In the fifteenth chapter of The Subtle Knife, I am filled with endless terror and dejected sadness. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Subtle Knife.
CHAPTER FIFTEEN: BLOODMOSS
I don’t even know what to say. I thought the loss of Lee Scoresby/Hester was bad enough.
If anything, it’s a sign that this war against God is not going to be easy, will not be without casualties, and that nothing and no one is safe anymore. And we still have an entire book left to go.
I must admit that, through all the sadness and shock and horror at the events I just read, Pullman is remarkably talented. There are so many moments in chapter fifteen that bring about such strong emotions in me. Hell, at one point, I even had to walk away from the book for about twenty minutes because it just felt so real to me. This book had drawn me in with its ideas about God, but I am hooked because of the characters. It’s that simple. I’m growing to love what Pullman is telling me about the Abrahamic God, but I cannot ignore that it is his detailed, empathetic writing that has me hooked. Lee’s death felt so personal because it was like losing an uncle. Christ, HE IS NOT EVEN REAL. WHAT AM I DOING.
Still, it’s so sad when Serafina “hears” Lee’s call and leaves to go help the man because we know it’s a pointless effort. She will discover his body and she will have wasted time. Maybe what happens here would not have happened had she stayed behind. What’s done is done, though. There’s no sense in thinking about what could have been.
This chapter is also drenched in Will’s loneliness, the longing he feels for his mother, and to hear the approving words of his father. Never did I think I’d be wishing for a character to have their own dæmon, but that’s how I feel about Will. That’s all I want for him.
I was also surprised that Pullman would introduce a new narration focus when he switched to Lena Feldt, a witch who offers to go scope out the oncoming group of people who are behind the group of witches. It’s the first time we see the dæmon-less zombies that Mrs. Coulter commands, too, and they closely resemble the way that people act when they are attacked by Specters. Lena feels an instant revulsion for Mrs. Coulter (BECAUSE WHO WOULDN’T), nearly drawing her bow and sinking an arrow in to that waste of space (SHOULD HAVE DONE IT), but instead chooses to go invisible to spy on her.
I’m sort of done whining about characters overhearing others and learning of crucial information because it just has to happen sometimes and being invisible in the same room is pretty awesome, so you’ll hear none of the sort out of my mouth. Plus, I just want to talk about the incredibly awkward and mind-blowing revelations we learn from Lena’s spying. First of all, Mrs. Coulter can control the Specters now. GREAT. THIS IS AWESOME. But really, what does this revelation matter when Mrs. Coulter begins to seduce Lord Boreal? Jesus, it is so painfully awkward and bizarre to read. Do people’s dæmons always show affection when their owners are being affectionate? I mean…am I being a bigot here. This is just weird to me! But I suppose I don’t care, mostly because I just want a dæmon of my own.
Anyway, the whole point of this is that Mrs. Coulter is clearly trying to get Lord Boreal to tell her why he’s chasing after Will Parry. It seemed really obvious to me that this was all that she wanted. But I suppose Lord Boreal was caught up in the moment, too taken in to realize he was being played for a fool. So he finally tells her what she wants to know, admitting that Will has the subtle knife. Also known as Æsahættr.
WHAT. WHAT. So it’s not Lyra! Will has what Lord Asriel needs! THIS IS TERRIBLY EXCITING, RIGHT?
No. NO, IT IS NOT. Because in the span of a page, everything turns completely awful. Mrs. Coulter poisons Lord Boreal, turns to face Lena and outright says she knows how she turns invisible, Lord Boreal dies, and Mrs. Coulter orders a Specter to suck the soul out of Lena’s dæmon.
SOMEONE HOLD ME, PLEASE. THIS IS TOO MUCH!!!!!!! And it’s still not even the worst thing to happen. Using her control of the witch’s dæmon as a bargaining device, Mrs. Coulter gets Lena to spill everything she knows about Lyra, Will, and, unfortunately, what the witches’ prophecy is. Which….CAN WE TALK ABOUT THIS?
“Name her! You are saying everything but the most important thing! Name her!” cried Mrs. Coulter.
“Eve! Mother of all! Eve, again! Mother Eve!” stammered Lena Feldt, sobbing.
THIS BOOK WILL DESTROY ME!!!!!! Oh my god, HOW CAN THERE BE A SECOND EVE???? Does that mean Dr. Malone is going to be the one to “tempt” Lyra somehow? HOW DOES THIS EVEN WORK. Oh, seriously, THIS IS MAKING MY BRAIN HURT. This book…THIS BOOK.
Just when I try to comprehend this mind-melt of a revelation, Pullman allows the reader to experience “death” by Specter, as one descends on Lena:
Her last conscious thought was disgust at her life; her senses had lied to her. The world was not made of energy and delight but of foulness, betrayal, and lassitude. Living was hateful, and death was no better, and from end to end of the universe this was the first and last and only truth.
Thus she stood, bow in hand, indifferent, dead in life.
WILL I EVER BE OKAY AGAIN. I mean…is this the bleakest sentence ever written in the history of words? THIS IS SOME GOTH SHIT, Y’ALL. And I poke fun at it because it seriously, this is just some fantastic writing. How else would Pullman convey this experience to us? I mean…not only is this horrifying, but as Mrs. Coulter controls the Specters and we learn she can make them fly, I suddenly realized that there was no possible way that this could end well.
The Specters head towards Will and Lyra’s location and the narrative switches to Will, who continues to feel that he is quickly losing hope at ever getting out of the mess that he’s in. I just cannot imagine a more depressing scene in this book than when Will thinks about his mother’s affection and silently cries to himself in that cold night air. I feel for Will, at the very least because I understand what that sensation is like.
Unable to sleep and still consumed by the pain on his hand, Will begins to climb the mountain, as if some unknowable emotional force is pulling him there. In hindsight, it seems that perhaps there was a force pulling him there, for once Will reaches the top and surveys the world below, a hand grabs his right arm. The struggle is fierce, but Will is unable to grab his knife or break away, and I suddenly feared the worst. One of the men with Mrs. Coulter had captured Will, and this book was going to end with his capture. But suddenly, the man’s grip weakens, and he asks to see Will’s hand.
His other hand let go at once, and he sat up.
“You’ve got the knife,” he said. “You’re the knife bearer.”
ONLY ONE PERSON WOULD SAY THAT. OH, VICTORIOUS DAY! John Parry found the knife bearer AND IT IS HIS SON. THIS IS AMAZING. And John Parry begins to heal Will’s wound with BLOODMOSS. oh my god this is so perfect and everything is wonderful and gorgeous.
John Parry wastes almost no time in telling Will that he has a task he must complete and as quickly as possible. And holy cow, WHAT AN INTRODUCTION:
“We’ve had nothing but lies and propaganda and cruelty and deceit for all the thousands of years of human history. It’s time we started again, but properly this time…”
I love this. Lord Asriel is restarting human history. What I can’t figure out is what exactly they are going to do differently this time. How do they fight the battle against the Authority and replicate the original Fall? Mrs. Coulter wanted to prevent Lyra from doing this at all, so I’m confused about the order of what’s going to happen. However, John Parry finally reveals what Æsahættr is:
“They had no idea that they’d made the one weapon in all the universe that could defeat the tyrant. The Authority. God.”
I can’t even deal with this book. Now I see why people could potentially be turned off by this trilogy, but now I’m completely enamored with it. So: Will has to kill God? Lyra has to be Eve? Dr. Malone is going to be the serpent? I DON’T GET THIS. Oh, I don’t even care that I don’t understand this anymore. THIS IS SO EXCITING. Even further, we get a much more explicit statement about what this war is about:
“Every advance in human life, every scrap of knowledge and wisdom and decency we have has been torn by one side form the teeth of the other. Every little increase in human freedom has been fought over ferociously between those who want us to know more and be wiser and stranger, and those who want us to obey and be humble and submit.”
Oh, just marry me already, book. Given the currently political climate in the United States, I could not imagine a more relevant point to be spoken by a character in this story. This fight is not even about religion, or even the belief in God. This is about both social warfare and theological rebellion. In the sense, what Pullman is writing here is certainly modern, as people still act in the name of God or God’s teachings to bring about acts of supreme horror. At the same time, by making this about the origins of God, he’s dealing with the being Himself. There’s only so much you can do going after the people involved with a belief system. People will be selfish and oppressive and bigoted and downright malicious independent of any religion or ideology, and we have to accept that. Instead, it seems that Pullman is saying the source itself is flawed, and that even if there were no people acting out atrocities in the name of God, this system would still be inherently immoral.
Ugh, I love where this is going so much.
We are simultaneously so close to the discovery of the obvious. Will is completely resistant to the idea of doing anything with the knife, but his father points out just how brave he has been up until this point. It’s a subtle affirmation, unknowing of course, that Will’s father is proud of him. Which is what makes the next section all the more heartbreaking to me: John Parry looks upon his son, sees those eyes full of curiosity that remind him of his wife, and he has a flash of recognition, suddenly aware that he is standing before the impossible.
AND FUCKING JUTA KAMAINEN SHOOTS AN ARROW THROUGH JOHN PARRY’S HEART.
SERIOUSLY? SERIOUSLY? It wasn’t enough that Lee Scoresby died, or that Lena was turned into a zombie, or that Lord Boreal was poisoned, but now Will finally meets his father, only to watch him murdered right in front of him? BOOK, WE ARE BREAKING UP. THE ENGAGEMENT IS OFF. YOU JUST SLAPPED ME IN THE FACE.
Understandably so, Will is in in such a rage that he grabs the witch’s dæmon. I know that he doesn’t understand not to do this naturally, but it’s still a terrifying moment. He screams at the witch, telling her that he had just recognized his father and she had killed him. I’m kind of fascinated by the idea that she doesn’t really explain why she did this aside from saying she loved him. It’s an issue of two cultures colliding: We know to refuse a witch is tantamount to the greatest offense imaginable, but would Will ever understand that? I wonder if this will be explored in the future.
Well, it won’t be explored by Juta, I mean. Because she immediately kills herself with her own knife. SERIOUSLY THE BODY COUNT FOR THIS BOOK IS RIDICULOUS. At this point, like Will, I was simply in shock. How do you process this? With all of the new information about the war against God, how am I supposed to deal with the tragic irony of Will Parry? All I know is that Will has now met his father, and, as his mother told him, he will take up his mantle to finish what he started. It makes the goodbye so painful to read, too, because all his life, Will just wanted the comfort of his father. And now he’ll never get it.
jesus goddamn christ
The whole situation gets even weirder when Will returns to camp to find two angels waiting for him, known as Watchers. (Are all the rebel angels known by that? Don’t answer that.) I found it a tad callous that they didn’t intervene to save Jon Parry’s life because his task was “over” for them. DUDES. Not gonna win me over to your side with that. Still, Will has agreed to do what his father ordered him to do, so he decides to follow along with the angels after getting Lyra.
I sort of figured that it would be inevitable that The Subtle Knife would end on a cliffhanger. When doesn’t the second part of a trilogy do this? But as will comes upon the witches that have either fallen to their deaths or suffered the zombification from the Specters, he realizes that Lyra has been captured. It becomes clear to me now that Lee Scoresby appears to have saved Serafina’s life by giving his own, and that by distracting Will, John Parry betrayed Lee’s order to protect Lyra.
The last thing we read from The Subtle Knife is a moment of shock to reflect our own. I hear nothing the angels say. Lyra is gone. That’s all that matters.
But this is a book full of complexion and difficulty, and it’s obvious that I should have expected this sort of tragedy. Lord Asriel has undone the world, and he is about to destroy the most powerful being in all of existence. They were going to be met with violent force any way you look at it, especially when you consider how willing the Magisterium was to use violence in The Golden Compass.
This entire experience has obviously been a great deal of fun for me, and it’s no secret that I’m planning on ruining the sanctity of marriage by taking The Subtle Knife up to the alter with me. I love that even though I’m (so far) on board with the idea of a theological rebellion, I adore this book because of the characters and the story. I don’t know how the deaths of Lee Scoresby or John Parry will be dealt with in The Amber Spyglass, and I must admit I am sad that this journey will continue on without them. But their characters both played such an integral role in the story, so that makes their deaths anything but pointless. None of this could have happened without them.
As we move into the final book in the His Dark Materials trilogy, I am excited to further discuss theology, to find out what the hell is going on, and continue to be impressed by the wonderful world-building. Are we going to see more universes??? Well…I’ll save that for my prediction post. I’ll start The Amber Spyglass on Monday, July 18, and it looks like it’ll be a nearly two-month journey. UGH. SO MUCH READING AHEAD.
Oh, right, I need to do this.
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