Mark Reads ‘The Subtle Knife’: Chapter 7

In the seventh chapter of The Subtle Knife, Lyra makes a terrible mistake when she goes to see Dr. Malone for a second time. Then HOLY SHIT OH MY GOD. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Subtle Knife.



I honestly looked forward to seeing Dr. Malone again. I loved her confused and erratic excitement for Lyra and, for entirely selfish reasons, I obviously want to know about the connection to dark matter. But Pullman–that genius–has quite a different idea about where he’s taking us. And I must say that I really love that this book has me so confused, and I can’t say I’ve ever stated that before. I have no clue what is going on, and just when I think I’ve figured out where the story is going next, I find out I’m not even close.

God, that is so exciting. This is fantastic storytelling.

We’re back in Cittágazze with Lyra, who awakes on the morning she’s supposed to see Dr. Malone again and decides to spend time with the local children. She learns that the locals obsession with cats stems from the fact that they believe a cat bites a person and puts “the devil in you.” Well…I suppose that it’s not just a belief. Isn’t it true for them in this world? I’m going to have to start adjusting my mind to accepting that this isn’t a case of a different belief system at work here. These are different worlds, with varying rules that come along with them.

The children also speak openly (though with the same confusion and contradiction as the astronomers in chapter six) about the Guild. No one can agree on whether they let the Specters in, or if the Specters were sent by God to punish everyone, or if they came from stars, or if they were produced when a Guild member tore apart the tiniest scrap of metal, a particle, and released them all. (I actually like that idea a lot. It fits well in the general idea of what this series is about.) What they can agree about, however, is that the tower in town is certainly one of the creepiest places imaginable. There’s a bit of a frightening mythos attached to it, and part of it comes from the idea that the Guild uses the poor to stay in power. There are rumors that it’s haunted, that it’s abandoned, and that it is a place one should never try to enter. But Lyra is sure that she saw someone watching her from the top of the tower. Was it Paolo and Angelica’s older brother? Why would he have a part in this?

I was filled with anticipation as Lyra made her way to Oxford through the window in the universe. Surely, whomever Lyra would be demonstrating for would give us more information about what Dust is, or at least some sort of theory. And, as I said before, I was just excited to see Dr. Malone once more. Even Lyra, who walks up to the woman’s office without any trouble, is starting to feel better about being in this strange world. Unfortunately, when she reaches Dr. Malone’s floor, Dr. Malone pulls Lyra into the women’s restroom: Some police officers have come to see Lyra.

My first thought was that someone from Lyra’s world, probably working with the Magisterium, had found out she had gone to this world. But that was too complicated. How could they travel to Cittágazze and then follow her to this world and then beat her to Oxford? It was too much. Lyra is unafraid, though, because she is comfortable about her ability to lie. However, when it’s revealed that one of the police officers is a man “with white eyebrows,” I knew it was a trap. It’s the man after Will. He must have seen Will with Lyra.

So begins a tense scene where both parties never quite speak the truth and both know the other is lying. I found it extremely telling that the man with white hair’s first question is to ask Lyra where she comes from. Either that’s one huge stroke of coincidence, or he’s well aware that Lyra is not from this place. (Obviously the man is aware of the parallel worlds.)

Lyra’s smart enough to give enough information to answer a question, but not enough to give herself away. It’s strange to me, though, that the man is so interested in Lyra’s work with Dr. Malone, though. Is the pursuit of dark matter frowned upon by certain organizations in the way that Dust is treated in Lyra’s world? Well, maybe not to the same extreme, I suppose. But he’s clearly interested in the concept if he’s interested in John Parry and we also know what’s in those letters.

But it’s all a trick. Before Lyra even realizes what’s happening, she accidentally confirms the very existence of Will. The man does it on purpose, throwing the question into the mix to catch her off guard, and it works. In an instant, Lyra is up and running, and my heart swells for Dr. Malone, who blocks the sergeant to give Lyra just enough. She knows something is wrong with this man and I adore that she makes such a quick decision to protect Lyra, even if it’s just to give her a slight head start.

The chapter turns into a ridiculous chase sequence, with the worst part being when Pan gets stuck behind a revolving door as Lyra tries to escape. Does the man with the white hair know about dæmons? My guess is that he doesn’t; wouldn’t he have tried to stop Pantalaimon or something? These seem like people from Will’s world, not another one.

And yet this chapter continues to get weirder and more intense. At seemingly just the right moment, a car pulls up alongside Lyra, and the old man from the museum offers her a ride. It’s a little too perfect, and it’s made all the worse by the fact that this man wastes no time ignoring the fact that Lyra is clearly running from someone, and instead chooses to ask her about skulls. Seriously.

For Lyra, the victory of escape is short-lived. She feels that there’s something familiar about this man, and I know that this can’t be a false intuition. Still, I can’t figure it out. He doesn’t seem to be like any character we’ve met before, even a fleeting one. So who is he? And why does he have such an interest in Lyra? I then realized my question was answered when Lyra is dropped off and the man reminds Lyra to talk her rucksack, handing it to her. He touched it. He had possession of it, even if for a moment. He took the alethiometer.

It seemed obvious to me. Thankfully, this isn’t a longstanding mystery, and I’m glad Pullman takes just half a page for Lyra to come barging in on Will back in Cittágazze in utter despair. It’s not his most subtle moment, though it seems he never intended it to be either.

Will, on the other hand, is both filled with sympathy and rage for Lyra:

And she sobbed so passionately he thought that hearts really did break, and hers was breaking now, for she fell to the ground wailing and shuddering, and Pantalaimon beside her became a wolf and howled with bitter grief.

jesus take the wheel. That is so sad! But that sadness, at least for Will, does not last long. As Lyra does her best to relate the story of what happened and he realizes the man with pale hair got to her too, he’s already thinking of how to escape and how she’s put him in danger. It’s a rough moment because Will already has no one to trust aside from Lyra, and she may have just destroyed that trust anyway. Just when it looks like the fury Will feels is going to tear them apart, Lyra realizes the man made a mistake: back in the museum, he gave her his business card. They now have his name (Sir Charles Latrom) and the location of his house. Lyra’s absurd idea is to go after him, to go to his house, and to steal back the alethiometer.

But things are not so cut and dry with Will. As angry as he is, he understands on a basic level that Lyra has no concept of how his world works, and he wastes no time in correcting her perception of this rich, powerful man, listing all of the things that someone in that man’s position probably has in place to stop theft. In short, it’s an awful idea. However, Will has nothing else to offer. It’s a terrible idea, but it’s their only one at all. And despite Lyra’s positive outlook and excitement, Will can’t seem to muster up the same energy that she has for the prospect of breaking into a rich knight’s house. It’s most certainly going to be a disaster.

Yet they do it anyway. Bless them. Lyra feels more vulnerable than she has ever before, and I think it means that she’s finally accepted that she is a foreigner to all of this. Her lying doesn’t work here. She doesn’t know where to hide, where to escape, she doesn’t know how to read people, and she has already let down the only friend she’s made. She has no gyptians or armored bears on her side. It’s just her, Pantalaimon, and the flimsy line of trust she still has with Will.

Will, on the other hand, feels he’s in over his head as well, though he has a personal history in dealing with rich, privileged men like Charles Latrom. (We aren’t told that story. Maybe that will come back later?) He is just as out-of-place as Lyra, and I’m sure he doesn’t feel comfortable about this arrangement at all.

I found it fascinating that their plan (or Lyra’s plan, I should say) did not involve any sneaking or suspicion. They seriously just walk up to the front door, ring the bell pull, and ask to see Charles Latrom. Just like that. In hindsight, it’s actually a rather brilliant idea. There’s no way this man expected this.

Everything that happens inside Charles’ mansion is….what. Just…..WHAT. Charles starts off with that faux interest and air of respectability that he used with Lyra, and when Will does his best to quell Lyra’s anger and explain that Lyra thinks she “left” something behind, I was shocked that Charles pulls out the alethiometer and basically says, “OH, YOU MEAN THIS THING?”

That’s when things get extremely weird. Charles is clearly using his power and influence to show these two that he can just claim the alethiometer is his. It’s a demonstration of the futility of nearly everything these kids could do. And just when I was ready to rage with all caps at this character, Lyra does it for me, REVEALING HER DÆMON IN THE PROCESS. Which….holy shit WHAT ARE YOU DOING LYRA??? She flies into a fury, getting into Charles face and she makes it clear that it’s not even the theft that’s the worst part: it’s the fact that this man is merely collecting an object, understating its value and its use, as if it’s just something to be on display in a glass case. Oh, and then she spits in the man’s face.

LYRA YOU ARE AN ETERNAL BADASS. I get the feeling Will is a bit shocked and impressed that Lyra has shown a bit of initiative, even if his own personal style is to be much quieter and unassuming. It’s certainly a bold display from the young girl, but why isn’t Charles freaking out about a GIANT WILDCAT SITTING IN LYRA’S LAP????

That’s answered immediately for me as Will, who is not distracted by anger like Lyra is, notices that an emerald snake peers out from the cuff of Charles’s shirt.

um. um. UM. THIS MAN HAS A DÆMON. WHAT THE FUCK!!! How on earth is he from Lyra’s world? Why is he here? THIS IS WHY HE WANTS THE ALETHIOMETER, ISN’T IT???

That’s when this chapter takes the whole book and honestly elevates it to an unbelievable level of excitement. Sir Charles is no longer speaking in metaphors or a forced kindness. He states, very plainly, that they have no choice but to listen to him, and that the alethiometer will remain his until they do something for him. He promises to return the alethiometer to Lyra on one condition: that she travel to the parallel universe where there are no grownups, find the man who made the doorway into that world in the old stone tower with the angels carved into it, and bring back the knife that the man has.



I just….


I will seriously love this book until the end of time. THE TITLE. THE TITLE OF THE BOOK. THIS IS WHAT HE IS TALKING ABOUT. oh my god oh my god must keep reading.


About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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96 Responses to Mark Reads ‘The Subtle Knife’: Chapter 7

  1. Noybusiness says:

    I think the kids' belief is medieval superstition, or possibly a reference to rabies.

    • t09yavors says:

      It also could do with allergies as many people react badly to cat bites. Leading to an assuption that the devil is invading.

  2. stellaaaaakris says:

    I found it fascinating that their plan (or Lyra’s plan, I should say) did not involve any sneaking or suspicion. They seriously just walk up to the front door, ring the bell pull, and ask to see Charles Latrom. Just like that. In hindsight, it’s actually a rather brilliant idea. There’s no way this man expected this.

    I got the impression that it was Will's plan to just go and chat up Sir Charles. I thought Lyra's plan was to sneak into his mansion and steal the alethiometer and then Will ripped that plan to shreds with all his talk about burglar alarms and cameras and stuff. And then Will decided they'd have to just go and talk to him. It was more a plan they came to since they had no other options rather than one they thought would throw Sir Charles off his game. (I haven't re-listened to this part yet, so I might be wrong.)

    ETA: Also, the woman with the man with white eyebrows was described as smiling but with cold eyes, or something like that. Clearly she is President Snow. Clearly.

    Real subtle, Mark.

  4. Inseriousity. says:

    The guy in the museum who we suspect might be a bit of a pedophile from when we first met him in the book (or is that just me) turns out to be a rotten thief scumbag… FROM LYRA'S WORLD.

    Your banner has took the words straight from my mouth.

  5. Mauve_Avenger says:

    Can I just point something out? From Chapter Four, when we're introduced to Sir Charles Latrom:

    "His gray hair was brushed neatly back from his smooth, tanned, barely wrinkled forehead. His eyes were large, dark and long-lashed and intense, and every minute or so his sharp, dark-pointed tongue peeped out at the corner of his lips and flicked across them moistly. The snowy handkerchief in his breast pocket was scented with some heavy cologne like those hothouse plants so rich you can smell the decay at their roots."

    I thought that description of what he was doing with his tongue was so weird (why on earth would it be "dark-pointed?"), until I remembered his snake daemon. Though I will say that it reminded me of someone else at first.
    <img src=""&gt;
    Clearly Barty Crouch, Jr., was never apprehended for his wrongdoing in Lyra's world. (I kind of want to AdBlock this image, even though I'm the one who posted it. I mean…ugh just ugh.)

    • monkeybutter says:

      Oh god, it's perfect. No wonder he's so wary of the Spectres, they're out to Kiss him!

    • flootzavut says:

      Oh goodness. I love David Tennant more than can possibly be healthy, but ugh, that image… *shudder*

    • suspiciouscookie says:


    • Andi says:

      Also, I've never seen David Tennant as The Doctor. Only Matt Smith. Tennant playing Crouch Jr. may have forever put me off from him because all I can think of is leery lip licking.
      Oh gawd.

  6. Nomie says:

    I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that SHIT IS ABOUT TO GET REAL.

    Also, Dr. Mary Malone miiiiiiiight be my favorite character in the entire series, which is saying something. Spectacular.

    [WORDPRESS HASHCASH] The poster sent us ‘0 which is not a hashcash value.

    • I am deleting your comment for expectation/character bias spoilers. Please don't refer to future character developments, positive or negative. Thanks.

  7. Hanah_banana says:

    And this is why I shall love these books until the end of time. Just when you think they are at the very point of perfection, they suddenly get EVEN BETTER AND MORE UNEXPECTED.

    Mary Malone is so fabulous. Apart from her amazing name she is a physicist who used to be a NUN and she has no compunction about getting in the way of policemen if she thinks they're not good people. She is up with Lee Scoresby as one of my most favourite secondary characters from this series. I'm always sad Lyra had to run away from her before she got to play on the machine anymore, they could have had so much fun and discovered so many awesome things!

    • ferriswheeljunky says:

      Weirdly, her name is the thing I like least about her. Maybe it's just because I'm Irish, but it irks me as a really stupidly stereotypical Irish name, like Seamus Murphy or something. I like her as a character, but it took me a long time to get past the name.

      • Vikinhaw says:

        Irish too and because of her name I hear her voice in my head as my old múinteoir. I had weird flashbacks to being a kid and reading about the many many Marys or Múires in schoolbooks.

        • bradycardia says:

          I feel compelled to join the Irish commentary on her name!
          I don't know that it's overly stereotypically Irish… Now if her first name was Molly!
          I have a friend named Mary Malone. It never struck me as standing out, in either a stereotypical or very common way.
          On the other hand, I have a thing about alliterative names so I'm biased towards her. Plus, she's an awesome character!

          • shyguy3450 says:

            It didn't really jump out as overly stereotypical to me either, maybe I was just too distracted by the awesomeness of the book. Then again, my name is Molly McMahon, so I'm pretty much the definition of stereotypical Irish names.

          • Nomie says:

            Crying cockles and mussels alive, alive-o!

      • Hanah_banana says:

        I can definitely see why you would feel that way! I suspect not being Irish probably helps me to not feel that way. 😛 It's less horrifically Irish than Seamus Finnigan (oh JK, I love you dearly but REALLY?) and so it's quite easy for me to let slide. I never thought of her as Irish though, probably because (and I really feel like the audiobook saleswoman or something on these comment threads but I can't help it, I love them SO MUCH) on the audiobook she has a pretty standard estuary English accent and I read the books when I was too young really to know about stereotypical names. Pullman probably could have named her better but I dunno, I quite like it!

    • Brieana says:

      I also quite like this Mary Malone character.

  8. monkeybutter says:

    I feel awful for Lyra. She's trying to make amends for what she sees as her betrayal of Roger, and she ends up confirming Will's presence to his enemies and loses the alethiometer that she's been using for guidance in her attempt to help Will.

    As for the cats, beliefs are true to the people who have them, so I guess that's what matters most; even if cat bites don't bring the devil, the kids are still going to stone them. I figured it was a reference to the Medieval-Enlightenment hatred of cats in Europe, exacerbated by a Pope Gregory the Somethingth. Cats are assholes, therefore they're the tools of the devil, and then there were rumors that cats (and dogs) spread the plague, so they were killed in even greater numbers. Also, the people in Cittàgazze's world just steal from other worlds, and don't think and create on their own, so perhaps they haven't stolen germ theory from anyone, or without adults, the kids don't really know how things work.

  9. Noybusiness says:

    Don't Mark's anti-spoiler rules include foreshadowings he hasn't connected yet?

    • SorrowsSolace says:

      Thankfully it looks like any questionable posts were deleted.

    • Brieana says:

      Yeah, a "let me connect those dots for you" spoiler. Let him figure things out himself.

      • FlameRaven says:

        It's not a matter of figuring things out when the book is flat-out handing you information. I didn't post anything that the book hasn't already said. Noybusiness was just being paranoid, and for some reason both my reply and the person who pointed out my reply wasn't a spoiler got deleted.

  10. Vikikiwa says:

    Regarding the cat belief; it's a long standing superstition that cats, especially black ones, are evil. I don't know how prevalent it is in the rest of the world in modern times, but in Ireland (where people can be quite superstitious) black cats are bad luck.
    When I was in school in the early 2000s we were told specifically that black cats are good luck (they wouldn't even try convince us that it's only superstition) because at Halloween people were throwing black cats onto bonfires or hurting them with fireworks. It was done partially because of superstition and partially cause some people are sadistic assholes.
    When I read this I thought Pullman was referencing this kind of stuff.

  11. frogANDsquid says:

    Im in the process of reading The Amber Spyglass and reafing these reviews alongside the next book has me relating everything i see in ~real life~ to this series

  12. pennylane27 says:

    YAY, now you know what the title is about!

    Ugh, Lyra is so badass it makes me feel sorry for myself. I could never ever do what she does even now that I'm an adult, let alone when I was 12. But I also feel sorry for her, it's like she can't help inadvertently betraying her friends, even when she's trying to help/save them.

  13. Ryan Lohner says:

    Yeah, this is really my favorite aspect of the series. By the time you get to this point, you constantly have no idea what's going to happen next, and yet everything makes perfect sense.

  14. lindseytinsey says:

    Very exciting! I just think it's so dumb how I can't even comment here without worrying about someone spoiling this book for me. How can there STILL be people who don't understand the meaning of "spoiler". Even if it's some forshadowing thing. Grrr! I could just not read the comments but it's hard to miss sometimes. Oh well, on to chapter 8!

  15. Hellen says:

    Hee, I love Dr Malone. I was really looking forward to seeing her and Lyra investigate Dust/Dark matter together. Can't be too sad about not getting to, though, since the plot must move along!

  16. awildmiri says:

    Weirdly, what I love most about this chapter is the totally candid exploration of classism. Sir Charles absolutely holds the power in every sense, knows it, and rubs it in their faces because he is of such a higher class than them. It's interesting to think back to Lyra in the first book, lording it over the ~townies~ and the clayburner children because she was from Jordan and so much better than them – there was no real malice in her then, but now she's faced with the adult form of what she was doing and it's far, far worse.

    From what I hear, America doesn't really have half the issue with classism that England still kind of does, so it makes sense to me that this English book set in England would address it in the same way an American book would be more inclined to discuss racism.

    /serious hat off.

  17. barnswallowkate says:

    Sir Charles' last name is 'mortal' backwards. I can't figure out if that means anything or not, especially since I seem to have forgotten this entire part of the story since I read it last.

    The kid's explanation for where the Specters came from sounds like nuclear fission, which also sounds like what happened when Roger & his daemon were parted (a whole split into smaller parts and released a ton of energy). Lots of parallels within the story (as Mark pointed out) plus parallels to real life!

  18. sabra_n says:

    *does the unpreparedness dance*

    This is one of the chapters where the enormity of Lyra and Will's situation is laid out plainly – these are two twelve-year-olds going up against a multitude of powerful, intelligent adults, and the scene in Sir Charles' sitting room is a huge reminder of that. Will and Lyra's enemies can pull all the institutional strings in both their worlds to devastating effect, no matter how much Lyra spits and screams at the injustice of it.

    The children's enemies aren't just Magisterium agents now, but knights and police officers – Pullman doesn't just say religious institutions tend towards corruption, but seemingly that all of them can. And he captures a child's outrage at being hit with the unfairness of the world very, very well. (Well, I say "child's" outrage, but I can't say I've totally gotten over that sentiment myself.)

  19. flootzavut says:

    "There are rumors that it’s haunted, that it’s abandoned, and that it is a place one should never try to enter"

    And you just know that a child like Lyra is going to take that prohibition without a single murmur… not! I don't even remember what happens over that, I have to say, but I just can't see that "one should never enter it" is going to make her wanna go there LESS…!

    • vattna says:

      Immediately following that conversation she actually DID peek through the doors of the tower.

      "She tiptoed to the top of the steps and looked through the opening. A dark stone-flagged
      hall was all she could see, and not much of that; but Pantalaimon was fluttering anxiously
      on her shoulder, just as he had when they'd played the trick on the skulls in the crypt at
      Jordan College, and she was a little wiser now. This was a bad place. She ran down the
      steps and out of the square, making for the bright sunlight of the palm tree boulevard.
      And as soon as she was sure there was no one looking, she went straight across to the
      window and through into Will's Oxford."

      • flootzavut says:

        Hah I'd forgotten that but yes, totally in character for her to push the boundaries!

  20. pica_scribit says:

    I love that we are halfway through the book and this is the first explicit mention of the McGuffin. Awesome.

  21. Ellalalalala says:

    Sir Charles is a conniving sleazy snake-like VNR4EAGHEUJCLYGUIASL HC. (I think that might be my first ever valid keysmash – I could not think of a noun awful enough! I am excite!) I got the impression he set the whole thing up… somehow. ACK I HATE HIM AND HIS OVER-PRIVILEGED SYSTEM-PLAYING DISHONEST DASTARDITUDE.

    Moar Will backstory please. I'm finding Will more and more interesting. He's such a balanced foil to Lyra's FURY, but I loved the line about his anger reminding her of Iorek's. One of the most cutting things anyone's ever said to me was akin to Will's "I don't care if you're sorry – that doesn't change anything."

    Lyra and wildcat Pan = <3 I bet that's what he settles as! Calling it!

    Actually, no – ARMOURED BEAR. Adult Lyra + armoured bear daemon = force to be reckoned with.

  22. Becky_J_ says:

    As if we didn't already know that Will and Lyra are the two most certifiably badass kids ever….. they just WALK UP TO THE DAMN HOUSE AND SAY "Hey, we know you're a thieving, lying, sleazy sleazbag and we need to have a nice chat about how to handle that."

    So much love for those children. SO MUCH HATE FOR CREEPY MCCREEPERFUCK.

  23. Rachel says:

    Latrom backwards is mortal. Just a random observation…

  24. t09yavors says:

    So Mark, even though you cannot possibly be prepared you might want to buy a mop to clean up after any/all headsplosions. Then you'll be at least a bit prepared. (Just a bit.)

  25. @Leenessface says:


    FUCK YEAH. 😀

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