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.
WELL, THIS BOOK JUST GOT COMPLETELY UPROOTED.
CHAPTER SEVEN: THE ROLLS-ROYCE
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.
THERE IS NOTHING IN THE WORLD TO PROPERLY ELABORATE OR EXPLAIN THE THINGS THAT ARE SWIRLING VICTORIOUSLY IN MY HEART.
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.