In the thirty-first chapter of The Amber Spyglass, head explosions forever. HOLY SHIT WHAT??!?!?!?! Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Amber Spyglass.
CHAPTER THIRTY-ONE: AUTHORITY’S END
Even the title of this chapter could not prepare me for what was inside. I….I just….
The time is upon us where Mrs. Coulter will attempt to trick Metatron so that Lord Asriel can destroy him, and I honestly thought this chapter would deal solely with Will and Lyra discovering God. But the image of Metatron and Mrs. Coulter looking down upon the descending figure of Lord Asriel and his dæmon sort of set the mood for me, and I felt incredibly nervous. We are so close to the end of this book, and I know that virtually anything can happen. Pullman could kill off any character, this could end terribly, and…oh god. I just don’t want this to end. I love this world. Well…these worlds. I love these characters, I love the story, and I just want to stay here forever. Can someone make this happen.
Oh, please don’t let this end in disaster.
“I could strike him now,” the shadow whispered.
“Yes, of course you could,” she whispered back, leaning close, “but I want to see his face, dear Metatron; I want him to know I’ve betrayed him. Come, let’s follow and catch him…”
Oh, Mrs. Coulter. You are so manipulative, and I am finally at a point with your character that I don’t look upon that trait with disdain or disgust. But you are about to betray one of the most powerful angels in all existence. How can this end well? How do you trick an angel?
Apparently, you tease him with what he has not had, nor can he possess, in many, many years: flesh. Pullman has inserted a few references to sex and sexual desires in the past two books, but this is the most explicit of them all. (Relatively, I mean. It’s not explicit in a general sense, and I think he would have lost me if he had written a scene of them actually having sex.) I’m actually surprised there hasn’t been much discussion of it in these books, as he seems to be more interested in setting up a dichotomy between God and the pursuit of knowledge and experience. Sex is inherently a part of that, but the shaming of sex, sexual thoughts, and sexual impulses is pretty heavy here in the west, especially when it comes to many of the larger Christian sects. Obviously, I’m not done the series, and there could be more in the future, so I don’t want to be preemptive about this. But from a personal standpoint, Christianity really fucked up my perception of sex, and it’s something I would like to see addressed. It literally took years to unpack all of the awful things I was taught from my mother and then later during my stint as a Catholic. The social stigmas attached to sexuality (especially queer sexuality) is just as dangerous as the political ramifications of theocratic power, too.
At the very least, I like that Mrs. Coulter is choosing to act as she wishes with her sexuality, even if that is to be manipulative. It’s in character, and I’d be a lot more uncomfortable with it had she not maintained her own agency throughout the process. So I like that this is all a choice for her, and isn’t that what her transformation is about in The Amber Spyglass? For once, she is choosing to use the negative aspects of her personality and behavior to do good, or at least what I would argue is a good thing. She plays this angel’s obsession against him, and I think if this had been portrayed in any other way, it would be utterly unbelievable. This is an angel, thousands upon thousands of years old, and he is being tricked by the oldest technique in the book? However, Pullman makes a point to spell it out for us, and I actually appreciate how blatant it is:
Nevertheless, at that moment he was blinded by his twin obsessions: to destroy Lyra and to possess her mother.
In this sense, Metatron still maintains some elements of his human life, and it’s consistent with how Pullman has portrayed angels in his series, so this is why this is so believable to me. Think about the relationship between Baruch and Balthamos. (Oh god, my heart. Maybe that’s a bad idea.) These angels, wise and powerful, still had very human emotions running through them. Why would Metatron be any different?
For the first time in the series, Mrs. Coulter and Lord Asriel have a moment that I wholly accept as a genuine expression of affection, one devoid of the usual subtle jabs or horrific subtexts that I’ve come to expect from them. Mrs. Coulter voices her certainty that this is it for them, that they probably will not survive past the next few minutes, and Asriel assures her that they are, for once, doing the right thing, something entirely unselfish and pure.
“And Lyra will be safe?”
“Yes, yes,” he said gently.
He kissed her. She felt as soft and light in his arms as she had when Lyra was conceived thirteen years before.
It’s such a tender moment, and even Mrs. Coulter realizes this. Her life has been devoid of love, and she now knows that only in her last moments did she discover her love of Lyra, which came to her “like a thief in the night.” Unexpected, sudden, and brutal. Even Lord Asriel himself seems more affectionate than he ever has. Did it take this moment of facing his mortality to realize it, too? Pullman doesn’t make this obvious, but I’d like to imagine this is the case, if only because Lord Asriel has had nearly three novels’ worth of time to face his own lack of love. And maybe he doesn’t love Lyra as her mother does now, and I’d believe that. But maybe his love is one that is given to something far less tangible: life. His pursuit of knowledge and of science and of discovery and of experience. Perhaps he is ready to sacrifice himself so no other person or being in any universe will be stifled by the Authority ever again.
It’s with these thoughts that I began to read the battle against Metatron with a heavy heart. There seemed to be no way that Lord Asriel and Mrs. Coulter could both leave with their lives, so I assumed the worse. It’s so strange to me to think about them in their entirety, how much I hated Mrs. Coulter when I started this series, and how I grew to this point now: I don’t want her to die. I was initially intrigued by Lord Asriel, having believed the myth that he was a great man, then angered by his heartless betrayal of his own daughter and her best friend. He hasn’t redeemed himself in my eyes, but now I want him to survive to explore this new side to him.
The fight is intense, brutal, and frightening. Two humans are trying to destroy one of the most physically superior angels ever, and within seconds, Metatron has landed so many horrific blows on Lord Asriel’s body. Mrs. Coulter does what she can to grab his hair, the dæmons thrash and bite his body, and Lord Asriel refuses to stop trying to bring him to the ground. But the angel’s power is too immense, and I felt my heart leap when I read that Metatron had struck Asriel’s skull with a “fist-sized rock,” and I knew in that moment that no matter what, victory or not, Lord Asriel would die. He still clung to that angel, the dæmons still attacked, and, as Asriel began to feel weak from his impending death, Mrs. Coulter DIGS HER FINGERS INTO METATRON’S EYES. oh my FUCKING god, WHAT THE FUCK IS HAPPENING I AM GOING TO PASS OUT.
It all becomes pure chaos, four beings against one, and just as they believe Metatron can be flung into the abyss, he tosses Mrs. Coulter away and begins to fly into the air over the abyss. The time has come.
The cry was torn from Lord Asriel, and with the snow leopard beside her, with a roaring in her ears, Lyra’s mother stood and found her footing and leapt with all her heart, to hurl herself against the angel and her dæmon and her dying lover, and seize those beating wings, and bear them all down together into the abyss.
They’re gone. That’s it. They both sacrificed their lives for Lyra, for all universes, didn’t they? Oh my god. Y’ALL I CAN’T HANDLE THIS. I love that in this last moment, it’s not Mrs. Coulter: it’s “Lyra’s mother.” It’s a call to the bravery and courage of that girl, and an acknowledgment that in this last act, Mrs. Coulter has given up her past to accept the role she should have taken years ago.
She is Lyra’s mother.
This alone could have been an end to a chapter, but Pullman instantly switches to Lyra and Will, and Will slashes the arm off of a cliff-ghast and HOLY SHIT THAT IS WHAT YOU OPEN THIS SECTION WITH? Oh, nope, that’s not all. as the cliff-ghasts shriek and retreat, Will discovers that the Chevalier Tialys has died, his last act to poison a cliff-ghast. So Will BEHEADS THE CREATURE.
SERIOUSLY THIS IS TOO MUCH MY HEART.
I admit that I expected that there would be some grand confrontation between Will and the Authority, like the one with Metatron that I’d just read. Instead, Will and Lyra find the aged angel who calls himself God, and he cannot speak. He whimpers and moans, and they help him out of the crystal cell, and, to my shock, HE DISINTEGRATES IN THE WIND. Will’s subtle knife did not kill the Authority. Wind did.
I mean….I don’t even know what to say to that. Like Lyra and Will, I don’t even get a chance to ponder this huge moment in the series because HORSE-PEOPLE ARE COMING. But first, an entire troop of Gallivespians arrive, and it is so goddamn beautiful I could weep. I could see how this would be a momentous scene in a film of this book, hundreds of colorful dragonflies skirting through the sky, tiny humanoid creatures on their back, leading Will and Lyra to their dæmons.
The battle against the Kingdom of Heaven continues. THERE’S MORE OF IT. So many bizarre creatures chase our heroes as the Gallivespians yell directions for the children to follow, stinging whatever they can, and then IOREK BYRNISON SHOWS UP. No, at this point, I seriously thought my heart would explode out of my chest. There are nets, and the knife, and horse-people, and then they are riding on Iorek’s back, and there are gunshots and flares and Specters, and the Specters are racing to the group of trees where the dæmons are hiding and CAN I JUST THROW UP RIGHT NOW. THE STRESS THAT ALL OF THIS CAUSES.
And it’s right at this point that I couldn’t help but blink with tears welling in my eyes. Lee Scoresby arrives, to the shock of Iorek, who cannot believe he is seeing his dead comrade. Oh god, they have a ten second reunion WHY CAN’T IT BE LONGER. And then Will and Lyra must bid goodbye to Iorek, and I just wanted to sob and reach into the pages, because these characters, my characters, were rapidly approaching their end. They take off to find their dæmons, and I could not believe the rush of joy I felt when Pan spoke. Pan spoke. DÆMONS ARE NOT REAL, MARK, WHAT ARE YOU DOING FEELING SO MANY THINGS.
There is just so much beauty here, and everything hurts. I love the image of Lee leaping to protect the dæmons, of Will cutting into a parallel world and Lee observing that it looked “so very like his own homeland that he thought he’d been blessed,” of Will and Lyra grabbing each other’s dæmon, of them bidding Lee Scoresby goodbye, and most especially, of Will’s goodbye to his own father.
Will said to his father’s ghost, “You said I was a warrior. You told me that was my nature, and I should argue with it. Father, you were wrong. I fought because I had to. I can’t choose my nature, but I can choose what I do. And I will choose, because now I’m free.”
His father’s smile was full of pride and tenderness. “Well done, my boy. Well done indeed,” he said.
Will couldn’t see him anymore. He turned and climbed through after Lyra.
Yeah, I was a hot mess at this point. Will’s story is about choice, and free will, and agency, and he chose to do all of this. I’m dead, someone bury me at sea or something OH MY GOD.
No, I take that back. That was not the passage that made me burst into tears. This was:
Out of the little grove, away from the baffled Specters, out of the valley, past the mighty form of his old companion the armor-clad bear, the last little scrap of the consciousness that had been the aeronaut Lee Scoresby floated upward, just as his great balloon had done so many times. Untroubled by the flares and the bursting shells, deaf to the explosions and the shouts and cries of anger and warning and pain, conscious only of his movement upward, the last of Lee Scoresby passed through the heavy clouds and came out under the brilliant stars, where the atoms of his beloved dæmons, Hester, were waiting for him.
No, seriously, hold me forever. I’m eating curry right now and crying into it. Oh god, Lee Scoresby, I am never going to stop missing you.
There’s a spiffy new banner this week (HOW COLORFUL), and here’s the link to the full image it is cropped from. Additionally, this week’s spoiler thread on BridgeToTheStars is up!