Mark Reads ‘The Amber Spyglass’: Chapter 8

In the eighth chapter of The Amber Spyglass, Balthamos mourns briefly before devoting himself to helping Will Parry. Will, on the other hand….look, just read the review. Holy shit, this is so good.


This chapter is full of victory, but we have to deal with the tragedy before we get to that:

Balthamos felt the death of Baruch the moment it happened. He cried aloud and soared into the night air over the tundra, flailing his wings and sobbing his anguish into the clouds; and it was some time before he could compose himself and go back to Will, who was wide awake, knife in hand, peering up into the damp and chilly murk.

I’m beginning to realize, on my second pass through chapter eight, that I am inherently unable to understand just what this grief is like at all. I lost my father almost five years ago, and I know that sudden, gutting sense of loss. It’s not easy to forget and given the way my sense of memory works, I’m sure I’ll be able to recall that moment over and over again for a long time. I miss my father a lot and I don’t want to belittle my own experience, but Pullman really does a fantastic job of giving us this idea that Baruch and Balthamos truly experienced thousands of years of joy. I have just short of twenty years of memories of my own father, and while many are strong and positive, I cannot conceive of this idea. THOUSANDS.

He couldn’t keep still: he flew up again, scouring the sky as if to seek out Baruch in this cloud or that, calling, crying, calling; and then he’d be overcome with guilt, and fly down to urge Will to hide and keep quiet, and promise to watch over him tirelessly; and then the pressure of his grief would crush him to the ground, and he’d remember every instance of kindness and courage that Baruch had ever shown, and there were thousands, and he’d forgotten none of them; and he’d cry that a nature so gracious could never be snuffed out, and he’d soar into the skies again, casting about in every direction, reckless and wild and stricken, cursing the very air, the clouds, the stars.

Like the experience of Mary Malone walking into a brand new parallel world, I am both innately familiar with this and struck by how foreign it is. It’s eerie how much this sort of erratic behavior modeled my own grief upon learning my father had died, and the next three weeks of mourning, wakes, and funerals. Yet at the same time, this is about a loving, intimate relationship that lasted centuries upon centuries. The sort of emotional base and connection that two beings of this nature must have had is unknowable to me. I can’t picture it, and I can’t imagine how it must feel.

It’s because of this that I’m struck by how incredible and touching Will’s response is to Balthamos’s grief. He gives the angel a measured and respectable tone, one that understands his loss (given that Will had just lost his own father, too), but one that also imparts how important it is for them to continue on. Again, I know I bring this up often, but Will is twelve years old. It’s not that pre-teens can’t be full of compassion or maturity, as they certainly can, but this kid is so full of heart and courage that I just want to reach through the pages and hug him. It’s entirely in character for him as well, and I love how consistent this is. Will’s life with his mother necessitated him to “grow up” earlier than most kids, and he exhibits that maturity in dealing with Balthamos.

It’s clear the next morning that this has had a profound effect on Balthamos, and he agrees to assist Will “cheerfully and willingly,” making sure to honor his fallen lover in the process. (I almost said boyfriend, but I feel weird ascribing our relationship terms to angels. Right???? They’re angels. “Boyfriend” just sounds so human.)

“I failed so many times, but each time his goodness was there to redeem me. Now it’s not, I shall have to try without it. Perhaps I shall fail from time to time, but I shall try all the same.”

“Then Baruch would be proud of you,” said Will, shivering.


A bit of a side note: I really like that it’s unspoken here, but there’s still this implicit acceptance that there still can be goodness and morality in a world apart from God. For any non-believers, one of the most common things we’re asked is how we define our morality without a base to draw it from. Without a god or God or deity, what basis is there to be good? It’s yet another question I sort of despise because it feels like a huge derail most of the time. (I don’t actually mind discussing it in ontological terms, but it’s generally not brought up in that way. It’s usually utilized to distract an argument by claiming that I cannot postulate that something is immoral or wrong because I have no morals anyway. Um…I’ll let you know if I have no morals, okay? Pretty sure I’m a better judge of that than you.)

This is not a world without God, obviously, but these angels live apart from him. I mean…seriously, I know it may be irritating that I’m harking on this, but GAY ANGELS!!!! I know people who would read this and begin to sweat profusely from the very thought. I really hope we get more backstory on how the rebel angels have lived since the Fall, but I imagine that they’d have to have come up with their own sense of a social code or ethics. And isn’t that something that we’ve done anyway? Obviously, humanity has fucked up along the way, but we’ve constantly defined and redefined and adapted our own standards for what is and is not acceptable year after year after decade after century. Are all of these morals purely based on our acceptance of a Christian God? It seems terribly Western-centric to propose those ideas as well.

Will’s own moral sense is pretty rock solid, though, and he never seems to talk about God at all. I mean…look, what Will does in this chapter is so fantastically amazing that I actually cheered when–wait, I’m getting ahead of myself.

Will and Balthamos make a fine team here in chapter eight, and I’m so glad this sassy angel is at Will’s side. Of course, I’m devastated by the loss of Baruch. That death certainly creates a different dynamic here, and it’s just as fascinating to see Balthamos eagerly changing into a dæmon to help will as it was to see him treat Will with so much witty reticence as before. Here, Balthamos does a fine job of mimicking a dæmon and acting as a translator for Will.

Even before we get to PURE SUCCESS AND BADASSERY, everything here is painfully awkward and tense and PLEASE GET AN ADULT I DON’T FEEL GOOD. Aside from the physical destruction present in the town these two come upon, Will ends up meeting with the local priest and the entire interaction leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

It’s one of those situations where things just feel wrong. And maybe you can’t properly explain why or elaborate to another person the reasons why you feel this way, but Father Semyon makes me feel awful. First of all, I actually felt relieved that perhaps Will had found someone to help him on his journey, but then Father Semyon introduced himself as part of the Holy Church, I instantly thought, “WELL, GREAT. THIS CANNOT END WELL.” But as long as Will kept his cool and avoided sharing too much, he’d be fine. Really, though, who else was better at seeming inconspicuous than Will?

Oh, you’re going to insist that your world falling apart is the Apocalypse, Father Semyon? Oh. Oh, this is going to be really awkward, isn’t it? Are you going to talk about the End of Days? Could you…not? That would be awesome.

Oh. Oh, you’re going to assume Will is perfectly fine just hanging around all day with you and play cards or maybe have an uncomfortable conversation? Oh, you’re one of those people, aren’t you? Oh, this isn’t good.


Hold on, Mark, you’ve got some more awkward talk from Father Semyon:

“They are afraid of the bears. And so they should be–they are children of the devil. All things from the north are devilish. Like the witches–daughters of evil! The Church should have put them all to death many years ago.”

YOU SHUT YOUR DIRTY CHURCH MOUTH, FATHER. I am personally offended that you would speak of the panserbjørne and the witches in such a tone and I will fight you to the death over this. You wish you had beings as honorable and loyal as Iorek Byrnison or Serafina Pekkala on your side. I will find a trout and I will slap you in the face with it.

Also, is this the first real acknowledgment of the devil existing in this series? I don’t think it’s ever been mentioned before, but is there an actual Satan that exists? Will we discover it is an invention by the Authority? I am curious to know such things. DON’T SPOIL ME.

“Now I am going to offer you a little drink, Will Ivanovitch,” he said. “You are young, so not very many glasses. But you are growing, and so you need to know some things, like the taste of vodka.”

;AJKSDF;KLAJSDF AS;DKLFJAS ;DFLKADJSF WHAT WORLD DO YOU LIVE IN WHERE IT IS TOTALLY NECESSARY TO GIVE VODKA TO A TWELVE-YEAR-OLD BOY. I mean, look, let me state this first: I am not saying this because I’m sober/straight edge myself. It’s absurd that I even have to say that, but this is the Internet and you would be surprised how often people yell at folks like myself for even talking about alcohol. Hell, this might be a cultural thing as well, and I’m willing to admit that, but WHAT ARE YOU DOING, FATHER SEMYON. This is SO RIDICULOUSLY STRANGE TO ME. Is this just something you do with people you just meet??? What imperative are you acting on that this MUST happen right now? I do not like this ONE BIT. NOT AT ALL. Oh god, it’s not poison is it?

But Father Semyon drinks a shot of the vodka himself, so I’m assuming it’s safe. Well, the vodka is safe, but nothing about the situation does. This is what I meant by saying this just feels wrong. I can’t place my finger on any specific thing or give you a well-thought out reason for it. He just strikes me as this creepy, over-assuming man who has no business giving preteens shots of alcohol. (Great. Now that awful LMFAO song just popped in my head. SEE? FATHER SEMYON INSPIRES DESTRUCTION.)

After a particularly mortifying hug and prayer session, Will and Balthamos are off to move further along in their journey to find Lyra. For the first time in days, thankfully, they finally discover a chance to make this a reality: they come upon what seems like some sort of battle in a small town. The source of this is a gigantic vessel offshore manned by non-human creatures in armor.

I nearly wet myself with joy. (Actually, that’s not hyperbole. I had to pee really badly while I was reading this section and I refused to take a break. DON’T JUDGE.) COULD THIS BE???? IS IT…OMG IT IS THE ARMORED BEARS. Wait, why are they attacking this village? WHAT IS GOING ON, I UNDERSTAND NOTHING.

“They want fuel. But we have no dealings with bears. Now they are leaving their kingdom and sailing up the river, who knows what they will do? So we must fight them. Pirates–robbers–”

I kind of like that this isn’t some noble cause, per se. They need fuel. They’re bears. With armor. They’re just going to take it. What are you going to do to stop it? Right???

Well, you’ll do what Will does here: You stand up to the bears and challenge one of them to a fight.

I’ll be honest: the technique made absolutely no sense to me when I first read it. Will knows that the bears are his key to finding Lyra, so why on earth would he want to fight them? How does that compute at all?

He could feel the blackbird-Balthamos trembling on his shoulder.

Dude, an angel is frightened, Will. You are not. I concede that you are more brave than I will ever be. And that’s not even a slight at myself! It’s just that Will possess this brilliant ability to face his fear and I’m perfectly fine not fighting an armored bear. Thus I remained perplexed at Will’s bluff. Well…it’s a bluff, right? He can’t actually fight the bear he’s challenged, can he?

He gets the townspeople to agree to sell the bears fuel if he can get this particular one to yield to him; when that bear refuses to fight on the grounds of how BLATANTLY UNFAIR this is, Will demands that the bear hand over his helmet to at least be somewhat evenly-matched. (LOL NICE TRY, WILL.)

That’s when Will–oh, you genius boy–pulls out the subtle knife and slices the helmet. Will just cut an armored bear’s armor. In one second, I face-palmed (at myself, not Will) and realized what Will had just done: he’d ended the battle, gotten the bears fuel, and earned the attention and respect of the bears.

Can I just quote my favorite exchange of the chapter now?

“I want to see that knife.”

“I will only show it to a bear I can trust. There is one bear I’ve heard of who’s trustworthy. he is the king of the bears, a good friend of the girl I’m going to the mountains to find. Her name is Lyra Silvertongue. The bear is called Iorek Byrnison.”

“I am Iorek Byrnison,” said the bear.

“I know you are,” said Will.

I mean, is this just the best book or the very best book. Someone sign me up for marriage, I’ve found my soul mate.

About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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136 Responses to Mark Reads ‘The Amber Spyglass’: Chapter 8

  1. momigrator says:

    I used to be a Christian and ascribe to the faith, and try to be good… But seeing so many Christians treat other people poorly really made me lose my faith in that religion… Since then I've developed my own belief system, and my morals are based on this: "Treat people well." It's that simple. We are all human and we all deserve the respect and love that we would want shown upon ourselves.

    I want so much to help people and love people, and I can see good in people that have no friends and see no good in themselves. And all I want is to brighten their days and make them feel some happiness in their lives. I don't think religion is necessary to be this way, not at all. In fact, sometimes I think religion takes away from our ability to simply love one another because many religions comes with rules and a hierarchy. Anything with a hierarchy automatically makes a person feel "better" than someone else, and if you feel that way, how can you fully love your fellow people who are "below" you? Anyway, that's a very quick summation of my belief system. 🙂

  2. Darth_Ember says:

    Balthamos's grieving just yanks at all the heart-strings. All of them. I can be kinda cynical about character deaths in some books, or about characters I dislike, and about the sadness of characters who've had it written ineptly, but Balthamos's desperate incoherence and denial, coupled with his determination to do what Baruch would have wanted… that gets me. Absolutely.

    Also, I agree – it really irritates me when certain people claim that atheists, not having religion, therefore must have no morals. Self-righteous crap from people suffering acute recto-cranial inversions on account of their unwillingness to even try to understand anything other than their own worldviews. They use it to condemn everyone else, including other religions – 'not the same, must be wrong, and our truth is so self-evident that they must be wrong on purpose and thus evil' – but even more so, those with no religion.

    Personally, I don't think much of them for that, because to claim God guides their morals and there are no morals without God is essentially saying that they believe they would do all kinds of bad things if they didn't think God was watching. I derive what I think is right from, you know, the concept of 'not doing bad stuff to people because I have enough basic human empathy to realise just as I wouldn't like it, they probably won't either.' But if they're incapable of working out why an atheist would therefore feel restraint regarding doing harm to others, what does that say about them and their empathy and morals?

  3. Ryan Lohner says:

    The whole "vodka" thing is the one place where this story loses me a bit. It's a full-on Big Lipped Alligator Moment, a random side plot that's never referenced again, and seems to only exist so Pullman can take a cheap shot at the whole pedophile priest thing that was starting to become a big deal at the time.

    • cait0716 says:

      It's true. And this is why I see his argument as being a little one-sided. He never seems to present a church official as good or even ambiguous or confused (except Mary, who broke with the church completely). They are all evil people doing bad things. The trilogy has an incredibly strong anti-church message and never takes into account that people can find themselves in a not-so-great organization, but still be decent people themselves, or even try to better the organization as much as they can.

      • Elexus Calcearius says:

        I know what you mean. Not everybody in any religious institution are evil; in fact, most people aren't. It would be nice if he at least explored other possibilities- that some people feel renewed and empowered by faith, even if they don't force it on to others.

      • t09yavors says:

        There are church people that aren't exactly evil. Fra Pavel is just an alethiometrist, he follows his orders but he hasnt done anything specifically bad. Also all the soldiers are just following orders and you cant really blame soldiers for doing as they are told. There may be other examples but I cant remember at the moment or there may be spoilers.

      • flootzavut says:

        Yeah, I agree. It actually weakens rather than strengthens his message, IMO.

    • xpanasonicyouthx says:

      Hey asshole, thanks for telling me this plot thing isn't ever referenced again. You know, since I've read this book before.


      • arctic_hare says:

        Seriously, what is wrong with people?

      • PeacockDawson says:

        Geez, man. Bit strong of a reaction. I get your no-spoiler thing, and I have a pretty strict policy for that myself, but it is possible to take to an extreme. I just don't feel like the transgression warranted this degree of response.

        • xpanasonicyouthx says:

          Yeah, you weren't spoiled and you haven't dealt with people doing this every single day. So no, please don't tell me I am being "extreme." The rules are EXTREMELY clear: Does it happen in the future? DON'T TALK ABOUT IT.

          • SorrowsSolace says:

            It also goes for anything that's not mentioned again, it's a spoiler by the same token, which is what they were getting at Dawson.

    • pica_scribit says:

      I don't read Semyon as a pedophile; just as a weird, eccentric Russian guy in the back woods of Siberia. Of course he would consider Will almost a man at 12, and offering vodka would be an almost ritualised gesture of friendship.

      • Elexus Calcearius says:

        I interpreted it this way, too. I think it was a clash of different socieities and cultures. Whether or not that's what Pullman was going for, though, I don't know.

      • flootzavut says:

        ^ YES. Although I do find Semyon a bit creepy, I don't read anything into it because of the alcohol, I just think Semyon is creepy. Culture clash, IMO, though Pullman may have meant something by it. I just wrote a hooooje long post about it but you put it much more succinctly!

    • sabra_n says:

      I didn't read it as a pedophile priest thing at all, but maybe that's just my circa-2000 ignorance showing. I guess that since Russian-American kids I know really were allowed by their parents to start drinking at twelve (or younger), I didn't think much of the offensiveness of the stereotyping at all, but you're right; it's a pretty random scene to insert in there.

      • flootzavut says:

        I wrote a massive long post about it down there somewhere, but yeah, I lived in Russia for a year and studied Russian/Russia for four years, and although I don't exactly think it's great to give a 12 year old vodka, and I DO actually find Semyon creepy, I don't think that *in general* offering vodka to a twelve year old should set off paedophile alarm bells like it would if this scene was set in Russia.

  4. cait0716 says:

    Father Semyon gives me the heebie jeebies. I'm glad Will got out of there, because I could see that situation getting way worse. ::shudder::

    I don't get asked about my moral code all that often as an atheist, mostly because I tend to surround myself with other atheists or simply don't talk about it. But my feelings about the whole thing were perfectly summed up by one a line on Buffy's spin-off, which I will rot-13 for the sake of Mark possibly watching it one day. Just the quote though, no information about who says it or when or why:

    Vs abguvat jr qb znggref… , gura nyy gung znggref vf jung jr qb. 'Pnhfr gung'f nyy gurer vf. Jung jr qb. Abj. Gbqnl… Orpnhfr, vs gurer'f ab ovttre zrnavat, gura gur fznyyrfg npg bs xvaqarff vf gur terngrfg guvat va gur jbeyq.

    I'm having trouble with the geography in this book. I kind of thought the worlds would more or less line up, so if you cut a window from Oxford in Will's world you'd find yourself in the same place in Oxford in Lyra's world. But that seems to be getting all screwed up. So, in The Subtle Knife, Lyra starts from far north in her world, then walks south to Cittagazze, which does not seem to have a British climate. Then she and Will keep walking south to the mountains. Then Will enters Lyra's world, continues south, and ends up in Siberia/the Himalayas. The answer is probably as simple as "parallel worlds don't have to match up", but it's hurting my brain. I want them to match and they don't.

    • Rainicorn says:

      Is it a spoiler to say, don't worry about the geography?

    • Tilja says:

      Good question. My answer: keep reading. 🙂

    • PeanutK says:

      "But my feelings about the whole thing were perfectly summed up by one a line on Buffy's spin-off, which I will rot-13 for the sake of Mark possibly watching it one day."

      I didn't even have to translate that quote to know which one it was. It's one of my favorite quotes from any show ever, and pretty much what I play in my head whenever I get a case of Atheist Depression.
      And that quote is one of the reasons I really hope Mark does watch (and review) that show. 🙂

      Hmm, I never noticed that about the geography. I think I was always too preoccupied with "Adventure! Must find out what happens next! I love this book!" to notice. Now I'm wondering if there was some sort of explanation for it that I also missed.

    • barnswallowkate says:

      That quote is 100% my life philosophy and I didn't realize it was in Buffy! I really should have considering that my life revolved around that show (as in, I should have known my morals are based on Buffy, plus I should have remembered it).

    • miriamdelirium says:

      V guvax gung gur fznyyrfg npg bs xvaqarff vf gur zbfg vzcbegnag guvat va gur jbeyq, jvgu be jvgubhg n terngre zrnavat; vg'f jung punatrf crbcyrf' yvirf, naq punatrf gur jbeyq.

    • t09yavors says:

      Lord Boreal mentioned that the windows got shifted around so maybe before Asriel messed things up it did match.

    • flootzavut says:

      It's been a long time since I read it, so I forget if there is an explanation, but I guess Asriel's actions messing with the world and causing things to be all damaged and broken up would account for it? And didn't Cittagazze exist as a sort of waystation between worlds before? So maybe you're not supposed to be able to walk direct between the worlds usually…? I don't know, just speculating.

  5. Rainicorn says:

    I like that Pullman is able to make Father Semyon so, so creepy without explicitly going to the priest=pedophile well.

    Will/Iorek team-up! Yesss! (And I don't mean that in a slashy sense…eww.)

    Speaking as a believer, "But without God there's no morality!" strikes me as one of the dumbest arguments for God's existence. LOL srsly 'cause religion has always been totes moral and nobody has ever been moral without it.

  6. enigmaticagentscully says:

    I’m perfectly fine not fighting an armored bear

    Now there's a philosophy that will serve you well in life.

    • Elexus Calcearius says:

      A: Hey, dude, want to go fight an armoured bear?
      B: Yeah, it'll be so fun!
      C: Oh, I don't know guys…that's not my thing.
      A: Well, look who's so 'straight edge'.

      One of these people are not killed by a giant mass of muscle and metal. Guess which.

  7. Maya says:

    Well, my two year old cousin was already demanding wine at his older brother’s bar mitzvah, so maybe I’m not the best judge of whether 12 year olds should be drinking vodka. Though I imagine it’s not uncommon in Russia.

    I don’t remember anything with the creepy priest. It must never have registered in my youngish brain as omgpedopriest

    • Patrick721 says:

      Yeah, when I read this, either the scandals hadn't really started, or I was just too young and didn't pay attention to current events. I saw it more as "motherfucker, you do NOT insult the witches and the bears." Well, not those exact words, but you get the idea.

      • sabra_n says:

        The Amber Spyglass was published in 2000 and the Boston Globe expose on child abuse by priests was published in 2002, so there was a gap in there. Then again, accusations had been flying about that kind of thing since the 80s. Maybe they just weren't quite so prominent in the States at the time. But I can't say I have a clear memory of whether that was the case…

  8. monkeybutter says:

    Witches—have nothing to do with them, Will Ivanovitch, you hear me? You know what they will do when you come of age? They will try to seduce you. They will use all the soft, cunning, deceitful ways they have, their flesh, their soft skin, their sweet voices, and they will take your seed—you know what I mean by that—they will drain you and leave you hollow!

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    It’s too bad vodka is for commies, otherwise I believe Otyets Semyon and General Ripper would get along splendidly.

    The scene with Semyon is so incredibly unwholesome that I'm surprised there wasn't an aside for Will to take a Silkwood shower. I have mixed feelings about it, as it's partly Pullman creating a creepy priest to show how grotesque the church is as it unwantedly intervenes in people's lives. Creepy priests are a reality, but have we seen any sympathetic church members aside from Mary, who left? I do think Otyets Semyon serves a larger purpose, to demonstrate how superstition and xenophobia can have its roots in religion, but it'd be nice to have a more nuanced view of the Church.

    I'm fortunate enough to have never lost anyone very close to me, and I don't what I'd do if that happens. Thousands of years of love and companionship gone with the wind is incomprehensible to me. It also makes me wonder who has it worse: the witches who know that their love is ephemeral and must watch the people they care about wither away, or angels like Balthamos who have eons with their lovers, only to have them disappear suddenly. Or are the two situations quite similar because angels have such long lifespans?

    And most importantly, Iorek Byrnison! <3

    • ldwy says:

      Your last main paragraph really speaks to me. I have lost far too many people very close to me, but I still can't say I've experienced grief like Balthamos'. Your questions and comments about the parallels of angels' love and witches' love are really interesting.

      • monkeybutter says:

        I'm sorry for your losses. When extended family members have died, I've felt shock and sadness — I still feel sad remembering that they're gone — but nothing quite compares to Balthamos's confusion, turbulence, and angst; it's as though he's lost. I'm impressed that he was able to pull himself together to help Will.

        Maybe the witches are better off because they know that regular humans die, but the angels don't really have a reason to prepare themselves for that eventuality.

  9. Jenny_M says:

    Mark, you touched nicely on one of the more frustrating parts of being an atheist: morality and where it is drawn from. I don't do morally reprehensible things because I find them personally distasteful. My brain innately understands that to rape and murder is wrong. I don't need a higher power to dictate that morality to me: it simply is. It's interesting in the context of, say, Father Gomez, the man in Oslo last week, or the man who shot Doctor Tiller a few years ago: their 'morality' completely justifies murder, and their morality is drawn from a higher power. So when people ask me how, as an atheist, I can know the difference between right and wrong, I want to scream and tear my hair out.

    It's sort of the same way I felt when I was in Christian fundie school and I was expected to ascribe every achievement I had in life to God. "You got the lead in the play? God gave you the ability to sing!" "You got an A on the geometry test? God allowed you to understand the material!" Maybe it is inherently selfish of me but…NO. I DID THAT. I DID ALL OF IT. I AM AWESOME AND SHUT UP. I think that was part of what sent me into the loving arms of non-belief: I have done awesome things in my life, and I don't like sharing credit where credit most certainly is NOT due.

    • Tilja says:

      That's a very interesting story on how religions ascribe the good things to god and the bad things to you. I think, if I was a believer of that god (which I will never be, too much experience for that), I'd play their game: I'd give thanks to god for the opportunities and all that, while at the same time make very damn sure to remove every single thread of praise from all those people in the church, making sure to tell how they tried to stop me from receiving god's gifts and many more things, how they work against god's work. And then I'd walk out of there with my soul and my own spirituality intact.

      I guess this is why I never believed in the human god, I can't see it in those people's acts. For the record, I did kind of do just that to 'holy people' whom I've had to associate with for the past 3 years. I walked out this month keeping my own beliefs and morals after a very long and hard fight against their destructive behaviour. The association almost destroyed me, but not quite, as I wasn't interested in the power taking or the money grabbing so their arguments didn't affect my behaviour; they couldn't hold me through greed or fear of losing my position or tempt me with more power, I don't need any of their lusts. They did threaten my family and that's when I exploded and took all the shit into the open for everyone else in the community to see, making very damn sure not to ommit any instance of theft, misuse of power, illegal actions, and the list goes on. They tried to pin me down for something, anything at all, and couldn't because everything they said and did I laid it out in the open for everyone to see and judge for themselves. I didn't even try to defend myself, merely put all out for the community to make the judgement and the community decided in my favor; that's when they attacked personally.

      I'm an example of how if you stand by your own conscience no one can take you down, no matter how hard and foully they try. I didn't submit, I didn't resign, I kept going until my term was over and I walked out of there with my conscience intact, untouched by their corruption, never to return again. Whatever they do now, I wash my hands off that kind of scum, they don't deserve to be considered human beings at all.

    • monkeybutter says:

      their 'morality' completely justifies murder, and their morality is drawn from a higher power. So when people ask me how, as an atheist, I can know the difference between right and wrong, I want to scream and tear my hair out.

      When people ask how and whence I derive my morals without god, it makes me worry about them. If it weren't for that higher power keeping them in line, would they just not give a fuck and hurt people? It makes me want to scream and tear my hair out for different reasons.

      • Partes says:

        Right? Whenever someone asks me that question (not that often, as I have learned from experience that saying I'm an atheist can have unfortunate reprecussions and so have learnt to dodge it) I just feel amazed, and ask them if they would run around killing people if they didn't believe in God. Goodness is not a religiously exclusive thing, and I feel like the idea that it is permeates our culture; good events are from God, bad events are just horrible accidents. Slightly unfair.

        • Jenny_M says:

          I have only had one person tell me that yes, without his faith, he is genuinely a bad person and enjoys making other people miserable. I couldn't fault him for admitting it to me, but…yipes.

        • monkeybutter says:

          Yup. Even worse is that minority who when faced with bad things that could be averted by changing our behavior, they chose to pray and say that our hope "lies in heaven and we will find it on our knees" (I'M LOOKING AT YOU RICK PERRY).

          I've learned since high school to not talk about my beliefs or lack thereof in real life unless it's with people I know well. : /

  10. Tilja says:

    Wait. Does this mean you've finally broken up with TSK? Have you told it yet? How is it going to react to being abandoned?

    These are all important questions.

  11. stellaaaaakris says:

    This is my favorite chapter of the whole trilogy. Will is just such a BAMF. He made IOREK BYRNISON (who I would totally want to have as my friend/body guard if I got really famous) back down from a fight. I think this is why the facebook Sorting Hat app put me in Gryffindor – I'm definitely more of a Ravenclaw, but I love action sequences and fight scenes. My favorite part of GoF: the First Task dragon dodging scene. Love it so much. Anyway, back to TAS, I also think part of the reason I enjoy it so much is because of my love for Will. Could he be any cooler? He understands and respects Balthamos' grief, he gets away from creepy priest without offending him, and then he meets Iorek Byrnison and cuts up his armor. Will, I wish we could be friends.

    I do wish Pullman would include more compassionate figures of the Church. Before this chapter, we've had Mrs. Coulter, the MacPhail guy, and Father Gomez. Not exactly role models. I might not believe in the Church myself anymore, but that doesn't mean I don't realize there are some good people in there with the right intentions and who make good decisions. It's all a bit one-sided right now and I'm reminded of an interview I read on BTTS (I think) but I won't mention it yet for fear of spoilers.

    But, anyway for me, the important thing to take away from this chapter is WILL IS AN AMAZING PERSON AND I WISH HE WAS REAL AND THAT WE HUNG OUT.

    • BradSmith5 says:

      I think that having more compassionate figures in the Church would be good for the story. For instance, we just found out that the Authority has been lying about being a real deity. The non-believers wouldn't care about this; they don't buy into the fake story anyway. So who does the revelation hurt? The Church, but I can't feel sorry for them––they're all evil! If there were some "nice" followers of the Authority I could feel pity for them and their situation, but there aren't any. Instead I'm like, "Hey, go Authority! You show Coulter and the rest of those jerks that their organization is a lie!"

      Or is that what I'm supposed to be thinking now? I have no idea. :/

      • flootzavut says:

        I agree, the onesidedness of the Church in these books being pure evil, and anyone with a shred of decency distancing themselves from the Church, actually IMO makes the story and the message weaker not stronger. It's one of the instances where, IMO, the message became more important than the story for Pullman, and it's a shame because the story is fantastic. It lacks a more subtle nuance that I think would add to the story hugely.

  12. Kira Wonrey says:

    Will is such a brave kid. And Iorek Byrnison is so amazing ♥

    I love this chapter, even with all the Father Semyon thing. So Creepy.

  13. frogANDsquid says:

    “I will find a trout and I will slap you in the face with it.”

    Why is there no gif of Mark slapping people with a trout?

    • Patrick721 says:

      I don't know. Mark, can we have a gif of this, please?

      • theanagrace says:

        Whole Trout: 10$
        Paying Someone To Stand Still For A Minute: 20$
        Mark Slapping Someone In The Face With A Trout: Priceless

  14. Becky_J_ says:


    I pretty much lost all coherency at that sentence, because I was reveling in its awesomeness. Also, I was pretty sure I heard your heart break, and then not too long after that, I heard you cheering, and I got SO EXCITED because its Will and Iorek and faceoff and cleverness and everything is wonderful and nothing hurts.

    FOR NOW.

  15. AnonAndi says:

    [youtube IhJQp-q1Y1s youtube]


  16. Many Rainbows says:

    When I re-read the scene with Balthamos grieving, it brings up many images for me from my own life- when my mom died just sobbing until my brother came to comfort me (when i was 12). Months spent hoping that it was all a mistake and my mom would come walking through the front door again. When my first hamster died raging and blaming the cat ( I think i acted very like Balthamos here- and yes over a HAMSTER. don't judge me!) when I found out my daughter was dead begging for it not to be true, begging for answers, crying all the way home to my husband so we could go to the hospital. the numbness that followed after I had cried all I could- i simply 'checked out' and acted disinterested in everything, everything except my daughter. hoping that it wasnt true, that somehow she would suddenly start breathing again, up until we buried her. So the scene with Balthamos was heartbreaking to me, because if I could be that upset about something such as a hamster, how much MORE upset must he be about Baruch, who he had loved for thousands of years, and therefore must love even more strongly than anything we puny humans could know?

  17. Brin says:

    (I almost said boyfriend, but I feel weird ascribing our relationship terms to angels. Right???? They’re angels. “Boyfriend” just sounds so human.)

    "Boyfriend" sounds ephemeral. Usually, "boyfriend" changes to "ex" or "husband" within a decade. Often even within a year.
    We have no word to describe a millennia-long relationship, but "boyfriend" is probably one of the more wrong ones. I don't know about "lover".

    • BradSmith5 says:

      Yeah, "lover" implies only a physical relationship. I'd go with "soul-mate."

      • Brieana says:

        I agree with you about the word lover.

        Maybe I'd go with long time companion.
        Eh. I'm not over the moon about the term but I don't like any of the other terms either.

      • cait0716 says:

        I agree with soul-mate. If these two aren't soul-mates, who else could possibly claim that term?

      • Patrick721 says:

        Honestly, whenever I see or hear "soul-mate," all I can think of is Hexxus saying "I do believe we are destined to be soul-mates."

  18. BradSmith5 says:

    Yeah, the section describing Balthamos' outrage and greif was really well done––why can't Lyra and the others show emotion like that? "Oops, Roger's dead. Let's go stop the Dust now."

    And I sure am glad we took a break from the story to chat with Father Semyon. I had almost forgotten that people with the Church were creepy, vile, monstrous, dirty, single-minded, drunken hypocrites that can't be trusted. I mean, it's been ONE whole chapter since we'd been reminded!

    Anyway, that ending with Iorek was PERFECT. I would've added a "Let's rock" from the king of all bears, but that's just me. 😉

    • hassibah says:

      I have to agree about the grief, it's one of my favourite parts of this book. Or those two in general are.

      • BradSmith5 says:

        Yes! And the semicolons were put to such good use! Not even the umpteenth 'presently' at the end could mar such a scene! 😉

        So, how's that 'Battlestar Galactica' going? Is this something I need to watch or can I sit this one out?

        • hassibah says:

          I've only seen the miniseries so far so I can't really say, right now all I know is the premise of the show. It's definitely serious business and not campy at all! If you liked Deep Space Nine I guess I could see the appeal but I'm not ready to recommend it like I do Firefly quite yet.

          That said: if you've always wanted to sex up a blonde robot who wears plastic underwear then this is the show for you.

          • Plus all the little flippy ships in space and poundy drums.

          • BradSmith5 says:

            Well if I were to watch the show NOW, I'd be saddled with your illicit implication! I mean, admit I liked DS9!?

            • hassibah says:

              Hey there's no shame in sexy robots! I mean it's not like most tv shows aimed at adults are that different. I watch True Blood and I'm pretty sure no one believes that I'm not attracted to anyone on it but somehow I live it down.

              Okay I just watched the first proper episode and it's good. But yeah the impression I get is that this is one of those shows with a really complex mythology that people like to overthink a lot, so if you're up for that go for it. Anyways if you hate it you can always stop watching (imagine that.)

              • BradSmith5 says:

                Ha,ha,ha…I was KIDDING Hassibah. The joke is that I consider watching the "black sheep" of Star Trek my secret shame, while taking the "sexing" of robots in stride. Which I do, of course. I mean, Dragon Ball was promoting blond androids and sweet lovin' over a decade ago! Go, Krillin, go! 😉

                • hassibah says:

                  Somehow I didn't catch that till after I made my comment and then I just didn't feel like editing. It's not like it's Voyageur or anything, let's not say things we can't take back.

  19. arctic_hare says:

    You know what people really scare me? The Christians who say that without their religion they'd be out stealing/murdering/raping/etc. YOU SHOULD NOT NEED RELIGION TO STOP YOU FROM DOING THAT SHIT. That says a whole lot more about what kind of awful person you are than it does about your religion. Don't paint me with the same brush: I know to do the right thing for the sake of doing the right thing, not to do horrible things BECAUSE THEY'RE HORRIBLE AND HURT PEOPLE, and to be kind to others because everyone deserves to be treated well. If you need the fear of God/hell to make you do those things, you've got problems. How dare they accuse people like me of being immoral while they say things like that? And that's before we even get to all the horrible things that have been done in the name of their religion, up to the present day. Not that there aren't good people doing good things in the name of said religion, but you know what I mean.

    I didn't even remember Father Semyon when I got to this chapter this time around, but he certainly gave me the creeps, and BIG TIME. His behavior was just so creepy and weird. And for the record, Mark, I agree about the whole "giving vodka to a twelve year old" thing. Hell, he was practically FORCING it on Will. And what's with the line about it being the only place where he and that elderly woman lie together??? WTF? I definitely got "pedo priest" vibes from him. Yick. I'm glad Will got the hell out of Dodge as quickly as he could. I support slapping him with a fish.

    He then proceeded to be a badass for all time. <3 IOREK! <3 <3 <3 THIS IS GOING TO BE AWESOME.

    • flootzavut says:

      As I've said elsewhere, I think the horror at giving a twelve year old vodka is partly cultural. It wouldn't have the same implications of "potential child abuse just around the corner and what the hell do you think you're doing" that it would have in, say, Texas, y'know?

  20. LilithDee says:

    Oh god Father Semyon, he gives me all sorts of bad, BAD vibes, and I think it's remarkable how Pullman does this without ever giving the man any sort of directly bad actions or words that you can pinpoint. There's sort of a sense like, he's this old Russian man with a love for his booze, so offering it to a boy might not be too unusual, and he's boisterous and 'friendly' so being a little overbearing might just be a personality quirk and if you're firm with him it's all good, and then he's religious which isn't in and off itself a bad thing, and his blatant disrespect for the witches and bears is ignorant and harsh, sure. But none of those things individually really accounts for the overall aura of CREEPY that surrounds him – I think it's the combination of all those factors that just makes him kind of a sickening character. UGH he freaks me out.

    At the same time… I want one morally decent person who works for the church. JUST ONE? If the message here is supposed to be that individual people make up their own individual morality, then shouldn't there be at least one individual person whose individual morality manages to allow him/her to believe in God, believe in the institution of morality as law, AND STILL BE A DECENT PERSON? … Right. Granted, I don't believe that the church should step anywhere NEAR any kind of power, unless you count charity, humility, and love as power, but still, I know there are people who haven't been disillusioned yet who are genuinely good and who genuinely believe that having a church in power is the best thing for everyone… and I still don't feel like I'm making my point very well. Um… here, an analogy: In Firefly, say the Aliance is the Church. We have Inara, for instance, and several other characters who work for/with the Alliance (the Operative, for instance) who actually have a sense of decency – even if they're working for what is, through Mal's eyes, an incredibly corrupt system. SO. WHERE ARE THOSE CHARACTERS IN THE CHURCH?

    That might be one of the ONLY problems I have with this series… I want more ambiguity! (How I could ask for MORE ambiguity when we've got Asriel and Pbhygre – V guvax gung'f n fcbvyre fgvyy – ( being all ambiguous and nearly impossible to figure out is beyond me, but meh.)

    Anyway, I LOVE THE SCENE WITH WILL AND IOREK. It's so incredibly perfect and Will is just a freaking BAMF all the way through. This is one of the scenes that sticks with me no matter how long I go between readings of The Amber Spyglass (usually no more than seven or eight months to a year). THE POWER that this twelve-year-old boy has over himself, over an entire freaking town, and EVEN OVER ARMORED BEARS is just… damn, kid. <3 Hearts forever.

  21. Marie the Bookwyrm says:

    Father Semyon definitely had a creepy vibe, but I didn't see him as a potential pedophile. I though he was going to keep Will talking there until soldiers from the Church showed up and hauled him off.

    Will stands up to AN ARMORED BEAR!!!
    And now Will and Iorek are together! YAY!!!!!

    • stellaaaaakris says:

      I understand my idea of boundaries could be different from others, but I started seeing him as a potential pedophile when he started stroking Will's knee.

      The priest kept leaning forward to look closely at him, and felt his hands to see whether he was cold, and stroked his knee.

      Now, I'm not the most touchy-feely person in the world on a normal basis but I can be extremely friendly and might give people a gentle nudge or whatever when talking. So I can see how you might touch someone's hands to see if they're cold because they might be too polite to mention that you're house is freezing. But when is it okay to start stroking a stranger's knee, let alone a child? I would never just start touching people's knees, especially if I just met you. If a stranger were telling a sad or distressing story and I felt empathy or wanted to show I understood, I might give their upper arm a quick squeeze or something (well, no, actually I would look at them with sympathy and maybe squeeze their hand but I can see how others would act differently). Father Semyon, you have met Will about an hour ago, stop touching his knee. It is creeping me out. Combined with everything else he was doing, this guy never had a chance of getting into my good graces.

      • Marie the Bookwyrm says:

        That's true. I had forgotten about him touching Will's knee. URGH.

      • Many Rainbows says:

        yeah, that's about the time i started feeling those icky pedo vibes from Father Semyon. Just like, thats an awful lot of touching this grown man is doing towards a young boy. but since there was nothing REALLY overt (as others have said, some are just more touchy-feely). I am someone that is surprised when people from my church, whom i have known for months and am friendly with suddenly give me a hug. With my husband or kids yes, I am very affectionate always hugging and touching, but towards even friends, i am very hands off most times, just because i am overly conscious of personal bubbles and boundaries… and I am babbling now LOL.

  22. pennylane27 says:

    Balthamos grieving is the saddest thing ever. I honestly teared up from reading the parts you quoted. I feel like hugging him, can you hug an angel? And Will, I feel like hugging him too. And Iorek. And I'm not a hugging person at all.

    I have a problem with morals being ascribed to a god and religion too. Sure, as a part of the Western hemisphere culture, even if my country doesn't have an official religion, our moral code is basically the same as the Christian. You know, the basic don't kill anyone, don't steal, be nice to people, try to help. But I don't know how much stems from Christianity itself, or if it's just common sense and decency. But I did not need to read a book or go to be preached at to act like a decent human being.

    Besides, the Catholic Church's morals have changed through the years, (I don't see anyone still stoning adulterers to death or whatever) and yet they still ride on their high horse and condemn and judge other people who don't share their views. I find it a tad hypocritical and that's why I trust my moral code more than theirs.

    I'm trying not to generalise, because I do know very good Catholic people. It's just the institution of the church that I really don't like.

  23. Patrick721 says:

    I'm just going to say this right here. Will is the one of the most badass literary characters I've ever read. To go up against an armored bear…that takes cojones.

    Not the most badass, but definitely in the top 10. Not sure about top 5.

  24. Jaya says:

    Oh dear, failed again. Sorry, please delete my broken link!

    Chapter 8 epigraph!

    <img src=""&gt;

  25. I've been revisiting Harry Potter due to a newfound audiobook addiction, and I am SHOCKED, totally SHOCKED, at how much underage drinking is in them. Not that I think it's a bad thing, since it mostly seems to be supervised, and no one gets drunk or goes wild or anything, but I'm really surprised that this doesn't upset other people.

    Anyway, I guess after that, it doesn't surprise me to rediscover that a priest pushes vodka on Will in TAS.

  26. Danielle says:

    I don't believe in an afterlife, or karma, or any sort of eternal post-death rewards for good behavior. I don't think that good deeds cleanse the soul or gain you brownie points with deities. I don't get my moral philosophy from a book or gods or a higher power. I've found my philosophy of life described best in Terry Pratchett's "Small Gods":

    "In a hundred years we'll all be dead, but here and now, we are alive."

    • t09yavors says:

      On Facebook my religion is listed as "Life". because I don't really care what happens after.

  27. Elexus Calcearius says:

    You know, I didn't actually find that scene with the Father that weird? I mean, he didn't actually seemed malicious. He seemed like an old guy who wanted some company. Was he good in all respects? No. The vodka thing was weird, and he was definitely very controlling. But I think this is a combination of personality and a different culture. There are many places where children are given drinks at a young age, partly because its safer to drink than water, partly because of ritual.

    So, yeah, not really that bothered by that scene.


  28. t09yavors says:

    I don't understand why this is the first reread in which I realized that the priest was one of those priests. Because apparently him inviting a child into his home, touching said childs knee, inviting him to sleep over, and giving him alcohol weren't enough hints for inocent little me on the first 500 reads.


    Will says that he is heading south to find his family.
    And the story he makes up is very Lyra-esque.

    For any non-believers, one of the most common things we’re asked is how we define our morality without a base to draw it from. Without a god or God or deity, what basis is there to be good?

    In my personal opinion, the fact that I have a moral code without believing in God or caring about my "afterlife" should actually be more impressive. If some people are only good because they are scared of heavenly punishment, should that really count as the same thing?

  29. Susan says:

    "Most (believers) believe that without religion their children, and even they, would not know right from wrong. I have two arguments to which no answer has yet been received. One: Name me a moral kindness or action that they can do because of their belief but that I can't. Two: Can you think of one evil action done by a religion person? You can, and you can think of another, and another…” (Christopher Hitchens)

  30. flootzavut says:

    TL ; DR warning: I am gonna talk about Russian culture and language a wee bit here!

    Semyon giving a twelve year old vodka – I do have to say that, in my experience (I spent a year in Russia), and especially in the cold north, people's attitudes to alcohol in general and vodka in particular are totally different from UK attitudes and (again IME, I have a lot of Merkian friends but only been one) even more different from US attitudes. It would not be a fraction as shocking to give a twelve year old vodka, though it would also not (at least in the circles I frequented) be "on" to have a child drink a _lot_. But a Russian version of "a lot" is different from our view of what would be considered excessive for a child.

    As always, it varies, and some people will not drink at all, but the consumption of spirits in Russia is much, much higher than it is in the UK or US and the attitudes towards it are very different. Alcoholism is rife, and it's far from unusual to see someone drinking beer on their way to work in the morning, or seeing someone mid afternoon unable to stand because they are so plastered.

    (I just did a quick google for up to date stats, as my direct knowledge/experience of this is a decade old, and Wikipedia tells me that the average Russian drinks the equivalent of 16 litres of pure ethanol alcohol per year. Of this, 3+ litres is from beer and over 6 from spirits; compare the UK where the average is just over 13 litres but mostly from beer and wine (only 2 and a half-ish from spirits) and the US where the average is under 10 litres and about 2.5 from spirits.)

    You're talking about a country where not to drink vodka with one's friends for a celebration or in mourning can be construed as an insult, and it's not uncommon to drink (and indeed down) vodka from glasses which we would consider an appropriate size for fruit juice or squash (Kool-aid) rather than alcohol, never mind liquer. There's a rather fabulous restaurant in St Petersburg where they give you a shot of very cold vodka with your first order in order to warm you up!

    So while I personally don't condone giving vodka to Will, it is also partly, IMO, a cultural thing/reaction, and in that context is not as shocking, although I too find Semyon creepy.

    And the language-y bit – although one website I found says Semyon is the Russian version of Simon, I'm not hundred percent convinced, and as a russophone, Semyon is highly reminiscent of the word in Russian for "seed" which is also used for seminal fluid. So I can't help finding him rather creepy from that point of view, if that is deliberate on Pullman's part then for me it just adds to the "wrongness" of the scene. I don't know if that is deliberate but personally I can't help but have an "ugh" reaction to a chap with that name drinking with a 12 year old boy.

    TL ; DR: yes the drinking and Semyon are creepy, but it is partly cultural and probably is just showing good research from Pullman.

    • Louisa says:

      Glad someone mentioned this. I've lived and travelled a lot in the CIS (although not actually Russia), and the drinking culture is very, very different. I've definitely seen children at least as young as twelve drinking vodka at a family meal, and it's often offered to guests: I have fond memories of wandering around Central Asia and the Caucasus and being offered vodka and fruit brandy and highly suspicious home-brewed substances as a matter of course by complete strangers on the most tenuous of excuses (admiring the beautiful scenery? Let's drink a toast to nature! A car ahead has broken down and blocked the road and we're waiting for a truck to pull it over? Hey look, we have a barrel of home-made wine in the trunk! Stopped to ask for directions? Come in for some home-made apple vodka, it's good for your liver! God, I love that part of the world.). So I don't think Otyets Semyon offering Will vodka is a particular sign of ecclesiastical degeneracy, although Pullman succeeds very well at creating the impression that there is something off about the whole encounter.

      • flootzavut says:

        "admiring the beautiful scenery? Let's drink a toast to nature! A car ahead has broken down and blocked the road and we're waiting for a truck to pull it over? Hey look, we have a barrel of home-made wine in the trunk! Stopped to ask for directions? Come in for some home-made apple vodka, it's good for your liver!"

        This really, really made me laugh because it is SO TRUE!!!!!! 😀

        • Louisa says:

          Haha, yes – all alcohol, all the time! The "drink a toast to nature" was my favourite: we were walking in the mountains in the early morning, and as we admired the view, one of the guys I was with whipped out a flask of vodka and four miniature drinking horns which he apparently carried around with him at all times in case of a toasting emergency. I think Will was lucky to get away with just one shot!

  31. Tealife says:

    I believe Father Semyon was supposed to be some sort of Russian caricature, in which case the shots of vodka are entirely normal in that culture. Pretty much everything is a reason to drink. There's a really big problem with alcoholism there and it's not uncommon to see ten year old kids walking out of a liquor store.

  32. ChronicReader91 says:

    Will Parry: Preteen BAMF. Oh, here's a bear 10 times my size, wearing armor? Good thing I have my magic knife handy!

    It's taken me a while to warm up to Iorek- IDK why, but I just don;t feel the same love for him as I do for the human characters (OMG I'm such an ARMORED BEAR BIGOT), but he shows a lot of really admirable qualities here: A sense of morality, maybe even honor, for acknowledging that him against a human 12-year-old boy isn't a fair fight; and humility, for not being too proud to back down upon finding out that said 12-year-old boy possesses a knife that could easily slice through his armor, and by extension, him.

  33. Barbara says:

    I read your 'reviews' since the last half of The Golden Compass, and I love it. I'm always looking forward to the next chapter, having read – and loved – His Dark Materials around 5 years ago. Your comments to all the theological and philosophical questions are really interesting, they add to the thoughts the books themselves provide in me. And it's always awesome to see your reactions to all the exciting plot 🙂 So excited about what to come!

    The comment underneath the last quote not to put in capslock or italics made me grin. It fits to the shock I felt back then.

    Keep it up!! =)

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