In the thirty-sixth chapter of The Amber Spyglass, just when we think everything might end well for these characters, Pullman hints at the worst possible thing in all universes ever in all perpetuity and forever and there will not be enough boxes of tissues if this really happens. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Amber Spyglass.
CHAPTER THIRTY-SIX: THE BROKEN ARROW
I’ve got a bad feeling about this.
Even here at the end of this book and trilogy, Pullman still has surprises in store for us, and I loved that we opened this chapter with the perspective of Will and Lyra’s dæmons. Dæmon POV!!!
The two dæmons, still distrustful of their owners (is that the right terminology?) after they left them behind on that shore in the world of the dead, slowly and quietly creep into the house where Will and Lyra are sleeping “in each other’s arms.” (BE STILL, MY HEART.) Oh god, Pan, JUST RETURN BACK TO LYRA! What else do you need to be convinced? She came back, as she promised, and she’s looking for you. SHE HAD TO DO IT. What could possibly persuade you?
When she appears before Pan and Will’s dæmon to speak to them, I may have shrieked a little. Look, I love Serafina, she has been gone too long. Is there a companion book that is solely composed of stories of her being better than absolutely everyone else? I’d read that.
Taking the dæmons away from the village to discuss…well, about a billion head explosions. She opens their conversation with a sign that the end is near: Pan and Will’s nameless dæmon will soon take their final forms. OH GOD, WHAT WILL PAN BE. I’m guessing SOMETHING THAT STAYS ON LAND. Or maybe A POLAR BEAR. Wait, that would be weird. Maybe an ermine, since he’s been an ermine so often?
Regardless, that’s not even the most important part. Serafina points out something so obvious, I feel embarrassed that I had not picked it up earlier:
“Listen,” said Serafina Pekkala, “and I’ll tell you some with-lore that none but witches know. The reason I can do that is that you are here with me, and your humans are down there, sleeping. Who are the only people for whom that is possible?”
“Witches,” said Pantalaimon, “and shamans. So…”
HOLY SHIT. WHAT. WHAT. are you saying ARE YOU SAYING THAT
Serafina reveals that without even knowing what they had done, both Will and Lyra had done what witches do SINCE WITCHES EXISTED. She refers to a “desolate, abominable place, where a great catastrophe happened in the childhood of the world,” and describes how each witch must leave their dæmon behind and enter this world alone, and in that process, that is how their dæmons can separate from their bodies.
WHICH MEANS THAT WILL AND LYRA ARE BASICALLY WITCHES. Or at least some version of it. Those two appeared to have changed the very definition of the word, too, and I was pleasantly surprised that Serafina was willing to admit as much; she does not appear to be resistant to such a change at all, either. But what hasn’t changed is the fact that these two dæmons need to return to their humans, and she insists on it.
She also takes it upon herself to name Will’s dæmon “Kirjava” and then won’t tell her WHY and then…I get confused. I get really confused. Serafina begins to tell the dæmons something deeply important that they must do, and Kirjava refuses to immediately, before she can even state what it is. Pantalaimon is quick to join this, even though Serafina says it must be done, with Kirjava agreeing, stating that it’s “much too soon.”
Well, what the fuck? How do they know what she’s talking about? WHAT IS SHE TALKING ABOUT? And why are they so desperate to convince Serafina that they can’t do what they need to?
I mean, they’re so upset by what Serafina wants to tell them that they revert to a childish state, telling stories to distract Serafina. It doesn’t work, of course, despite that it’s a convincing mental image. Serafina simply waits them out until they have nothing more to say. She tires them out. And then she tells them what they don’t want to hear: That they must return to their humans to help them through the final step, and tell them what they know. WHICH WE ARE AGAIN NOT TOLD AT ALL. What the hell? I don’t get this. I AM DEEPLY UPSET.
After Kirjava and Pantalaimon settle after a bout of fury, the sadness sets in, and Serafina tells them that the gyptians are on their way (!!!!!! OMG YES !!!!!!) and they she has faith that they’ll make the best choice and I DON’T GET IT. WHAT CHOICE IS LEFT. Wasn’t Lyra already tempted? Did I misread or misunderstand the last chapter?
Serafina visits Mary Malone next, and I’d not thought about the fact that they had never met. The way in which they do meet is kind of strange, as Serafina inserts herself into Mary’s dream so that when she wakes up, she’s not frightened. Because a person appearing in your dream while they are right next to you in real life is never frightening? Don’t get me wrong, I would welcome Serafina into my dreams, but it is kind of weird, isn’t it?
When Mary awakes, she and Serafina walk away from the house to talk, and I was filled with dread about what they would say. Mary is not a dæmon. Wouldn’t Serafina have to spell it out for her? I wondered. She doesn’t, not at first, at least; instead, she tells Mary what her dæmon is.
um can we just take a moment:
i mean everything is perfect and nothing hurts and oh my god this is so perfect for Mary.
Then she told Mary what she had said to the dæmons, and what it meant.
“And the dæmons will have to tell them?” Mary said.
“I thought of waking them to tell them myself. I thought of telling you and letting you have the responsibility. But I saw their dæmons, and I knew that would be best.”
“They’re in love.”
“They’ve only just discovered it…”
WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU EVEN TALKING ABOUT? I DON’T LIKE THIS ONE BIT. Why is this a concern? Are they going to have to do something unbearably horrible? Again, we don’t find out because Philip Pullman is EVIL and MEAN and ENJOYS MY SUFFERING. As these characters moved on to discuss the amazing act of Lyra and Will that somehow saved the flow of Dust from all universes, I even expected an explanation of why it had to be those two who would save everything and everyone. I enjoyed the metaphor of the pebble in the river that Mary used; it suggests that even the smallest act can have powerful ramifications, and Lyra’s sexual epiphany must have been a small act to her, but enormous in the scope of the world. Even Serafina understands what has happened, remarking that all will be safe as soon as “the angels fill the great chasm in the underworld.” Is that where Dust was escaping to? Why? That’s what I still don’t understand.
Even more confusing, Serafina reveals that the war against Heaven IS NOT EVEN OVER YET. Just because Metatron and God are dead, the forces of the Authority will still band together. I liked the tiny detail that Serafina learned this all from Xphania, the angel that was helping Lord Asriel, but I found myself more bewildered than before. I understand the dichotomy that was being built here: the Authority has tried for a long time to shut off the minds of all beings, and all beings have had to either follow along or fight against it. It’s the same point Pullman has been building up to throughout the whole series, and it’s what the Temptation and the Fall was meant to represent: the Authority would rather that Lyra not feel what she did at all.
I get that. But I feel like I’m missing the final piece of this puzzle: Why these people? Why not anyone else?
But we’re getting to the heartbreak, and Pullman gives us a double dose of it, one right after the other. When Mary hears that Lord Asriel died while fighting Metratron, she asks about Mrs. Coulter. Serafina picks out the most perfect arrow from her quiver and breaks it in two:
“Once in my world,” she said, “I saw that woman torturing a witch, and I swore to myself that I would send that arrow into her throat. Now I shall never do that. She sacrificed herself with Lord Asriel to fight the angel and make the world safe for Lyra. They could not have done it alone, but together they did it.”
No, I’m not crying at all, no, not in the slightest, there’s just something in my eye, nope, not crying. What a character arc, by the way. Oh, Mrs. Coulter. There is not a character like you in all of literature.
And that’s when we reach (what I think is) the moment that Pullman reveals what exactly Will and Lyra must decide, and it’s for those who paid attention (or at least have a good memory).
“Can you see ahead and guess what they’ll choose to do?” said Mary.
“No, but if Lyra returns to her own world, then I will be her sister as long as she lives. What will you do?”
In an instant, a memory of an earlier chapter in The Amber Spyglass popped into my head. John Parry. He’s telling his son that Lord Asriel’s plan will fail, because the new kingdom of heaven will never work unless it is built in each person’s world they were born. His warning that dæmons cannot survive in a parallel universe for very long.
Why else would Serafina ask Mary what she will do, with a heavy emphasis on where she will go? Will and Lyra will be faced with a choice: to separate and go to their own worlds to live out their lives, or live together for a short period before one of them (based on where they are) will die early.
and if this happens i will cry for all eternity and you cannot stop me.
I don’t often make predictions like this because I like living in the moment for these reviews. It’s fun, and it allows me to experience these events and people in a very immediate way. But I couldn’t help but make this connection: this is what’s going to happen, isn’t it? It’s horrible, and it’s inevitable. What will they choose?
I could see how some folks might find the ending to chapter thirty-six rather revolting or offensive as a Catholic. Surprise, I don’t at all. I think the idea that Father Gomez’s body, forever trapped in this parallel world, becomes a part of it, and that is the most offensive act to him and his church and his God. He becomes a part of the natural order, and there is no God or Heaven or Savior to lift him out of this place. He becomes part of the food chain, and the blue lizards that live in the mulefa world have no concept of his “importance” to other people. He is a part of nature, and that is it.
Goddamn it, I love this book so much.
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