In the ninth chapter of The Subtle Knife, Lyra and Will learn the true identity of Charles when the worst–seriously, the worst–possible guest arrives at the man’s house while they try to steal back the alethiometer. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Subtle Knife.
OH MY GOD HOW DID I NOT SEE THIS AT ALL
CHAPTER NINE: THEFT
This is a great flow that Pullman has developed, moving through three consecutive chapters with the same two characters. It makes a lot of sense that he didn’t interrupt this bit of the story with other character narratives; I think it would have been too choppy to force those kind of cliffhangers, and it gives this plot a very nice finish to it. After the mind-bending revelations about a new instrument seemingly based on Dust/dark matter, Pullman decides that this is nowhere near enough for us to have to deal with. Will, now completely determined to get Lyra’s alethiometer back, and with this new tool at his disposal, is not going to be the same anymore. That is exciting!
A subtext to this all, though, is the journey that Will and Lyra have. After Lyra unfortunately gave Will up to the man with pale hair in chapter seven, it seems that her assistance here has helped him regain his trust of her. They are in this together, even if Will had some resistance towards that idea in the beginning. It’s good for Will, too, who feels a loneliness and despair that is linked heavily to the pain he’s feeling because of his hand. It’s a moment where I start wishing Will had a dæmon, someone intrinsically linked to him that could provide him with the loving comfort that Lyra knows when she is hurt.
For the moment, though, Lyra is there to help tie his bandages and give him the strength to keep moving. It’s a sign of how much he’s willing to believe in her when he decides it’s probably best if she holds on to the letters from his father, and the gesture is not lost on Lyra either.
After a nap, Will and Lyra head towards Sir Charles’ place, but staying in Cittágazze. This is the immediate benefit of having the subtle knife: they no longer have to enter Will’s world through a specific window. I won’t lie: My very first thought upon realizing this was that Will should totally find a way to open a window inside Sir Charles’s mansion, instead of doing it from the outside. Then I was shown to be not-so-creative as I thought as Will reveals to Lyra that this is exactly what he is going to do. WELL, I TRIED TO BE CLEVER.
So Will heads into Ci’gazze while Lyra stays behind, waiting for the call to come back through the window into that world while she stays in Will’s universe. (Whew, it makes more sense then that sentence. I swear!) It should only take a few moments, so Lyra waits patiently outside of Sir Charles’s house, awaiting Will’s voice. However, a few minutes pass and she hears nothing. The unbearable waiting only gets worse when Lyra recognizes the sound of tires on gravel and realizes Sir Charles has arrived home.
The Rolls-Royce stood in front of the house, and the chauffeur was moving around to the passenger side to open the door. Sir Charles stood waiting, smiling, offering his arm to the woman who was getting out, and as she came into view Lyra felt a blow at her heart, the worst blow since she’d escaped Bolvanger, because Sir Charles’s guest was her mother, Mrs. Coulter.
HOW!!!!! HOW IS THIS FUCKING POSSIBLE!!! How did she travel to Ci’gazze and survive and then make it to the house of the one person who is Lyra’s main antagonist in a parallel universe??? WHAT ARE THE ODDS???? i need a hand to hold me through this immensely troubling time.
Pullman switches over to Will, who initially has a whole lot of success using a villa in Ci’gazze to end up inside of Sir Charles’s house and in the precise room where the alethiometer is being held. But things are not that easy in this universe! Especially with Mrs. Coulter in the picture now (HOW HOW HOW HOW HOW??!?!?!?!), the problem multiplies when Will is unable to find the alethiometer anywhere within the room. Knowing it’s too timely to keep opening windows over and over again, he resolves to stay in this world and just do some good ol’ fashioned sleuthing.
Which is also interrupted when he, too, hears the sound of tires on gravel. But I must say that I was impressed with Will’s silent preparation, which is very much in-character for him: Before the car arrived, he opened an escape route behind the sofa, which is where he now crouches in order to hide from Sir Charles. Now, I’ve mentioned before that I’m not the biggest fan of characters learning crucial information by overhearing others while hiding, and this is now the second time that Pullman has used it. I will say that I am simultaneously impressed by this, because he has Will spy on Mrs. Coulter and Sir Charles while Lyra is doing the same. FROM A PARALLEL UNIVERSE.
Brilliance. And it’s not without it’s plot importance either: Lyra rushes to Will’s window in order to tell him that this is her mother, and that she finally remembers who Sir Charles is.
;KDSJFA ;LKA ;SDKLFJ A;SLDKFJASD ;FKS SADF;LKJSDA F;LKAJ AS;DLKFJ UA;LKDJ AFD;ALSKDJF
OF COURSE I would not remember a character mentioned maybe three times; he’s the same man mentioned by Lord Asriel as having an affair of some sort with Mrs. Coulter, right? Maybe not an affair, but some sort of relationship. This makes this situation all the more horrific: Lord Boreal knew who she was the entire fucking time.
The conversation that these two GIGANTIC LIARS have is fascinating to read because it’s not written in the way that a lot of these things are in fiction. Generally, the author has the two characters be somewhat ambiguous and coy about the content of what they’re talking about, and it’s a technique to prevent them from revealing too much from the reader. I don’t really like it because it never feels natural. I don’t speak ambiguously about things if I believe I am having a private conversation, and I’m glad Mrs. Coulter and Lord Boreal don’t either. Of course, I’m being selfish, since I do want to know more about what the hell is going on, but I do want to praise how the conversation unfolds. It helps build a much more realistic world.
Mrs. Coulter cuts to the chase, demanding to know how Lord Boreal got the alethiometer, but he says he’ll need information first: What is Lord Asriel doing.
“Very well, I’ll tell you. Lord Asriel is gathering an army, with the purpose of completing the war that was fought in heaven eons ago.”
THIS IS THE GREATEST NOVEL IN ALL OF HISTORY. Lord Asriel is leading a revolt against God??? HE IS LITERALLY GOING TO TRY TO KILL GOD??? SIGN ME UP FOR THIS JOURNEY, THIS IS SO GODDAMN FANTASTIC I COULD PUKE.
Ok, so maybe it’s not the greatest novel ever written, but how is this not meant solely for me? I mean…oh god, I hope we return further to this idea of a war against God so I may stretch the theological muscles within my brain. THIS IS SO TERRIBLY EXCITING.
We learn that Mrs. Coulter has actually never visited Will’s universe. (I’m actually pretty comfortable calling it our universe from here on out, since it seems to be exactly like our own.) Lord Asriel’s actions at the end of The Golden Compass have made travel between worlds easier than ever, especially since Cittágazze acted as a sort of way station between parallel universes.
Mrs. Coulter brings up the same bizarre link between children and the mystery of Dust and the Specters. I haven’t figured it out, but there’s clearly some gigantic difference between children and adults that affects them all in a cosmic way. Lord Boreal is interested to see if Mrs. Coulter’s intercised guards are immune to the Specters (which I’m guessing we’ll see), and it further complicates whatever it is that links this all together. Again, I feel like I am so close to figuring out what this all means, but the answer escapes me.
For Will, though, the mention of his father excites him to no end, even if what the man was searching for is not so secret or mysterious anymore. It contributes further to the greatness that Will has ascribed his father in his head, almost as a validation that he is an important figure. On top of that, if his father seems to be acting in opposition to Lord Boreal’s side, then that must mean his father is good. Right?
Unfortunately, Will’s rather brilliant hiding place turns out to be not as brilliant as he thought: He forgets that these two people have dæmons. When he realizes that Lord Boreal has placed the alethiometer in reach, he knows that Mrs. Coulter’s dæmon is aware of something in the room. So he quickly devises a plan with Lyra, who is waiting next to him in another universe (I will never tire of writing that), to create a distraction so he can grab the alethiometer. As she runs off to do that, the two grown ups talk frankly about Lyra and the alethiometer. Just before Lord Boreal begins to introduce the concept of the subtle knife, a rock crashes through the window in the study.
Pullman does a lot of things well, which means I’m quickly running out of ways to praise what I’m reading, but he’s seriously a master of chaotic actions scenes, able to convey to us what’s happening without us succumbing to mass confusion. Still, a lot does happen in an incredibly fast time as Will successfully escapes from the house (but not without a brief moment of terror from the golden monkey dæmon, who almost slips into Cittágazze). However, I do want to focus on one bit of this that brought me to a pause: the tabby cat.
I’d forgotten that the cat had taken to following the two after having been saved by them. Even given that, I find it extremely bizarre that it would jump out at Mrs. Coulter’s dæmon here as a distraction for Will and Lyra. It’s almost too perfect, so much so that Lyra later remarks that it almost seemed like the cat was Will’s very own dæmon.
I realize that I am treading into potentially embarrassing territory here, as this could just be a very thankful cat and I am reading so far into every line in this series that I’m starting to create meanings and subtexts that aren’t there. But I don’t do much predicting in these reviews, and I feel that strongly that this cat has far more to do with this story than we’re being told. I mean, this same cat led Will to discover another universe, and now it’s helping him and Lyra escape back to that same world.
Of course, I could be dearly, dearly wrong. Oh well. All I know is that Lyra has her alethiometer back and she had better ask it a billion questions immediately. Starting with: WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON?