Mark Reads ‘The Subtle Knife’: Chapter 6

In the sixth chapter of The Subtle Knife, Lee Scoresby continues to make progress in determining where Dr. Grumman is–and what he was searching for–while Serafina Pekkala continues on in the parallel world in her search for Lyra and Lord Asriel. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Subtle Knife.


I’m really enjoying just how long these chapters are. It’s been easier for me to write reviews while reading from an eBook, which means that I don’t have that familiar concept of knowing how far I am into a book. (The percentage at the bottom of my Kindle app means basically nothing to me. I really do love the feeling of progressing through a book.) This method is just much more convenient for me, since I can search books for character names, places, or specific words, and it’s a much easier setup as well. Since I can’t feel how far I am, it adds an unexpected and pleasant sensation to this process: I have no idea where I am. It’s slightly disorienting, but that’s a compliment. I don’t know if I’m close to the end or in the middle or if I’m nearing the end of the chapter, so I just have to let myself enjoy the ride. That is a great feeling, and it certainly helps that the journey Pullman is sending me on is fascinating and exciting at the same time.

We’re back to another chapter that does not feature one bit of narration from either Will or Lyra; instead, we are dropped in the worlds of Lee Scoresby and Serafina. I was intrigued by their characters in The Golden Compass, but I never expected that we’d get to see so much of this world–ahem, worlds–through their eyes, and it’s a great addition to this epic story. We start off with Lee Scoresby, and Pullman does an excellent job conveying the culture that Lee comes from and how it is so different from the other characters we’ve seen in the book.

Lee is an American from the south, and I adore that he’s not just some ridiculous stereotype of what people in the American south are portrayed in the media. I was lucky enough during my years of working for Buzznet to travel fairly extensively throughout the U.S. while on tour with bands, and, aside from a few nonsensical and bizarre events, I always had a fantastic time in the South. While I’m certainly no expert, since I don’t live there, it was clear to me that people who grew up in the various societies there had a few things in common, and I think those features are represented in Lee. He is a plain-talker: he says what he means, but not in the same way as Serafina or the gyptians. It’s a method of conveying the basic sense of respect that one should extend to your fellow neighbor. It’s a no-nonsense culture, one of hospitality and honor. Reading the conversation that opens chapter six between and an old Texan acquaintance, Sam Cansino, reminds me of this.

It’s also the way they trade information that fascinates me. It’s over a meal and a drink. It’s perfectly natural in this culture to inquire about such things, too. As Pullman describes, it’s even more natural because of the strange “changes” taking place in the world as well. Everyone wants to know something, and everyone knows something knew. It’s this interesting congenial gossip that spreads through the traders; it’s not a malicious form of backtalk or anything, but about keeping others in the loop.

Lee’s goal is to find Grumman, who he believes in his heart to still be alive. The stories that he learns (and we learn through osmosis) paint the man in a fantastical light. (This is now the third such man whose reputation precedes him. I sense a pattern. How are they all related?) The Tartars appeared to have adopted him as a shaman of sorts, drilling his skull as is customary in their society, so that Dust may enter the mind. We still haven’t quite learned why the Tartars hold such a reverence for Dust, though, aside from believing it allows the Spirit world in. I’m guessing that the Tartars have actually been traveling to parallel worlds long before Lord Asriel or John Parry have.

But that doesn’t mean the stories give a monolithic view of Grumman. He may have had an osprey demon. He may have been shot outright. He may have been beheaded. He may have been buried under an avalanche. Unlike John Parry or Lord Asriel, who have more concrete facts established in their lives, Dr. Grumman is a myth. We know he existed, but the facts start to blur once you start analyzing the last time he was confirmed seen. However, it seems clear that, like many others, he was quite interested in the northern lights and in “ancient things.” What’s the tie to the ancient world, though? What happened so long ago that brought about all of this interest in Dust?

The conversation moves on to the bizarre events caused by Lord Asriel, and there’s more talk of the fog. I still can’t figure out what it is, but I’m assuming that the parallel world next to this one, Cittágazze, is plagued with fog often, and that fog is now creeping over into this world. A seal hunter explains to Lee and the other men in the hotel how he was able to catch a look straight into another world.

I seriously cannot imagine how weird that has to be.

Lee continues further to the north, to an observatory where allegedly he can learn more about what Grumman was searching for. On the way, the sledge driver makes a surprising statement: The sky has opened up before. Well, way before, “many thousand generation” ago. It caused spirits to travel between worlds, for land to move, for ice to melt and form again, and it was only repaired after a big “spirit war.” Is this the repetition of a cycle? Is this what happened 33,000 years ago? I’d actually be pretty stoked if this book provided an alternate origin theory not only for Dust, but for humans. Was that event something that had to do with the first group of humans on Earth?

The events at the observatory help take this story in a new direction. Firstly, though, I love that the astronomers present are simply excited to have Lee here, knowing he might be able to give them more news about the weirdness affecting the world. They all knew Grumman (or at least knew of him) as well, and seemed eager to talk about whatever sort of legacy he’d left behind. It’s pretty much confirmed he was looking for civilizations of humans far older than history allowed, and we get that thirty thousand number again. Something happened that upset the earth’s magnetic field (like the event caused by Lord Asriel) that may have frozen entire civilizations when the earth’s axis physically moved. But the strangest thing to me is the fact that one astronomer, Yoruba, says that Grumman just “appeared.” No one knew of history before he made a name for himself.

I have ideas in my brain. Grumman must have come from another world, right? RIGHT?

However, all of this discovery doesn’t come without a consequence, and Pullman clues us into the Magisterium’s further influence into the world. We know they run everything in this world, and I realize now that opposing the Church is a death sentence of sorts, and it’s here I learn just how pervasive the organization is. Amongst the astronomers is a lone Skraeling who has not contributed to the conversation at all, and Lee notices a ring with the Church’s symbol on the man’s finger.

Every philosophical research establishment, so he’d heard, had to include on its staff a representative of the Magisterium, to act as a censor and suppress the news of any heretical discoveries.

Well, damn. I like that so far, Pullman has shown how organizations of science can be both oppressive and oppressing. We’ve seen how Lord Asriel’s science disrupted the whole world; we know the scientific work done at Bolvangar killed children. And now we see how genuine work to expand the knowledge of humanity can be hidden and suppressed because of the Church. I’m glad it’s not as simple as SCIENCE IS GOOD ALL THE TIME, because that’s just now how things work.

I also adore that Lee, once he comes to this realization, immediately begins trolling the Skraeling, innocently asking if this all has to do with Dust. Of course, the Skraeling dismisses this as nonsense, and Lee already knows that is all the confirmation he needs. Unfortunately, ten minutes after he parts from the astronomers, the Skraeling’s dæmon launches an attack on Hester. An unsuccessful one, I might add, since Lee is able to shoot the man in the leg with his revolver.

That’s when Lee learns the man has already sent a messenger bird to the Magisterium and now Lee is an enemy of the church. His heretical talk will be the death of him, and the Skraeling launches into Biblical verses of condemnation, knowing he will die a martyr’s death; he even refuses Lee’s help in stopping the bleeding.

So Lee is now a marked man. He knows the Church has been searching for Grumman too. What did that man do??? Hester, in a wonderfully clever decision, tells Lee to steal the man’s ring. Seriously, how could things get worse for Lee? He might as well take it and hope it’ll be to good use. (I’m already guessing it will; Pullman’s not the one to include small details like this and not use them.)

We’re left wondering what’s next for Lee. His sledge driver recommends that Lee travel to meet with the tribe who initiated him as a shaman to learn as more as he can, though the driver is bizarrely ambiguous about the whole thing. It’s also something to look forward to, both to move the plot forward, and because I am excited to see how Pullman builds the world of the Jopari. (I think that’s the correct name? Actually…probably not. Is that Grumman’s new name? Or the name of the tribe? I AM CONFUSED.)

Anyway, the narration switches over to Serafina, who has led her fellow witches into the weird, parallel world of Cittágazze. Almost immediately, we’re given a full and proper introduction to what the Specters are, and it is most certainly far worse than I expected. The spectral beings are earth-bound, according to Serafina, and unfortunately, the witches have to witness an attack from the Specters. It’s fascinating to me that Pullman does such a good job showing us how the witches’ culture is so counter to what they witness here. Since they do not understand what the Specters are, they don’t get why the children don’t run away, why others do, and why a person would offer a child up to one of these beings; this would be an act of heresy to the witches, of course, but that’s because their culture has no concept of these things.

What’s absolutely terrifying to me is the image of a father having his life sucked out of him by a Specter (HELLO DEMENTOR) and turning to watch his son drown with complete indifference in his face. Even for Serafina, it’s too much, and she intervenes to save the child as the father merely stands in the river as if nothing has happened at all.

This is nightmare fuel. For real, this is some unsettling shit. The image of an entire group of adults, standing and sitting aimlessly as their children wail and cry, is certainly one of the more disturbing things I’ve read. How did this world come to have these beings in them???

Serafina decides to confront one of the men who initially ran away when the Specters arrived, Joachim Lorenz. The man informs her of the reality of the world, where one man and one woman must be on horseback in a traveling party, and they must retreat upon sight of the Specters, lest the children be left without any adults to look after them. what kind of life is that this is deeply awful. And then, to add to all this weirdness, Joachim tells Serafina that he saw angels heading for the “Pole” the other night. THERE ARE ANGELS IN THIS WORLD. What the fuck?

Serafina and Joachim team up, with the witches protecting the group from Specters in exchange for Joachim giving Serafina information about the world and the angels. The horrors of Cittágazze weren’t always there, they learn. There are elements of this parallel universe that are similar to ours, like the nations Eireland and Corea, though they’re obviously spelled differently. But something–it’s unknown–happened three hundred years ago in this world that brought about the Specters. There’s talk of the Guild of the Torre degli Angeli bringing it about. (Is that this world’s version of the Church?) They are the organization that has found windows to parallel worlds, and these thieves (or magpies, as they’re sometimes referred to as) steal things to bring back to their own, and it’s assumed that they brought the Specters in with them. If they did, then it is pretty damn arrogant of them to continue stealing from other worlds. Couldn’t they make the situation worse?

This whole conversation is a wonderful bit of info-dumping exposition because it highlights something that is so rare in these kind of stories: PEOPLE ASK QUESTIONS. In fact, that’s something that’s existed since the beginning of The Golden Compass. I’m not saying there’s not miscommunication or concealment here at all. I’m just saying that it’s refreshing that these characters experience weird things, and then they actually ask other characters what’s going on. Thus, Serafina asks Joachim about angels. In a way, I suppose they’re very much like what angels are in our world, at least in the Christian sense. They’re spiritual beings who bring messages from heaven, they have wings, their “concerns” are different than humans, and at one time, they bred with people as well. Here in Cittágazze, some sort of war or battle played out during the time of the thickest fog, and Joachim himself managed to catch site of a wounded angel. So they’re definitely real in this book, but what purpose do they serve? Joachim suggests some sort of war in heaven, like the one thousands of years before, but no one can be sure.

So what does Pullman do? He has Ruta Skadi FLY WITH A GROUP OF ANGELS. He switches the narrative point of view to a side character we’d seen for like…HALF A CHAPTER. Oh my god I love this so much. How rad are the angels??? I mean…look, I don’t care if I’m an atheist, this is spectacular. WITCHES AND ANGELS IN THE SAME STORY.

We learn the angels are following a “call” of some sort, possibly from Lord Asriel? Ruta is hopeful enough to believe that this is where she’s supposed to go, so she follows them on their trip to the Pole. It’s yet another chance for Pullman to stretch out the narrative and we get to see this all from Ruta’s perspective. She feels a sense of pride, almost victory, at the idea that she could command the attention of these angels, and it’s something that I don’t understand, but I’m glad it’s here. It’s one of the ways that Pullman gives us insight into the many worlds he introduces, and by doing so, it makes it easier to sort it all out.

I was also excited that Ruta and the angels passed into another world. The prospect that Pullman may have just taken us into a fourth universe makes me want to collapse with joy. Even better, an angel confirms that Lord Asriel is indeed in this world, and he is BUILDING A FORTRES. WHAT?!?!?! What for??? Even weirder, Asriel appears to have called not only angels, but zeppelins and all sorts of flying machinery that I cannot begin to comprehend.

I don’t get the chance to. As Ruta and the angels descend on the fortress, we’re left hanging. BLAST IT. I WANT TO KNOW!!!

About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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75 Responses to Mark Reads ‘The Subtle Knife’: Chapter 6

  1. drop_and_roll says:

    According to the seal-hunter, Grumman joined the tribe of Tartars and had a Tartar name, which he said was Jopari. So it's Grumman's name, not the tribe's name.

    I love how all Lee has to do to deflect suspicion about why he's looking for Grumman is to say 'He owes me money'.

  2. leighzzz31 says:

    Just a couple of things I’ve jotted down (because I should be studying European Law instead of The Subtle Knife):

    -I really appreciate the geography in Lee’s part of the chapter. It makes you feel as though you’re actually in the North, when the characters mention the Urals, ice-cold vodka, the river Yenisei, the Samirsky Hotel etc.

    -Hester is possibly my favourite daemon ever. She’s so calm and collected and matter-of-fact and she’s a hare. And I adore the way she speaks to Lee, comforting him by saying exactly the right thing and being completely logical: “No sense in thinking that," said Hester. "He didn't give us a choice, and we didn't shoot to kill. Damn it, Lee, he wanted to die…”

    -The Spectres are so much scarier to me now than when I was a kid. I guess because I was probably in no danger of being ‘fed on’ by these imaginary creatures? But mostly I think it’s probably because I finally get how horrifying these creatures are; eating you from the inside out, leaving you barely alive. The descriptions now remind me of diseases that we’re familiar with today, where your body is still functioning but your mind has gone, which is probably my biggest fear ever. I actually shivered as Serafina watched the people being devoured by Spectres.

    -ANGELS. Just ANGELS. I can’t honestly remember what my reaction was when I first read this chapter but I’m pretty sure my jaw must have dropped with surprise. And anticipation. And excitement. Because I didn’t expect Pullman to actively prove the existence (within his story) of something so recognisably Christian. And yet they’re answering Asriel’s call who we know isn’t the biggest fan of the Authority/God. I love Pullman’s description of their actual form: “…more like architecture than organism, like huge structures of intelligence and feeling.” At this point that makes little to no sense (it’s such an alien concept to think of angels as something so difficult to understand) but it makes you feel awe at these creatures and provides a whole new way to perceive them.

    -Ruta Skadi. She’s so entitled and arrogant and self-assured but I really, really like her. She commands angels, for goodness’ sake! (At least, they let her think she does)

    -Asriel is building a fortress. IN YET ANOTHER WORLD. And he’s gathering what looks like an army. This book just gets better and better.

    (Edit: "A couple of things"? Obviously I cannot count and I am paying far too much attention to things I am not going to be examined on. Sigh.)

    • Hanah_banana says:

      Oh my god I LOVE Hester so much. Also she is beautifully voiced in the UK audiobooks, which makes me love her more. (Well, *everyone* is beautifully voiced in the audiobooks, they are the most perfect audiobooks I've ever come across in a life of listening to loads of audiobooks, but Hester's voice is particularly fabulous and amazing. As is Lee's actually, and they go so well together you can totally imagine them as the same person.)

      • leighzzz31 says:

        You made me curious so I searched for the audiobook on YouTube. You're right, Hester's voice is perfect, almost exactly how I imagined her. I really do love her and Lee's relationship.

        • Hanah_banana says:

          😀 It's so good isn't it? I think I flailed with someone here before about how fabulous Mrs Coulter's voice is as well, and Lyra's and BASICALLY EVERYONE'S. I love those audiobooks so much.

          Their relationship is fabulous isn't it? They really feel like they've lived and learnt together, they know each other perfectly and are really the shining example of human/daemon relationships. I mean, Lyra and Pan are adorable but they're young and bickery, and Mrs Coulter and her monkey just have a really screwed up relationship whilst I forget about the existence of Stelmaria most of the time because Asriel is so overbearing on his own. Whereas Lee and Hester are this perfect partnership. I will stop fangirling them so hard now. 🙂

          • leighzzz31 says:

            Keep on fangirling, I'll join you!

            Honestly, looking at every (adult) human/daemon relationship this far in the book, Lee and Hester's seems the most balanced/healthiest, even. They complement each other perfectly and neither is more dominant over the other. Whereas,as you said, in Asriel's case, Stelmaria seems to mirror him completely so their relationship isn't balanced or even. Mrs Coulter and the monkey? Their relationship creeps me out, to be honest. There's something very unsettling about the way Pullman describes them together and I think it's noteworthy that we don't get his name in the books (though it's mentioned in the radio production or something).

        • rumantic says:

          I've just listened. I imagined her lower and more gravelly.

          The audiobook pronunciation of makes something very obvious, hee! (Can't expand. Spoilers.)

          • leighzzz31 says:

            Ha, that took me a while. I sat here trying to figure out what you meant. I think I got it now. LOL, I agree.

      • Foxfire says:

        I got into the series halfway through the Subtle Knife audiobook. It's gooood.

    • MichelleZB says:

      Of course there are angels in Philip Pullman's story. He has a god. Obviously, he's making religion "real" in the story. And remember that Angels haven't always treated God nicely in these old tales… there have been, as Pullman refers to here, wars in Heaven.

      Have we decided whether it's spoilery to mention the parallel that had become increasingly obvious in this series?

      • leighzzz31 says:

        I don't think I ever said that religion wasn't 'real' within the story? Religion is very obviously a real part of the story, I was only commenting on my surprise (the first time I read it) that angels existed. As far as we've read, nothing's been said concretely in this story that 'god' is the actual antagonist. Up till now, the antagonist was the Magisterium as an institution so I was (pleasantly) surprised to find angels become an active part of the plot, especially considering, as you mentioned, 'previous wars in heaven'.

        (as for your other point, if I've understood you right, the parallel becomes more obvious later on, so I think Mark will comment on it himself in due time)

    • arctic_hare says:

      I adore Hester so much. <3 <3 <3 Easily my favorite daemon just for being a bunny, and then her personality is fantastic too.

  3. Shira says:

    While I don't know much about the South, I also felt like Lee was distinctly Texan without being stereotypical.

    "aside from a few nonsensical and bizarre events, I always had a fantastic time in the South"

    Oh Mark, please please PLEASE elaborate?

    You completely en't prepared *dances with anticipation*

  4. Becky_J_ says:

    One of the things I love most about this chapter (being the science nerd that I am) is how smart Pullman is. First dark matter, now the poles shifting? He knew about things ten years ago that I'm just starting to hear about now. AWESOME.

    • pica_scribit says:

      I learned about the shifting of the poles from reading the Time Machine series of choose your own adventure books in the 80's. I always loved the dinosaurs ones as a kid. I should get around to collecting those….

  5. Albion19 says:

    I'm not particularly religious but I got so excited when angels were introduce. I think they're fascinating.

  6. pennylane27 says:

    Wow, this chapter is long. I just love how you get so many characters' point of view, even characters that you thought were small. And I have nothing left to say other than express my undying love for Lee and Serafina. And also, your banner is correct in its assumption that you en't prepared, just so you know.

  7. elusivebreath says:

    As much as I love Will and Lyra, I really enjoy the chapters from other characters' perspectives. It's a refreshing change of pace and I adore Lee Scoresby and Serafina Pekkala too, so that helps. That's one of the things I really love about these books: the characters are so well done. I love so many of them (and hate a few too, but that's just as good!), and that just makes the story that much more interesting.

  8. Hanah_banana says:

    When I was younger I never used to like this chapter because it's all about Lee and Serafina and backstory about adults and I WANTED TO GO BACK TO LYRA AND WILL DAMNIT. D:

    But now I am all ~mature~ I can appreciate it's awesomeness. I love that we get to see what's going on with everyone else, and that we get to see the effects the events going on have on the rest of the universe. Something I always loved about Harry Potter was that JK let us see the impact the rise of Voldemort was having on the rest of the world – I love the first chapter of the sixth book because it shows how even the Muggles are suffering because of Voldemort. And in the same way I love that Pullman is showing us here that whilst Asriel opening a way into a new world is exciting and scary and brilliant and mad and having an impact on Lyra's life, it's also indirectly affecting the rest of the world as well with the shifting poles and the fog and basically ruining EVERYTHING EVER.

    IDK, I just really like the scale of impact seemingly small events (and also bigger events!) can have and how wide their reach is. I think it is the quashed Geographer in me longing to get out!

    • Partes says:

      Hah, I was the same! I don't mind these chapters now due to the fantastic world(s)building, although I find the witches rather strange to read about simply because I can't really connect with them emotionally (they just feel too far from human in terms of reactions for my simple brain!). But I used to get so frustrated when I'd get to these parts of the books, and so I'd skip them because I just wanted to see what Lyra and Will were up to. Why should I have cared about smelly old grownups? 😛

  9. stellaaaaakris says:

    I'm listening to the audiobook and I find it really interesting that Ruta Skadi, the Latvian witch, has an accent coming from somewhere in the UK (understandably) but her daemon Sergei has an Italian accent of sorts, at least that's what it sounded like. Maybe, since witch and daemon have the ability to distance themselves quite a ways, Sergei chose to spend most of his time in Italy. I understand that. As beautiful as I'm sure Latvia and the other Baltic states are (and I do have a really strong desire to visit Estonia), I would totally spend as much time as possible around the Mediterranean. If I could send half of my soul all over the world to relax every once in a while, it would totally go to France, Italy, Greece, Croatia, etc. Actually, I would probably send it all over the world to sight-see while I got some things done. At least half my soul would be enjoying itself.

  10. momigrator says:

    I'm very excited today… first of all MARK IS READING HIS DARK MATERIALS HSADJASHHFHSF I just finally caught up… I just finally remembered my user name so I can comment… and I am SO EXCITE.


  11. Mauve_Avenger says:

    Random stuff before I get to the 'meat' of my notes:
    -The constellation Ophiuchus is depicted as a man holding a snake (the constellation Serpens). Ophiuchus is sometimes considered to be the thirteenth astrological sign, and I think it got quite a bit of press recently because of it.
    -Joachim Lorenz mentioned "commedia players from Bergamo" and a "wire-strung mandragone." The only results I could find for “mandragone” was a type of Provolone cheese, but I’m guessing from the shape of the cheese that the mandragone would correspond roughly to some member of the lute family; maybe a mandolin or a mandolute or a mandore. Commedia players would probably refer to commedia dell’arte, an early form of Italian theatre, Bergamo being an Italian city not too far from Milan.
    -We get confirmation of the existence of Japanese people* from Lee, as well as a mention of Sakhalin, which is the large Russian island directly north of Hokkaido, separated from mainland Russia by the Mayima Strait or the Tatar Strait/Strait of Tartary. (*Nipponese, anyway, which would confirm that it's not just the indigenous Ainu people living there. Also: hey, we actually get a case of westerners using [a version of] the preferred name of a people. I was wondering if it might get called Cipangu or Gaipan.)

    But the strangest thing to me is the fact that one astronomer, Yoruba, says that Grumman just “appeared.”

    Yoruba's not the name of the astronomer, it's the name of the ethnic group he belongs to. Two Muscovites, a Pole, a Yoruba and a Skraeling: everyone at the observatory was described only in terms of ethnic group or (maybe) nationality,* rather than being given names. We also get the information that one of them is the Director of the observatory and one of them is his deputy. It kind of felt like I was doing a logic puzzle while reading, trying to figure out who the Director and deputy are. The only thing I could figure out from the wording is that the Director is not the Pole or the Yoruba.

    *I did notice that we haven’t had any mention of a colonial presence in Africa, so it might be that the political boundaries in the Africa of Lyra’s world are actually divided by ethnic group the way they probably would have been in our own world had the Europeans not had other plans. So part of Nigeria (most of the land that's west of the Niger River, I think?) and a little bit of Benin could possibly be its own country in Lyra's world, called Yoruba.

    • Mauve_Avenger says:

      And now on to the stuff I was researching this weekend:

      "It’s also something to look forward to, both to move the plot forward, and because I am excited to see how Pullman builds the world of the Jopari. (I think that’s the correct name? Actually…probably not. Is that Grumman’s new name? Or the name of the tribe? I AM CONFUSED.) "

      Jopari is believed to be Grumman's name, the name of the tribe is believed to be some form of "Pakhtar." I was looking for the places Cansino and the seal hunter were talking about this weekend, and it looks like a case of either divergent history or divergent geography (or perhaps of the guys Lee's talking to not knowing what they're talking about).

      The seal hunter said that the tribe was located at the foot of the Semyonov Range, near a fork between the Yenisei and a river that comes down from the mountains and has a huge rock next to it. He called Jopari's tribe "the Yenisei Pakhtars." The history and (possibly) the name of the tribe would support the Semyonov Range corresponding to the Tian Shan mountains along the borders of Kazakhstan, Kyrgystan, and western China. Pyotr Semyonov was a Russian geographer so renowned for his information about the mountain range that Tsar Nicholas II added the suffix "Tian-Shansky" to his name; it's possible that in Lyra's world he gave his name to the mountain range instead. I couldn't find any information about Pakhtars, so they seemingly don't exist (at least with that name) in our world. If we change the 'p' to a 'b,' though, we get Bakhtars, which probably corresponds to the Bactrians who lived between the Tian Shan Mountains and the Hindu-Kush, where the Amu Darya River flows from the Aral Sea. The main city in Bactria, Balkh, was called Baktra by the Greeks (Baktra to Bakhtar, maybe?). The Bactrian people eventually split into separate ethnic groups, one of which is the Pashtun or Pakhtun people (so perhaps Baktra to Bakhtar to Pakhtar?).

      The only problem is the geography. The only Russian river that comes anywhere near the Tian Shan range is the Irtysk, a tributary of the Ob that starts in the Altai Mountains northeast of the Tian Shan range. The seal hunter described the mountains as being at a fork of the Yenisei and another river that flows from the hills (which unfortunately is pretty much every major river in the region). There are rivers connected to the Yenisei that come close to the Altai Mountains, but none reach that far east. Going on geography alone, the Semyonov Range would probably have to be some part of the mountain range that's split between east and west by the Yenisei, the Sayans. Looking at the Wikipedia page for the mountains, it looks like there might be more evidence for the Sayan Mountains, except that the Hanging Rock (seen in better scale here and here) is on a lake that doesn't seem to be connected to any notable rivers.

      Edited to correct my multiple link failages.

    • FlameRaven says:

      Just commenting for your note about Japan/Nippon– that's one of the things I've always wondered, is how we ended up calling the country "Japan" at all. I mean, the official name is Nippon or Nihon depending (I think Nihon is the correct version now, but traditionally it was Nippon) and unlike some Japanese sounds that fits pretty well into English. So… where the hell did 'Japan' come from? I've studied Japanese for years and still don't have an answer for this.

      • ferriswheeljunky says:

        I didn't know the word Nippon at all, so thanks for bringing that up – it's really interesting! As for Japan, according to Wiki:

        "The English word for Japan came to the West from early trade routes. The early Mandarin Chinese or possibly Wu Chinese word for Japan was recorded by Marco Polo as Cipangu. The modern Shanghainese (呉語) (the Wu Chinese language or topolect) pronunciation of characters 日本 (Japan) is still Zeppen [zəʔpən]. The old Malay word for Japan, Jepang (modern spelling Jepun, although Indonesian has retained the older spelling), was borrowed from a Chinese language, and this Malay word was encountered by Portuguese traders in Malacca in the 16th century. It is thought the Portuguese traders were the first to bring the word to Europe. It was first recorded in English in 1577 spelled Giapan."

        • FlameRaven says:

          That makes sense. I've only studied Japanese, not Chinese, and it can be really interesting how different the sounds are for the same characters in the two different languages, despite how much Japanese has borrowed from Chinese. Interesting too that there's an Indonesian influence as well.

          Nippon is definitely the formal name for the country, although Nihon is used more frequently today, and is in most of the other words referring to Japan– "Nihonjin" is a Japanese person, "Nihongo" is the language itself, etc.

      • Mauve_Avenger says:

        What I was told is that the Chinese translation of Nippon (which I think is the more official term, whereas Nihon is used more casually? I don't actually know for sure.) was something like "Ci pun" or "Ci pang" (with a hard 'ch') but in a dialect or two it was pronounced something like "Zeppan" (with the 'z' sounding more like a 'j,' I'm guessing?). From there the word traveled to other regions of Asia, and to Western traders who brought it back to Europe as "Japan."

        When I was searching for it earlier, I found out that Marco Polo had transcribed the Chinese word for Nippon as "Cipangu." The first known mention of Japan in English has its name as "Gaipan," which seems weird to me. (I also just realized that Gaipan is the name of one of the villages in Avatar: The Last Airbender.)

        ETA: I should really learn to refresh before answering these things.

      • Vikinhaw says:

        I had heard (and Wikipedia backs me up for all that it's worth) it comes from Portuguese traders in the 16th century using the name for the country they picked up from Chinese Cipan or the old Malay word word for it Jepan. Then presumably it took the course most words do, changing over time.

        Maybe in this world Europeans encountered the Japanese directly and perhaps sakoku never happens leading to Nippon being adopted over the over names.

      • notemily says:

        I always assumed it was a transliteration difference, like Peking/Beijing, or how Myanmar and Burma are forms of the same word.

        • FlameRaven says:

          Apparently (from Wiki) the difference is because the West first learned about Japan through China and Indonesia, and the transliteration of those languages into European ones is significantly trickier than Japanese, which actually transliterates pretty easily. There have been only a few minor changes (like writing 'shu' as 'syu', etc) in the various romanization systems over the years– probably because it's only been about 150 years since an English transliteration system was created.

  12. Partes says:

    I was reading Pullman's website and something stuck out to me in the section where he answers fan questions:

    Question: Hi Can I use the idea of dæmons in a story, or do you have the rights to it? Kind regards Alex
    Answer: Go ahead, and good luck.

    He doesn't have any sense of entitlement over his own ideas, merely hoping that they encourage better stories; he even freely says that all writers take something from someone else they've read, whether it's a certain style, structure or idea. This is a great attitude that I think should be applauded, especially after recently reading about certain authors trying to take action against people who'd written fanfiction.

    On this chapter, I like it (faaaar more now than I did as a teenager!) and appreciate the sense of scale that it helps to create. For a series that always feels grounded, even in the middle of supernatural events, there sure is a lot of strange stuff that happens, which is enjoyable to me. The fantasy elements always feel like just another part of the the world, which is different to many other stories where the supernatural elements feel very degregated.

    PS Lee Scoresby is awesome.

    • FlameRaven says:

      Oh. Wow! That's something I'd always thought of, that I love the idea of daemons and would love to use them in a story but that it's Pullman's idea and totally copyrighted. If he's cool with borrowing, that, though… good to keep that in mind.

      Although I would note that even if Pullman is okay with this, it seems like publishers still might be a little leery if you straight-out used the idea completely.

  13. Kate says:

    What I really appreciated while reading this chapter was how realistic everything is. I mean obviously, with all the daemons and the Spectres and the WINDOWS TO ANOTHER WORLD, it's not realistic in the normal sence – but everyone reacts to the things happening in believable ways, and the goings on have a definite effect on the world. From my experience of stories with people seeing other dimensions its just one Special Person who gets to see all these things and when they slip back home they must keep it a secret, but here everyone knows about it and we hear individual reactions from strangers, like the seal hunter who would've kept on paddling to see the other side etc.
    So far into this book I actually prefer hearing more about Serafina and Lee (and now Ruta) because of all the things we discover from the general scope of the worlds, whereas with Lyra and Will it's still fairly secluded (though nontheless very intriguing).

    I also loved the imagery at the end with angels flying with helocopters and witches down to some battlements. Say what you want about Lord Asriel but that man recruits like a Boss. 😀

  14. fandomphd says:

    I've been wondering this for a while but … why does everyone we've met so far in Cittagazze speak English? Angelina, Paolo, Joachim, Cittagazze and the Torre something Angeli aren't exactly English names …

  15. notemily says:

    I think one reason TSK is my least favorite in the trilogy (which, of course, means I still like it more than most books) is because it keeps switching perspectives like this. I like learning more about the witches and Lee Scoresby, but I loved the way we really got to know Lyra in the last book, and I feel like we haven't been given that same chance with Will.

    I still want to know what's so bad about cats in Cittagazze. It's been so long since I read this that I can't remember. That's the other thing–there are so many plot-balls in the air in this book and I feel like I can't keep them all in my head at once. Specters (WHY), possibly evil cats, someone's in the tower (which Lyra and Will were inexplicably drawn to), where is Will's dad, where is Dr. Grumman, btw some witch wants to kill him, something happened 33,000 years ago, Lee is now a marked man, Serafina, Ruta Skadi, men chasing Will, creepy dude stalking Lyra, wtf is Lord Asriel doing, we haven't heard from Mrs. Coulter in a while, and now angels?! Too many things going on at once! ANSWERS PLZ.

    • pica_scribit says:

      Cats were historically considered to be bad luck in Europe, as they were thought to carry plague. This developed into a more general superstition about them being agents of the devil. There doesn't need to be a good reason for a society to hate something.

  16. TheMoonSheep says:

    omg I fell in love with Lee Scoresby from the moment we met him when I first read this book at age 13. He was a Texan! And I was from Texas! And he was so very Texan, without being full of the usual negative stereotypes! Honestly, he reminds me of many a family friend, the kind of men who didn't say much, spoke with thick drawls, and never had much money, but were always nothing but kind to me and let me ride their horses and told me tall tales and scary stories. I guess my (half-urban and half-rural) Texas experience as a queer, biracial teenage girl was always much nicer than many of my Californian friends assume it could possibly be.

    I also always liked that Lee was portrayed as a Texan, never as an American–it gave me the sense that in this reality, Texas was still its own nation. Actually, I can't remember–has there been ANY mention of the USA as a country? Was there even a revolution in Lyra's world? This just now occured to me (helps that it's Independence Day here in the States, I suppose!).

  17. @Leenessface says:

    I'm loling hard at your thoughts in this chapter and people who have read know why.


    Lee Scorsby and Hester <3<3<3<3

  18. RoseFyre says:

    You know, I always remember that Lee and Hester were my favorites ever and I totally could not remember why. I didn't realize until I started rereading along with this that Hester a) isn't even named, b) doesn't speak, and c) I'm not sure if she's mentioned – at all in the first book. So I knew she was awesome (with Lee, of course) but I could not for the life of me remember WHY. But now I'm seeing it again and they're totally awesome, so…win!

  19. arctic_hare says:

    LEE SCORESBY IS AMAZING. I LOVE HIM AND HESTER DEARLY. <3 That is one of the reasons I adore this book so much, because it has MOAR LEE AND HESTER.

  20. flootzavut says:

    I'm just biting my tongue out not to give spoilers, especially regarding Grunman, but literally just all over the shop!

    Oh Mark. You en't prepared, and that's a fact.

    Hester rocks 😀

  21. fizzybomb says:

    Something that stood out to me was the mention of magnetic field reversals, and evidence found for them in rock formations. I was recently reading about them, and the author was suggesting that this is a thing that's been happening periodically throughout the Earth's history, and may have actually been the driving force behind evolutionary leaps. (Such a fascinating topic!)

    Anyhoo, just as others here have been geeking out over dark matter and other physics stuff, it makes me VERY EXCITE to see this particular scientific phenomenon acknowledged in this book, especially since it's one of those lesser known ones.

  22. Rachel says:

    Atheist here too and dude, I LOVE THE ANGELS

  23. Marie the Bookwyrm says:

    BTW Mark, the reason the 'magpies' are still stealing from other worlds is because they have to. As Joachim explained, with the huge number of Specters around, they can't have a proper civilization. Businesses go bankrupt as owners and/or employees are 'devoured' by the Specters. Families are destroyed. Remember, all adults are in danger in this world and there are A LOT MORE Specters around than there used to be.

    And on a less depressing note, like many another poster I heart Lee and Hester.

  24. Ellalalalala says:

    OK, so this chapter made my head explode, because suddenly – suddenly – I understood why my sister named her two rabbits two random (to me) names, Hester and Ruta. OH EM GEE. I suddenly feel such a kinship with these characters, even though I know for a fact that Hester was adorable but used to pee on anything and anyone, and Ruta was a greedy and aggressive sonofagun who bullied both Hester and my sister every day of her life.

    Which may explain why I'm struggling to like Ruta-the-fictional-witch (as distinct from Ruta-the-actual-rabbit). What an entitled self-regarding piece of work! I loved the angels characterising her as young and just falling in with her because (I think) it's too petty and banal not to, but I want one of them to knock her off her cloud pine or something. You don't get angels as a guard of honour, dammit! You should know better, witch-lady!

    Also, I love that angels appear as humans because Ruta expects them to be humans. Frankly, everything about the angels makes me squee a bit. Hardcore awesome.

    Hester and Lee <3 (I always preferred Hester of my sister's rabbits – she was grey and elegant looking, plus hares are intrinsically wonderful ergo fictional-Hester wins all the things). But nooooo the Magisterium be after him, run, run for the hills!

    Cittágazze just became ten million times more fascinating to me. The law that ensures that children will always have someone to look after them, the indifferent parents with their wailing children… basically, heart break, distilled and bottled.

    I have ideas in my brain. Grumman must have come from another world, right? RIGHT?

  25. daisysparrow says:

    Lee Scoresby? Angels? YEAH, I'M HAPPY 🙂

  26. hazelwillow says:

    Take note: Lee is not an American but, in fact, a Texan. 🙂

  27. Myself says:

    Oh Mark. You are not prepared for the amazing awesomeness and heartbreak there is to come.

  28. @GalFawkes says:

    "Lee is an American from the south, and I adore that he’s not just some ridiculous stereotype of what people in the American south are portrayed in the media. "


  29. monkeybutter says:

    While I’m certainly no expert, since I don’t live there, it was clear to me that people who grew up in the various societies there had a few things in common, and I think those features are represented in Lee. He is a plain-talker: he says what he means, but not in the same way as Serafina or the gyptians. It’s a method of conveying the basic sense of respect that one should extend to your fellow neighbor. It’s a no-nonsense culture, one of hospitality and honor.

    Bless your heart! 😉

    No really, I love Lee's characterization, too. He's plain-spoken and respectable, but he's deeper than the usual cowboy stereotype — he talks! — and I love how calm Hester generally is.

    And while I agree that Pullman is showing that science isn't all good, the work at Bolvangar was done by the General Oblation Board, and it's already been established that the Church has a hand in all scientific work (done by Europeans, at least) except that of Lord Asriel. I think it's all arguing for science with a conscience, as Asriel had no "now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds" moment of reflection after he ripped open the sky, the Church/Magisterium is shown to be involved with experimental philosophy for its own power without regards to morality, and the scientist of the Guild unleashed a soul-sucking, civilization destroying power by cutting apart elemental particles. They're either acting in bad faith or without regard for the consequences. Bad people, bad science.

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