Mark Reads ‘The Amber Spyglass’: Chapter 19

In the nineteenth chapter of The Amber Spyglass, Philip Pullman shows us why Lyra–and Lyra alone–is the real reason for this whole series. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Amber Spyglass.


I know that quite a bit left of The Amber Spyglass, and surely there are larger moments ahead, but what happens at the end of chapter nineteen is a massive emotiona moment for Lyra, one that could only have happened with her character and only after the journey she’s been through. It’s a combination of her own selfish desire to get what she wants and her constant struggle with what she thinks is moral and just.

But before we discuss this final scene (and how it made me tear up in this weird mixture of sadness, pride, and respect), there is so much that Pullman gives us about the passage to the world of the dead, and this might be my favorite “world” that he’s given us. Yeah, okay…that might seem rather strange, given how bleak and depressing it is, but are any of you surprised by that? I live for stuff like this!

It’s all in the details for Pullman, and more than ever before, I feel like I can visualize this entire imagined universe in my mind, from the ruins of the suburb, to the crumbled remains of buildings that once stood, to the garbage that litters the streets. I can see the ghosts rushing through this town “like the grains of sand that trickle toward the hole of an hourglass.” It’s a constant, steady flow of souls into this grey, desolate place. God, I love that image: this place, full of the ghosts of people who just died, still feels empty and vacant.

And yet, the first person they speak isn’t dead, but a man in a “tattered business suit,” who stops them because like him, they also aren’t dead and are not allowed to pass. When Lyra questions why they can’t go on, he implies it’s rather common for living people to come to the world of the dead by mistake. HOW IS THAT POSSIBLE? It’s not like you can take a wrong turn on the way to work and whoops, now I’m in a world of ghosts. Still, he says that people can go on past the “port” to the world of the daed by waiting in the holding area. Oh yeah, they have to wait until they actually die.

FUCKING GREAT. So they all have to stand around and wait to die. What the hell?

So they continue on, the dragonflies and Gallivespians resting on Lyra and Will’s shoulders, walking until they reach the next house, where they’re told to wait around with everyone else who is in the same condition as they are. What is so remarkable to me is that there does not seem to be the slightest sign or mention of the Authority in this place. In fact, the place seems devoid of Him, whatever that might mean. Was the promise of heaven always a lie? Or are they “judged” when they get passage to the actual world of the dead?

There’s no answer to this now. Instead, Pullman introduces us to new beings who are strangely comforting to me as a concept. As they’re looking for some place to stay in this shanty town by the ocean, they notice groups of shadowy people standing all around, talking to one another or simply waiting for something unknown. Lady Salmakia remarks that these are not people, nor are they ghosts. When Will asks a group of them the name of where they are, these people-things act afraid of Will, and Pantalaimon starts shivering in terror. Lyra wonders if they’re Specters, but Will isn’t sure they are, seeing as they’re not being attacked while being able to see them.

Yet things only continue to get stranger when a man comes out of a nearby house to talk to the group, asking about their travels, but doing so in a way that suggests he fears Will and Lyra. Then he asks a question that, like so many in this book, made little to no sense at all:

“Did you see any death?”

They shook their heads, and the children heard a murmur of “No, no, none.”

What? They’re not dead, so of course they wouldn’t see death, I thought. Will vocalizes this very thought, too, and it makes matter worse.

This is the start of Lyra taking control of the situation, and it is so lovely to see her calling the shots while everyone else obeys, and as we’ll come to see, she’s clearly the best person to be leading them through the world of the dead. Her lifetime of tricking adults, of lying or acting interested to get her way, suddenly is never more practical or prudent. That’s not to say that she is lying to the man standing before her, as she certainly is telling the truth when she explains to him that they come from a place where the appearance of their dæmons are just as strange to them as are these strange human-shaped figures, and that these differences might be why everyone is so reluctant and fearful around them. It works, unsurprisingly, since Lyra is a master at this, and the man invites her in, and they all see just how full the house is with other people.

And holy shit, the lady in the blankets. HOLY SHIT:

As Lyra looked at her, she had a shock: the blankets stirred, and a very thin arm emerged, in a black sleeve, and then another face, a man’s, so ancient it was almost a skeleton. In fact, he looked more like the skeleton in the picture than like a living human being; and then Will, too, noticed, and all the travelers together realized that he was one of those shadowy, polite figures like the ones outside.


I cannot recall a MORE AWKWARD moment in this whole series that isn’t this scene. The travelers are gobsmacked at the appearance of this shadow figure hanging out under the same blanket as this old lady, and for some reason, the same look is giving to the travelers by all the humans inside this shack. No one is willing to ask the obvious, and everyone just sets out to act as courteous as possible.

Peter, the man who let them inside, finally explains why everyone is horrified to see them: They are the first people to ever arrive in this town with their death following them. Those people outside? They’re not people-things. They are each person’s death. That thing in the blanket? The woman’s death. AND THEY ARE BASICALLY SNUGGLING TOGETHER.

Much like the concept of a dæmon, a person’s death is with them every moment of their life since birth, but unlike dæmons, they can travel to the world of the dead with their respective ghost. I’m not necessarily terrified by the deaths, but when they all come into the shack and the travelers can see how each is just a pale, drab version of some nondescript human….I’m sorry. It’s one of the creepiest things imaginable. You know what’s creepier? The fact that the woman cooking, Martha, hands the deaths in the shack bowls of stew for them to smell. Because they don’t eat, but the smell “kept them content.” MY MIND IS SHATTERING INTO A TRILLION PIECES.

I’d forgotten how much I missed it until here in chapter nineteen, but Peter asks Lyra where they came from, and Lyra launches into one of her completely fabricated (yet entirely fantastical) stories. I think it’s smart of her not to tell them all why she and Will are actually here, or why the Gallivespians are following them, or to share the reasons behind their journey, or the war against the Authority that is building. But even aside from all that, I just love how ridiculous Lyra is, that she gets the chance to be so absurdly silly at a time like this. We simply haven’t seen it in so long, and as she launched into her explanation of how the Gallivespians came from the goddamn moon, I couldn’t help but smile from ear to ear. Bless you, Lyra.

At the end of the story, Lyra lays out her group’s problem before everyone: They need to find a way across the water. I was completely shocked when the old woman’s death was the one to speak up, and he explains that they’ll have to call up their deaths, which are apparently kept “at bay,” a talent that is extremely rare.

I was not shocked, however, when Chevalier Tialys interrupted this, and Lyra knew he was going to protest. After making up one hell of a lie about speaking to moon people, she takes him outside to speak with him. More than ever before, he is outright brutal to Lyra, telling her she absolutely must stop. Well, he doesn’t say it nicely.

“You’re a thoughtless, irresponsible, lying child. Fantasy comes so easily to you that your whole nature is riddled with dishonesty, and you don’t even admit the truth when it stares you in the face. Well, if you can’t see it, I’ll tell you plainly: you cannot, you must not risk your death. You must come back with us now. I’ll call Lord Asriel and we can be safe in the fortress in hours.”

Did this remind anyone else of Lord Asriel? That’s instantly where my brain went. Who else thinks that Lyra has no control over her life, that her concerns and desires are always childish and without foresight or thought, that she is nothing more than just a child with immature desires? The truth is that Chevalier Tialys knows nothing about what Lyra has been through in the past year, and how brave, courageous, or brilliant she is. And Lyra makes sure to tell him this, that everything he says is both presumptuous and whatever exists beyond cruelty. Yet Tialys thinks he has some lordship over Lyra, and he acts offended that Lyra should defend herself, and he begins to threaten punishment on her when she explodes.

And it’s here that I sat in awe of Lyra and my heart swelled with pride and respect for her fierce sense of what is good and right.

“Then go ahead! Punish me, since you can! Take your bloody spurs and dig ‘em in hard, go on! Here’s my hand–do it! You’ve got no idea what’s in my heart, you proud, selfish creature–you got no notion how I feel sad and wicked and sorry about my friend Roger–you kill people just like that”–she snapped her finger–”they don’t matter to you–but it’s a torment and a sorrow to me that I never said good-bye to him, and I want to say sorry and make it as good as I can–you’d never understand that, for all your pride, for all your grown-up cleverness–and if I have to die to do what’s proper, then I will, and be happy while I do. I seen worse than that. So if you want to kill me, you hard man, you strong man, you poison bearer, you Chevalier, you do it, go on, kill me. Then me and Roger can play in the land of the dead forever, and laugh at you, you pitiful thing.”

It was the combination of such intense respect for Lyra, of everything in these books leading to this one moment, that caused tears to fill my eyes. Lyra is the true hero of this story, and someone who is just an eleven-year-old girl already understands that it is the greatest sacrifice to be willing to die in order to do what is proper and right. Ugh, I love her so dearly.

And it’s at this exact moment of admission that a voice suddenly arrives behind Lyra, and she turns to face her very own death, who she just inadvertently summoned. Seriously, the dynamic for this scene is so weird and strange, because Lyra, faced with her own death, must lie to it in order to convince it to take her and her travelers to the world of the dead. I mean…does a person’s death know their thoughts too? Or are they a completely separate entity? How does that work?

She does manage to convince her death to take them all, but lead them out of that world. During this entire scene, Chevalier Tialys is using the lodestone resonator, and when he speaks to Lyra, he strangely agrees to go with her, and…look, I don’t trust him. Who did he speak to, and what did they say?

We end chapter nineteen with Lyra, unable to sleep soundlessly, frightened by the prospect of what they’re going to do the next morning. They’re going to the world of the dead. I love this book so much.


Remember to enter the BridgeToTheStars contest to win a copy of The Amber Spyglass, and to visit this week’s spoiler thread!

About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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65 Responses to Mark Reads ‘The Amber Spyglass’: Chapter 19

    • Tilja says:

      This epigraph has many layers. It seems to relate to the fight between Lyra and Tialys but also between Lyra and her Death.

    • xpanasonicyouthx says:


    • Hanah_banana says:

      And here we are at my favourite! Although it's my favourite more in the context that it comes from one of my favourite poems, 'Poison Tree':

      I was angry with my friend:
      I told my wrath, my wrath did end.
      I was angry with my foe;
      I told it not, my wrath did grow.
      And I water'd it in fears,
      Night & morning with my tears;
      And I sunned it with my smiles
      And with soft deceitful wiles.

      And it grew both day and night,
      Till it bore an apple bright;
      And my foe beheld it shine,
      And he knew that it was mine,

      And into my garden stole
      When the night had veil'd the pole:
      In the morning glad I see
      My foe outstretch'd beneath the tree
      -William Blake

      It's just so…excellent and creepy and makes such a good point about hey, people, if we talk about our feelings rather than bottle it up into grudges and evil thoughts then we can get on with being happy and getting along, rather than killing each other and then being glad about it. It's just beautiful, in a massively creepy sort of way.

  1. Emma says:

    I remember reading this book first when I was about nine, and Lyra was a sort of hero to me. I wanted to be just like her when I got to be that age, be strong and passionate and good. I respected her so much, more than I did most adults, and she taught me more about morals than most adults too. She's wonderful.

  2. samibear says:

    And this is why I love Lyra a ridiculous amount. She’s just such a force of nature here- flawed, and angry and absolutely perfect. I remember reading this for the first time and wishing I could have half her courage. And it’s about time that someone told Chevalier Tialys off. I just wish they would have made the movie version of this book, just so I could see his face while she was doing it.

  3. Becky_J_ says:

    This is one of my favorite chapters. In a culture that fears death for every moment of our lives, where we are taught that there is nothing worse, it was actually refreshing to me to see people who instead embrace their deaths, welcoming them like old friends at the end of a long journey. I love the fact that in some worlds, they are almost like daemons (Granted, they're a little creepier to me than daemons, but I think that's because we're biased).

    Also, I love the title and the last line in the chapter. When I read "Lyra and her Death" I was like WHAT ARE YOU PULLING PULLMAN ( hahahah I made a joke ). And I don't have the book with me right now because I am FAR too lazy to get out of bed and go get it, but the last line goes something along the lines of "And Lyra fell into an uneasy sleep, with her death watching from the corner." Or something like that. AWESOME.

  4. knut_knut says:

    ASLDKFJALSJF WHY DON’T I HAVE A DAEMON OR A DEATH?! I want an eternal friend! Forever alone.

    Also, this line “Our deaths, they’re outside, taking the air; they’ll come in by and by” made me think of them as mini Discworld!Deaths just hanging outside having a smoke.

  5. cait0716 says:

    So are all deaths male? Or is your death, like your daemon, the opposite gender of you? We only saw Lyra's and the old woman's, both of which were definitely male.

  6. Mauve_Avenger says:

    Little things: Hang Chow is of course an older transliteration of Hangzhou. What's semi-weird here is that she uses the word "Cathay," when in the last book when she was talking to Mary about the I Ching she called it "China" just as we do. She also mentioned being attacked by "the Wapping pirates"; Wapping is a place in London, and Wapping Pier on the Thames was used as the place of execution for people convicted of piracy for centuries.

    I forgot the detail about the living man who talked to Lyra and Will giving them official papers that turned out to be torn pieces of notebook paper with random words scribbled on them. It's so incredibly depressing. He's so despondent, so completely void of hope that the only way he can seemingly retain some sense of purpose is if he convinces himself that he's there because he works there and not out of some sort of bizzare, unlucky coincidence. It's probably the only reason he can stand to go on living. And obviously, given that there was also a living person checking the papers after they received them, he isn't the only one.

    • joeldi says:

      It's possible that Lyra referring to both China and Cathay was a mistake, but it's easy enough to wave away as China being a country inside the region of Cathay or something like that.

      • Mauve_Avenger says:

        After looking it up for more detail, it looks like Cathay was originally meant only to refer to northern China, after a group of people who lived there, so maybe it's the case that China in Lyra's world is smaller and Cathay is its own country?

  7. monkeybutter says:

    Like grains of sand trickling toward the hole of an hourglass, so are the days of our deaths.

    Lyra is pretty damn wonderful in this chapter, isn't she? She's in her element with her uncreative lies, what she says to Tialys seems like something she'd rather being shouting at her own father, and I think she quite deliberately provoked him so that her death would come. She's come so far, and she'll go to whatever lengths are necessary to get to the land of the dead.

    I love the concept of a death, your invisible, looming twin from birth. Ghosts and daemons are tied to your body and your life, but death exists in conjunction to it. And it makes complete sense, as you're destined to die as soon as you're born. Yeah, it's a bit morbid, but I like all of the incorporeal parts of people in these books. The only troubling thing is that Lyra's death seems to be getting it's revenge on her for keeping it at a distance by being as creepy as possible.

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    • ldwy says:

      I love this comment!
      You mention most of the things I've been thinking about while reading this chapter, and beautifully.
      I disagree on one point though-I think her confrontation with the Chevalier was not a provocation. And that the only reason her death was called was that she accepted it fully as a willing potential outcome of her need to do what she thinks is right.

      I love Lyra, she's so awesome in this chapter. I wish I was a courageous as her when I need to stick up for myself. I hate conflict so much, I sometimes let myself get walked over.

      • xpanasonicyouthx says:

        I LOVE ADVENTURE TIME GIFS. I swear there is one for every occasion.

      • monkeybutter says:

        Fair enough. It was just really good timing, then!

        She is a pretty great role model for boldness. I try to avoid conflict, but I have no problem sticking up for myself when I need to. That's probably why I'm so thrilled to have Lyra back like this!

  8. LadyDragon1016 says:

    Hey Mark, I really miss your Harry Potter posts. Any updates for us?

    • xpanasonicyouthx says:

      Get me a Time Turner. :/

      No seriously, I would love to do 2-3 re-reads a week, but it is ridiculous how little time I have. ugh someone pay me to run these sites and I'll post 2-3 reviews PER DAY.

      • elusivebreath says:

        We're gonna have to take up a collection so Mark can just post reviews for us all day long 😛

      • pica_scribit says:

        You should try what Randy did over on Something*Positive. He said if his readers donated the equivalent of a year's salary, he would take a year off from work and do nothing but entertain them full time. But I'm guessing you enjoy your job, too. Still, it's not a terrible idea.

        Also, you should watch this if you haven't already. College Humor does Game of Thrones, RPG style. Hysterically funny. (No spoilers beyond the first book/TV series.)

      • Raenef says:

        Ooh you should set up a donate button and just put it at the bottom of each post. That's what plenty of writers do! 😀

  9. rumantic says:

    0_0 Now I remember what The Silence reminded me of the first time I saw them.

    • knut_knut says:

      maybe they were really our deaths! AND WE MURDERED THEM D:

      • rumantic says:

        And that's why we don't know our deaths in this world – we do, we just forgot D:

        • xpanasonicyouthx says:


        • Hanah_banana says:


          • FlameRaven says:

            This is a theory made totally out of crack and it is a beautiful thing.

            (But then, I totally want the Silence to be the ones behind Miracle Day even though there is ZERO CHANCE that this is the case.)

            • Hanah_banana says:

              Crack theories are my speciality! 😀


  10. frogANDsquid says:

    When Lyra gave her monologue (honestly i dont know what to call it) and shut up Chevalier Tialys i was practically out of my seat cheering for her. It was beautifully written, I really believe Lyra, an eleven year old, would choose those exact words and say them just like that. That one part is one of my favorites of the entire series.

    Oh and deaths. Before i read the whole description i was picturing dementors.

  11. LilithDee says:

    butbq qbrf gung zrna gung gbzbeebj vf GUR PUNCGRE? GUR BAR JVGU… NAQ JVGU… NAQ GUR BGURE GUVAT… bzt unecvrf.

    guvf vf nyy V'z pncnoyr bs cebqhpvat va erfcbafr gb guvf puncgre naq uvf erfcbafrf gb vg. BZTV'ZFBRKPVGRQ.


    but yes, the deaths. I LOVE THEM. I don't know why. I definitely found them kinda creepy, but only in a distant, huh that's weird, kinda way. I just think they're so sweet.

    and the thing I love about how Pullman writes Lyra is that I can actually HEAR her talking in my head. I can hear the emotion in her voice as I read that monologue and it's just, ugh, all the freaking win.

  12. stellaaaaakris says:

    TEAM LYRA FOREVER. (We haven't had any Teams for a while, but I think Lyra certainly deserves her own team, what with her lack of lovable parents and her Roger guilt and her AWESOMENESS.)

    I don't think I can begin to express how happy I am Lyra is back and doing her thing. She's awake now and spinning stories and it's beautiful. Even though Will is my favorite character, I think I would enjoy this series even more (it's already my favorite trilogy ever) if TGC focused mainly on Lyra, TSK mainly on Will, and TAS 2/3 on Lyra, 1/6 on Will and 1/6 on Mary. Other characters can be thrown in sparingly. This book is so long those fractions will work. Basically I just want to see Lyra being a badass more. Is that too much to ask?

    Also, I love that Lady Salmakia joined in on some of the story telling shenanigans. I like her so much more than Tialys. And Lyra's speech to him warmed my heart.

    But I do have questions about the suburbs of the dead/holding area/wherever they are right now. How do these people get food? How do they end up there? Who builds the houses? Do they have jobs? What do they do with all their free time while waiting to die? Inquiring minds want to know.

  13. arctic_hare says:

    THAT'S MY LYRA. <3 <3 <3 Lying her ass off, taking charge, standing up to Tialys and being so brave and wonderful and awesome… yes, I've missed this. *sniffle* Love you forever, Lyra.

  14. BradSmith5 says:

    So at any time someone could be followed by either a death, an angel, a specter, or a little spy in the bushes? This has got to be the most paranoid book universe ever. 😛

    And YES. That argument at the end was fantastic! Lyra was just like a little Mark with all her FEELINGS and things she tried to explain. On the other hand, I can agree with Tialys' logic: Lyra has no plan, she's a child, and yet she expects everyone to follow her into a place where death is the price of admittance. Good stuff, geez, EMOTIONS at last. I almost gave up earlier, when that moon story began. I wanted to hear it in Lyra's own words, but it was ALL told by the author. Then wham––ANGER TIME!

  15. Becky_J_ says:

    Also, I bet Dumbledore was super good friends with his death. After all, he needed a companion for his "next great adventure!"

  16. Appachu says:

    How the hell did I not ever read this? THIS BOOK. So incredible.

    Also, maybe I'm just too much of a nerd, but this whole bit about your death being a constant companion and needing to accept death in order to see it….the entire time I was reading this I kept thinking about the Forest chapter from Deathly Hallows. It's the same idea. And both books do it so beautifully. I love it.

  17. @cvilbrandt says:

    OHMYGOSH. Is my favorite chapter next? It might be next. I hope it's next. I think it's the next Land of the Dead chapter anyway. My favorite passage~~~

    I just wanted to say thanks for being awesome. I'm not reading this alongside you because I don't currently have a copy, but this is MY FAVORITE SERIES OF ALL TIME (thooooough the Time Traveler's Wife recently nudged into equal standing, I think, which is a big freakin' deal) and oh my god. It's just so fun to read your chapters. It's nostalgic and wonderful and funny, and it's been so long since I've read this book but I've read it many times nonetheless.

    So thank you 😀 It just gets more awesome from here. 8D

  18. notemily says:

    I think what frightens me the most about the Suburbs of the Dead is that there are entire families living there. I can't think of a worse, more depressing place to live. And how DO they live? Where does the electricity come from, or the food? What about the magazines from which they get pictures to hang on the walls? I don't understand how it's possible to live there and it terrifies me. Lyra and Will are passing through, but that family can never leave.

    The little torn papers that are supposed to be their "official" documents… so strange, so eerie.

    I like the shrine to the skeleton, reminds me of Dia de los Muertos stuff. It makes sense that people living on the outskirts of the land of the dead would have that kind of thing.

    Who is Tialys to tell Lyra that she can't risk dying? It's Lyra's life to risk or not as she chooses. Shut up, Tialys.

    (I love books that give children agency and the right to make their own decisions. LOVE them.)

  19. Vannevar says:

    The way these people treat their deaths makes me think of the youngest brother in the Deathly Hallows story, does it not?

    Also, maybe I'm just assuming wrongly, but I figured that the living people who came to wait at the psychopomp until their true death were people who were in comas, or already braindead; that sort of thing, and maybe in the worlds they come from they're on life support or being cared for by a healer … kind of like when Lyra was being kept asleep by Mrs. Coulter and she was able to cross over the first time in her dreams.

    • meguca says:

      Yes, it does! "He greeted Death as an old friend, and went with him gladly, and they departed this life as equals."

      Maybe everyone's Death has its own Invisibility Cloak with which it conceals itself until you're ready to face it? 😛

    • rumantic says:

      Oh wow, that's an awesome theory. That has made me inutterably sad for the baby though 🙁

    • hazelwillow says:

      Very interesting, actually, the differences between this and Deathly Hallows. They're both very much about death, but very different.

    • ldwy says:

      Oh wow, I never thought of it like that. I just accepted it as fantasy and didn't think too much about real-world parallels. But I really like your ideas.

  20. theanagrace says:

    My god, I love that series so much! I'm stoked for the latest one to come out this fall. 😀

  21. Barbara says:

    I love this chapter. Lyra is really EXTREMELY awesome… I adore when a female main character is so badass without being Mary Sue, so you practically cheer at her every sentence and every minute in the spotlight.

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