In the eighteenth chapter of The Amber Spyglass, Will and Lyra make it to the world of the dead–entirely by accident. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Amber Spyglass.
CHAPTER EIGHTEEN: THE SUBURBS OF THE DEAD
Oh, this is just fantastic. It’s like I’ve been waiting my whole life to get to chapter eighteen of The Amber Spyglass. It’s weird. It’s disorienting. It’s creepy. And all of it is overwhelmingly exciting.
We join back up with Will, Lyra, and the Gallivespians, and it’s clear now just how grating the two parties are on each other. Pantalaimon voices his distrust to Lyra as they watch the morning begin on some unnamed beach. It must be hard to get used to thes creatures, who are always watching and listening to everything you do and say. Even worse, they’ve all seen what a mere prick of the stinger can do to a person when Chevalier Tialys did just that to Mrs. Coulter.
So Lyra pulls out her alethiometer, and I love that at this point in the trilogy, it’s so natural to her, that she can pretty much immediately reach the mental state she needs to be in in order to read the instrument. Surprisingly, though, the alethiometer tells her NOT to get rid of the spies.
Do not try, because your lives depend on them.
WELL, OKAY. I’m not even bother going to ask why, as I’m sure I’ll find out. The alethiometer tells Lyra that to get to the land of the dead, they must “go down” and “follow the knife.” Hey, alethiometer, stop speaking in mystical code. Just say, “Go past that mountain, hang a left, and then head down into this valley,” or something. Why am I not surprised that jaded, hipster angels are behind all of this?
Still, I’d rather spend forever with hipster angels than the Gallivespians. I don’t dislike them in the slightest, and I’m fascinated by their culture. Yet I can’t deny how frustrating they are, especially Tialys. The problem is that while Will and Lyra have more power than the spies, they only barely do, so every decision is like reading a married couple bickering about what to have for dinner. Lyra and Will want privacy. Tialys wants them to leave the knife behind. (WHICH HE CAN’T EVEN USE, BY THE WAY.) This is why what happens later is actually an interesting moment for the Gallivespians, since it’s the first time they openly don’t oppose Lyra and Will.
After deciding their best option is to continue on and avoid telling the spies where they are going, Will and Lyra discover it’s simply not going to be that easy. The spies aren’t fools, and Tialys immediately demands to know what they intend to do. You know, I wouldn’t be surprised if he’d actually listened in on their conversation either way. So Will demands an act, a guarantee of trust, from the spies: He wants them to swear beyond a “proper guarantee” that they won’t just sting them in their sleep in order to send them on to Lord Asriel. Understandably furious at this, Tialys offers up a counter offer: He’ll hand over the lodestone and only request it with Will’s permission if they tell them where they are going.
I seriously love that Will and Lyra are just like, “FUCK IT WHO CARES,” and agree.
“All right,” Lyra said, “that’s fair. So here’s where we’re going: we’re going to the world of the dead. We don’t know where it is, but the knife’ll find it. That’s what we’re going to do.”
The two spies were looking at her with openmouthed incredulity.
LYRA FINALLY SHUT THEM UP. Oh god, THIS IS SO FUNNY TO ME. Like, she has finally said something to shock them into silence. And again, it’s not that this isn’t the most absurd notion of all time. Hell, I think Lyra’s explanation to the Gallivespians is indicative of just how bizarre and shaky the justification is for their desire to go there. Every world around them is falling apart, people want to murder both of them, and they want to go visit the dead because Lyra’s dream and a golden compass told her to? Even Tialys is so flabbergasted by all this, that all he can come up with is a response that essentially spells out how impossible this all. Lyra’s response? Well, she told them what they are intending to do, so she demands they hand over the resonator lodestone. LOVE YOU FOREVER, LYRA.
Will has his own problem, though, separate from all of this: He cannot risk breaking the knife again. I still don’t understand why it had such an averse reaction to him thinking about his mother, but there was a frightening moment while he was looking for a new world that I thought it was going to happen again. Fortunately, he manages to cut into a new world, and now I’ve lost count of how many universes we’ve seen in this book. Is this the sixth one? It looks like a farming country, but the beauty of the place is quickly lost when Lyra comes back from her brief scouting to report that she just found four dead horses. Will spots a dead man himself, and suddenly the whole world feels wrong. There seem to be no living people, and the drone of buzzing flies surrounds everything.
Lyra wonders aloud if this is the world of the dead, but Will is sure that it’s not, just an unfortunate choice of a place to travel to. That’s pretty much confirmed when Salmakia rushes into the farmhouse where they are gathering supplies to inform them that men are coming on foot with weapons.
Oh christ, where did they end up? Will leaps into action and begins to cut into a new world:
And at once he was aware of a new kind of sensation. The blade seemed to be sliding along a very smooth surface, like a mirror, and then it sank through slowly until he was able to cut. But it was resistant, like heavy cloth, and when he made an opening, he blinked with surprise and alarm: because the world he was opening into was the same in every dealing as the one they were already standing in.
WHAT. HOW IS THAT AT ALL POSSIBLE. Maybe it only very recently split off from another world? I DON’T GET IT. Neither does anyone else, but with soldiers or warriors of some sort close on their heels, there’s no sense to standing around, right? With great difficulty, similar to whatever force made it hard for Will to cut through to this world, they push through to this new universe.
“Will,” said Lyra, and he turned to see that there was another figure in the kitchen with them.
His heart jolted. It was the man he’d seen not ten minutes before, stark dead in the bushes with his throat cut.
WHAT THE HELL WHAT IS GOING ON. Is this the first chance we get to see a double?? I mean, I’m sure I’d be just as terrified if I watched two people and two tiny humanlike creatures on dragonflies enter into my kitchen. As Lyra tries to get some information out of the man, he says something that confused the hell out of me.
“I’m dead,” he said. “I’m lying out there, dead. I know I am. You ain’t dead. What’s happening? God help me, they cut my throat. What’s happening?”
WHAT???? HOW????? He couldn’t see his own body through the window, so how would this man know he died in a parallel world?
“Are you a ghost?” Will said cautiously.
The man reached out his hand, and Will tried to take it, but his fingers closed on the air. A tinge of cold was all he felt.
AHHHHHHHH THEY ARE IN THE WORLD OF THE DEAD!!1!!!!!!!1111!!1! Oh, this book is my favorite I LOVE YOU SO MUCH, BOOK. So this is how death happens? You die and then immediately end up in this other world? More than anything else, I just wanted to know the logistics of how this worked. I was saddened by Dirk Jansen’s despair at the realization that he’d died, and touched by how willing Lyra was to do what she could to comfort him, even assuring him that they’d go with him to wherever he was going. They pass Dirk’s own body on the way out, which is even stranger to me. How could the world of the dead mimic Dirk’s world? How could his body be in two places at once?
Yet I had no time to consider such things, because Will points out that they’ve come to a village full of dead people. I still have chills now just thinking about it, of lines of men, women, and children, all converging slowly on this one spot. It’s even creepier to me that the world around them starts fading. It leads me to believe that this all has to be some sort of illusion, a replication of the world in which the souls we see here came from. But why would it disappear?
As the group of the living comes upon those who died, they discover the ghosts are far more afraid of them than vice versa. It’s clear that they are still alive, and the group of ghosts is forced to come to terms with the fact that they are now dead. (Ugh, that child…it is too much.) The Chevalier reports that the ghosts are seemingly drawn to something, and that the further they move away from their homes, the more faded everything becomes. But where are they going? Why are they headed there?
I just can’t imagine anything more daunting than the idea that you would walk through a world that is simply nothing but grey, unable to see anything that was “bright or lively or joyful,” and not pass out from terror. Maybe the world of the dead functions like a group hallucination for each person, and in the case of the people killed en masse in Dirk’s world, they can all see the same thing.
It’s clear, though, that they are headed for a single place: a “refugee camp” of sorts, as described by Chevalier Tialys, and it’s one of the creepiest images I’ve ever read in a book:
As they moved on, they could see a movement on the horizon to the left and right, and ahead of them a dirty-colored smoke was rising slowly to add its darkness to the dismal air. The movement was people, or ghosts: in lines or pairs or groups or alone, but all empty-handed, hundreds and thousands of men and women and children were drifting over the plain toward the source of the smoke.
This is horrifying. The smell becomes overwhelming to, and it’s clear that rot is associated with death for a reason. There’s no color, and the only living things aside from this group of travelers are the weeds and grass.
Ahead of them, above the water, was the mist. It rose like a cliff to merge with the gloomy sky, and from somewhere inside it came those bird cries that Tialys had referred to.
Between the waste heaps and the mist, there lay the first town of the dead.
A town. A singular town, which implies that there are more. What is the mist?? What are the birds??? OH MY GOD WHAT IS GOING ON. If the next chapter is another character aside from these, I WILL RAGE. I MUST KNOW MORE.