do think they are described as being rather large.

          • theanagrace says:

            I also pictured them larger than in that pic, but with a flat edge, more like a car tire than a bike tire like in the pic enigmaticagentscully posted up above. I also pictured the seed pods to have an outer texture like a coconut. The mulefa's front and rear feet would have a long nail sticking out from the side of the foot, curving around to the front/back of the foot and becoming an axle. I imagined the axle nail would not impede them walking, being parallel to the base of the foot. I can't describe it very well, but I can see it clearly. 😛

    • cait0716 says:

      This is awesome. I like this rendering of the wheel-feet better than the above image. It seems more sturdy.

    • xpanasonicyouthx says:


  13. Becky_J_ says:

    OH I was so excited for you to get to this chapter, Mark! The Mulefa…. easily my favorite things about this book.

    Also, not to be ~super~ creepy and all, but you were in my dream last night, Mark! You lived in my home town and I was so excited. stop judging me

  14. monkeybutter says:

    Yay, mulefa chapter! I knew you'd love it. And explosive Mary may be one of your better theories. I love Mary more and more every time she shows up. I like how she approaches the new world, too. It's an uncanny place, and could be overwhelming, but she's bold and curious, and recognizes her ignorance. And she's also not really alone anymore! As much as I love the mulefa with their asymmetry and ability to use wheels, I want an infinitesimal hummingbird even more.

  15. Jenny_M says:

    I love the Mulefa, and I love that Mary seems instinctively to understand that they are intelligent beings, full stop. So many people would, well, likely see them as different and automatically assume they are inferior. Because that is how a lot of people work. Sigh.

    • Elexus Calcearius says:

      Exactly. I mean, a realistic part of me thought it was strange that Mary was acting this way….but then this is the very thing that I would do. This may be strange, but my most ultimate never-going-to-happen-but-I-wish-otherwise-dream is to communicate with another intelligent species. I don't care if its a dolphin or a super advanced alien, just…

      It would be perhaps the greatest communication in human history.

  16. cait0716 says:

    The mulefa are my favorite. Most of what I remember about this book is wishing I could hang out in the meadow with them.

  17. frogANDsquid says:

    I so badly want a book solely dedicated to the mulefa. Oh and mary can be in the book to because she is a bamf

  18. Patrick721 says:

    …Damnit, I have to do this.

    Iiiiii can show you the world
    shining shimmering splendid…

    And the mulefa…I am pretty good at visuaizing things, but these guys…they have no vertebra and legs in a diamond formation what the fuck is this oh my god they have wheels.

    • FlameRaven says:

      (Tell me princess, now when did you last let your heart decide?)

      I will say this for Disney– as much as their formula became somewhat tired, it was a very dependable formula, and their animation and songs were always top-notch. (Or at least, incredibly catchy.)

    • Tilja says:

      If someone had said 'a whole new world', this would be completely in tune. xD

      I've got the same problem with visualizing the creatures. For that, I'd need a better study on insect description, as they can have absolutely any shape and every description available, even unimaginable ones and they must have this kind of structure to explain its existence.

    • notemily says:


  19. stellaaaaakris says:

    I too think the mulefa are pretty cool (who am I kidding? They're awesome) and Mary's a kickass scientist who I want to be when I grow up, BUT I think my favorite part of this chapter (at least I'm including it in this chapter) is Lyra's discussion with Roger. You've stopped commenting on it and I don't know if you or anybody else reads it before or after each chapter, but my audiobook keeps it on the same track as the end of each chapter so I think it belongs here. If you haven't read it yet, just skip the rest of my comment.

    I think those three words are so telling. Lyra has known Will for about a week or so now, not including the time she's been drugged, and even then they don't always get along. But their trust in one another is so deep that her only explanation to her oldest friend whose abduction/death led her on this long, life-changing journey as to why they should trust this 12 year old boy from another universe to SAVE HIM FROM THE WORLD OF THE DEAD is because he's Will. Roger's utter belief in Lyra sort of pales in comparison because he's known her his entire life (not that it's not beautiful and warms my heart in its own way) and has seen what she's capable of time and time again. I find Lyra and Will's friendship and trust in one another to be beautiful and those three words sum it up so nicely.

    Of course, my opinion could be influenced by the fangirl in me, but I don't think it's too likely. Will is just that awesome. He and Mary could be a superhero team, Lyra and Iorek too.

    • momigrator says:

      Even as a child, those words just made my heart swell with such joy at the trust and love they already have. -sigh-

    • monkeybutter says:

      Nicely said. I love the way that Roger's "because you're Lyra" is followed by her "because he's Will." It's really powerful, because Roger has faith in Lyra from years of friendship, but Lyra's faith in Will is due to a deep understanding born of short acquaintanceship. They've been through a lot over the course of that week or so. Lyra's trust, and the knowledge that Will is doing his best to find her, warms my heart.

    • cait0716 says:

      I has the opposite reaction. I cannot accept that they've grown as close as they have in such a short time. Maybe it's because I can never get close to people that quickly – it takes me years to build up trust – but the depth of their relationship feels forced to me. I think Roger's trust in Lyra is stronger because they've known each other their whole lives and, in his eyes, she has never once let him down. To me, that seems like the stronger bond.

      Guvf vf npghnyyl gur ovttrfg vffhr V unir jvgu guvf obbx. V pna'g sngubz ubj Jvyy naq Ylen sryy fb pbzcyrgryl va ybir jvgu rnpu bgure ng ntr gjryir naq jvgu gurve yvzvgrq gvzr gbtrgure. Vg frrzf fb sne orlbaq ernyvgl (be zl ernyvgl) gung vg ehvaf gur znva cbvag bs gur obbx sbe zr.

      • ldwy says:

        I definitely see your point, and I'll be interested in the discussion surrounding that later.

      • monkeybutter says:

        I think you make a good point.

        V'z bxnl jvgu guvf gehfg whfg orpnhfr gurl'ir orra guebhtu fb zhpu va fhpu n fubeg gvzr, ohg V nyfb unir n ceboyrz jvgu gur bzt gehr ybir sberire ng gur raq bs gur obbx. V nyfb ybbx sbejneq gb gur qvfphffvbaf nobhg guvf!

      • stellaaaaakris says:

        My response has disappeared but fortunately intensedebate has saved most of it, so reposting!

        V nterr gb n cbvag. V qvqa'g ernyyl ohl gur ebznapr (gur jubyr cyna gb xrrc phggvat jvaqbjf gb yvir va rnpu bgure'f jbeyqf orpnhfr gurl jrer tbvat gb trg zneevrq – frevbhfyl qbhog gung gurl'q fgvyy or gur fnzr crbcyr va 10 lrnef. V'z fb qvssrerag sebz gur crefba V jnf rira 5 lrnef ntb jura V tenqhngrq uvtu fpubby naq tbbq puhaxf bs zl crefbanyvgl jrer nyernql sbezrq), ohg V guvax gurve sevraqfuvc jnf ornhgvshy naq gurl jrer "zrnag sbe rnpu bgure" va gung jnl.

        I'm really excited for when we can finally discuss these things without code!

        • cait0716 says:

          Intense Debate is really weird sometimes.

          I'm basically nodding in agreement with you. I'm eager for some of these developments to happen and to see what more people think

      • miriamdelirium says:

        V guvax gurve lbhat ntr naq anvirgl vf creuncf gur ernfba gurl sryy va ybir. Gurl'q orra guebhtu n ybg gbtrgure, obgu unq fb znal hagehfgjbegul crbcyr va gurve yvirf, znlor gurl whfg xarj jura fbzrbar jnf gehfgjbegul. Naq gurl rffragvnyyl terj hc gbtrgure va gur fubeg nzbhag bs gvzr gurl'q unq. Nyfb, vg'f svefg ybir, naq abguvat vf rire yvxr svefg ybir.

    • ldwy says:

      So true.


    I think Mary and the mulefa are my favorite part of this book.

    • ldwy says:

      I like that second one. The back and leg formation is closest of what I've seen to what I imagine, although the feet are really different.
      It's so cool to see all this amazing art!

    • t09yavors says:

      That first one is one of the few that doesn't make me…uncomfortable looking at it. Most of the others scare me I think; they just look unnatural.

      This one also doesn't bother me, though it isnt what i pictured:

  21. shortstack930 says:

    I really loved this chapter. I think Mary's interaction with the mulefa was so beautiful and so wonderfully written. I can't wait to see where they take her!

  22. Partes says:

    I had a big childish grin on my face the whole time I was reading this chapter. Mary has such a sense of wonderment and fascination that it seeps through the page, and god damn it I want to be there.

    The Mulefa are something I have found difficult to picture, but the fanart above really helped; they're just so strange, with their diamond shaped legs, and trunks, and WHEELS! But I finally feel like I've got a handle on how they look thanks to the power of Google Search. Another thing that helps the sense of childish wonderment and joy is that these creatures are so trustworthy.

    Imagine if a group of humans discovered a mulefa. Our immediate thought would be 'Can it hurt us?' which is not unreasonable considering the variety of extraordinarily dangerous animals in our world. But they sense intelligence and without hesitation are welcoming. There's a fairytale like quality to this world, as it just seems so peaceful, but at the same time incredibly grounded thanks to Mary's obsevations. Her scientific view of this world really does help in visualising it and keeping it from seeming too 'out there' to be real. She identified not just how it works, but tries to understand why. Awesome.

    tldr; Mary Malone and Mulefa, fuck yeah.

    • ldwy says:

      You make an excellent point. Seeing this world through another character wouldn't have worked so well. Mary's scientific but trusting and open approach allow us to accept it and just enjoy it!

    • Becky_J_ says:

      Our immediate thought would be 'Can it hurt us?'

      This. I remember thinking back in the Subtle Knife how terrified I would be entering Cittagazze, thinking of how there could be thinks I never even imagined wanting to hurt me, and I thought the same thing when Mary enters this world. I think that's part of the magic they hold for me — I love the trust and excitement that I feel like I would not have the bravery to show.

  23. Lea says:

    I really love the Mulefa. One thing that always disappointed my about Doctor Who is how humanoid all the monsters are (though understandable with time and budget constraints). It's nice to come across a being that is so unlike ourselves or anything that exists in our world!

    • Brieana says:

      I also appreciate seeing non-earthlings that aren't blue people or people with different eyebrows.

    • FlameRaven says:

      Indeed. Animorphs did this very well– we had the centaur/scorpion/no mouth Andalites, slug-like parasitic Yeerks, weird bladed Hork-Bajir and the centipede-like Taxxons. Also the Ellimist's people, who were so strange I only vaguely remember that they had lots of wings and… sucker feet? I don't know. I am not a little shocked I just remembered all those alien names.

      Unfortunately these kind of descriptions work a lot better in books than in other media, where they are expensive to create. I don't actually recall much of the Animorphs TV show, except that I watched about ten minutes and shouted that it was a travesty and never watched it again. I don't know why they didn't go for animation, which would have had a better chance of portraying all those aliens.

      Which just reminds me that I should read all the Animorphs books again, because I never did get through the end of the series.

      • Becky_J_ says:

        I love you so much for bringing up Animorphs. I want to squeal like a little girl, I was so in love with those books….

        • FlameRaven says:

          Animorphs was totally my life in grades 4-6 (after that my brain was stolen by Pokemon and Zelda as I discovered video games/the Internet). However, I only ever got about 2/3 of the way through the series; I quit around book 33 and then just went back and read the last one when it came out. I think it'd be an interesting project to read through again. Definitely a lot of my random trivia knowledge about animals came from those books, as well as my obsession with birds of prey of all kinds. <3

          I heard they recently started reprinting the series as well, so hopefully they can obsess a whole new generation of kids.

          • Becky_J_ says:

            I can't remember completely, but I'm pretty sure that I read the whole series all the way through…. although I can only remember a few certain things. Like how I thought the world was going to end when Tobias got trapped in his morphed body. And the awesomeness of Andalities, with their knife-tails (I'm not gonna lie, I had to look up what their species was called).

            Man, now I want to reread them again, even though I feel like I would laugh at most of what I thought was awesome when I was ten…..

            • FlameRaven says:

              Tobias was totally my favorite. I, too, was horror-struck when he got stuck (which is a little hilarious as that happens in the very first book) but you know, he gets better later. Sort of.

              The one story that stuck with me the most was actually the special of the Ellimist Chronicles, maybe because it was so…. weird. That was when stuff got really surreal. There was some serious consequences towards the end of the series, I think I've heard, but I never did read that bit, so I really should take another look. Luckily my roommate has the complete series. ;P

        • t09yavors says:

          Animorphs Party!!! Animorphs were my first 'Harry Potter'.

    • ldwy says:

      I agree with your entire comment. Bravo to Pullman's extraordinary imagination!

      And also with FlameRaven-literature certainly doesn't have the constraints that tv/movies do. But even in many scifi/fantasy books I think a lot of authors are (understandably) limited even in their imagination by the forms we know. Pullman shows he can step outside of that, which is incredible!

  24. arctic_hare says:

    One of my favorite parts of this chapter is this paragraph (bolding is mine, for emphasis):

    "She approached the little patch of air with passionate curiosity, because she hadn't had time to look at the first one: she'd had to get away as quickly as possible. But she examined this one in detail, touching the edge, moving around to see how it became invisible from the other side, noting the absolute difference between this and that, and found her mind almost bursting with excitement that such things could be."

    RIGHT? Wouldn't we all have that kind of reaction to finding a window to another world? It'd be a real-life emotional "keysmash" for us, I think. At least, I know it would be for me, and it certainly would be for you too, Mark. It makes me yearn even more to actually find something like that and travel to another world, because Mary's reaction to it mirrors my own so perfectly. There's a lot to love about her as a character, and this is one of my favorite things: her intense curiosity and interest in the world. I also love her reaction to the mulefa, who really need to be real, please. They are awesome too. I love exploring this strange, alien world with her, and I love that she sees them as intelligent beings, not lesser ones. BASICALLY SHE JUST ROCKS THIS WHOLE CHAPTER. I'd been looking forward to catching up with her again, and was not disappointed (and I KNEW you'd love it too, Mark!). Love this chapter. <3

    Also, I want some tiny hummingbirds. So cute. <3

    • Elexus Calcearius says:

      Exactly! This would be me upon entering a parallel world so different from our own. I would want to see everything, touch everything, and, and, and….


  25. Hanah_banana says:

    My eternal devotion to Mary Malone was pretty much a guarantee that I was always going to love this chapter. But then she uses the I Ching, which is completely awesome and something I've spent a lot of time studying this year (ancient Chinese religion is just the coolest subject) so it's just another way this book is completely perfect for <3 (Incidentally if you want to do I Ching yourself there are loads of online readers, or you can use a coin and then look up the results in the Book of Changes which is online as well. The answers are exactly as vague as Mary found them to be – Pullman kind of mixes up two real hexagrams to give Mary's answers, 'Turning towards the summit…' is from the answer given by the hexagram with sixth in the second place (it is kind of hard to explain what that means concisely), whilst 'Keeping still is the mountain…' is given by the hexagram Gen, which means mountain.

  26. FlameRaven says:

    I love the beautiful aura of calm that seems to accompany Pullman's descriptions of the mulefa's world. You can just see the rolling grassy plains and the giant seedpod trees swaying in the wind, and in my head everything is tinted a warm, calming, golden color that's just lovely. 🙂

  27. BradSmith5 says:

    I knew you guys would love this one. A character with a vague goal! Walking around! Sleeping and waking up again! Endless description! This chapter has everything except a reason for me to care! Oh, and there's the mulefa. Wonderful. I'll add that to my pokédex. "Pack animal that rides on coconuts. Expels milk for scientists."

    The pun in the title was beyond ridiculous, too. 😉

    • hassibah says:

      I had a feeling you would agree with me on this one 😉

      • BradSmith5 says:

        Well, it's like the author thought up this setting just so a character could marvel at it. Sure, Mary is on a journey to find Lyra, but there's no urgency; I have no idea what her purpose is. What is the tempting? Am I supposed to want it to happen? Is the assassin hot on her trail? Did he even pack for the trip yet?

        Or…did you only agree that the title was silly? Ha,ha,ha.

        • hassibah says:

          haha I forgot about the title. I forgot a lot apparently.
          I wasn't a big fan of the change of pace at this point either. I'd start an oil company just so something can happen on this rock.

  28. @reenxor says:

    I've read this book I think a half dozen times, and I absolutely l've it to death–but I never caught that the seedpods were disk shaped! I always pictured the mulefa riding around on bowling balls.


    Also: Mulefaaaaaaaa! I would be upset that they do not exist IRL, but then I remind myself that they would probably be extinct/close to it due to poaching or habitat destruction or something.

    <img src="; border="0" alt="Image and video hosting by TinyPic">

    Art Source: thierolfolis @ blogspot)

    • FlameRaven says:

      Neat! Definitely the most active and fluid drawings I've seen of the mulefa, although I think their wheels are way too small there.

      From the book:
      … Mary sat up and gathered her wits, and saw a movement that resolved itself into a round object, about three feet across, rolling along the ground, coming to a halt, and falling on its side.

      … it was perfectly circular and as thick as the width of her palm. There was a depression in the center, where it had been attached to the tree. It wasn't heavy, but it was immensely hard and covered in fibrous hairs, which lay along the circumference so that she could run her hand around it easily one way but not the other. She tried her knife on the surface; it made no impression at all.

      So probably rather like a car tire, 3 feet across and about 3-5 inches thick, with hair like a coconut that are stiff and would probably act like tire treads.

  30. Raenef says:

    I imagined the Mulefa to be like LIVING MOTORCYCLES. Imagine riding one of those through the streets haha.

  31. John Small Berries says:

    Ah, now we're getting into the parts that reminded me of CS Lewis' "Cosmic Trilogy" (specifically, Ransom meeting and getting to know the hrossa on Malacandra in Out of the Silent Planet, which were the bits that stuck most in my memory).

    Books which explore truly alien cultures are among my favorites (like Robert L. Forward's Dragon's Egg), so I was overjoyed when I came to this chapter the first time I read The Amber Spyglass.

    • cait0716 says:

      Speaking of alien cultures, have you read Mary Doria Russell's The Sparrow and Children of God. Among other things, it's a really interesting examination of a completely alien culture and how humans would clash with it.

  32. PeanutK says:

    Yes! I've been waiting for you to get to the Mulefa! They're one of my favorite parts of this book! I mean, they're these elephant things with legs in a diamond pattern that ride on wheels. How cool and creative is that?

    Also, it's fun to imagine them in a modern setting with leather jackets and other stereotypical motorcycle clothing. Because my brain is silly.

  33. pennylane27 says:


    that is all.

  34. Radagast says:

    I have many misgivings about this trilogy and its themes, but this chapter – and the mulefa in general – will always have a warm place in my heart. Such a unique creation, and I've yet to encounter a sentient species in fiction that is as original as these incredible creatures. Fantastic stuff.

  35. ChronicReader91 says:

    Obviously I haven’t looked into scientific theories nearly as much as I should, because I didn’t know there was a theory of multiple worlds in Quantum Theory. That adds a whole “wait, there's a tiny chance this could actually be real?” element to this chapter that makes it about 10,000 times more awesome. And can a chapter can't get much more awesome than one that contains diamond- formation legged animals that use seedpods as wheels AND Mary Malone.

  36. notemily says:

    The Mulefa are fascinating to me. I don't actually think a diamond skeleton would work, but, you know, who am I to question OTHER UNIVERSES. Count me among the people who always pictured them with only one wheel, not two, though.

    The I Ching seems a lot vaguer than the alethiometer.

    I love Mary's absolute reveling in the world she finds herself in. Even though she's not a biologist, she definitely appreciates the beauty of the world. I like the scene where she wakes up and the grass is so many colors and she feels like she's the first human to ever have existed. (GARDEN OF EDEN REFERENCE? I SEE YOU.)

  37. barnswallowkate says:

    I always mix up mulefa and muffuletta and get horrified when I see it on menus. YOU'RE MAKING SANDWICHES OUT OF MARY'S FRIENDS WHAT. Equally horrifying: the amount of olives on those things, blech.

    The description of the tiny hummingbird's needle-like beak made me think of the homicidal pink birds from an old Hunger Game described in Catching Fire. I got really nervous and thought Mary would get eaten!

  38. muselinotte says:

    To this day, I still have difficulties with picturing the Mulefa… they're just so wonderfully strange!
    Though I kind of manage to get a better image with each re-read…

    When I grow up, I want to be Mary Malone, btw… travelling into parallel worlds LIKE A BOSS! 😀

  39. Saith says:

    This chapter was referred to by Dawkins in The God Delusion as an example of evolution or some shit, I can't remember.

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