Mark Reads ‘The Amber Spyglass’: Chapter 11

In the eleventh chapter of The Amber Spyglass, the convergence on the cave where Lyra is being held begins. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Amber Spyglass.


You know, it’s a good thing that Pullman has done such a great job utilizing a large cast of characters to make sure I’m entertained and fascinated, because, truth be told, I really miss Lyra. It’s odd that the main character from the first and second books has largely been used to give us some strange dream world of the dead and hasn’t been taking an active part in all the shit getting real. I could see why this might turn off other to this last book in the trilogy, but I’m enjoying the ride.

Plus, now I know it’s only a matter of time before Lyra’s back. YEEEEESSSSSSSSSSS.

Pullman switches between multiple characters in chapter eleven, which largely serves as a set up to this battle that is sure to happen outside the cave where Mrs. Coulter is holding Lyra. We start off with Ama, who is still trying to find a way to get into the cave to give Lyra the medicine that will wake her up. I like that her and her dæmon are still able to play a game while they wait for the right moment, as it suggests that Ama is still completely unaware of just how serious this all is. Well, she’s about to discover why:

As she pulled herself up to look over the edge, she gasped and fell still, because looking down at her was the face of a creature she had never seen before: a bear, but immense, terrifying, four times the size of the brown bears in the forest, and ivory white, with a black nose and black eyes and claws the length of daggers. He was only an arm’s length away. She could see every separate hair on his head.

IOREK IOREK IOREK IOREK. I realized that I wasn’t going to have to wait very long. If Will, Balthamos, and Iorek were here, that meant Lord Asriel’s force and the Magisterium group were both set to arrive rather soon. For the time being, though, I just wanted to focus on Will. Of all the people to meet here, Ama is conveniently the best one, since she possess a powder to wake Lyra up. It doesn’t take long for the two to communicate, even though Ama does not speak English. I really love the idea that two dæmons can speak with one another and “understand each other.” Yes, it’s not the first time we’ve seen it, but I find it very touching, yet another reason I really wish I had a dæmon myself.

And so Will and Ama set forth for the cave where the sleeping girl is, and Iorek stays behind. (Personally, I would have taken him with me, but then again, I’d probably have died already at this point.) I realized that Will and Mrs. Coulter had never actually met, aside from glimpsing him at Sir Charles’s house in The Subtle Knife. I expected that Will would scope out the scene, see Mrs. Coulter and her wretched monkey, and then go back to Iorek to plan out their next move. Instead, I was surprised when he had Ama go fetch the drug and wait for him at this very spot. He was going to go talk to Mrs. Coulter.

It is very much like Will to believe that he could face this woman. His life as a boy who always had to disappear generally works in his favor, and on top of that, he has the subtle knife and an angel with him. Unfortunately, trying to be hidden or invisible doesn’t work, as Balthamos points out that Will has already been spotted by the golden monkey.

Well, this should be good, I thought.

But it’s better than good. The conversation between these two characters, who are meeting for the first time, is tense, confusing, and riveting. Both are completely aware that the other person is lying, which makes it incredibly hard to determine just how truthful Mrs. Coulter is being. Initially, I believed that Will would be unaffected by Mrs. Coulter’s infamous charm. He’s aware of the way she is, he’s aware of the position of the monkey at all times, and he memorizes as much about the shape of the cave as possible, knowing he’ll need to come back when it’s dark. And when Mrs. Coulter invites Will to sit down and explain why she’s keeping Lyra asleep, Will believes he can actually leave this cave with the upper hand:

He felt that every word she said was a lie, every action a concealed threat, and every smile was a mask of deceit. Well, he would have to deceive her in turn: he’d have to make her think he was harmless. He had successfully deceived every teacher and ever police officer and every social worker and every neighbor who had ever taken an interest in him and his home; he’d been preparing for this all his life.

Right, he though. I can deal with you.

What a character arc! All that time we spent with will in the opening of The Subtle Knife was leading straight for this moment: A battle of wits with Mrs. Coulter.

Even right from the start, it’s clear Will is going to take absolutely none of this woman’s bullshit.

“And you’ve got a knife, I understand.”

“Sir Charles told you that, did he?”

“Sir Charles? Oh–Carlo, of course. Yes, he did. It sounds fascinating. May I see it?”

“No, of course not,” he said. “Why are you keeping Lyra here?”

UGH HE DOESN’T LET HER CHARM HIM AT ALL. He just cuts straight through to the point. I love you, Will Parry.

Even though I’m now on my second time reading this, I genuinely cannot determine just what Mrs. Coulter is lying about, and what she is telling the truth about. Her charm even comes through the pages and affects the reader, and the power of Pullman’s writing for this character is evident with every line. Mrs. Coulter tells Will that she is protecting Lyra from the Church. That the has saved her life three times. That she broke from the church to save Lyra yet again, this time from those in the Church who want to kill her for what she is. I mean, even if Mrs. Coulter is lying about her intentions, she is telling the truth about the Church.

But why this cave? Why keep Lyra asleep? Why not keep moving so that no one could find you? Mrs. Coulter tries to appeal to Will’s empathy, saying that he is the only one she can trust to keep her and Lyra alive, but Will still resists, demanding to know why Lyra is being kept asleep. That explanation I don’t necessarily believe. It’s true that Lyra would run away in an instant if she was awake, but I’m not ready to believe this woman’s good intentions. I’d be more inclined to start to trust her if she was truly honest. She has made no mention to Will of the horrific things she did in the name of the Church, and she’s made no statement about her guilt over her actions. If she regretted her decision to work for the Church, then I could understand why she’d become a “renegade” and try to save her daughter. She mentions that Lyra hates her, but doesn’t say why. The why is deeply important to this whole thing! Why keep that a secret? Why tell Will that she loves Lyra and gave up her career for it, but take no steps to renounce her career? It isn’t quite adding up. However, that doesn’t mean I’ve figured out what’s going on, either.

And Mrs. Coulter’s mention of Will’s mother, either intentional or accidental, doesn’t make me feel any better about this. I wouldn’t be surprised if she did it on purpose, to poke at Will for having to take care of his mother and not necessarily knowing what it’s like to have a mother who can protect her son. Will tries to bluff his way out of the cave, saying he’ll leave them alone and return to Lord Asriel, but I quickly realized that Will had lost. Mrs. Coulter had the upper hand:

She held out her hand. A rueful smile, a shrug, and a nod as if to a skillful opponent who’d made a good move at the chessboard: that was what her body said. He found himself liking her, because she was brave, and because she seemed like a more complicated and richer and deeper Lyra. He couldn’t help but like her.

So he shook her hand, finding it firm and cool and soft. She turned to the golden monkey, who had been sitting behind her all the time, and a look passed between them that Will couldn’t interpret.

Christ, she knows. She probably knows Will is going to return. She knows that she beat him. GOD DAMN IT.

I didn’t want to believe it at first, but when Will returned to Balthamos and Iorek, both of them knew Will had been had.

Balthamos knew. In his own angel shape, shimmering like a heat haze in the sunlight, he said, “You were foolish to go to her. All you want to do now is see the woman again.”

Iorek uttered a deep, quiet growl. At first Will thought he was warning Balthamos, but then with a little shock of embarrassment he realized that the bear was agreeing with the angel.

Oh, Will. Why did you go see her? Why not use the element of surprise? Damn it, did Will just ruin everything?

To make matters worse, the sound of distant zeppelins drones far away. There’s no time for an elaborate plan, so Will tells the two what he’s going to do: cut into another world and take Lyra with him before Mrs. Coulter can follow them, and bring Ama with them to help Lyra wake up. Honestly, though….I don’t have a good feeling about this plan.

Pullman switches to the perspective of the two Gallivespians, who are busy with the hatching of the dragonflies. It’s a gorgeous and emotional moment for Lady Salmakia, and I love how she basically acts to “introduce” it to the world, using her face as the first thing it sees, stroking it delicately.

Chevalier Tialys is also set to do the same thing (and I love that the men and women Gallivespians are no different in this regard), but he first sends communications to Lord Roke about the plans the Consistorial Court has for killing Lyra, including how they’ll split up to accomplish this goal. Lord Roke returns a message, urging the two to cooperate with Will and follow him into another world if he takes Lyra through.

Shit, this upcoming battle is going to be crowded, isn’t it? After the birth of the two dragonflies, the Gallivespians saddle them up, headed for the valley that holds Lyra, and I could not be more excited about what is to come.


There’s a new banner! Look at that spiffy dragonfly. Now, you may be wondering why I’ve been having BridgeToTheStars design me these gorgeous banners every week. Did you know they’re actually cropped from full images, like this one?

Well, the very first Mark Reads contest starts today! BridgeToTheStars will be hosting it, and it involves all of the banners being made for this site. Have you noticed the changes between them? Head over to BridgeToTheStars to read the full instructions and enter to win a signed copy of The Amber Spyglass!!!!

Additionally, week 3 of the spoilery discussion thread is up at BTTS, and you can spoil to your heart’s content over there.

About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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45 Responses to Mark Reads ‘The Amber Spyglass’: Chapter 11

  1. Jaya says:

    Chapter 11 Epigraph!

    <img src=""&gt;

    This is one of my favourites from the book. As lying is a theme that crops up a lot in the trilogy, it's very apt.

    • cait0716 says:

      This seems to imply that Mrs. Coulter is telling Will the truth in this chapter.

    • Hanah_banana says:

      This is one of my favourite epigraphs too – it's only narrowly edged out by another one which we shall come to in time. 🙂 It's lyrical and truthful and just typical Blake really. And I do love me some Blake.

    • ChronicReader91 says:

      I love these epigraphs. Thank you for sharing them! They always seem to cast what I read in the chapter in a different light, and my library book doesn't have them (must be an American edition thing.)

  2. Jenny_M says:

    Ah, early review, early review! God, Mrs. Coulder is so…disconcerting. That's the only word i can come up with for her.

    • monkeybutter says:

      I think enigmatic does a good job, too.

    • Partes says:

      It's strange, I want her to die in a fire, okay not really but you get my point but also change at the same time. Conflicting emotions about her.

      Definitely one of my favourite characters from the series, but undeniably confusing.

  3. Partes says:

    Maybe I'm just not thinking this through, but there's is the one thing that's really bugged me on this reread.

    Will. You are with an armoured bear. JUST HAVE THE ARMOURED BEAR WHO HAS A VESTED INTEREST IN LYRA'S SAFETY GO RESCUE HER INSTEAD! Siriusly. Just stand back and let him rip things up and get her out in about half a second flat.

    What could Mrs Coulter possibly do to stop him?! Oh no, you have beauty. Iorek doesn't care about beauty, you now just look like an extra tasty appetizer.

    <img src=""&gt;
    It's my personal head-canon that Iorek is just off fighting daemonless zombie men in their hundreds or something during this time. Otherwise Mrs Coulter would be not particularly tasty polar bear food by now.

    • Lauren says:

      I don't really know why they left him behind, either. If he was watching for Lord Asriel's or the Magesterium's forces, then he would've been used much more effectively in eating Mrs. Coulter and they should've left Ama or Balthamos behind. Maybe to get information? I mean, eating Mrs. Coulter means you've lost a potentially important source of info about the Church's knowledge and why the heck she put Lyra to sleep in the first place. Plus Will isn't used to using brute force. He's had to disappear his whole life; it's not like he'd think of letting loose the armoured bear straight off.
      So I guess the real reason is so Pullman can keep Mrs. Coulter alive to cause havoc in every way possible.
      …But I do love that pic!

    • Tilja says:

      I've thought about that too and my guess is that Will didn't know what Mrs Coulter was capable of if she felt threatened. What if she killed Lyra with one swift move before Iorek could jump at her throat? For all Will knew, and he only really knew the monkey, she was very capable of doing just that. He never considered she might have motherly feelings, whether real or fake, and if he doesn't know what the enemy can do, he might be risking Lyra's life unnecessarily.

      It's like it was said before, the one who got to the girl first would have to fight the other side in order to get out, and the Consistorial Court had it easier as their mission ended on reaching the place and killing Lyra, they wouldn't be concerned with keeping her safe like Asriel's forces or Will. What if Mrs Coulter was like that and just killed her if she felt the threat? That's what I always thought was the reason for Will going in alone. Better know the layout and go stealthily in than barge in with no knowledge and risk Lyra's life.

    • @sab39 says:

      That picture is all kinds of awesome. (And I don't even LIKE Spongebob and I've spent half the weekend being forced to watch it by my son!)

    • Starsea28 says:

      I feel like this was Will's 'fall'. Not that he was being arrogant exactly, more that he's never met an adult that he couldn't get around or best, his survival and his mother's have depended on that skill for a long time. He trusted in his own skills too much.

    • fakehepburn says:

      That macro. Wow.
      All our upvote are belong to you.

    • BradSmith5 says:

      Partes, I was on my way here to say the exact same thing: this entire chapter is a tedious waste of time. Lyra is right there! What on earth is everyone waiting for!? You don't have to go scout out the cave, Will; this isn't a game of "Team Fortress 2." You don't have to watch out for Coulter's snipers and rocket turrets. She is there, ALONE––Ama said so.

      And why in the world does Iorek go along with all this!? He lazes about in the sun as if none of this is his concern! This is the woman that bewitched his rival, caused his exile, and sought to usurp his kingdom. For crying out loud, Iorek, how many more best friends do you have to EAT before you realize that this woman needs to be chomped!? There is no reason for him to act as a diversion; no reason for more cutting between worlds. Iorek, just go in there, hold the monkey down with one paw, and Coulter down with the other. Use your front paws to applaud, as Will carries Lyra to safety like friggin' Superman. THE END.

      I did enjoy Coulter's dialog, but the setup for it was beyond unbelievable.

      • Mauve_Avenger says:

        To be fair though, Ama didn't say that Mrs. Coulter was alone. Will specifically asked her if there were any signs of the soldiers there, and Ama couldn't give him a definite answer; there'd been rumors of strange, frightening men on the mountain (exactly the way you'd think people in this world would react to seeing daemonless soldiers), but she didn't know whether or not they were living, breathing human beings or just ghosts. It does seem a bit convenient, though; it's something we're told, not shown, and it really just seems like it's there because Pullman realized that without that detail, there's no reason why Will would think that he needed to use stealth rather than force to rescue her.

        I agree about the weirdness of not involving Iorek. It seems like Pullman wasn't really planning this through completely. He needed some way for Will to get to the Himalayas, so…get Iorek to bring him? But then in this chapter he seems to have forgotten that Iorek was even there in the first place, so he felt forced to write Iorek into a corner to satisfy continuity. That, or he conveniently forgot about the stronger-than-usual bond between Iorek and Lyra because it doesn't help the story he's trying to tell about the stronger-than-usual bond between Lyra and Will.

        • BradSmith5 says:

          Adding to the strangeness of Ama's "mysterious men" story is the fact that she had HIDDEN in Coulter's cave for a day and didn't see anything or anyone else there. Or that Balthamos could have flown ahead and checked everything out in two seconds. Like he's been doing this entire time. :/

          Yeah, I don't like seeing Iorek's character messed with just so that the plot can work out. The characters shape the story–not the other way around! Well, sometimes it can be the other way around. You know what I mean, right? 😉

      • HieronymusGrbrd says:

        As others pointed out, Will and Iorek could not expect that Mrs. Coulter, seeing a panserbjørn, wouldn't cut Lyra's throat in a swift movement rather than let her escape. So any successful surprise attack would depend on Iorek coming close enough to grip her in one jump before she can do anything.

        Perhaps Iorek felt not over-confident in his ability to move fast and stealthy and do everything right in an alien environment? There is some ice and snow higher on the mountains, but this is not Svalbard. So he may have thought that it would be nice to get some intelligence and have a plan before he jumped into action, and I love him even more for not being too badass.

    • enigmaticagentscully says:

      oooohhhh my god, best image EVER.

      All the upvotes.

  4. Becky_J_ says:


    No? Just me then? I'll get my coat…..

    • Tilja says:

      Not just you. I've had similar thoughts running through my head in this and subsequent chapters. More like wanting to go there myself and shake Will until his neck cracks and see if he gains some more sense.

      Just sometimes.

  5. cait0716 says:

    This book… I feel like I can see the strings at this point. Pullman is putting everyone in position for the inevitable battle at the cave with all these different characters and it all just feels a bit obvious. I feel the same about the end of The Subtle Knife, with everyone heading towards the mountains for five chapters.

    At the moment this book is kind of losing me. I like the passages with Mary and the mulefa, but I was bored by this chapter.

    • monkeybutter says:

      Yup. That's probably why I'm typing out only the 17th comment on today's review. Will had to meet Mrs Coulter, and the zeppelins and gyropters have to get into place. And since Mark mentions it at the top of the review, I'm one of the people who misses Lyra. This chapter just feels like Pullman's going through the motions until we can get to the good stuff. I think TGC was the best at setting up action without messing up the pace of the story. Sooooo
      [youtube l1YmS_VDvMY youtube]

      • cait0716 says:

        TGC is definitely my favorite of the trilogy, and I think this is exactly why. All three have interesting stories, but TGC couples that with exemplary story-telling. Not that it's bad in the other two; it's just not as good.

      • Brieana says:

        Maybe that's why I like TGC best.
        Also, I miss Lyra so much. In The Golden Compass we get to see her all the time, but she's been asleep for about a quarter of the book so far.

    • BradSmith5 says:

      Oh my goodness, YES. I am agreeing with like two people today! They might as well send out letters with invitations at this point. BIG FIGHT! Destination: SOME CAVE. R.S.V.P. Coulter, even though she knows you're coming anyway!


  6. Tilja says:

    I like to see where all of this is going to. Getting it bit by bit like this is just too unnerving, though. I just want to go faster, but Pullman is telling me to wait, let him build every little aspect of it, so that when we're there, you can feel it full force in the face!

    No time for complaints, just keep reading.

  7. arctic_hare says:

    I love how Mrs. Coulter says to Will that Lyra was raised by strangers and that maybe that's made it difficult for her to trust her. Gee, I thought maybe it was because you were SEVERING CHILDREN FROM THEIR DAEMONS, perhaps that had something to do with why Lyra doesn't trust you. Just a thought.

    I really enjoy this book, but it's at this point that I start to feel impatient to get Lyra back already. I love the Gallivespians and their dragonflies, though. But I want to shake Will for being so susceptible to Mrs. Coulter's EVIL CHARMS. Also, want more Mary and mulefa. And Iorek being badass.

  8. Starsea28 says:

    All through this whole chapter, I was thinking "No, Will, don't give in. DON'T GIVE IN!" And he did so well until his youth and inexperience got the better of him. (And an odd thought occured to me: while Will is so much more mature in many ways, I don't think Harry Potter would have been similarly hoodwinked because Harry never trusts an adult unless given a very specific reason.)

    WHY DIDN'T YOU TAKE IOREK, DAMN IT? Balthamos could have dealt with Ozymandias and you could have grabbed Lyra!

    • FlameRaven says:

      It's moments like this one where you realize that Will, for all his awesome, is still only twelve years old.

      • Starsea28 says:

        Yeah, I will love him to the end of time but having to look after his mother so long has made him vulnerable in different ways to other children. I suppose you could say he's vulnerable to sentiment and sympathy. Lyra isn't, she's immediately on guard when anyone tries mushy stuff on her.

  9. ChronicReader91 says:

    For the first time, I think Mrs. Coulter might NOT be lying- but I have no idea what about. I don’t buy that she had a sudden change of heart, not for a second.

    Really, this whole chapter is kind if confusing- why did Will decide to confront her at all? Wouldn’t it be better to take her by surprise? I agree with some of the other comments that it seems to be just setting the stage for a big confrontation, and hopefully rescue of Lyra.

  10. Heather says:

    The contest would be anagrams, wouldn't it. I am so bad at those. 🙁

  11. Mauve_Avenger says:

    I like how Mrs. Coulter squeezes a glass of fresh, sweet fruit juice for Will, and then talks about having to live on stale bread and sour fruit because she's given up everything for her daughter. It's relatively subtle, but it's the one of the only things in her entire story that we know for a fact is a lie. And it's such an unimportant lie, too. It's obvious that she's living in a cave, it's obvious that the Church is after her, it's obvious that she doesn't have a job or prospects in her own world; there's no reason for her to make that specific claim, none whatsoever. But it's like Will said, she's too enamored of lying to stop, even when she knows (or should know, at least) that it's pointless, even when she knows that it's actually making things worse.

    • Partes says:

      That's a great catch. Mrs Coulter seems to have long ago lost any kind of trust that the truth will get her what she wants in life; lies have worked incredibly well for her so far, and so she's never been given any reason to stop. I don't think she acknowledges that her deceit could make things worse, only viewing being called out for her dishonestly as a hypothetical that she could talk her way out. I think she's arrogant to the point where she believes that every lie she makes is a calculated risk.

      Every lie Mrs Coulter makes that no one catches her for is a success in her view, as she withholds real information and therefore power. Every time she's possibly caught… well, that's just one to a thousand, so what does it matter? She has such a massive confidence in her own charm that she doesn't see her lies as having long-term negative consequences, since she can so often talk her way around anyone.

      It's almost tragic. She has no desire to be genuine as, in the rest of her life, it would have gained her nothing in comparison to her manipulations.

    • BradSmith5 says:

      Yes! And don't you just love finding little details like that, without it having to have been pointed out?

      I missed it, though, ha,ha,ha.

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