Mark Reads ‘The Golden Compass’: Chapter 15

In the fifteenth chapter of The Golden Compass, Lyra schemes with the other children caught by the Gobblers to find a way to escape, and in the process, she discovers more about the ramifications of intercision. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Golden Compass.

just please give me a break my brain and my heart cannot handle much more


I love that I get to absolutely lose my shit over the plot being spilled forth here on the pages, and at the same time, it’s not mutually exclusive for me to be able to pick up on the wonderful bits of prose and character development. And while this chapter does not provide us with a complete break from the chaos, it does allow us to see more of Lyra’s ability to adapt to a situation drowning in fear and do what she does best: act on her own moral compass.

It wasn’t Lyra’s way to brood; she was a sanguine and practical child, and besides, she wasn’t imaginative. No one with much imagination would have thought seriously that it was possible to come all this way and rescue her friend Roger; or, having thought it, an imaginative child would immediately have come up with several ways in which it was impossible. Being a practiced liar doesn’t mean you have a powerful imagination. Many good liars have no imagination at all; it’s that which gives their lies such wide-eyed conviction.

What we’ve seen from Lyra certainly fits into this. Her life at Jordan College was pragmatic and brutish, and even as she’s finding out more about the world and having her life changed each day, she still sticks to this solid base of what her life has always been. In this sense (and maybe she’s partially inspired by Iorek Byrnison), she doesn’t allow fear to take her over. She knows that there are quite a few people who are on their way to help her, and she decides it’s best for her to approach the situation with her everyday curiosity.

Curiosity. I would have died by now. Lyra, you are a badass forever.

I know that Lyra said she was going to go after Roger, but I never considered that we would actually find him. It seemed to be an impossibility (guess I’m too imaginative for this book) that he was still alive at this point. But there, in the canteen the next morning, he sits at a table with other boys and when Pantalaimon goes to speak Roger’s dæmon, you can feel the joy and excitement jump from the pages. As awful as this situation has gotten, I must say that this is the first time that I felt hope that Lyra would find a way out of this. When I think about the impossible, absurd odds she’s faced and she still manages to get to the North to try save Roger, I can’t help but feel this is finally a good sign.

Of course, I’m probably going to regret saying that. Christ.

It’s also great to see how the two friends fall back right into their Jordan College roles:

But he saw how she looked away disdainfully, and he followed her example faithfully, as he’d done in a hundred Oxford battles and campaigns. No one must know, of course, because they were both in deadly danger. She rolled eyes at her new friends, and they collected their trays of cornflakes and toast and sat together, an instant gang, excluding everyone else in order to gossip about them.

SERIOUSLY. I finally feel good about this. Roger and Lyra slide into this so easily and I have confidence that this is going to work in their favor. For the time being, this chapter is about waiting. This bizarre “station” treats the children in a way that ignores the reality of where they are. There are timed, scheduled activities and events. BEFORE INTERCISION. And this whole thing had already creeped me out, but it this pervasive air of detachment that is really getting to me. It’s even worse that those running the Experimental Station know that they aren’t even doing a good job at that. To a point, that will work to their advantage: these people are not quite that good at keeping an eye on the kids, their conversations, or what they are doing all of the time. Are they tired? Exhausted? Disinterested? We aren’t told and I’m not even sure it matters at this point.

Taking opportunity of the lack of attention paid to them, a bunch of the children have another conversation about dæmons, which piques Lyra’s interest when one of the girls mention Tony Makarios. That specific girl claims to know why these children are taken away one-by-one: It’s timed for when their dæmon stops changing. Now, she could be entirely wrong and I’m being misdirected, or it’s just a girl gossiping. Either way, the more speculation we get here in this chapter, the less I seem to understand about why the Oblation Board would need to continually cut away a person’s dæmon and how that has to do with Dust and the Aurora.

I’m more willing to believe the first girl, who says she was in the same room with Tony when he was taken, about what this process is like. She tells them that the nurse calmly told Tony that he was just getting an operation, “something to make you more grown up.”

what the fuck does this mean. More grown up? But grown ups have dæmons. And now we’ve seen what happens when a person is severed from their dæmon (THE SADDEST DEATH EVER).

I DON’T UNDERSTAND someone hold me. Is this just an example of how pervasive the lying is by the people in charge? Ugh, seriously my brain. And it doesn’t help that Sister Clara arrives to take away one of the girls and she’s certainly not going to come back.


The shouts of the children, the shrieks and hoots of the dæmons, filled the little gymnasium and soon banished fearful thoughts; which of course was exactly what the exercise intended to do.

OK I’M RIGHT. The people running this place are fucking awful.

But the chapter continues to swing from joy to dread, and just when I’m starting to slip away from feeling like there’s hope, BILLY COSTA FINDS LYRA. Oh my god, BILLY IS ALIVE. Lyra is quick to reassure him that the gyptians and John Faa are on their way and I simply cannot ruin the beauty of this moment. IT IS JUST SO WONDERFUL. And it changes what I expected Lyra to experience here in chapter 15: I thought she’d have to do this all by herself. Honestly! She didn’t know anyone here, she couldn’t have anticipated finding Roger and Billy, and everything about this book suggests this is a lonely journey for Lyra.

SO THIS IS A MASSIVE BOOST FOR ME. She now has TWO boys to help her out and for just a brief moment, this all seems all right to me. The first bit of that is when Roger reveals to Lyra that he found a possible hiding place in the ceiling, behind the panels. For Lyra though, it’s not a hiding spot: it’s a method of escape. This is yet another way that Pullman grabs me tenderly, hugging me, telling me that everything is going to be ok: Lyra has friends in this place, she has a hiding spot, and then a doctor announces that there’ll be a practice fire drill, pretty much setting this up for so much convenience that it would be foolish not to make an attempt to escape.

This carried me through the next scene and I bristled with excitement to learn more about the medical procedures that the Oblation Board carry out in the base. I didn’t feel that this was going to be an issue for Lyra; there’s no way that they’d cut away her dæmon so early into the story, so I was glad that this was just a chance for Pullman to give us some more hints towards what the Oblation Board is doing while building on the unsettling atmosphere of this place.

A lot of the talk between Lyra and the doctor isn’t too revealing, though it is fun to watch Lyra push all of the doctor’s buttons by acting so shy and knowledgable at the same time. The doctor continues to pass along the same old story, that they’re not hurting anyone, but he says something that is just weird to me.

“When we take children out, it’s because it’s time for them to move on to another place. They’re growing up. I’m afraid your friend is alarming herself.”

We know they’re lying. Right? Except…now I’m starting to doubt myself. What if there is an element of truth to what this man says? What does he mean by moving on to “another place”? Why was Tony so far from this place? Why is it so important to know the weight of one’s dæmon? What are they testing for?

Gosh, I simply cannot put the pieces together and because I’m doing this so publicly, I FEEL RATHER EMBARRASSED ABOUT IT. You know, since you all know the intricate pieces and I know nothing.

(PS: Someone pointed out how many times Pullman uses the word “Presently” to start sentences in the comments not too long ago and now I cannot unsee this at all. good god what have you done to my brain)

Oh, The Golden Compass. I was so comfortable for a moment. I felt like Pullman had patted me on the head, reassuring me that this was the time for the tides to turn away from all the bleak, awful shit we’d learned about the Oblation Board, about Lyra’s kidnapping, about the death of poor Tony. We are given that fire drill referenced earlier and I honestly, truly believed that we were going to witness Lyra’s escape from the Experimental Station. The disorganization works in the group’s favor and one beautifully planted snowball sets off a chain reaction that just adds to the chaos, enough for three young children to be able to sneak off and stumble away in the snow to see what they can find around the place they are being held in.

It wasn’t a disappointing realization to come to when I knew that this wasn’t going to be an escape mission quite yet, because it becomes clear to me that Lyra wants to utilize this tiny trip to gather more information about the place before she decides to escape. They come upon a “squat, square building” set apart from everything else. Adorned with a sign that says ENTRY STRICTLY FORBIDDEN, it is clearly where these kids need to break out into. RIGHT. I mean the sign should just say LYRA YOUR ANSWER IS IN HERE.

Oh gosh, and then Serafina’s dæmon arrives and THIS COULD NOT BE MORE PERFECT! John Faa DID NOT DIE! The gyptians are just a day’s journey out! And the dæmon has the ability to use snow to open the lock on the door! THIS IS SO AWESOME I FEEL SO GREAT EVERYTHING IS BEAUTIFUL AND NOTHING HURTS.

In a series of glass cases on shelves around the walls were all the dæmons of the severed children: ghostlike forms of cats, or birds, or rats, or other creatures, each bewildered and frightened and as pale as smoke.

I AM NEVER GOING TO HEAL FROM THE EXPERIENCE OF READING THIS GODDAMN BOOK. You have to be kidding me!!! THEY KEEP THE DÆMONS CAGED UP? And the dæmons literally lose their color once separated from their owners? WHY WHY WHY WHY IS ALL THIS. WHY. WHAT THE HELL FOR!!!!?!!?!?!?!? hold me close HOLD ME SOFTLY

In the dim light from a low-powered anbaric bulb she could see a name on a card at the front of each case, and yes, there was an empty one with Tony Makarios on it. There were four or five other empty ones with names on them, too.

Pullman has just tossed me out of my comfy and toasty bed and dumped a bucket of ice water on my head, reminding me yet again that nothing is sacred in this book. This is seriously awful. Disturbing. Unsettling. And it makes me pissed as hell. What the fuck is the Oblation Board doing to these children? How could anything that they are doing possibly justify what is going on here? How could an organization justify such suffering? For the greater good? For something else I haven’t come across yet? Ugh, seriously, y’all, this is so upsetting to me! And it is not even real. Props to Pullman for being able to convey just how horrible this so succinctly, too! We’re just in the first book and I already understand what a heinous act this is.

Everyone here in the story does, too, and Lyra almost lets her own rage and terror get the best of her, vocalizing her desire to smash open the cages and let the dæmons, but Serafina’s dæmon has a much better idea. (Thankfully.) They’ll make it look like someone forgot to lock the cages/door instead so as not to raise alarm.

And this is the sort of stuff that really does warm my icy heart. All of these folks risk death, pain, torture, and loss by choosing to do what they feel is right. For Lyra especially, Pullman has built up this character who is flawed in a few ways, but who is genuinely trying to navigate the world with her ethics intact. She listens to whatever voice she has in her head that nudges her the right way, and she’s able to react to these situations in remarkably unselfish ways. And she is eleven. We’ve also been able to see her growth from that bratty, snotty kid straddling two worlds at Jordan College, and over a short period of time, it’s been great to look back and see how some of those characteristics have disappeared.

Our little Lyra is maturing allow me this moment to sob

Lyra worked quickly, and within a few minutes every dæmon was free. Some were trying to speak, and they clustered around her feet and even tried to pluck at her leggings, though the taboo held them back. She could tell why, poor things: they missed the heavy solid warmth of their humans’ bodies; just as Pantalaimon would have done, they longed to press themselves against a heartbeat.

allow me to continue to sob. holy god this book. this is so gutting.

But feeling depressed about this is ok, because it’s such a traumatic idea. (I think the visual of gray-ish dæmons shuffling out of that building is just so difficult to think about for me.) It is both a sad and victorious moment. We are sad to learn that this is what the Oblation Board is doing to children, but we are lifted by the actions of Lyra and Serafina, who successfully free these captive dæmons. It is a good thing, and it’s one of the most redemptive scenes in the whole book. It’s hard to imagine something more evocative than the sight of a parade of dæmons being led off into the sky.

Knowing the full terror that could be brought upon them, Lyra, Billy, and Roger set forth to return to the group and begin plotting the mass breakout of the surviving children in the Experimental Station. Again, the mass disorganization by those running this terrible place is certainly going to help things, but the excitement I felt for this prospect was, once more, doused entirely by Pullman as the children realize that there’s a new wrinkle in their plan:

A zeppelin arrives just as order is returned to that arena-shaped area on the base and the spectacle of such a massive ship distracts everyone’s attention. And rightly so:

Lyra looked, and there was no mistake. Pantalaimon clutched at her, became a wildcat, hissed in hatred, because looking out with curiosity was the beautiful dark-haired head of Mrs. Coulter, with her golden dæmon in her lap.


About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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105 Responses to Mark Reads ‘The Golden Compass’: Chapter 15

  1. laleia says:

    One per chapter isn't too bad. Though now I'm imagining his editor going through and crossing out all the "Presentlies" with red pen and admonishing him for using them, and he's wheedling/negotiating trying to argue that one use per chapter is normal and he should even be allowed two per chapter on occasion.

  2. _Sparkie_ says:

    Oooh shiny new account 🙂 (I thought it was about time!)

    This book is relentless in how it plays with your emotions, from hope to horror to sheer terror; it is AMAZING! And just when we think things are going okay and the daemons have escaped, oh no! Nothing is safe-MRS COULTER IS HERE!! I thought Lyra had more time! How will she survive? Won't she be caught? Again?
    I don't know how you manage to stop reading Mark, I really don't!

  3. Mauve_Avenger says:

    "(PS: Someone pointed out how many times Pullman uses the word “Presently” to start sentences in the comments not too long ago and now I cannot unsee this at all. good god what have you done to my brain)"

    Since I've already read the book, I actually searched for all the 'presentlies' at one time. After the ones I quoted earlier, there was a two-chapter respite (Pullman, you were doing so well!), and now it's come back again, at least in these last three chapters (ten times in the last eleven chapters):
    From "Fencing":

    "The food revived Lyra, and presently the chill at her soul began to melt."

    From "Bolvangar Lights":

    "All the time the sledge was speeding onward, and Lyra pulled herself up more comfortably to try and see where they were heading; but the snow was falling thickly, and the sky was dark, and presently she became too cold to peer out any longer, and lay down."

    From "The Daemon Cages":

    Presently the doctor came back and they went on with the examination, weighing her and Pantalaimon separately, looking at her from behind a special screen, measuring her heartbeat, placing her under a little nozzle that hissed and have off a smell like fresh air."

    • hokieblood says:

      you realize i'm going to reread this soon, and all i'm going to see is PRESENTLY, i'll go crazy

    • Tilja says:

      Well, on the plus side, at least it was only once each chapter. That’s an improvement!

  4. Arione says:

    It burns me to say this… But I thought it and now I can’t unthink it… Mark, your mood swings are giving me whiplash.

  5. laleia says:

    Oops, this was supposed to be a reply to above.

  6. Maya says:

    For Lyra especially, Pullman has built up this character who is flawed in a few ways, but who is genuinely trying to navigate the world with her ethics intact. She listens to whatever voice she has in her head that nudges her the right way, and she’s able to react to these situations in remarkably unselfish ways. And she is eleven.

    And that is why, despite his overuse of the word "presently", Phillip Pullman is a FREAKING AMAZING WRITER. How rare is it to see such a well-developed child character? Love love love this author.

  7. cait0716 says:

    I really, really dislike Pullman's characterization of Lyra as unimaginative. Every single time it just completely rubs me the wrong way. We've seen how creative she is, how she's able to solve problems. She is able to interpret the symbols on the alethiometer with more and more ease, something that certainly requires imagination. She spent most of her early life leading war efforts among the children in Oxford; you don't get to be a leader without an imagination. And then Pullman brushes off her ability to lie as just not requiring that much imagination which also doesn't ring true for me. It could just be that he and I have a slightly different understanding of psychology. But even in this chapter, Lyra displays that she is more imaginative than most people around her. She asks Kaisa if witches can pull the balloon. That's thinking outside the box and that requires imagination. I'd be happier if he called her optimistic or pragmatic. She is certainly both these things and they are characteristics that I think would lead to the same curiosity and lack of depression. But Lyra unimaginative? Are you talking about the same character?


    • FlameRaven says:

      Hmm… I always read it as Pullman using 'unimaginative' to describe the way she doesn't seem to be able to think out the possible consequences of any action. This isn't hugely unusual for children, I think (although I'm no expert in psychology). What Pullman is saying is that she doesn't worry about things because she isn't making up all the scenarios in her head about how badly things could go wrong. She's definitely creative and inventive, but there is also this very practical, down-to-earth sense to her where she basically just assumes everything will work out and doesn't even imagine that it could go any other way. She doesn't really visualize multiple scenarios in any situation she's in: she just gathers up the information and then, if necessary, spins it into a more useful form than the actual truth.

      I don't know if that properly explains it, but I do understand what Pullman means and I can see why he used the word he did.

      (If it helps to make any more sense, I would describe myself as a pretty imaginative kid, always making up these fantasy stories and such in my head, and even at five or six I had some trouble because we'd watch, say, a hospital/disaster show on TV and I would then be FULL OF TERROR as I imagined like fifty different terrible things that could happen to my house while I was asleep. Tornadoes, fires, whatever, I was constantly terrified of them for a long time, because I could imagine these things happening, but didn't have the experience to understand "that's not really likely." Lyra is untroubled because she lacks that ability to imagine possibilities, like the possibility that the gyptians WON'T show up in time.)

      • cait0716 says:

        I can see it as saying that she doesn't consider consequences. But I think that's more childish than unimaginative. It's not that she couldn't think about consequences if she tried, it's just that she doesn't. I think it has more to do with her innocence, as you alluded to.

      • Ellalalalala says:

        I think it's possible that you were my childhood twin. Most of my inner world revolved around ABJECT FEAR of all the terrible things that could happen. That kind of imagination isn't all that great!

    • @sab39 says:

      I feel the same way every time I read that bit. The only way I can rationalize it is that it's referring to a very specific kind of imagination that she lacks – imagining all the ways that things might go wrong. But it's still a stretch and I don't like it a bit either.

    • Partes says:

      I interpreted it to mean that she simply doesn't think about anything outside the present, rather than being in any way insulting. While she has shown an incredible ability to weave stories – look at her when she describes her adventures, and the tale of Lord Asriel and the Sword Fighting Wildman – she never really thinks about what could go wrong. Life to Lyra is simply something that will go according to her plan, at least to a certain extent, and I think this is a key difference between her and many other children: the idea that things won't go her way just isn't something she ever seriously considers. Hell, when she was kidnapped last chapter she was described as "feeling sorry for herself." She is at heart a pragmatist, and her plans reflect that. She tends to not dwell on the supernatural, even in a world with such amazement as her own, and finds fascination in life rather than in her own mind.

      Saying she had no imagination was, to me, merely another way of saying that she had a very strong sense of her place in the world and reality. She doesn't really dwell on the fanciful unless it's very much related to her present conditions and life.

      • cait0716 says:

        I don't think it's insulting, I think it's just not quite the best word to use. Her imagination is certainly born of what's currently happening to her, but that doesn't mean it doesn't exist. I understand what Pullman was going for. But the word choice bugs me.

        • Partes says:

          It did throw me off the first time I read it, so I can understand that. I think that is was chosen, however, to make a distinction between the fanciful thinking of the average child – such as Roger – as opposed to someone like Lyra, who can harness the same wild thoughts but apply them to her reality without much difficulty at such a young age. I'm not sure I entirely agree with the choice, but it keeps the reader from assuming Lyra lies and thinks of her ideas like she does merely because she must; she does it like that because it's who she is.

    • Mauve_Avenger says:

      This is me, as well. Especially since it seems to directly contradict an earlier scene in which Pantalaimon turns into a freaking dragon because he's "contemptuous of the limited imaginations" of the other children's daemons around him.

      I think I get what Pullman was going for here, but he could've done a lot better job expressing it.

    • leighzzz31 says:

      To be honest, that description throws me off everytime I read the book. But I think it's mostly that there's a difference between how Pullman interprets the term and how I usually use it. Lyra is imaginitive (it seems to me as a reader) but in a very grounded, pragmatic way. She doesn't bother with letting her fear or excitement get in the way (like most kids would do – I think I, as a kid, would have probably spent my time imagining all the awful things that might happen to me in Bolvangar) but she solves the problem at hand with just the necessary amount of creativity. That interpretation helps me put that description in context otherwise I guess I'd be side-eyeing it everytime I read it.

      • cait0716 says:

        I'm so glad I'm not the only one who thinks this. I think Lyra is imaginative the way a mathematician is, not the way a sculptor is. It's a different, more pragmatic use of imagination. She won't make something out of nothing, but she definitely has an imagination.

    • Tilja says:

      I believe as you do, it doesn't sound quite right when you think about how she can find creative ways to deal with scary situations, and that kind of creativity requires imagination. At the same time, the pragmatism puts you in mind of someone who can't imagine troubles and make themselves depressed by thinking things that didn't happen yet; they just solve whatever comes upon their way without imagining troubles before they arrive.

      That, precisely, is where I think Pullman's error lies. He uses "imagination" as a synonym for "fancy", when they are completely different takes on the concept of "images of the mind." Being imaginative doesn't mean being fanciful, creating an illusion devoid of reality, thus making you feel worried with things that never happened. Lyra has "imagination", the power to invoque things to mind in order to make sense of situations; she isn't "fanciful", she doesn't have the power of illusion, what she uses, she takes from reality and creates a story or situation within the realm of logical possibility.

      I believe Pullman simplified the meaning so much that he misused the term. Maybe he thought that children wouldn't understand the concept of illusion and fancy, so he just used imagination as the same thing. I don't know, it's my way to try to explain that senseless concept he used there.

      • cait0716 says:

        I really like this explanation, thank you. It's interesting to think that Pullman would try to simplify the term, given all the other difficult vocabulary in includes in these books. I could believe that he, or even an editor, thought imagination and fancy had closer to the same meaning than they do. Of course, this is why thesauri can be dangerous.

        • theanagrace says:

          I wonder if this passage is the same between the UK and US versions? It's possible (even just a tiny bit) that maybe Pullman wanted to use a word like 'fancy' and it got edited to 'imagination' either in the first round, or in the translation from UK to US. Not super likely, but possible.

    • @Arachne110 says:

      Yeah. That paragraph threw me off the first time I read it too. The way everybody has discussed it here makes more sense to me. I think he ended up with the wrong word to say what he meant.

      And although I love the way he tells this story, I generally don't love the narrator stepping away from the story with waxing explanations of the protagonists character. So it jarred me a little bit here for that reason as well.

      • cait0716 says:

        You're right, part of it is definitely that Pullman steps outside the narration for a moment. It becomes clear that he's telling the story. I hadn't considered that perspective before

    • sabra_n says:

      I think he's trying to differentiate between creativity and lateral thinking – which Lyra is absolutely capable of – and ruminative imagination, which isn't really her cup of tea. Lyra has kind of an engineer's mentality – very practical, very down-to-earth, not given to pondering theoretical ideas just for the hell of it. When given a problem like "Roger has been kidnapped to the North", her primary response is to plan out how to get him back given the resources and knowledge she has at the time. She's not a dreamer.

      • cait0716 says:

        That's an interesting perspective. I'm still not sure I like his word choice, but your explanation makes it a bit easier to understand what he was going for

    • BradSmith5 says:

      He tells instead of shows; that's what rubs ME the wrong way. Let me be the one to decide if she's imaginative or not. You have every right to get angry when an author just outright states their opinion of a character like this.

    • laleia says:

      When I first read that sentence, I had to reread it 2-3 times because I was sure I was reading it wrong or my version of the book was wrong or something because I couldn't imagine Lyra as lacking imagination. When I read it through and thought about it, however, I think he's trying to present a different perspective on what imagination means and what the implications of having a lurid imagination might be. Plus, I feel that having an imagination is generally a positive trait these days but I don't think it's always been the case … (At least, Anne Shirley used to get in trouble all the time for her imagination.)

  8. FlameRaven says:

    My impression of the girls' gossip is that it's probably an equal mix of rumor, hearsay, lies from the adults, and actual truth. Like any organization with a lot of kids, the kids are going to make up their own rationalizations for what's happening to them. Considering that we have heard before that Dust only seems to gather around people whose daemons have settled (think back to the first chapter– the adult had Dust, the child did not) the part about them taking away kids whose daemons don't change is probably true. The kids don't know why they do this or what happens, but obviously their guesses are not far off, with their idea of "killing your daemon and seeing if you die."

    Also, I never realized it until this reread, but did anyone else get the subtext that Bridget and Tony were making out when she says they were "in the linen closet, being quiet"?

    As for keeping the severed daemons around– it's an Experimental Station, so I'm assuming they continue to do tests on the daemons after they're severed. What kind of tests, we don't know. I would speculate that it could be things like seeing if the daemons can still change, how solid they are (this might be why they weigh daemons before intercision), how long they can be separated from their person… etc. None of these are GOOD experiments but it's quite clear at this point that no one at the station seems to be much interested in the consequences of what they're doing, just the Science! of it.

    • cait0716 says:

      I definitely thought Bridget and Tony were making out. It plays into the idea that they're closer to adulthood than some of the other children around, since they're also the next two children that disappear.

    • blis says:

      the thought of them doing even more experiments on the severed daemons breaks my heart!

    • @sab39 says:

      I'm not sure I'd necessarily take it as "making out" – we're specifically told in an earlier chapter that every child the Gobblers take has not reached puberty yet – but I definitely took it as some sort of experimenting along those lines, yes (and I think it took me a couple of rereads as well). My guess is that they're at the age where they sort of understand that there's "something there" to know about boy-girl interaction but not quite biologically equipped to really grasp it yet?

      Based on my memories of my own childhood I speculate it might have been a "show you mine if you show me yours" thing, or the sort of kissing that happens on a dare rather than because they actually understand why people would WANT to do that.

      • FlameRaven says:

        Eh, kids experiment a lot when they're young. Several of my friends are teachers, and I've heard far too many stories about 12-13 year olds having sex and 14 year olds with one or two kids to believe that those who are younger aren't at least experimenting. The mental maturity for actual relationships isn't there, but the hormones definitely are.

        • pica_scribit says:

          But…when Tony was introduced, weren't we told he was about nine? That seems awfully young to me, even thought I, too, have friends who were experimenting sexually when they were 12 and 13.

          • cait0716 says:

            My friends and I were doing some experimenting as young as seven. It all depends on the kid

          • Mauve_Avenger says:

            I think it was said that Tony's mother thought he was nine, but wasn't exactly sure and he could be either one year younger or older.

    • leighzzz31 says:

      Also, I never realized it until this reread, but did anyone else get the subtext that Bridget and Tony were making out when she says they were "in the linen closet, being quiet"?

      LOL, in hindsight that makes a lot of sense. I just reread the book and never caught that. I guess I'm more innocent than I thought I was.

    • tchemgrrl says:

      It's the fact that she looks around expecting giggles that made me think they were doing something-or-other in there (or at least, she's grown-up enough to understand that someone might THINK that). Lyra would have no shame about discussing escape plans with Roger or Billy in the linen closet and wouldn't have paused in that way if she was telling a story

      • Yeah, it was that part that sold me on it. She blushed and expected to be teased. Pullman already said in the chapter that most of the kids were at the age where they self-segregate by gender, so she'd only have that reaction if she was with a boy doing something.

  9. Sara says:



  10. Tilja says:

    Mark, read a bit better. Lyra is TWELVE. Didn’t you pay attention at how she recalled people telling her she was small for her age, how she never considered it important but it was another way to make Lizzy look even more insignificant? You’ve got to pay attention to those little details; Lyra used her smallness to her advantage, she lied about her age. Just thought this clarification necessary. Age matters to those at Bolvangar, a fact stated by the descriptions of Tony.

    And speaking of Tony, doesn’t it break your heart to remember the description way back about what his drunk mother thought happened to her child? All the cries cannot express so much depression.

    • cait0716 says:

      I thought Lyra was eleven, too. That'll teach me to believe anything she says. I can't remember reading that she's twelve, do you remember where it is in the book?

      Lyra's such a good liar she managed to confuse wikipedia. The article about the novel claims she's eleven:

      And the article about the character says she's twelve at the beginning of the trilogy:

      Careful, both those links will have spoilers.

      • Mauve_Avenger says:

        I think it's rather unclear at this point. I'm pretty sure what Tilja's referencing above is the scene when Sister Clara asks Lyra questions on her way to the shower room.

        "And how old are you?"
        Lyra had been told that she was small for her age, whatever that meant. It had never affected her sense of her own importance, but she realized that she could use the fact now to make Lizzie shy and nervous and insignificant, and shrank a little as she went into the room.

        I know some read this as Lyra lying about her age to make herself seem even more inconspicuous, but I've always read it as saying that her age doesn't match her appearance and she wants to exaggerate that discrepancy to her advantage.

        • cait0716 says:

          I read it the same way as you. It really is hard to tease out Lyra's intentions from her actions. I hadn't thought about other interpretations before, but I like that they exist.

        • _Sparkie_ says:

          Yup I'm in agreement. I genuinely think that she is eleven, but that she can use the fact she's small to emphasise the meekness she wants people to perceive her as.

        • Tilja says:

          I read this as Lyra lying about her age always because of a very simple fact about me: I’m small for my age but it doesn’t change my view of myself either, nor it ever did when I was that young.

          For me, Lyra is doing what I would unconsciously do: if using my smallness and telling my own age, I wouldn’t shrink, just bend my head; but if I try to pass on for a younger age, I would definitely try to shrink to look small, even though I know I don’t need to. It’s an unconscious reaction to try to imitate something you aren’t in real life.

          That was always my point of view from my own experience because it sounded so much like what I would have to do and how I would react. Being small for your age doesn’t mean that you believe you are of a different age than what your birth certificate tells you, it just means that others don’t see you as that, even if you do. I’ve had my own experiences attempting to pass on as a different age, and even though I looked the part, I still made myself shrink to “look the part” in my mind. It never crossed my mind that I didn’t have to do it because of what I looked like. My belief is that if Lyra was telling her right age, she would’ve used a different method to look”insignificant”. To me, she always tried to look younger by that way of shrinking before entering; that’s an unconscious reaction for smallness, not for insignificance, and I know the difference from experience (as an example, I read this book when I was 16 and people thought I was 11 by my looks; try as I may, I couldn’t get them to believe differently until I talked, then they couldn’t match the looks with the words and had to ask me my age; that’s how I know the difference).

          There’s also what someone else pointed out: Lyra might very well have had her twelve birthday after she left Oxford and try to pass on as if she hadn’t.

    • MichelleZB says:

      Lyra, you manipulative little snot. How we love you.

      • ComputerizedWoman says:

        I think she was 11 but probably turned 12 sometime in the book. This would make the most sense. And if I say more to explain why I would be spoiling.

  11. majere616 says:

    This chapter was when I concluded that every member of the Oblation Board, and anyone who in any way supported it should DIE IN ALL OF THE FIRES!

    • _Sparkie_ says:

      Well I wasn't best pleased with them after the whole Tony incident to be honest, but it's true the daemon cages are even more fucked up, if possible.

  12. FlameRaven says:

    Which is really interesting, because if you asked me if mathematicians were imaginative, I'd probably say no. But then, I'm an artist and I have a hard time understanding how you would apply creativity and such to numbers. Numbers tend to break my brain a little, so being able to play with them, which I understand mathematicians do, is kind of incomprehensible to me.

    • MichelleZB says:

      But when artists and mathematicians get together, they often find that they really have the same kind of creative imaginations–that sort of mental layout of future possibilities swarming around in their brains.

      I am an artist, too.

  13. t09yavorski says:

    My favorite part of the the audiobook is when Pullman is describing Roger and "his Lyra". Pullman said it with so much feeling that I even hear it in my head when I am reading along.

    I am not a fan of Pullman's definition of imagination here. I would think that believing that her impossible sounding goals were possible without question takes a quite a bit of imagination. It is knowing that your thoughts are just your imagination that leads to doubt and the paranoia of how it is impossible. I suppose it is the fact that Lyra doesn't believe she has much imagination that makes hers good but to say she doesnt have one at all is rather ridiculous (also confusing for younger me, I just worked this out right now.), also it contradicts the moment earlier in the story where Pantilimon scoffs at the imagination of the other children's daemons for their battle forms.

  14. MichelleZB says:

    Look, guys, we are nowhere near chagrin territory here. Do we even have a confirmation that SMEYER knew what "chagrin" meant?

    • Mauve_Avenger says:

      Actually, if we're only talking about frequency here, the internets have counted fifteen instances of 'chagrin' in the entire series (not counting the unpublished one), only four times in the first book. Pullman has used 'presently' ten times so far and we're only on the fifteenth chapter out of (I think) sixty-one.

      I think that most of the quotes I've seen of Meyer's–chagrinification–sort of make sense, they're just nonsensical in that no one could seriously read an "expression of chagrin" on someone's face (which I guess is consistent; Meyer seems completely unaware of how human expressions work in other instances, too).

      …And then I read a tiny excerpt of Midnight Sun in which someone is described as having an expression of "chagrined fury," and suddenly any doubt I had about Meyer's vocabulary came surging back tenfold.

  15. They're always sniggering, I've noticed.

  16. FlameRaven says:

    I'm not saying that mathematicians don't have imagination, just that it's difficult for me to wrap my mind around that kind of thinking. What I was really suggesting is that there are probably several different types of thinking that could all equally be called 'imagination,' and with that in mind, it's easier to understand what Pullman meant by saying that Lyra was unimaginative.

    • leighzzz31 says:

      … there are probably several different types of thinking that could all equally be called 'imagination,' and with that in mind, it's easier to understand what Pullman meant by saying that Lyra was unimaginative.

      Yes, that's my take on Pullman's use of the word 'imagination'. It's a word left to your own interpretation which can make that passage a little strange. But, taken into context, I think it can make sense.

  17. cait0716 says:

    I think manipulating those functions is part of the creativity of mathematicians, too. In all my math, physics, and engineering classes one of the common factors was finding interesting ways to multiply by 1 or add 0 in order to get an equation where you want it to go. This is just as true for applying trig or calculus to a real-world problem as it is to creating a new algebra or proving something obscure in graph theory

  18. Pullman is the master at reversals: Things will be okay … well, crap … no, this could be good … uh-oh … wait, maybe … fuck.

    • _Sparkie_ says:

      So true, and what's more this all happens within just a few pages, and then repeated in seemingly every chapter! You are never safe!

  19. BeckyJ says:

    "For the Greater Good," you say??
    I've got it all figured out now. Young Dumbledore and Grindelwald are the heads of the Oblation Board, not Coulter. She's just a puppet. Oh, and the sign for the Deathly Hallows is probably etched above the gates to Bolvanger.

    GOD I'M SORRY there is definitely something wrong with me

    • ohheyitsalliek says:

      I THOUGHT OF THAT TOO! The last time I read those words… Grindelwald was behind it. Awesome crossover! 😀

  20. theanagrace says:

    She has been away from Oxford a long time, she was with Mrs. Coulter for a long time, and then the journey north, I think it's likely her birthday has come and passed without any fanfare.

    • Mauve_Avenger says:

      I just checked, and I'm actually quite surprised that the book so far has only encompassed about two or three months.

      The first few chapters in Oxford only last a couple of days, then the chapters with Mrs. Coulter last about six weeks, then Lyra spends about a week or two with the gyptians before heading North. It's hard to put an actual time-span on the gyptian journey to the Roping, because the chapter says there were a lot of detours and stops along the way but never says how long it actually takes.

      Then after the few days at the Roping there are a few days at sea, and then they spend about two days at Trollesund talking to the consul/trying to get Iorek. I think they leave Trollesund that same afternoon and Lyra discovers Tony late that night. After that, I think, time gets a little bit fuzzy, but I think the fencing conversation with Iorek happens at around noon the next day, and Lyra's capture probably happens the next day or so after that.

      • rumantic says:

        I remember reading something about the timespan of each book. It's probably spoilery though, since I think it references events in the other books, so I won't go looking for it. But if you've read them and you want to, it's out there somewhere.

  21. pennylane27 says:

    I have nothing interesting or coherent to say, as usual. I will content myself by expressing the terror Mrs. Coulter makes me feel and refrain from spoiling. That is all.

  22. flootzavut says:

    Still not prepared…

  23. flootzavut says:

    By the way, I *think* the girl who gets taken away is the one who seemed to know something. Which makes it feel even more horrific and Big Brother esque!

  24. Anseflans says:

    I just did some calculations and I found out that since I'm leaving the country (and internet) for 5 WEEKS next week, I'm going to miss Mark's final chapter review, WHICH IS UTTER TRAGEDY. I CANNOT WAIT 5 WEEKS!!!

    Eternal sadness.

  25. notemily says:

    I don't know if I agree with Pullman's assertion that Lyra isn't imaginative. About the future, maybe she's not, but she's certainly imaginative enough to think up outrageous embellishments to the stories she told the Oxford kids.

    You said "for the greater good" but I WILL REFRAIN from posting that video clip from Hot Fuzz again. BUT JUST BARELY.

    I love Kaisa, and how he's just wandering around being badass while his human is off doing political shit or whatever. He's like "HI, LET ME USE MY MAGICAL SNOW POWERS TO DO THINGS." Best daemon ever?

    It's so awful that the taboo prevents the lost daemons from touching Lyra. I wanted her to pick them all up and snuggle them. 🙁

  26. Is there a distiction between the bad imaginings and good?

    Analysis paralysis, maybe? I always figured Pullman was saying that Lyra isn't Hamlet about stuff. She just goes into situations, one at a time and not really connected to each other, either (planning? What?), and gets the job done. Which is quite appropriate for her upbringing and her cognitive development, psychologically speaking.

  27. rumantic says:

    And in the final battle, she kept using the phrase "screams/shouts/spells/SOUNDS rent the air". It kept sticking out to me because I'd never heard it before, and she used it 3 or 4 times.

  28. BradSmith5 says:

    I think a few to many convenient things happen in this chapter. First off, that fire alarm. These guys have an army of angry parents out there, an incoming VIP, unethical tests to run, and they're worried about fires!? It would be cool if there was some fire-breathing chimera locked up in a chamber somewhere that would justify it, though.

    And then the goose flies down just when Lyra needs to open some locked doors. And––what do you know!––the goose can open doors. WITH SNOWFLAKES. Someone's being unimaginative here, and it sure isn't Lyra. 😛

  29. Partes says:

    There are perfectly rational explanation for both those things.

    On the first point, yep, they're going to worry about fires. Why? As this chapter proved, they are completely and totally unprepared for that kind of event and needed to see how they handled it (badly). They're a laboratory first and foremost, and so the idea that they wouldn't have at least basic fire alarms is crazy, especially in a facility where they keep children. They don't know the parents are coming – how could they? – and they seem to be scientists first and foremost, and so their concerns are with keeping the facility running. As they should be.

    And Serafina's daemon explained this: she'd been watching the entire time, waiting for a free moment. She's essentially a witch's soul; it's not like her only power is the magical ability to open locks. That's clearly just one of her many potential abilities.

    • BradSmith5 says:

      It's not that they know the parents are coming, but that they should be cautious about letting anyone know what's going on there. They have a large group of children held against their will, and they just let every one of them outside for anyone to see! It just seems too silly; even the janitor should know that you don't let your hostages run loose like that.

      • theanagrace says:

        But they've been there for ten years, maybe not experimenting on kids for that long, but they've still been there a long time without any enraged parents finding them yet. It wasn't all that hard for the gyptians to track them down, but they put a lot of effort, manpower and money into putting together that expedition. Not enough of the other children came from any one group to produce that kind of response, so it stands to reason the scientists would have no reason to expect anyone to come after the kids in any way that their armed guards couldn't handle. Also, they're days by sled travel from anywhere, there's nowhere the kids could go nearby to get help, as Tony's example shows us. There's no reason for them not to let the kids do a fire drill.

      • Mauve_Avenger says:

        It's in the extreme North, though. Even if the children do escape, what are they going to do after that? As far as they know, there's no one else there (except for the native groups like the Samoyeds who are probably being paid off by the Oblation Board), so the most likely consequence is that the escapees just wander around and freeze/starve to death. It's one fewer kid to experiment on, but they seem to be getting news kids in quite frequently.

        In fact, going by what happened to Tony, it might be the case that after intercision the Oblation Board just takes the kids somewhere even more remote and sets them loose somewhere to die.

        • BradSmith5 says:

          Yes! The extreme North––where there are no fires! No, no, don't bother googling it to see if it's true. "Arctic Fires" is just a bad Harry Potter fanfic, just ignore it. I'm right. No fires.

  30. Foxfire says:

    I suspect that Kaisa's been scouting around for a while and only came down when the kidflood piqued his interest. The chosen child's been kidnapped; the witches are probably flipping all kinds of merry hell out.

    • BradSmith5 says:

      Yeah, the goose showing up is fine––even if I still think that the flood of kids alerting him was contrived. It's the snowflakes. This bizarre power just comes out of nowhere. It would be like reading over half of a Harry Potter book before anyone uses a wand. Just so strange.

      • Mauve_Avenger says:

        Except that Kaisa and Serafina aren't the main characters in this book, so it makes perfect sense not to introduce this particular skill of his/theirs at the very beginning, especially since Lyra didn't know anything about the witches except that they seemingly existed. This is only the second time we've even encountered a witch/witch's daemon close up (and the first time that we've seen them in some sort of emergency situation), so it makes sense that we're still learning about what they can do.

        To me, it's a lot less like the kids in Harry Potter not using wands for a long time (which actually might be a good idea, what with first-years and safety issues and all), and a lot more like the kids in Harry Potter not knowing about boggarts or hinkypunks until they're taught by Lupin.

        • BradSmith5 says:

          Okay, I've got it this time: It would be like Harry going up to Umbridge's door, right? Then he's like, "Oh, rats! It's locked!" Then Sirius would start talking from the fireplace and he'd say, "Oi! Just use that knife that opens any locked door! I put it in your pocket. It's also made out of snowflakes I found."

          Come to think of it, how come Hogwarts never had fire drills? They've got lit candles flying all over the place! And PEEVES. Come on.

  31. Billie says:

    Daemon cages 🙁 🙁

  32. Ms Avery says:

    As a copy-editor, I think this scenario is extremely realistic 🙂

    (Almost every author I've worked with has one or two words that they overuse, and then I have to go through and try to weed the word out, and then they want to put it back in, and so on.)

  33. Ellalalalala says:

    Daemons. In cages. Getting pale. And they can't be cuddled or comforted.

    This is all too emotional for me.

    On the other hand, love the Roger/Lyra chit-chat via Pan and Roger's daemon. How distracting that would be! But awesome. Very awesome.

    I am weirdly disturbed by the description of the doctor and nurse's respective daemons being un-animated and Lyra taking that as an indication that they weren't really anxious or curious, despite the doctor's previous agitation. There is something uncanny about the whole thing.

    Not to mention EVIL, GODAMMIT.

  34. Stephalopolis says:

    In midst of all this bleakness and sadness, I must say, I loved reading about children being children. The cliques, the gossiping, the mass chaos snowball fight. I dunno, warms my heart 😛

    The unanimated daemons… is there a reasonfor that? I can't imagine they'd be happy about daemons being cut away, so has something been done to these daemons as well?

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