Mark Reads ‘The Golden Compass’: Chapter 12

In the twelfth chapter of The Golden Compass, Mark realizes he was never prepared for the horrifying reveal that Pullman drops right on top of his head. Intrigued? Then it’s time to watch Mark squirm while he reads The Golden Compass.

I cannot believe how completely unprepared I was.


We’ll get there, my fellow Readers.

The story here in The Golden Compass is now settling into a frantic pace, and yet Pullman still manages to give this all the amount of time it needs to be developed. I love how quickly this plot is moving (I can feel that flare of anxiety in my stomach right now, just thinking of where this book is going to go), and yet we still get these massive chunks of world-building and descriptive prose. I’m just absolutely enamored with the way that this story is told and it makes me feel so immersed in Pullman’s imagined world. Not since Harry Potter have I so desperately wished that a fantasy world was 100% real and that I could live in it. Hold on to this thought, Readers, because it will absolutely play into what I’ve got to say at the end.

Lyra and her new batch of friends continue on their journey north, and John Faa asks her to consult the alethiometer for further information about Bolvangar. And I love that these other characters are moving towards a point where they recognize the bizarre power that this instrument holds and that they also respect Lyra because of it. I think that part of her characterization has been one of an outsider, and there’s a loving way that John Faa, Farder Coram, and hopefully Lee and Iorek, begin to treat Lyra. At the same time, as I said before, they are also afraid of this power as well, but so far, it never feels like something that is malicious.

Without any sort of hesitation, Lyra pulls out the alethiometer and asks it a pointed question about Bolvangar. In just a minute or so, she confirms what Kaisa said: the place is guarded, not well, and by inexperienced men. However:

“It’s a telling me something else. In the next valley there’s a village by a lake where the folk are trouble by a ghost.”

YET ANOTHER TWIST THAT MAKES ME LEAP WITH JOY. A ghost? WE GET TO SEE A GHOST, DON’T WE. Initially, John Faa is entirely dismissive, asking her for more information about the specifics regarding the Tartars guarding the station. When Lyra reveals that the men guarding the place have wolves for dæmons, I, of course, did not understand this at all. Faa explains that these are the toughest of the Tartars.

But dude…you have an ARMORED BEAR. that wins most things.

Lyra knows this and speaks to Iorek on her own, asking him just how far this “village” with the ghost is, and whether she could stand the journey. I really adore how much Lyra is willing to take things into control whenever she is being left behind or lacking the support she needs. And she is eleven years old, which is an age where I would cry if I didn’t ace a test. Oh my god she is so badass.

When Iorek shares that he is to obey Lord Faa, Lyra resolves to get the man’s position, imploring his sense of reason. I’m glad she references the chameleon incident, when she felt something more than what she knew at the time, and she ended up being right. To her, this is the exact same feeling, and she knows in her heart that ignoring this is going to be a terrible mistake.

Adding to this scene is Lee Scoresby’s support, which, again, makes me want to know more about the man and where he came from. I wonder if Pullman is going to give us any sort of flashback or exposition to the time that Scoresby spent with Iorek, because here, in this moment, he speaks remarkably highly for Iorek. And look, it’s not that I don’t trust Iorek. He’s a bear of his word. (I CANNOT BELIEVE I JUST TYPED THAT i fucking love this book so much) The creature has such a loyal sense of respect and obedience, so I don’t doubt that he’d do as he told. But what exactly made Scoresby trust Iorek so much? Did he save him from danger? Protect him from death? Just a thought.

Lyra is reasonable about her request, too, stating that she will not be gone longer than necessary and that she’ll keep their journey a secret, too. I think that Lord Faa appreciates the way that she has learned to speak with respect, too, and it’s something I’ve observed of the gyptian culture we’ve seen so far. I recall those Ropings we got to witness, and everyone spoke so openly and plainly, and I feel this is the first time Lyra truly understands why they speak this way. Everything she says her is respectful of Lord Faa’s concerns, but also doesn’t shy away from what she wants to communicate. It’s a beautiful parallel and bit of character growth to me.

And with no ceremony whatsoever, Lord Faa approves the side mission and Lyra climbs on the back of the armorless bear to head to this mysterious village that’s apparently plagued by a ghost. Does this ghost know what’s going on with the Oblation Board? Is it a ghost of one of the kidnapped children? OH GOD WHAT IS GOING ON

As I said in the intro, as the tension and anticipation built inside of me, Pullman doesn’t shy away from using that wonderful sense of detail to share more of this world with me. At first, he turns inward, explaining what a new experience this is for Lyra, who has never had to travel with a creature quite like Iorek:

Lyra wanted to talk to the bear, and if he had been human, she would already be on familiar terms with him; but he was so strange and wild and cold that she was shy, almost for the first time in her life. So as he loped along, his great legs swinging tirelessly, she sat with the movement and said nothing. Perhaps he preferred that anyway, she thought: she must seem a little prattling cub, only just past babyhood, in the eyes of an armored bear.

Wow, this is not something I’d even thought about. We’ve already seen how, in Lyra’s eyes, the concept of loneliness is amplified just by Iorek’s very existence. It is a sad thing to think about, but that’s because Pullman does a great job of showing us just how vital a dæmon is to the people in this universe, and here, as Lyra rides on his back towards this mysterious destination, that loneliness is brought up again, but in an entirely context. I had not thought about how this was a new feeling for Lyra. We’ve seen how direct and open she is in general, and now she’s absolutely silent.

An hour of travel later, Iorek stops and tells Lyra to look up to the sky, and everything is made even creepier: hundreds upon hundreds of witches are flying to the north at that moment. Given what Kaisa had told us about the witches, this does not seem to be a comforting sign. Neither is what Iorek says:

“Flying to war, maybe. I have never seen so many at one time.”

When something is unsettling to an armored bear, it is endlessly creepy to me. Good god what is going on.

“You en’t afraid, are you?”

“Not yet. When I am, I shall master the fear.”

In such a plain way of speaking it, Iorek just dropped some incredible philosophy at my feet. He does not claim to never feel fear; rather, when it comes, he will face it and master it. Seriously, where is my dæmon and where is my fucking armored bear.

But really, where chapter twelve shines (and shines absolutely) is in the scene where Iorek and Lyra arrive at this village. As much as I could be while reading a book, I was on the edge of my seat. What Pullman does here is create an unbearable atmosphere of uncertainty, of taking the unknowable events we are about to experience and surrounding us with dread and fear. What seemed to be a journey Lyra would take later in the story is suddenly happening here and now and it’s all stripped of anything but a painful urgency.:

The alethiometer had indicated something uncanny and unnatural, which was alarming; but who was she? Lord Asriel’s daughter. And who was under her command? A mighty bear. How could she possibly show any fear?

I know this is meant to be comforting, but even reading this a second time, that pit in my stomach just grew. Because Lyra is afraid and the alethiometer is almost telling her that she should fear what she is about to find. As the two move slowly into the village, the local animals on edge and vocalizing their fear and terror, the place feels like a ghost town, as Pullman shares with us the way that this town is clearly affected by this mysterious “ghost.” A man comes out of a house, speaking some language Lyra does not understand, and Iorek acts as the interpreter. When he believes them to be devils, Lyra orders Iorek to give him a message:

“Tell him we’re not devils, but we’ve got friends who are. And we’re looking for…Just a child. A strange child. Tell him that.”

As soon as the bear had said that, the man pointed to the right, indicating some place further off, and spoke quickly.

Iorek Byrnison said, “He asks if we have come to take the child away. They are afraid of it. They have tried to drive it away, but it keeps coming back.”

what the holy hell is going on. I was, understandably, completely confused at this point. Ghosts seemed to be a reality of this universe, so why was this particular one causing the village such stress? Why is there so much terror in this one place?

Pullman’s description of Lyra’s fear as they move toward the fish house is so tangible that my heart has begun racing again, and I imagine that for years to come, when I return to this book to read it again, I’ll still feel this rush of doom strike my chest. Lyra, aware that she has stepped into a situation she cannot control, knows that she must face and master her fear, like Iorek said, and that she has to open the door to the fish house to find the ghost inside. As she yanks it open, having to kick snow out of the way, she is suddenly aware that Pantalaimon is acting in a way she’d only seen once:

She had never seen him like this except once, when she and Roger in the crypt at Jordan had moved the dæmon-coins into the wrong skulls. He was even more frightened than she was.


Lyra calls out forcefully (as forcefully as a terrified eleven-year-old can) for whatever is in the house, begging it to come out. Nothing. Pantalaimon, full of fear, begs Lyra to leave, and I was at my wit’s end at this point. what was in that room

At this moment, a old man comes scurrying down to meet them, and Iorek translates and seriously, I now know what happens and I can still barely handle this:

“He says that it’s not the only child of that kind. He’s seen others in the forest. Sometimes they die quickly, sometimes they don’t die. This one is tough, he thinks. But it would be better for him if he died.”

I am seriously so close to just like….vomiting in terror. This is honestly one of the scariest things I have ever read, and Pullman’s designed the scene so that just when you think it can’t get worse, there’s a new detail for you to fret over. As the old man hands over his lantern (and then backs away from the house, yet another detail that just sends a chill down my spine), Lyra finally gets the courage to step into the fish house and in an instant, she knows exactly what she is up against, what has been happening in the north, what the Gobblers have been doing, and why they all believed children were being sawed in half:

The little boy was huddled against the wood drying rack where hung row upon row of gutted fish, all as stiff as boards. He was clutching a piece of fish to him as Lyra was clutching Pantalaimon, with her left hand, hard, against her heart; but that was all he had, a piece of dried fish; because he had no dæmon at all. The Gobblers had cut it away. That was intercision, and this was a severed child.






[Image description: A photo of Mark, in his colorful GlobWorld office, wearing a rather nice checkered/striped shirt with red, black, white and tan, and…oh…right…A LOOK OF COMPLETE AND UTTER CONFUSION AND TERROR ON HIS FACE. Also, i need to trim my beard BUT THAT IS NOT IMPORTANT RIGHT NOW]


i am never going to heal from this moment ever again

About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
This entry was posted in His Dark Materials, The Golden Compass and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

130 Responses to Mark Reads ‘The Golden Compass’: Chapter 12

  1. tchemgrrl says:

    Can we pause for a moment and appreciate how wonderfully Pullman has shown, not told? If you read that last paragraph without having read the rest of the book, it would make no sense–maybe it'd sound a bit creepy but it really wouldn't have an emotional impact.

    But we've been shown the relationship between Lyra and Pan, been shown how to even be a few yards apart from each other causes anguish to them both, how they comfort each other, how she pities Iorek for his lack of daemon–and we've seen from the perspective of other people in this world that they feel exactly the same way about their daemons, and their daemons about them.

    In that context, that paragraph is a horrible thing to read. You feel the need to look away. I've been listening to the book on tape and I was almost crying on the bus last night after getting to this part, and I've read the book before! Poor, poor little fish-boy.

  2. SporkyRat says:

    Oh Mark, I was waiting for this chapter. I'm not even reading along but I remember this chapter so vividly that just reading about you reading it made my heart pound and the little bits of 'Oh no, what's going to happen?' really pop up.
    You are so not prepared. All of us who have read the book before are still not prepared. You're in good company.

  3. Brieana says:

    oh, snap! Big ass cliffhanger/reveal.
    I have been waiting for this review for so long.

  4. Maya says:

    Oh man, what a place to leave this book for a WEEK.

    Can we please just discuss how entirely fucked up it is to have a PIECE OF YOURSELF cut off? Because that's basically what daemons seem to be. It's not like this is intentional like the Horcruxes. Like, this is truly messed up shit right here. I have this terrifying image in my head of a ragged waif just curled up holding onto a rotten fish.

    I love you Phillip Pullman.

    • theanagrace says:

      a ragged waif just curled up holding onto a rotten fish.;

      As much as that image is awesome and will haunt me forever, the fish is preserved/dried/frozen, not rotten.

  5. Saphling says:

    Mark, I've been waiting for you to get to this chapter since you started the book. It's the chapter where I hit the point at which I had to keep reading to the end, when I first read this book – never mind the fact that it was already 1am and I had school the next morning. Screw sleep.

    I will be dancing in anticipation of your next review, all weekend. *laughs* And WHAT a chapter to have to pause on, too.

  6. cait0716 says:

    I think it's interesting that the alethiometer doesn't just answer Lyra's question, it also mentions the child in the village. It implies a certain level of consciousness in the alethiometer. It doesn't just answer questions, it anticipates questions you don't even know you should ask. That unsettles me a bit, but is also really cool. Is the alethiometer, or whatever is controlling it, sentient?

    I really like the scene where Lyra is running between Iroek Byrnison and Lord Faa trying to get to the village. It reminded me of trying to get permission from something from my parents when I was younger. Dad, can I do X? If your mom says ok. Mom, can I do X? What does you dad say? That little scene is so relatable.

    Also, yes, intercision is terrifying. But you still aren't prepared

  7. Arione says:

    Heart breaking awful evil wrong bad never gonna be ok worst child abuse terrible vile gut wrenching pain torture lonely Lonely LONELY NOOOOOOOOOOOO! ……………….. please

  8. Rachel says:

    Not only cutting a piece of someone's soul off, but a piece of a CHILD'S SOUL off. ALL OF THEM NEED TO DIE IN FIRES.

  9. FlameRaven says:

    So yeah, when you thought the kids were being cut in half…. that was kind of true. Not physically in half, but spiritually, because these people fucking cut the children's souls away.

    *flails* I love this chapter so much. Not just because every time I read it it still punches me in the gut with the sheer, visceral horror of the entire scene and the magnitude of evil that the Gobblers are doing to these children. But because it's only here that you can really appreciate how well Pullman has set up this world. The entire book he's been giving us little hints and pieces of what daemons are to these people, and we finally get it confirmed that they are in fact souls, and then it all culminates in this chapter as we realize fully just what it means if that soul is ripped away. It's fucking brilliant writing and I love it.

    Regarding the rest of the chapter and Lee Scoresby; we haven't learned much about him, but I always felt that that he and Iorek were basically war buddies and long campaigners together. They seem to implicitly trust each others' fighting abilities, enough that they know they can rely on each other. Now, why and how Iorek was involved in any conflict that also required a balloon pilot, and how they first became friends I would really like to know.

    • Arione says:

      Bad movie! Bad! Urgh the things that movie could have been! So much ruined potential for awesome/amazing.

      • FlameRaven says:

        It was pretty frustrating. Especially since the overall casting and art direction were pretty good. :/

        (Editing out the rest of this to avoid any spoilers.)

    • Arione says:

      Are we being spoilery? Is there to be a Golden Compass liveblog? Should we delete?

      • FlameRaven says:

        Mark already saw the movie, he's said that much, and said nothing about a liveblog. I did edit out my comment about the movie in my initial post, but it seems I got replies before I did that.

      • TChemGrrl says:

        Yeah, some of that stuff has not happened yet. (I only know because I stopped at ch. 12 last night and was listening to 13 this morning.)

    • cait0716 says:

      We don't know the kid's name yet.

    • Whoa there!

      <img src=>

    • FlameRaven says:

      Also, since it seems we're being spoilerphobic about the movie, probably best to delete this as well. :/

    • Danni says:

      If you want to read about Lee and Iorek, there's a companion novel called Once Upon A Time In The North, and it's about that battle that they keep mentioning. But it's ONLY FOR PEOPLE THAT HAVE READ THE WHOLE SERIES before as there are tiny little spoilers and stuff in it, when the narrator is talking about the future. Oh and there's another companion novel as well, called Lyra's Oxford, which is ALSO ONLY FOR PEOPLE THAT HAVE READ THE WHOLE SERIES. Sorry about the yelling, but that way I can make it clear that you shouldn't read them without having fully read HDM. I will not be held responsible for a person's dumbassery of reading a book full of glorious spoilerosities.


  10. monkeybutter says:

    That is a rather nice checkered/striped shirt with red, black, white and tan.

    Yup, it sucks to realize that this amazing world with daemons and multilingual armored bears (fuuuu Iorek is more accomplished than I am) comes with the horrors of losing that daemon. Kids wandering lost in the woods, dying, or, even worse, clutching onto dried fish like Linus with his blanket. The people here are all so vulnerable. It was said that Iorek's armor is like his daemon, and it is an integral part of him, but wearing it makes him safer. The same can't be said for daemons. I can't imagine having my spirit or mind — whatever — open to physical manipulation and destruction by other people. The prohibitions against touching people's daemons makes a lot of sense in that context. Intercission is terrible.

    • theanagrace says:

      I can't imagine having my spirit or mind — whatever — open to physical manipulation and destruction by other people.

      Yeah, look what happened to the Ood.

  11. leighzzz31 says:

    Everytime you say something along the lines of "I LOVE THIS BOOK!!11!!!", my face splits into this huge grin. Even in this chapter where everything is horrifying and awful.
    The last few paragraphs? Oh my god, the terror. Eleven-year old me must have been holding the books with shaking hands. Even reading this chapter a few days ago (sorry, Mark, I've already finished the book because I have no self control, even though I've read it like a thousand times!), a knot in my stomach, that steadily rising feeling of dread…How awesome is it that I have the same reaction you do even after all these years? Power of Pullman right there!

    • Saphling says:

      Twelve-year-old me broke down crying at the idea of it, at the last paragraphs of this chapter. I had become so enamored of the idea of having a daemon, wishing I had one because how awesome that would be, that the vision of a kid who had had a daemon of his own, but whose daemon had been cut away, leaving him like that… it was terrifying and horrible.

      Still is.

  12. bingo007 says:

    creepy gave me the same horror i felt while reading bathilda bagshot chapter in DH.

    • knut_knut says:

      I love how the reveal in this one isn't like HORRIBLE CREEPY CHILD JUMPS OUT OF NOWHERE AND CLAWS YOUR FACE OFF (which is kind of what they did in the movie -_-) I think it's abosolutely genius how Pullman makes a child just SITTING THERE so terrifying. I remember having nightmares about it when I was a kid 🙁

  13. Mauve_Avenger says:

    The reveal at the end of the chapter excepted, the most interesting thing in this chapter for me is that we get an instance of the alethiometer answering a question to which Lyra certainly wants to know the answer, but never actually goes through the process of asking. This suggests a few possibilities (personification of an inanimate object ahoy): 1) that the 36-symbol form is somewhat limiting to the person framing the question, to the point where the alethiometer can't *understand* the import of the question with absolute certainty and decides to answer the two or three most likely meanings of the question, 2) that the alethiometer actually understands and *likes* Lyra's mission here, and does whatever it needs to do in order to ensure its success, 3) the alethiometer works something like a search engine that *remembers* past searches, but has a hard time deciding exactly what constitutes sufficient relevant information (that Lyra hasn't noticed this property yet could be down to her letting the threads go before it starts giving her even more results). Any other possibilities for how this could work?

    And speaking of the alethiometer, the beginning of this chapter marks the fourth time that new alethiometer symbols have been revealed, meaning that we now have 23 known symbols. I realized that I intended to post them all on the "Consul and the Bear" review, but forgot to do it, so here they are: anchor, hourglass with skull, chameleon*, bull, beehive, angel, helmet, dolphin, globe, lute, compasses, candle, thunderbolt, horse, serpent, crucible, Madonna, ant, infant (it's called "baby" in a subsequent chapter; this is why I was a bit confused on my earlier count), elephant, camel, cornucopia, and griffin.

    So in this chapter, we get the reappearance of the helmet and crucible symbols, and the new appearance of the griffin. I'm guessing that since helmet was said to mean 'war' in another chapter, it would probably mean 'defense/protection' here, but I'm really not understanding how the other two symbols play into the question Lyra asked.

    • cait0716 says:

      Griffins tend to be guards or protectors. And in an earlier chapter Lyra mentioned that the crucible is knowledge. So I think she was asking something along the lines of "Tell us about the warriors protecting Bolvanger", but more nuanced to include other protections. It could be that the crucible got interpreted as Lyra asking about what is being protected (whether she consciously thought that or not) and the alethiometer responded to that part by leading her to the little boy. It was trying to tell her, but she didn't quite understand (because she couldn't even conceive of that) so it pointed her to an example.

      I think the alethiometer is displaying a certain intelligence when it interprets Lyra's questions. That she has to concentrate so hard implies that it doesn't just rely on the symbols but actually has some direct connection with her. Or something? The whole thing is so rich and complex, you could probably write a book about how it works.

    • Saphling says:

      Crucible as information, possibly, as it was used for knowledge/spying earlier? The crucible as new information about the war (helment)? Though I have no idea about the griffin, unless it is used as a kind of chimera, meaning "grotesque being of disparate parts" (no pun intended), or "horrible creature of the imagination," which would also fit.

      All that's a stretch, though, I'll admit.

      • hazelwillow says:

        If Lyra is framing the question "How are the guards protecting Bolvangar?"…

        The helmet would probably mean "protection";

        The griffin could mean "protectors" or "guards" like Caito suggested;

        …This gives us "How are the guards protecting–" but the part of the question about Bolvangar is still not there. So I'm guessing the crucible refers to Bolvangar and she's using a different meaning-rung than she did when she used it to refer to knowledge/spying. Wikipedia tells me a crucible is "a refractory container used for metal, glass, and pigment production as well as a number of modern laboratory processes," and that in post medieval times, a certain type of crucible was used to separate base metals from more valuable metals.

        It's basically a piece of laboratory equipment, so I'm guessing it can refer to inquiry, science, knowledge, and experimentation (possibly also separation (!), distillation, molten metal, um…). Lyra is indicating Bolvangar through the meaning experimentation (as she thinks the children there are somehow used in experiments).

        (I don't think Lyra needs to indicate that she's asking for information, otherwise she'd use the crucible in every question and I don't think she does. I think it's a given that any concepts you try and indicate using the alethiometer are part of a question).

        • tigerpetals says:

          I like this. Separation would be a good meaning. Base metals from more valuable metals make me think about which is more valuable to the Gobblers, what are they trying to achieve. If the daemons are the souls, then the child is the opposite of a ghost.

    • SporkyRat says:

      I like to think that the alethiometer is like this: It not only answers the questions you ask, but it answers the questions you needed to know the answers to but weren't sure how to ask. But only if they relate to the question at hand.

      • rumantic says:

        I think this too. It's like the bit in doctor who SPOILERS Doctor Who Series 6 Episode 4

        when they have that conversation "But you didn't always go where I wanted you to go!" "No, but I always took you where you needed to go."

        Yeah, I still want the TARDIS and the Alethiometer to meet and have tiny mechanical babies. Maybe the talkie toaster can come along for a threesome occasionally. *likes ascribing personality and/or consciousness to semi-animate objects*

    • FlameRaven says:

      I always thought of the alethiometer, after the two incidents with the spy-flies and now this, as being able to both answer questions that are directly asked as well as volunteer more information it knows will be useful. The spy-fly incident is a little different, as Lyra just wasn't skilled enough to understand what the alethiometer was telling her. Here, though, I always read it as the alethiometer saying "Hey, here's your information about Bolvangar, and since you asked about Bolvangar, if you go look over there you'll find out something else important." I don't know if it's sentient, but there does seem to be some intelligence that is able to understand Lyra's questions and also intent. Luckily, at this point Lyra has learned to trust the alethiometer even if she doesn't understand it fully.

      • Mauve_Avenger says:

        I typed out a reply and then ID logged me out, so I'll try to retype more succinctly.

        I think one interesting question about a sentient alethiometer would be whether or not it can withhold or divulge extra information (or make an answer harder to correctly interpret, given the seemingly infinite range of meanings any given symbol can have) when it wants to, or if its tied to its owner's need for truth in the same way that the wands in Harry Potter are tied to their masters' need for magical discovery (even when used for evil). Because if the alethiometer can place moral/practical values on actions and decide to cater its answers to producing certain actions, it's possible that trusting the alethiometer isn't necessarily such a good idea after all.

    • settledforhistory says:

      I am only guessing but maybe the griffin has something to do with the place.
      Lord Faa wanted to know "how they're defending this place, Bolvengar".
      No idea what the crucible means here, but as it is something like a cauldron, maybe something like brewing, planning.

      • Mauve_Avenger says:

        The idea of crucible as 'planning' and griffin as 'Bolvangar' is interesting, because it makes me think that perhaps the alethiometer misinterpreted 'defense' + 'Bolvangar' + 'planning' as "what's defending Bolvangar and what are they planning?", or that perhaps that the 'planning' part is something Lyra added to the question subconsciously, as Caito said above.

    • rumantic says:

      The thought I had about this was that perhaps the alethiometer somehow knows sometimes something is going to be either too complicated or incomprehensible to explain, so it points the user to another source of information which will explain it.

      I mean, before she found the boy, if Lyra got from the alethiometer that the gobblers were taking people's daemons away, would she have understood that as a concept? Decided it was impossible or implausible? Believed she had got it wrong just because (to quote mark) "OH MY GOD OH MY GOD WHAT THE FUCK WHY ARE THEY CUTTING AWAY PEOPLE’S DÆMON’S HOW CAN YOU EVEN DO THAT"

      No, I think she needed to see this first hand to believe it and be sure. And the alethiometer knew that, somehow.

    • redheadedgirl says:

      To me, it seems like the alethiometer is, as the Doctor has mentioned about a couple of things "a tiny bit alive." It may have it's own agenda, or has information relevant to the agenda of the person operating it. ("This is RELEVANT TO YOUR INTERESTS HOP TO IT")

  14. pica_scribit says:

    Pullman’s description of Lyra’s fear as they move toward the fish house is so tangible that my heart has begun racing again, and I imagine that for years to come, when I return to this book to read it again, I’ll still feel this rush of doom strike my chest.

    So true, Mark. I've read these books about four or five times now, and I *still* get that every time. This time, it was really bad since I knew you were reading it for the first time, and I was anticipating your mind-melty reaction to it. You were never going to be prepared for this. And you will never be prepared for what is still to come.

    • rumantic says:

      100% agreed. I've read them more than 5 times, probably about 20, I'm not sure. I still get it, every time. Hell, I even got it from reading this review and I haven't even got my copy of the book to read along with.

      I can just imagine Pan clinging to her chest as well, I think his reaction is the bit that seals it. He's usually even braver than she is. I wonder if daemons are more sensitive to atmospheres and the like?

  15. Alberthe says:

    I think it speaks volumes for Pullman's ability to make dæmons real that of all the creepy things I've read in my life, this is still one of the absolute creepiest. I don't have a manifest dæmon, never seen one, they don't exist in the same sense here, and still I understand how utterly unnatural and terrifying the loss of one is to these people. I've read the books several times before, but I still started crying at the end of the chapter when reading it now. It almost becomes worse when you read it again, because you know what will happen, but still sit there and think 'no, please, just no', the tension becomes almost unbearable…

  16. Arione says:

    I just accidentally drank green tea instead of chamomile, it's 12:30am here in Aus… I'm not getting to sleep tonight.

    • hpfish13 says:

      Well, it resulted in one good thing. Your comment reminded me to go and get my tea, which I had forgotten once already!

  17. Marie says:

    This is why I love the Golden Compass so much, it pulls you absolutely into its world (right from the start, when you're given its tastes and feels before its explanations). Throughout the book the the fact that everyone has a daemon is emphasized both overtly and subtly, but always alongside the rest of what it happening, so that it feels natural, and it feels ESSENTIAL. And the horror of this chapter is as you noted, built up and built up, so that when you're finally confronted with the truth, you can understand how terrifying and sickening it is for inhabitants of Lyra's world.

  18. FlameRaven says:

    To be honest, I can't even remember. Most of what I remember is just that they spent an awful lot of time telling us instead of showing us, which was a shame since Pullman spent so much time building up the detail slowly.

    • miabuterflie says:

      This is why the radio dramatisation is so awesome. Details may have been changed, but not horribly and Philip Pullman was the narrator, so he can't have been too unhappy with the result. I listen to them when I am walking sometimes, because you lose yourself in that world and it makes you forget how tired you are.

  19. BeckyJ says:

    It's a mark of how real this world has become to you and all of us that we all are curled up in our chairs whimpering right now at the thought of intercision. I mean, none of us have daemons (even though most of us really really want one) and we still are so horrified by it. Lyra's horror at Iorek not having a daemon is so complete, but having never had one, he doesn't miss it. Imagine having one and then having it cut away from you…. DO NOT WANTTTTTTT.

  20. eleniel says:

    Confession: After reading this chapter last night, I HAD to read the next one. HAD TO! But I promise I won't read any more until Monday *crosses fingers behind back just in case*…

    What intercision is is the last thing I remember from the movie, but even though I knew that, this chapter was still so shocking and horrifying. Poor kid. So the Gobblers do this and then just… set them loose, to die? And WHY are they doing this??

    Reading this review, I was suddenly overcome with RAEG because I remembered those assholes at Mrs Coulter's party, and how they were all, "Surely the children aren't harmed! It doesn't hurt them!" HOW COULD THIS NOT HURT THEM???? FUCK YOU DUDE. FUCK YOU AND ALL YOU HORRIBLE PEOPLE DOING THIS TO INNOCENT CHILDREN WHAT THE FUCK. Grrrrrr >:/

    • notemily says:

      Yeah it breaks my heart how the adults are so glib about it. My guess is they've never actually SEEN a severed child, though. Mrs. Coulter, on the other hand, probably knows exactly what she's doing to them 🙁

    • @Arachne110 says:

      Not to be controversial or anything… but people said the same thing for years about infant circumcision without numbing or anything. 0_0

      • @sab39 says:

        Yeah, there is a definite circumcision analogy going on all throughout. Even the name is reminiscent, and I can't imagine that's coincidental.

        • Brieana says:

          Oh, I didn't notice that circumcision looks like intercision!

          • ldwy says:

            In this case, the similarity is linguistic, not just phoenetic. If you look at circumcision, it comes from the latin circum, meaning around, and the "cision" part comes from the verb caedere, meaning to cut. Inter means among or between, so I think perhaps Pullman constructed this word to imply cutting apart or between the parts of a person.

        • notemily says:

          Not just circumcision; I feel like there's a parallel to a lot of things that adults do for a kid's "own good" while being blind to how it actually affects the child.

    Ginsu knife.

    Are you an evil organization dedicated to separating children from their daemons for nefarious purposes? Have we got news for you! With the amazing Ginsu knife, you can perform intercision with ease! You'll have so many severed children you won't know what to do with them!

    But wait, there's more!

    If you order now, we'll send you this picture of an armored bear! An ARMORED BEAR, folks! A picture of one!

    • Patrick721 says:



    • VicarPants says:

      Say it with me, folks, you just: CLEAVE IT AND LEAVE IT.
      Coming home to a fresh, shivering, blank-eyed child in your fish-house is just THAT EASY.

  22. Noybusiness says:

    There's a novella called "Once Upon a Time in the North" about Iorek and Scoresby in the past.

  23. tchemgrrl says:

    Heh, one of the mistakes that was made, I very nearly made in one of my other comments. If I hadn't been following along, no way would I have remembered because the first time I read this I may have paused for 0.8 seconds between covers. Definitely hard to keep track under those conditions! :p

    • FlameRaven says:

      That's what I get for posting before I ate breakfast. Gotta kick my brain into gear next time.

  24. Ash says:

    They are cutting children in half!
    But what happens to the daemons? Do they disappear or are both parts wondering around lost from each other. Oh and the boys clutching a fish to his chest D’: Sades thing ever.

    • pooslie says:

      i want to know this too! where is the boy's daemon now? do the gobblers keep them in like cages? *sadfaces forever*

  25. @Arachne110 says:

    The first time I read this the first thought that came to mind when I read about the daemons being cut away was Zombies. What is a person without their soul? Usually they are dead. And I just reacted in horror(of course), WHY would anybody want to make zombies out of little kids?

  26. Many Rainbows says:

    that picture of you perfectly shows my reaction when i first read this book. When i read that it was a child with no daemon i was like WHAT?! NO! BAD! YOU CAN'T!
    and yet.. you still are so not prepared

  27. BradSmith5 says:

    Whoa, sweet beard, Mark.

    As far as the story goes, I'm not feeling the horror. I just can't relate to the idea of having a soul in an animal form. It's like I'm watching an episode of Pokémon, and I just found out that Team Rocket is stealing kid's Pikachus. It's terrible for the kids in that particular world; I just have no way to sympathize here.

    That said, I still believe this is an intriguing chapter. Why would the Oblation Board do such a thing? How does this relate to the other worlds? For what purpose do the witches gather? Good stuff.

    • cait0716 says:

      I think the our-world equivalent would be someone lobotomizing you against your will. You lose a very basic part of what makes you you. I'm not sure you'd be aware of what you lost with a lobotomy, I guess it depends on exactly what they cut, but I think the metaphor holds.

      • enigmaticagentscully says:

        That's a good metaphor. Metaphor? Analogy? IDK.
        But yeah, it was a little harder for me to grasp the horror of it the first time I read this because I don't believe in the soul as such.
        I think what you have to do as you read is kind of work out what you can equate a daemon to…the idea of it being not necessary to LIVE, but such a vital part of your personality that cutting it away would destroy the person you are – yeah, the lobotomy comparison works well.

        • hazelwillow says:

          Lombotomy is a good comparison. In the Harry Potter world, it would be the equivalent of being kissed by a dementor. Sort of. I think.

  28. @Shoganate says:

    I remember when we were first introduced to the witches and I said that I'd wished they hadn't had a daemon at all because that would be really cool? Well that was before I really understood that daemons were a part of someone's soul and now I take it ALL back. NO ONE SHOULD EVER NOT HAVE A DAEMON EVER!!! *hugs the poor little boy* I did not see that coming at all and my face basically was the same as Mark's after reading that. The Gobblers are so much more terrifying and horrible than I'd originally given them credit for. And I get the feeling I am still NOT PREPARED AT ALL for what is to come! Curse you weekend!!

  29. Thanks! Aww, our little Lyra is growing up. 🙂

  30. Marie says:

    Wait, have I missed something? Do we already know what daemons really are?

    • MichelleZB says:

      Yes, this is a spoiler! I am seeing this spoiler all over the blog! I hope Mark hasn't read the comments yet…

      • hummingbrdheart says:

        It's not a spoiler. It was explained in the previous chapter.

      • Marie says:

        I reported one (before I saw the others), do you think we should report the others/ leave comments reminding them? This is kind of upsetting to me – we're not supposed to know about that yet.

      • Marie says:

        Wow, nevermind I was wrong. Iorek talks about it when he compares a daemon to his armor in the previous chapter – although I'm not sure it was meant to be interpreted that way? Or maybe I'm just excusing my misunderstanding … oops

        • settledforhistory says:

          Yes, Iorek explained it, that's how I know about it. I never read the books before, so I can't use any spoilers.

  31. arctic_hare says:

    Seriously, where is my dæmon and where is my fucking armored bear.

    Back before you started this book, I predicted on the spoiler blog that you'd be saying this once things got underway. I love being right. 😀

    Man, you were never ever prepared for this. I love the way that Pullman sets you up for the horror that is a severed child: so subtly you never realize it till it's too late and this poor kid clutching a fish in lieu of his daemon is slapping you in the face. We're shown how horrifying a person without a daemon is to the people of this world; we're shown how far a person can go from theirs, and the physical pain that Lyra feels when she and Pan test that limit; the prohibition on touching another person's daemon, and the pain Lyra feels when Pan is hurt by another daemon; and Iorek says in the chapter immediately preceding this that a daemon is a person's soul. Bit by bit, we're given information on what they are, in such a natural way that it never feels like an exposition dump, and alongside it the mystery of what the Gobblers are doing is also built up, with tales of cutting children in half and sacrifices being made. We never realize we're being led along to this moment, to Lyra facing down the truth of what they're doing. They are kidnapping children and cutting away their souls. We saw what happened to Iorek when they stole his armor, which was his soul; and now we've gotten a brief glimpse of what happens to a person who loses theirs. This poor little boy is clinging to a dead fish, desperately craving the company of his daemon, and it's the most horrifying thing we've seen yet. Bravo to Pullman for writing the book so that we get the full impact of how awful this is without having to have it explained, and for the supremely creepy and unsettling chapter in which it is revealed.

    And guess what? You're still not prepared.

    • Patrick721 says:

      this poor kid clutching a fish in lieu of his daemon is slapping you in the face
      I am a horrible person, because I just remembered the Monty Python sketch that involves people slapping each other in the face with a fish.

    • rumantic says:

      Off-topic, but is there a spoiler blog for Mark reads? I only found one for Mark watches. Or do you mean the forum?

  32. Andrew (Chagrin) says:

    This chapter is probably the pinnacle of the series to me. There are still lots of things I love later on (in addition to the bits I hate) but this chapter is just… sublime. Horrifying, tense, deeply emotional. Pullman did an INCREDIBLE job of building up the concept of daemons and making it feel so intensely real that this emotional payoff works far too well. God, it hurts.

  33. Yeah, that child clutching a piece of dried fish, not even a whole fish, is one of the awfullest things I've ever read. When I read this chapter, my husband said he cried and cried and I said I couldn't talk about it.

  34. linguisticisms says:

    How is the review for this chapter ridiculously adorable?

    Oh, right. Mark is adorable.

  35. notemily says:

    Looking back on it now, with all the hints they drop about how important daemons are and how awful it is to be separated from yours, it seems OBVIOUS that intercision is cutting someone's daemon away. But I had no idea, and I loved watching you have no idea, Mark. We've all been waiting for this.

    For some reason I thought that Iorek would be offended by the thought of Lyra wanting to RIDE him, like he's a common horse or something. I think I'm remembering some other book, though? I can't think what it is, but it's nagging at me.

    I do love that Iorek isn't like "I'm never afraid," he says "WHEN I am afraid, I will master the fear." He accepts that fear will come, but knows that it can be overcome. Love him.

    I like that daemons have a sense of their own, that their humans don't share: a feeling that something awful is happening regarding other daemons. Lyra doesn't know what he's so stressed about, and he might not even know himself, just that something is WRONG WRONG WRONG.

    The sentence about how it would be better if the child dies is just heartbreaking. What kind of future is there for a child with no daemon? Also, "SOMETIMES THEY DIE QUICKLY" HOW MANY OTHER CHILDREN ARE THERE 🙁 🙁 🙁

    • Mauve_Avenger says:

      "For some reason I thought that Iorek would be offended by the thought of Lyra wanting to RIDE him, like he's a common horse or something. I think I'm remembering some other book, though? I can't think what it is, but it's nagging at me."

      I'm not sure if I thought this at the time (come to think of it, I don't know which book I read first, though I'm guessing I read Golden Compass after), but I know that there was a point where I wondered why Iroek(Iorek. Iroek looks like a Iroh/Iorek shipping name.) wouldn't be offended like Bane was in Sorcerer's Stone, and the way you phrased it reminded me:

      "'Firenze!' Bane thundered. 'What are you doing? You have a human on your back! Have you no shame? Are you a common mule?'"

    • cait0716 says:

      You're probably thinking of Harry Potter and the centaurs. Maybe Iorek is more than a little like Firenze; he could be unique in letting a human ride him.

    • NightFly says:

      Narnia books?

  36. Marie says:

    Haha, I remember that, when I read it I couldn't help but think "just you wait and see…"

  37. fantasylover120 says:

    I have my issues with Pullman sure, but seriously the man can write and scenes like this is proof of that. I don't even live in a world with daemons and I feel like this is one of the creepiest/wrongist things I've read. That takes some definite skill.

  38. Hooray, the mystery of intercision finally clarified!


    This book. This book.

  39. carma_bee says:

    When I got to this whole part on the audiobook, I was close to crying (close because I was on the train with other people around) because it was so upsetting. 🙁

  40. enigmaticagentscully says:

    ooooooh I love this chapter. I mean…not in a creepy sadistic way, of course it's just AWFUL. But I just love how it works so well! I mean, think about it, at the start of this book, we didn't even know what Daemons were. But Pullman has spent this whole time subtly building up just how vital they are to a person's existence that the second we see the boy with his daemon cut away…we KNOW just how horrific this is. And we FEEL what Lyra feels at that moment.

  41. sabra_n says:


    …Sorry, all this talk of creepy children had me reminiscing.

  42. rumantic says:

    Ohhh I was so dreading this part. I was all for you reading the series, and then when you started reading it I was all "Yay!" and then I REMEMBERED THE HORROR OF THIS and I felt bad.

    Also, I think it's incredible the way the most important foreshadowing/plot point up until here has been something that was just presented so amazingly matter-of-factly, never expressly told, just shown in almost every paragraph, constant little references to the relationship one has with one's daemon, slowly building up the idea of it, of the sense of having a daemon, until you almost take it for granted while simultaneously being aware of how awesome it would also be, and then this…

    And that is, IMO, why the movie was never really going to come close. How can you build up that sense of the human-daemon relationship in an hour? (if that?) I remember trying to explain this part of the book to someone who hadn't read it and it didn't matter how much I explained, they didn't get why it was such a horrifying concept. You just can't convey it in a short explanation or on a film screen. It doesn't work.

    I will never ever understand people who say reading is boring.

  43. Ellalalalala says:

    This chapter was absolutely devastating. There are no words. why why why why why why why

    But that picture of your response, Mark! Not only does it say it everything that needs to be said about the whole thing, but it's freakin hilarious!

  44. pennylane27 says:

    My stomach hurts and I'm all tense just from reading the review. Knowing what's coming at the end of the chapter doesn't make rereading this any easier or lessen the sense of impending doom. WHAT DOES THIS BOOK DO TO ME.

    I think that the worst part is that you can't understand why would anyone want to do that to little children. There's no way to justify it. They're their souls. And I'm not sure I even believe in souls, but the image of a boy with no soul clutching a dead fish produces such despair and sadness and rage. BRAVO PULLMAN

    And Mark, I don't know how you are managing to spend a whole week without knowing what happens next. I don't care how much riding you have to distract yourself, I would be agonising.

  45. dbmacp says:

    Whenever I think about this scene, I think of it in black and white.

    it should also be noted that while I hate this chapter, I really fucking love this chapter.

  46. What's really amazing to me is how effectively Pullman achieves reader buy-in on his world. The end of Chapter 12 wouldn't be nearly as horrifying if we had not come to believe, viscerally, in the wrongness of being without a daemon.

    Also, because I am a terrible, nitpicky copyeditor in my soul of souls:

    When Iorek shares that he is to obey Lord Faa, Lyra resolves to get the man’s position, imploring his sense of reason.

    Attack of the lightning bugs! I think Mark means "permission" here, not "position." Your typos (brain-os?), they are adorable.

  47. pica_scribit says:

    Yup. Totally not prepared. Even people who have seen the movie are Not Prepared, because WTF was up with the end of it?!

  48. BradSmith5 says:

    Yeah, figuring out how my OWN soul works is confusing enough! Would I die? Become like that kid in this chapter? But make no mistake, dæmons aside, being kidnapped and abandoned in a town that thinks you're a zombie is still terrifying. I hope we get to hear things from the child's point of view; I'm interested in what he has to say.

    Oh, and your icon is SPECTACULAR along with your name. I love those little guys.

  49. xynnia says:


  50. SueW says:

    Thanks for reminding me of my first reading of this book. My boyfriend at the time (about 2004) gave me a copy of the trilogy for Christmas, I think. I started reading and couldn't put it down. I love the way it makes intercision sound *even worse* than merely sawing kids in half. *shudder*

  51. Danielle says:

    There are several Moments in this series for which you are IN NO WAY PREPARED OMG and for which I am super-excited to read your reactions. This was the first one on the list and it did not disappoint. We need more photos of your reactions.
    I have a better idea. You film yourself reading the chapter out loud so we can see your reactions IN REAL TIME.

  52. Brieana says:

    Mark remember how pissed off you were at JKR for splitting up the twins?
    Can you imagine being cut off from your own soul like this poor little boy? :'( So sad.

  53. Jaria says:

    <img src=>
    forever. lo siento.

  54. Tingojr says:

    Oh I remember being eleven and crying over tests I didn't ace.
    Awesome chapter, horrifying, beautifully written and beautiful all at the same time.

  55. Stephalopolis says:


    Although… I must say- I don't know if maybe I was subconciously remembering that awful movie, or perhaps I've read so many books in my lifetime, or my awesome deducing capabilities…. This is what I've been kind of expecting the big reveal to be. I mean, they weren't obviously cutting children in half, and the book has kept throwing out hints about how daemons are part of us (ha- look at that, I say "us" as if I have a daemon too. Where is my daemon?? *endless tears*) So this entire time reading the book, I've been suspecting that the Gobblers were actually separating daemons and children from each other. So… yeah, I was right, but not happy about it because that's an awful thing to do. Especially since we learned just last chapter (two chapters ago?) about how awful Lyra and Pantalaimon felt just being slightly apart from each other. To be completely cut off…. Chilling and awful.

  56. Patrick721 says:

    He does not claim to never feel fear; rather, when it comes, he will face it and master it

    I know this post is kinda late, but I'm rereading these, and this part kinda jumped out at me. Actually, it reminds me of the Bene Gesserit Litany Against Fear from Dune.

    I must not fear.
    Fear is the mind-killer.
    Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
    I will face my fear.
    I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
    And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
    Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
    Only I will remain.

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