Mark Reads ‘The Golden Compass’: Chapter 16

In the sixteenth chapter of The Golden Compass, Lyra readies the surviving children at the Experimental Station for a mass escape, but when she tries to spy on Mrs. Coulter and learns what else they are planning for the kidnapped kids…..I’m sorry. I can barely breathe. My heart hurts so badly. Just read the review.


I’ve been at a loss for words for a few hours now, and these days, words come easy to me. I am lucky enough that writers block rarely comes, and part of that is because this community has made me feel so welcomed to open up about virtually anything, whether it be a personal story or some bizarre tangent my brain goes on or some irritating reference to The X-Files or LOST because apparently I’ve still only seen five shows ever? Whatever, I AM TRYING TO RECTIFY THAT EVERYONE.

That sort of freedom and inspiration as a writer is really rare, and I respect and cherish that. I know that if I have some half-developed thought about character development or unfortunate narratives about marginalized folk or some silly absurdity dancing around in my brain, I can explore that in my review and it’s perfectly fine. And then we can all discuss it and dissect it and work it out and think about media in ways we’d not expected to ever do.

And gosh, that is so fun and satisfying for me. I suppose I sound like I’m tooting my own horn at this point, but this is as much a product of the many wonderful people around here as it is of what I’ve done to build and foster this place.

This is not really a commentary on that. I just wanted to open like this to say that I am not so much stuck in a case of writers block as I am silenced by pure shock. I had an idea what I wanted to talk about nearly one third of the way through chapter sixteen: I was fascinated by the way that Lyra interjects herself into such a dangerous situation out of both altruism and selfishness and how, despite that those are conflicting ideas, they’re actually not mutually exclusive in this case. Lyra truly is helping out the other kids trapped inside the Experimental Station. At the same time, she’s also pursuing her own curiosity when she separates from the other girls to find out what’s happening in the conference room.

That’s sort of a great way to characterize who Lyra is. She’s never to far from her own self-worth and desire even when she’s acting to do something good for anyone else. And that’s not a bad thing at all!

But there was a hint in the beginning of this chapter about what was to come that I only liked because of what it said about Lyra:

Because Lyra now realized, if she hadn’t done so before, that all the fear in her nature was drawn to Mrs. Coulter as a compass needle is drawn to the Pole. All the other things she’d seen, and even the hideous cruelty of the intercision, she could cope with; she was strong enough; but the thought of that sweet gentle face and gentle voice, the image of that golden playful monkey, was enough to melt her stomach and make her pale and nauseated.

At the time I read this the first time, I only really read one meaning into this. While it doesn’t say that Lyra hadn’t been scared until now (we’d seen a few instances where she was), Pullman specifies the fear “in her nature.” What he’s talking about is almost a primal, intrinsic fear in her body towards the very idea of Mrs. Coulter. Nevermind the horror of the idea that this woman is Lyra’s mother: Mrs. Coulter is the personification of the evil, heinous acts being carried out in Bolvangar. What’s so fascinating about that is that since Lyra left Mrs. Coulter’s house early in this book, we haven’t even seen her once. Until this chapter, she is still just a character who hangs over the narrative like a storm cloud. That is some powerful storytelling: the character we are meant to fear the most HASN’T BEEN AROUND FOR LIKE 200 PAGES. Good god, that is amazing.

But now, reading that section again, I know now that it was a subtle hint. It’s a key for the door that Lyra opens when she decides to climb into the air duct system of the Experimental Station to listen in on the conversation that Mrs. Coulter has with some of the top scientists in the building. I hate likening it to a Pandora’s box, as that analogy is a bit tired these days, but I’m lacking anything that describes it better than that. Hell, it almost feels like there’s a bit of a reference to that here:

“It’s just like back in Jordan, Pan,” she whispered, “looking in the Retiring Room.”

“If you hadn’t done that, none of this would have happened,” he whispered back.

“Then it’s up to me to undo it, isn’t it?”

The thought literally did not even enter my head until a few moments ago, but this is exactly like that: Lyra’s desire to expand her own knowledge about the world around her opens up a world of chaos. And she is just about to do that in a way that is going to seriously mess everything up.

It’s like Pullman was teasing me, wasn’t it?

What happens here also slightly disproves what Pullman had said about Lyra, though it’s entirely intentional and not any sort of continuity error. He’d referenced that Lyra was able to cope with the horrors of intercision, and yet now, when she learns exactly how it is going to go down, she finds out she really can’t cope with it.

So. We’ve reached that point again. I can feel my stomach twisting in anxiety right now and knowing the ending of this all, I myself cannot cope with this without feeling nervous. STILL.

I think that I seek out things in terms of movies that make me feel this way. I’m a big fan of thrillers and horror films, but the more you get into both of those genres of film making, the more desensitized you become. I don’t mean necessarily in terms of violence, though that’s a part of it. It’s just that you start to recognize certain tropes, techniques, and narratives designed to unsettle you or make you sit on the edge of your seat in anticipation. (This is not leading to some great point about how CINEMA IS DEAD or anything, for the record, as it’s definitely not.) Over the past year or so, I’ve struggled to find things that scare or frighten me like they used to when I was a teenager. I can’t really pinpoint why I love scary and thrilling shit and I’m fairly content not overanalyzing it. I just love the experience, the way it takes you out of your world, and the way it captures your attention.

But, truthfully, it’s been a while since I found something that physically affected me in the way that I crave. There have certainly been moments in all of the books I’ve read for Mark Reads or shows I’ve watched for Mark Watches that have briefly touched on the idea. I was obsessed with the hour-and-a-half long terror and dread that’s in No Country For Old Men. I think the slow build in The Conversation is one of the most brilliantly-devised narratives I’ve ever seen. There was a time in my life that I recommended 13 Tzameti to any and every person I met because I had never watched a movie that made me nearly throw up from suspense. (Hell, let me recommend that now: Read nothing about that movie ANYWHERE. Do not read the box, do not read a summary, just find it (it’s on Netflix), rent it, buy it, and prepare for 90 minutes of sheer head-fucking existential terror. One of the most intense movies I’ve ever seen.)

SO: Hello, Readers. Welcome to the second half of chapter sixteen, which caused me to:

  1. Stop breathing at one point for nearly 30 seconds.
  2. Have sweaty palms
  3. Jump up and hit my knee on my desk
  4. Gasp so hard I choked on water
  5. Walk away from the book for ten minutes before I seriously harmed myself.
  6. Throw myself down at the alter of Pullman and worship.

The Hunger Games trilogy was certainly quite suspenseful, and Collins is a master of designing plots that lead to a great deal of intensity. But I sort of expected that from the series based on what they are about. This isn’t a criticism at all of those books. I loved them a great deal!

I suppose what I’m getting at is that I did not expect to experience anything like this in The Golden Compass. And maybe it’s that Harry Potter thing again, where I just expected the series to be entertaining and shit, but not emotionally intense to the point where I harm myself.  The thing is….Pullman is relentless about what happens here. As if all of the revelations about intercision are not enough, he has to then throw Lyra into one of the scariest experiences in her whole life.

But let’s talk about what we learn about intercision here. I don’t know that brain ever wanted to learn more about it; the idea is so horrifying that I was content merely imagining what the process was, so Pullman basically tells me NOPE LOL ALLOW ME TO ENTER YOUR NIGHTMARES.

As the scientists begin to explain the new “separator” to Mrs. Coulter, there’s a throwaway line that I’m not claiming is nothing of the sort:

“With the first model we could never entirely overcome the risk of the patient dying of shock, but we’ve improved that no end.”

“The Skraelings did it better by hand,” said a man who hadn’t spoken yet.

“Centuries of practice,” said the other man.

WHAT THE. WHAT??!?!?!?! Why would other cultures cut away dæmons? I can’t even imagine what this suggests at this point, but I’m calling it: This will be explained and it will shed light on why the Oblation Board is cutting away dæmons.

This whole section does give a much better idea of the timeline of intercision, and it saddens me to realize that this has probably been going on a long time. They were able to go through stages of experimentation before they moved to the current mode of anesthesia and an ELECTRIC SCALPEL. God, I hate just typing that.

Even more shocking, we learn the ironic truth that Lord Asriel had discovered “an alloy of manganese and titanium [that] has the property of insulating body and dæmon,” which has brought them to the production of a new method of intercision. WHAT. And I don’t even have time to process that when Mrs. Coulter reveals that Lord Asriel isn’t just being held captive: HE IS AWAITING AN OFFICIAL DEATH SENTENCE FOR HERESY. It’s the first real batch of talk that suggests this clerical struggle in a more defined way, as whatever it is that Asriel is researching is dangerous enough to the Church that they are considering killing him.

i can’t figure this out help my brain

AND THEN. oh christ jesus take the wheel forever i just cannot do this alone:

“So we’ve developed a kind of guillotine, I suppose you could say. The blade is made of manganese and titanium alloy, and the child is placed in a compartment–like a small cabin–of alloy mesh, with the dæmon in a similar compartment connecting with it. While there is a connection, of course, the link remains. Then the blade is brought down between them, severing the link at one. Then they are separate entities.”

i can’t. i cannot. I only have one question that I cannot figure out:


I cannot figure out why this is a thing they are doing to children. Don’t any of these scientists know how awful this? I AM SO CONFUSED.

There is a bit more of context when Mrs. Coulter leaves the conference room and Lyra is left to listen to the two scientists discussing Dust. Apparently, Lord Asriel’s definition of what Dust is, is what’s so dangerous to the Church. BUT WHAT IS IT I CANNOT FIGURE ANY OF THIS OUT.

Unfortunately, there’s no time to think. Or ponder. Or wonder. None of that. As one of the scientists expresses concern about Mrs. Coulter’s “ghoulish” interest in intercision, stating that she was “keen to see them pulled apart,” Lyra cannot handle the thought. It’s too much for her and she lets out a small cry as she accidentally kicks out.

I just…..everything from this part is just so hard to read. I was hoping that Lyra would escape. I expected that. I expected her to squirm away and tell herself to be more careful the next time around. I expected her to laugh when she told the story to Billy and Roger.

Instead, horribly so, none of these things happened. She is captured by the scientists, after a particularly violent and bloody struggle with the men, and then:

And suddenly all the strength went out of her.

It was as if an alien hand had reached right inside where no hand had a right to be, and wrenched at something deep and precious.

She felt faint, dizzy, sick, disgusted, limp with shock.

One of the men was holding Pantalaimon.

It is a testament to this story and the way that Pullman has built this world so fully that my instant reaction was such a strong sense of revulsion that I had to step away from the book. Even to me, knowing this is fiction, I felt that this was the most unspeakable act I could imagine. This is pure evil, one of the most disturbing and heinous things I’ve ever read.

Goddamn. not prepared ever.

But that’s what is so breathtaking and horrific about chapter sixteen. After the medical description of intercision disturbs me and the touching of Pantalaimon makes me want to pass out, PHILIP PULLMAN IS NOT EVEN DONE YET. Because in the coming chaos, as the two scientists rapidly discuss what they are supposed to do with this girl, wondering if she freed the dæmons earlier, the man in charge makes a final decision: They might as well demonstrate the guillotine on this specific girl.


…and every second of the way she watched Pantalaimon, and he reached for her, and their eyes never left each other.

Yep, that’s the point where I lost it and my heart was beating and I felt tears well in my eyes because Lyra was completely helpless. It would be too convenient for Pullman to have the gyptians come charging through the door to save her, and I recall her line to Pantalaimon earlier: This was up to her to undo it. And now she is facing the ramifications of that.

It all happens so quick, as Lyra is thrust into the room with the silver guillotine, Pantalaimon desperately changing shapes to find a way to escape, but even that is pointless, as each of the (now) three scientists have a dæmon of their own, too. Lyra manages to get in a well-timed bite/kick in and manages to pull away and grab Pantalaimon in fear, AND EVEN THAT DOESN’T MATTER.

I just don’t know what would possess these men to do this to an eleven-year-old girl. WHY!!!?!?!?!?!?!?!!?

As the two are separated into the two cages, still connected but knowing this is it, the silver blade slowly begins its ascent, and Pullman does something I can barely comprehend: He saves Lyra in the absolute worst way possible.

By having Mrs. Coulter walk in on the procedure.

Am I glad that Lyra is not a victim of intercision? Yes, of course. But by having this woman “rescue her,” carry her down to a bedroom, and then speak to Lyra in that loving, singsong voice of PURE EVIL, is undoubtedly one of the creepiest things I have ever read.

“My dear, dear child,” said that sweet voice. “However did you come to be here?”

I will simply not be ok. This is the worst plot twist ever and nothing is beautiful and everything hurts.

hold me.

About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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229 Responses to Mark Reads ‘The Golden Compass’: Chapter 16

  1. _Sparkie_ says:

    Oh god this chapter! Just when you breathe a sigh of relief that Lyra won't become severed, she gets 'saved' by the one person we've just been told she really fears.
    Shit has reached a whole new level of real!

  2. MichelleZB says:

    But Mrs. Coulter DID rescue her. She didn't "rescue" her. That's what makes this interesting. I don't have the books in my house anymore, but I seem to remember there was something about the way that Mrs. Coulter says, "Lyra!" that makes you think that she really is worried about her daughter. I remember reading this and wondering what the heck was up with that woman. I couldn't figure her out.

    Now is when Pullman begins his subtle commentary on the Church. Mrs. Coulter obviously thinks intercision is a normal thing to have children go through–or at least seems to use language that convinces herself and others that it is a normal thing–but she doesn't want it done on HER child. Hypocrisy. Lack of empathy for the human condition. Elitism.

    • FlameRaven says:

      I don't know if Mrs. Coulter thinks it's a normal thing to go through. I mean, we don't see her so anxious to undergo this procedure, do we? I think she's pretty much obligated to talk about it that way, though, because she needs everyone else not to panic and to go along with her plan. She strikes me more as someone who is intensely focused on a particular idea. She is trying to find out something about Dust by doing this, and she's so obsessed that I'm sure she doesn't particularly care about the cost of it, so long as she achieves her goal.

      I do think she cares a lot about Lyra. She tried to take care of her in her own way back at the apartment in London, but she's also an intensely controlling person, which of course is not going to go over well with free-spirited and 'half-wild' Lyra. Still, even if she firmly believes in whatever purpose is behind this operation, it has to be a pretty massive shock just to walk in and find her daughter up here in the middle of nowhere and also under that guillotine. But then we get that sickly-sweet voice again, wanting to know all that Lyra's been up to, and I can't help but think that once again she'll try to be using Lyra for her own purposes.

      • MichelleZB says:

        Yes, she doesn't necessarily believe that it is a normal thing to do, but she has managed to convince others that it is sort of vaguely "good" for the children, or at least harmless to most of them, except of course for those poor unfortunates who died while the machine wasn't quite working, but now that's fixed… I think back about how her dinner guests talked about intercision, and how nonchalant they sounded. She's definitely able to sell this procedure to other people as a good/harmless thing, but the question is–does she half-believe her own propaganda? It is impossible to tell.

        I put to you that she might have sort of half-convinced herself that this is somehow for the children's own good, in that sort of odd cognitive dissonance sort of way that some religious leaders have. For a real-life example, think of all those bishops and cardinals that knew–knew for decades–that children were being abused in droves in Catholic schools or churches, but didn't do anything about it. Were they 1) evil, and just didn't care, or even liked that the kids were being harmed, which is why they did nothing to stop it, or 2) tried not to think about it too much, and sort of half-convinced themselves that what was happening was still *good* for the children on balance, and then again tried not to think about it too much.

        I think there are probably a mix of really evil people who do bad things, and people who have sort of duped themselves with their own dogma, you know? I'm not saying they dupe themselves WELL, but we can usually believe totally nonsensical or contradictory stuff without much trouble as long as we don't sort of… think about it too much. You know what I mean?

        But all of a sudden, she sees her own child going through the procedure, and she is forced, for a moment, to face her own buried feelings about how awful this is. It's possible to interpret the scene that way, and I certainly did at the time. (I don't want to spoil, so I'm trying to focus on how I felt up and into reading this chapter only.) Mrs. Coulter will be alright, of course. She will be able to forget it and go back to being evil, probably. They all are able to do that.

        I know I'm expressing myself badly, but it sort of seems like Pullman is drawing some comparisons here with residential schools and Catholic schools here.

        As for getting the procedure herself, maybe it's too late for adults. They seem to be doing all sorts of tests to find that *window* of time where you can successfully intercise. Or something. It's all a mystery right now!

        • flootzavut says:

          It's also interesting to compare this to The Hunger Games where the people in the Capitol don't really see that they are watching CHILDREN MURDERING ONE ANOTHER. But some of Katniss's helpers are actually genuinely upset that it is HER.

        • FlameRaven says:

          I don't have any experience with Catholic/private schools; I was a public school kid all the way. So it's hard for me to relate to that experience, except with what I've picked up about British boarding schools from fiction.

          The rest is hard for me to comment on, because a lot of what I'd like to say involves spoilers. I mean, I know why it is they do this, and knowing what justification they use, I do understand why this is happening. Agree, no, but understand, yes. But I think you're right in that there's absolutely some cognitive dissonance going on, because especially in this world, convincing anyone, especially yourself, that ripping children away from their souls is a good thing has to take some major mental gymnastics to achieve.

      • sabra_n says:

        Well, to be fair, the procedure apparently needs to be done to pubescent children, and Mrs. Coulter…uh, isn't. But of course she's horrid for being willing to "perfect" the technique using other people's children but not her own.

    • roguebelle says:

      And, of course, she hasn't had it done herself — her daemon is quite clearly still connected to her.

      I have more to say about this, but I /think/ it's all from the next chapter… don't have my book with me to check, but that seems accurate, so, it'll have to wait. 😉

      • MichelleZB says:

        Yeah, I really feel like discussing this, but I'm having a lot of trouble arguing my point from the perspective of someone who's only read up to this chapter… why do I always do this?!

      • FlameRaven says:

        I'm in the same position. There's a couple lines specifically that would really help, but they're in the next chapter, so I guess we'll have to wait until tomorrow.

    • notemily says:

      I was just about to make a comment like this. She sees the other kids as disposable, and even derives pleasure from watching their agony, but not HER Lyra. Ugh.

    • Brieana says:

      I'd put "rescue" in quotes. She was only saving Lyra from a problem that she created in the first place.

  3. Angelllla24 says:

    I just want to say I’m thrilled that you are doing these books, and thrilled we are getting this far! It may make me sound dumb, but even after reading the trilogy a few years back, I still never understood Dust or what it had to do with the Church. I sortof guessed that was what all the controversy was about, but I never really understood it. Don’t judge me! I was raised agnostic/ purely devoid of all religion! The only bits I know are things you see in pop culture. But I am excited because I know it will all be filly discussed in these reviews and comments as we go, and it will add that missing layer to these already awesome fantasy books. So thanks again Mark for a wonderful learning opportunity!!!!

    • monkeybutter says:

      Don't worry, I don't think there's been much in the way of doctrinal allusions. For the most part, the criticism in The Golden Compass has been about the hierarchy of the Church, and how an omnipotent Church abuses its power.

      • majere616 says:

        I don't see what is so controversial about saying that an omnipotent Church is bad. I mean no one freaks out when omnipotent secular governments are portrayed negatively. Damn double standards.

        • cait0716 says:

          Ah, but the Church is endorsed by God and has the Final Say in everything. The Know what's Right and what's Wrong and their Word is Law and Disagreement or Rebellion is Sin. This is especially true in the Catholic Church where you aren't allowed to actually read the bible, you have to go off the priest's interpretation (going off what my mom told me about being raised Catholic).

          • ferriswheeljunky says:

            I don't know – that may be true in some places, but all of my Catholic friends are fairly good at thinking for themselves, and they seem to spend quite a lot of time reading the Bible too. And as a Christian, I have absolutely no problem with Pullman's critique of what happens when the church gets too powerful. I think that if the history of the church tells us anything, it's that it definitely doesn't mix well with political power.

            • majere616 says:

              It's not JUST the Church, give any individual or organization enough power and they WILL abuse it. Fact of life.

          • crimsongirl says:

            I have to respectfully disagree with your mom's views. I'm sure that it /does/ happen on an individual basis, but that has never happened to me. I will admit that during mass after we read the excerpts from the Bible, our priest will go up and give his views and maybe relate a story from his past that somehow ties in with the themes discussed, but he in no way forced his interpretation on anyone.

            So far from what I've experienced going to confirmation classes, you are encouraged to go out and educate yourself if you wish to have a deeper understanding, along with consulting a religious friend/mentor. This, of course, is based off of personal experience, and in no way objective.

            That being said, I'm sorry your mom seems to have had a negative experience of the church.

            • cait0716 says:

              That's fair. They're my mom's views not mine. I've had no experience with the church, so I really can't speak from any experience. And she has a big hate for religion. I'm still trying to untangle some of the views that she raised me with. Thanks for your perspective

            • xpanasonicyouthx says:

              oh god i wish my confirmation classes were like that

              why is my experience with the Church such utter goddamn tragedy


          • notemily says:

            Have you read Sarah Vowell's The Wordy Shipmates? She has a lot of interesting history in there about people interpreting the bible for themselves versus needing a church intermediary to interpret it for them.

            • monkeybutter says:

              That is ANOTHER great book. We seem to agree on everything except Snow Crash! That comment seems to have disappeared, though.

              • notemily says:

                Aw, I want to read your disappeared comment! I think part of my hatred of Snow Crash might have to do with the people who convinced me to read it–arrogant dudes who worship at the altar of cyberpunk. They were like "BEST BOOK EVAR" and I was like "meh." and they were like "HOW CAN YOU NOT LIKE THE BEST BOOK EVAR."

                • monkeybutter says:

                  Ugh, raging fanboys are the worst. It's totally okay if people don't like the same things as you, dudes. I don't blame you a bit for hating it; if people had been going "OMG YOU HAVE TO READ THIS," I would have avoided it like the plague (which is how I missed out on HP for years, so it's not always a fool-proof plan, haha). When I first read it, I was by chance taking a class on Ancient Mesopotamia, and I loved the way the Sumerian myths tied into what I was learning.

                  And my comment didn't disappear, yours did! Or at least I couldn't find it. There've been some chatty threads for this review!

      • hpfish13 says:

        I think its the same reaction people had to Disney's The Hunchback of Notre Dame. The movie has a clerical figure as the villain, so it must be an attack on the church right?

        *Hoping sarcasm translates on the internet*

        • monkeybutter says:

          Yup, and Harry Potter teaches children to worship satan.

          I think a lot of the hatred is from people who assume that criticism of the actions of an institution = criticism of its beliefs, or worse, from people who haven't read the books and glom on to what others are claiming the books say. It's sort of like how criticizing the actions of the US government means that you hate freedom and democracy. Some people see criticism of the bad actors in an institution as an attack on every aspect of the institution, and get really defensive.

          • FlameRaven says:

            Yes. I always read these books (and especially this book) as basically a critique on the institution of religion, not necessarily specific beliefs. People can do horrifying things in the name of anything, and that frequently includes religion. Give any organization enough power and influence, and corruption will happen, because people are people. Being part of a religious organization may make someone into a better person, but it can also make them into a worse one.

          • flootzavut says:

            it drives me crazy (and I speak as a Christian here) when people attack Harry Potter on the grounds of "well it's got magic in it!" when they have not even read then bleedin' novels. Argh! It wouldn't bother me quite so much if there was some logic to people's rejection of stuff like this: for example, I don't recall ever seeing anyone devote so much time pulling apart LOTR (wizards all over the place, magic rings, magic swords, elves…) or Narnia (talking animals anyone?))for the same reasons.

            I have every respect for people who choose not to read things if they have educated themselves and made an informed decision, but when people tell me they "won't read Harry Potter because they read somewhere JK Rowling is a witch" then I start to want to bang heads against tables.

            • Hazelwillow says:

              Yes… That's an interesting double standard. Trying to explain it to myself, it's ignorance, of course, compounded by the fact that narnia and Lotr have been around for a lot longer and are already accepted. Interstingly, games like D & D were similarly feared in the 60s (50s ?) for being violent and "occult".

              But I think the most significant difference is that Harry potter includes the word "witch". Women with magic is historically more maligned. Think of the depiction of Merlin vs the depiction of Morgan le Fay in the Arthurian myths. All this despite the fact that Harry potter is not actually very "witchy" at heart, IMO.

              • flootzavut says:

                I think ignorance is a huge part of it.

                And yes, the echo of Merlin vs Morgan le Fay is very relevant.

                I think a lot of it is simply that people mistake how a writer is making their points with what the book is actually about. JKR is using magic and wizardry to write a story about good overcoming evil… she's not writing a book "about" magic, it's a plot tool, a setting, a character trait, NOT the subject of the book… am I making sense?? I don't know how else to put it!

                Actually when I think about it, it has such a lot in common with Narnia and with LOTR. If we think of LOTR as one story (as indeed it is after all) and take The Lion etc as the most well known Narnia book then we have good versus evil, sacrifice, redemption, resurrection, the righting of wrongs/mistakes, people seeming bad when they are good or vice versa, wise/clever peoplemaking mistakes or not being as wise as they thought, strong characters believing they are invulnerable only to be defeated when they least expected or by means they would not have thought could harm them, "little people" (young or just hobbits) making a big difference…

                I could go on, probably have gone on way too much already, but you get my point. It frustrates me that people see Harry as a wizard or Hermione as a witch and assume that is the point of the story and it makes the story automatically evil.

                • hpfish13 says:

                  I like to liken the magic in Harry Potter to the futuristic technology in a Sci-fi story. It's there as a setting to advance the plot, but it's not focus of the plot itself.

                  • flootzavut says:

                    YES! And thank you for putting the point so succinctly. This is what I was trying and failing to say in several paragraphs boiled down to a couple of dozen eloquent words *sigh* I am not good at concise.

                    Whenever anyone says "but it's about witches and witches are bad" I just want to suggest that they have a really bad case of missed-the-point-itus. But typically there is no benefit in doing so, so I rarely do.

                    I may well use that parallel in future – I'm just warning you before I shamelessly steal it :p 🙂

                    • hpfish13 says:

                      No worries! I've had lots of practice having to justify my extreme love for Harry Potter as a Christian to other Christians who just don't get it. Feel free to use the parallel, I use it all the time.

                    • flootzavut says:

                      Muchos gracias 😀

              • hpfish13 says:

                This is so true. Just think about the standard depictions of witches versus wizards in literature. Witches are typically old, evil hags using their magic to capture children or what not. Wizards on the other hand, tend to be mostly goofy old men who save the day, dispense wisdom or mentor children.

                The association of witch=evil in literature exacerbated the problems people had with the idea of Harry Potter.

              • FlameRaven says:

                I think the hate on D&D would have to have been in the 70's at earliest, because the game was only really invented in 1974.

              • notemily says:

                *hugs copy of The Mists of Avalon*

                • hazelwillow says:

                  "The Mists of Avalon" was totally on my mind as a comparison when I was thinking that Harry Potter is not very "witchy". 🙂 Not that I don't love Harry Potter to death. I do. But it isn't about the history or issue of witches at all, except insofar as it depicts them just as positively as the wizards.

                  I've always liked witches. I dressed up as a witch EVERY Hallowe'en BEFORE Harry Potter even came out. The Little Broomstick by Mary Stuart was the best thing ever… and The Witch Family. The Worst Witch (which is kindof bad). Then Harry Potter came and blew them all away. 🙂

        • evocativecomma says:

          Tangentially – I don't care if it is/isn't an attack on the Church–Frollo is in the original novel, so by that argument the BOOK of Hunchback is anti-Church–(I don't believe it is), because Frollo has the most KICKASS SONG IN DISNEY HISTORY. So rock on with your bad sell, Frollo.

          <img src=""&gt;

          • hpfish13 says:

            Yeah, I'm not a huge fan of the movie itself, but the music and the animation is stunning. Sooooo jealous I never got to see it as a kid because a group of Christians (including my father) were boycotting Disney.

          • ferriswheeljunky says:

            A THOUSAND TIMES YES. That song is HARDCORE.

    • Brieana says:

      By the way, there's a right wing evangelical Christian site called conservapedia. If you're curious to know what pissed some of these people off, looky here.


  4. leighzzz31 says:

    OK, one of the things I ADORE about reading these books with you, Mark (and watching the shows!) is how you point out something I might have overlooked or hadn't thought of or hadn't quite managed to articulate even though it had been going through my head.

    I was fascinated by the way that Lyra interjects herself into such a dangerous situation out of both altruism and selfishness and how, despite that those are conflicting ideas, they’re actually not mutually exclusive in this case.

    Honestly, THE most PERFECT description of what drives Lyra EVER. And, thinking back, this is practically spelt out throughout the book. Her decision to go after Roger along with her desire to find out more about the Gobblers, her being adamant about helping the gyptians while longing to visit the North, her relationship with Iorek, helping him find his armour as much for his own well being as for the good of their expedition…
    She's a little girl who is very aware of her own moral compass but manages to never let it conflict with her inherent curiosity.

    As for everything else in this chapter, I may never know happiness ever again. This chapter gets me like nothing else. When those 'scientists' are talking about how to 'sort out their problem', I get physically sick to my stomach. It's like they're barely even ackowledging there is an actual human child in front of them that they are actively discussing how to mutilate. And the description of the man holding Pan is just, urgh, sickening. It's a testatement to Pullman's power of telling a story that revulsion is one our of first reactions. Horrifying yet brilliant.

    And Mrs Coulter? She was haunting my ten year old dreams by this point.

  5. tchemgrrl says:

    I'm with you, 100%. At the time I read the trilogy, in 2003 or so, I'd been hearing the books mentioned in the same sentence as the Chronicles of Narnia and Harry Potter, so I had an image of an adventure story with fantastical elements that was fun for kids and grownup alike. (I'm almost positive I read these before OoTP came out, to give you an idea of where the HP world was at that point.)

    This was… not the lighthearted adventure I was expecting.

    As for holding you, well, we would, but then we'd have to keep holding you for the entirety of the next 2.25 books, and we'll probably get hungry or need to go the bathroom or something.

    • flootzavut says:

      "As for holding you, well, we would, but then we'd have to keep holding you for the entirety of the next 2.25 books, and we'll probably get hungry or need to go the bathroom or something."

      I must be evil: this made me snigger…

  6. kerrypolka says:

    I first read these books in middle school, I think, and reading these reviews I'm really surprised at how blatant the intercision=circumcision message is. I really enjoy Pullman's writing (Sally Lockhart is probably my favourite book trilogy ever), but he doesn't exactly go subtle with the antireligion messages in this one!

  7. skymt says:

    Isn't it amazing how Pullman makes you feel *so incredibly awful* about someone losing what none of us has ever had?

    • Brieana says:

      Mayhap you should wait until we get to said logic gaps before you mention them.

      • flootzavut says:

        not thinking today! for some reason no edit button but I have a delete button and I didn't say anything that interesting lol

        (yay for finally working out how to use my intensedebate account…!)

  8. Brieana says:

    Oh, I remember where I was when I read this chapter. It was like one o'clock on a school night and I had to keep reading.

  9. eleventysix says:

    I forgot this chapter was coming and foolishly timed my re-read with a ride home in rush hour traffic. It was an almost claustrophobic experience; I had to put the book in the back seat for a while when Lyra got caught and go to a music-in-headphones happy place before continuing. Everyone else is completely correct when saying that reading this part causes physical discomfort, which is amazing on the part of Pullman's writing because, well, I don't even have a daemon of my own…

    Mrs. Coulter gets even more twisted in this bit. The almost flippant way she talks about Lord Asriel's death sentence is just horrifying; he's her former lover and the father of her child – a child she seems to have some sort of connection with, even if it's not entirely positive. She's so incredibly matter of fact when talking about his possible death, and poor Lyra has to listen to this…and then act like she's relieved to be rescued by the woman…I really just have no words.

    ETA: I'm still grateful that I got the chance to read this book before the Harry Potter series started. I think even if I didn't fully understand absolutely everything my first go-through, it really shaped my experience with Rowling's world (and later LOTR) in a very positive and helpful way. All the cyber hugs for Pullman, even if his stories occasionally makes me cry and wriggle and gasp in horror, because his writing is, at the end of the day, so so wonderful.

  10. samibear says:

    It was as if an alien hand had reached right inside where no hand had a right to be, and wrenched at something deep and precious.

    I was 8 when I first read this book, and even now I can still feel the urge I had then to cry when I read that part, when one of the men touches Pantalaimon.

    I couldn't understand what it was that upset me so much then, but I know now. That entire passage, that entire concept; of someone touching a part of you that you don't want anyone else to touch, of being invaded like that. In most books, the worst thing a hero/heroine is faced with is pain or death. But this is by far one of the most disturbing things I have ever read.

    It's a testament to Pullman's writing that reading this can still make me feel this way, every time.

    • flootzavut says:

      It hadn't occurred to me till someone mentioned it further up the comments, but it is disturbingly like a description of being sexually molested *shudder* which I guess is as close a parallel as we're likely to find. The more I think about it the more I suspect it's a parallel Pullman intended to make, and it's undeniably effective.

  11. @BklynBruzer says:

    This series, even more than Harry Potter, has the power to do both INCREDIBLY WONDERFUL and INCREDIBLY FUCKING TERRIBLE things to one's heart.


  12. Saphling says:

    Mark, this is (one of) the chapter(s) we were meaning when we said you were unprepared.

    You're still not.

    But you've hit one of the worst. I remember feeling ill for hours after I first read this chapter. It still makes me sick to my stomach to think about, the description of how it felt to have another person holding onto your soul. I gave this book to my niece when she was 11, and felt guilty (and empathetic) when my sister told me that my niece had nightmares after reaching this chapter.

    It's a testament to Pullman's ability, that in a few hundred pages, he creates this world and its culture so fully, defines the intrinsic relationship between daemons and humans so strongly, and draws his readers in so completely that we feel such intense revulsion from actions that are, in the book's world, so terribly wrong, even though we have no tangible daemons and little of that world's culture (relative to the people who live there) from which to pull our knowledge and reactions.

    *looks back on that sentence* Yes, that is a mess of a sentence. Oh well.

    • flootzavut says:

      It's a mess of a sentence but I think anyone reading along will 1) totally understand and 2) completely agree! 🙂

  13. cait0716 says:

    Like Harry Potter, I'm not sure there really are any throw-away lines in this trilogy. Of course, that's the mark of a good writer. Everything means something, whether world-building, character development, or plot momentum.

    The effect on the reader of Pantalaimon getting grabbed is simply amazing. Pullman lays all this groundwork and you don't even realize it. Then he punches you in the gut with something and the emotional impact is just astounding.

    And then Mrs. Coulter arrives and it's out of the frying pan and into the fire with Lyra. At least it buys her some more time?

  14. Arione says:

    Astral hugs and rocking, and comfort and humming and soothing. All is all is all is all. I can’t speak of the future but all the hugs are yours, and that doesn’t change no matter what Pullman does.

  15. monkeybutter says:

    And gosh, that is so fun and satisfying for me. I suppose I sound like I’m tooting my own horn at this point, but this is as much a product of the many wonderful people around here as it is of what I’ve done to build and foster this place.

    While I love the sentiment of this bit, it made me realize that the word "gosh" triggers Sarah Palin voice in my head.

    <img src=""&gt;
    Yeah, this chapter is incredibly tense. Usually when the lead character is facing a dangerous situation, you can think "oh, whatever, there's still two more books in the series," and brush aside your fears. But in this instance, the scientists just got through explaining how their new manganese and titanium scalpel reduces the risk of death due to shock to less than 5% (an insignificant risk!), so it was entirely possible that Lyra and Pan where about to be separated. Of course, the end of the chapter is one of those out of the frying pan, into the fire deals, so you can't relax yet!

    I also thought it was interesting that the Skraelings separated people from their daemons for centuries, and that the result generally wasn't deadly. What is the Church up to?

    What Mrs Coulter and the scientists say about Lord Asriel teases us with more clues about the Dust, but their line about Mrs Coulter seeming "ghoulish" stuck out to me even more. I'm not defending her, because she is quite terrible and seems to be getting a sick glee from the process, but the implication that because her interest in intercission wasn't that of a True Believer makes her worse than them or the Church sits wrong with me (and that reaction was probably intentional on Pullman's part). Whether you're doing it for sick personal interest, cold, detached science (and yes, I hate that stereotype, but it's what it is here), or religious inquiry, children are being ripped apart from their souls. These scientists described that they've moved away from a manual process to a mechanized one because the people doing the procedure are burned out and traumatized (sounds familiar), and they were about to throw a girl under the knife not because she had hit whatever threshold for the ideal time of intercission, but because she was snooping. Who are the ghouls?

    • FlameRaven says:

      I took the scientists' displeasure to simply be an emotional one. You get the sense that these guys think the process is distasteful but possibly necessary. They're trying to find out what Dust is, and obviously they need children for some specific reason, but they don't really enjoy it. The best they can do is detach themselves with a clinical mindset so it doesn't bother them TOO much. Whereas they describe Mrs. Coulter as actually being emotionally interested, excited and possibly even enjoying the sight of children being ripped from their souls. She wanted to watch them be ripped apart. I don't see anything about being a True Believer here, on either side. Actually, since it seems Mrs. Coulter is in charge of this whole operation, she's probably more of a True Believer than any of these employees.

      • monkeybutter says:

        "Do you think she'll make an unfavorable report?"
        "No, no. I think you dealt with her very well."
        "Her attitude worries me…"
        "Not philosophical, you mean?"
        "Exactly. A personal interest. I don't like to use the word, but it's almost ghoulish."

        Made me go look it up. I mean "true believer" as in a believer of the Church and its aims, not a believer in Dust. She obviously has some deep-felt beliefs about that. The scientists are very clinical, and they disdain her personal interest as less worthy than their philosophical (scientific) one. And distancing themselves from the process in no way makes them innocent. They know what they're doing is painful and wrong, and they're approaching the children as distant test subjects and using hands-off methods (which granted, are more efficient, but only because they don't know how to do it manually as well as the Skraelings) so that they do not have to own up to their behavior. They SHOULD have an emotional interest in their work, preferably not a depraved one like Mrs Coulter. Otherwise, they're monstrous.

        Their attitude is okay because they're "philosophical," whereas Mrs Coulter has some sort of individual interest. That's a disgusting double standard. Either way, children are having their souls ripped off (and for a reason that must be kept secret, so you know that's good) and dying as a consequence. She's terrible, but they're no better.

        • Heather says:

          I look at it as, as awful as her interest is, at least she’s honest about it. They’re just fooling themselves, so they can pretend they’re still good people. She’s perfectly aware of who she is.

        • sabra_n says:

          And there is such a sexist undertone to it – men as scientific/rational, women as emotional/irrational. They're probably jealous and terrified that Mrs. Coulter could pwn them all in her sleep. Her evil, evil sleep. 😛

          • monkeybutter says:

            Agreed, especially in light of the strict gender roles that their society seems to abide by. Most women aren't in powerful positions like Mrs Coulter is, and at Bolvangar, all of the scientists are men (Lyra goes by their voices to figure out where she is) and the nurses are all women. I can't help but think that there's an air of "she couldn't possibly appreciate the philosophical aspects of this like we do." Given how incompetent they seem to be, they wouldn't even be worth the effort to Mrs Coulter.

  16. fakehepburn says:

    "The thought literally did not even enter my head until a few moments ago, but this is exactly like that: Lyra’s desire to expand her own knowledge about the world around her opens up a world of chaos. And she is just about to do that in a way that is going to seriously mess everything up."

    mark you have all of the insight

    I can't even

  17. James says:

    Pullman is so, so brilliant. Revulsion is the correct response to the man grabbing Pan. Anyone who felt less at reading that is WRONG. He is basically molesting Lyra at that point – touching her in the most intimate possible way without her consent – but it is so much worse, because Pan's her SOUL. That is a violation that goes beyond anything it's possible to do in our world. Just. UGH. *SHUDDERS*

    • @GalFawkes says:

      speaking of molesting, am I the only one who wonders if violence against women exists in Lyra's world? There's misogyny galore, but almost every man has a female daemon – that's a feminine presence that's very much physical and in his head, and would that prevent things like rape? Just wondering.

    • flootzavut says:

      Gawd. I'd not thought of it like that. New layer of horror.

    • erin says:

      This. I thought the exact same thing when I read this chapter – Pullman is likening what the Church does to children as molestation. "An alien hand had reached inside where no hand had a right to be…" That sounded *really*… rape-y to me. :

      And GalFawkes: I don't know, but I would bet it still happens. There are obviously still violent and selfish people all over the place in Lyra's world, so I think there would be men for whom the allure of exerting power over others is stronger than their compassion for one particular female entity. I mean, the daemon would be just as twisted and power-hungry as its person, wouldn't it? And there's still male-on-male, female-on-female, female-on-male attacks to consider… YOU HAVE CHALLENGED ME TO THINK DEEPLY ABOUT THIS TOPIC. -_-

  18. BeckyJ says:

    This is probably one of my favorite and most despised chapters in all of literature. I read the books a long time ago, when I was very young, and haven't really reread them….. and when all the memories of the plot faded, the one detail that I could always remember was the man grabbing Pantalaimon. There are more important parts, sure, but this is the most haunting, the most absolutely soul-shatteringly terrifying thing I've ever read. Even just reading your review raises the goosebumps again and makes me sick to my stomach (or that could be the tequila hangover I have, but I think its more this).

    Having not read the books for a while, I can't remember if this is discussed in the book, but what I wonder is if it is never ever ok to touch another person's daemon….. what I'm thinking of is a lover or a very very close friend. To me, it seems like that could be the most intimate expression of closeness, and in our world there are people that are close enough to you to touch your soul. Anyone have thoughts on that?

    • flootzavut says:

      In reference to the touching of another's daemon as a lover, it's practically impossible to talk about what the book says about that without spoiling, but the clearest thing I can find about it is in the entry on Pantalaimon – the section between "personality" and "forms" (I can't even name the section because it's a spoiler…. d'oh!)

      I think if you'll read it it will make a lot of sense to you, but I *know* so I feel I can't post as speculation :p 🙂

  19. In a startling coincidence, someone on my flist just posted about HDM this morning…

    …having come to the conclusion that intercision represents circumcision. Huh!

    • kerrypolka says:

      It isn't a startling coincidence, silly, look three comments up! *g*

    • Brieana says:

      I'm not the biggest fan of circumcision, and if I had a son I would never have that done to him, but I'm thinking intercision is a tad bit more serious than that.

      What's a flist?

      • Heather says:

        A friend’s list , generally on blogging platforms. Its the place you can see their most recent posts.

      • rumantic says:

        Just because something is worse, doesn't make the lesser act okay though.

        I'm British and the idea of circumcision was pretty alien to me (it's not done here as a general rule, especially not to babies – Jewish and Muslim parents have to seek out a surgeon who is willing IIRC) and I was really shocked when I first heard about it, going on LJ birth communities etc. Then I heard it was routinely done without pain relief, and about the "circumstraint" (Oh god even the name makes me feel sick) and… yeah excuse me I have to go and hug my son now 🙁

        I can definitely see parallels in the detached way the scientists are discussing it etc, without considering any potential harm caused to the children aside from the immediately obvious distress, or the issue of consent, or even bothering to explain (although how, indeed?) in order to make it less traumatic. And just being so used to the idea that they are completely immune to the whole idea that it might just actually be a terrible thing to do to someone.

    • monkeybutter says:

      A man's foreskin is his soul.

      ETA: The electric knife reminds me of cauterization as a method, and David Reimer and that documentary on him…yeah. Not pleasant.

      • Heather says:

        Oh, I read the book on him several years ago. One of the things that convinced me that, should I ever have a son, he’s of getting circumcised.

      • Brieana says:

        Oh, I think there was a documentary about that guy over the nature vs nurture thing. For me that was yet another reason to dislike circumcision.

    • Hazelwillow says:

      I can see parallels to a lot of things various religious forces have done to children in our world ( such as residential schools, abuse, molestation, fgm, denying children's queer selves, simply frightening children into feeling shameful and guilty about themselves; in general, that impulse to control and shape children and the way they grow up, in a way that ultimately harms them and leads them away from their true selves. circumcision may be symbolically part of that impulse, I suppose.) I would't be too quick to draw simple "x = y" comparisons, though. I like that Pullman has gotten to the heart of such horrors to the true internal horror, which is the damaging/separation from one's soul or true self.

      • Erin says:

        Man, that last sentence you wrote suddenly reminded me of a scene in Brief Interviews with Hideous Men in which one character unexpectedly reveals that he was raped. He keeps telling the other character in the scene that she doesn't understand, she doesn't know what he knows. When she asks him what he means, he says that she can't understand what it's like to really, really know that people can see you as a thing, even people you've never met before, done anything to. "Who don't even know your name, to find out that you have to choose to have a fucking name".

        Part of the power of what Pullman does here isn't just playing off the internal horror of separating from one's soul, I think a large aspect of it is that it's something someone else can do TO you. And they can do it without any sort of guilt or regret or even the most basic acknowledgment of the suffering they're causing, because people really can see you as an object instead of another person. It's so clinical and detached, which makes it that much worse. No one gives a real explanation of WHY they are doing this horrible thing to children, because apparently they don't feel they NEED to explain it. They don't seem to recognize their victims as being real people.

  20. Ellie says:

    i dont know if im the only one to think this, but the descrption of a man holding pantalaimon felt eerily similar to that of someone getting molested
    as if this wasnt creepy enough

    • Clare says:

      Um, YES- this is exactly how I perceived the scene where the guy grabs Pan and I got creeped out horrified vibes from it. Especially the way Pullman describes how it feels to Lyra. Ugh!

  21. hallowsnothorcruxes says:

    “Centuries of practice,” said the other man.

    <img src=""&gt;

    Lord Asriel is under susupended sentence of death.

    <img src=""&gt;

    There's only one thing we can do, it seems to me
    <img src=""&gt;

    The last moment in her complete life was going to be the worst by far.
    <img src=""&gt;

    "My dear child…However did you come to be here?"

    Mrs. Coulter is here.
    <img src=""&gt;

  22. Araniapriime says:

    I was fascinated by the way that Lyra interjects herself into such a dangerous situation out of both altruism and selfishness and how, despite that those are conflicting ideas, they’re actually not mutually exclusive in this case.

    It's called "enlightened self interest". It's how a lot of people unconsciously start on the road to altruism, but it's a mature concept to grasp, and there's no way that Lyra could comprehend it at this stage of her growth.

  23. FlameRaven says:

    Agreed. I had NO CLUE about all the allegory happening in Narnia, especially Lion/Witch/Wardrobe, and I was a pretty devout little kid. I just enjoyed this magic world of talking animals. Actually, I can no longer reread those books now that I know, because Lewis is so busy preaching to me that I'm annoyed and can't enjoy the story.

    • cait0716 says:

      Every now and then I glance at them and want to re-read them, but then I start to wonder if I'd be able to. I could barely make it through the movie version of Dawn Treader, which was always my favorite. Maybe someday when I run out of good books to read. Or have a kid of my own so I can just focus on the magic again

      • FlameRaven says:

        I only ever read… four of them? Lion, Witch, Wardrobe; Horse and his Boy; Magician's Nephew and The Last Battle. I tried to re-read them around the time the first movie came out, but like I said, couldn't get through them. It wasn't just the allusions, either… the writing style just didn't gel for me as an adult. I'd like to try again sometime, if only to figure out wtf was going on in the Last Battle that I didn't understand the first time.

        • ferriswheeljunky says:

          I read the Narnia books so often as a child that it's really comforting coming back to them now. All the pictures are like old friends, and some chapters I know off by heart. I missed the religious allegories at the time as well – which is why I get annoyed when people criticise Lewis for them. Yeah, they're blatant if you're reading as an adult, but if you're a kid, they're just pretty damn excellent books and all the rest goes over your head. Reading about Aravis escaping from the lion is great stuff, and I couldn't have cared less if someone had told me the lion was really Jesus.

        • flootzavut says:

          With the disclaimer that I adore the Narnia books – always have, always will – I can totally understand your comment about writing style. They are very much of their time and also very much "of Lewis" in a way – although there are obviously huge differences between them and his apologetics books etc, there is IMO a very distinct Lewis style. If you don't gel with that, then the stories will jar no matter what.

  24. Heather says:

    I love ghat this book is affecting you so strongly. I have no idea how you can read it one chapter at a time. I never could. When I found out you were reading it, I thought I’d read along with you. I gathered all the books so that I’d be ready when you got to it and sat them by my bed. But they were mocking me. So I figured I’d just read a chapter a day, like you do. After all, I was supposed to be studying for finals. And then a couple of days had Passed and I’d somehow finished reading them again. I WAS prepared and still couldn’t resist. How do you do it?

  25. Tilja says:

    Maybe you should’ve described your impression on Mrs Coulter’s reactions at seeing Lyra inside the machine. When it comes to Mrs Coulter, I like to make a note of all her reactions to try to guess at her true character. She’s always acting a part, and I dearly want to know what part she’s acting now in saving Lyra from the intercision process. I mean, it’s not like she can actually feel anything towards the girl, so what’s her plan?

    On that same note, I want to know your opinion on Azula’s full character in ATLA tomorrow, when you begin Book of Fire. I just needed to repeat that.

    • FlameRaven says:

      I dunno, as we're discussing this, I'm finding myself comparing Mrs. Coulter's attitude towards Lyra to Gothel and Rapunzel in Tangled. There is no question that Gothel is a controlling, emotionally abusive 'mother', mostly seeing Rapunzel as a thing, and yet… I do think she cared a little bit for Rapunzel. She was concerned for her safety, even though that was also a selfish desire to keep her magic flower close.

      I think that while Mrs. Coulter doesn't know anything about Lyra herself and dislikes her daughter's independence, she likes the idea of a daughter. She's never really seen this girl until the brief six weeks she spent with her in London, and I think there's a part of Mrs. Coulter that likes that idea of having someone to take care of and lavish attention on. Of course, she is also playing her own game and there's no question that she'll use Lyra to any purpose she can towards that mysterious goal. It's a messed up relationship, but I don't think she has no feelings at all for Lyra.

      • flootzavut says:

        I agree – I definitely feel she has motherly feelings for Lyra, however twisted and messed up those feelings might be.

      • Tilja says:

        I know precisely what you mean. I was only giving a point of view of the story so far. I consider Mrs Coulter’s reactions to be ones of worry for her child and actually caring about her. She seemed genuinely concerned for Lyra and her safety. That said, she cares for her as you said, like Gothel cares for Rapunzel, as a thing for her own happiness, regardless of that thing’s ideas of happiness, and tries to mold her into her own little pet, to be always by her side and want nothing but her.

        Both Mrs Coulter and Gothel have to contend with the fact that their little daughters have minds of their own and will pursue them. And neither of those women will be able to change that.

        But so far, that short reaction to the intercision is all we have to gives us any idea about Mrs Coulter’s feelings for her daughter. My comment meant to point that out, that it’s not really clear but it may be a new way to see their relationship. And who knows how much can Mrs Coulter act upon those feelings. That’s precisely what scares me most.

  26. Partes says:

    I dread reading this chapter every time I pick up this book. It's also one of my favourite scenes in all of literature, and definitely one that I remember reading the most vividly. I was thirteen, on my bed, and absolutely terrified. As a thirteen year old boy the idea of crying over a book was something that was laughable to me, and it hadn't happened before, but something about this whole scene just felt horrifically wrong, and tears just started a comin' and didn't stop for a while.

    It's hard to reread, though, even knowing that Lyra will escape, simply because I remember just how fucking scared I was the first time I read this chapter.

  27. linguisticisms says:

    Heading this off with a trigger warning, and:

    It's largely accepted by the fanbase that the total violation of another person's self that occurs when someone else touches their daemon is equivalent to rape.

    Lyra is twelve years old.

    This chapter will never not make me feel sick to my stomach.

    • Rachel says:

      "It's largely accepted by the fanbase"

      LOL OK.

    • MichelleZB says:

      Um, really? Guess I'm not part of the "fanbase."

      Even criminals and murderers in Lyra's world, while killing or harming someone, will not in general touch their daemons. It seems to go beyond human interaction, and doesn't seem comparable to me.

      • MichelleZB says:

        I get what you're saying. Also, there are some vague spoilers in your post.

        Though I have to say that part of the greatness of what Pullman's done is created something horrifying *without* using an analogy. So he's managed to create a new crime that is despicable for its own, separate reasons. He spends a whole book preparing us so that when somebody finally touches Lyra's daemon, we are disgusted *without* him having to ever tell us, "It's equivalent to rape in our world!" We are disgusted by the act itself without comparing it to anything, which is an amazing feat of Pullman's, since we don't have daemons in real life.

        Presumably, they also have rape in Lyra's world. This is something… different.

        But I totally understand what you're saying about affecting the soul/spirit/mind, etc. Touching a daemon is a huge violation, and in that way it is like rape. But the word non-consensual is interesting. It doesn't seem like, in Lyra's world, that consent plays into it. It doesn't occur to anyone that they *could* consent to someone touching their daemon. Can you consent to someone reaching out and picking up your soul? It is just… inconceivable.

        Rape is non-consensual sexual contact. But sexual contact can also be welcome, so it's only rape if it's unwanted. It seems like daemon touching is *always* wrong, because can you consent to it, really? Why would anyone?

        • linguisticisms says:

          I didn't reference anything that happens in future chapters, so I don't think there are spoilers? I think you can get the impression of the analogy just from reading the passage in this chapter.

          It is different, absolutely. For one, it's entirely fictional and limited to this fantasy world Pullman has created (thank god). I only mean that I read it as a metaphor, and I've encountered a number of others who do; that's probably also a better word, as it doesn't imply that it's in any way equal to what it bears similarities to.

          I am going to have to decline addressing the consent issue, though, just because I can't think of any way to phrase a response that doesn't run the risk of straying into spoiler territory. Sorry.

          • linguisticisms says:

            Oh, that was a reply to flootzavut… Wow, disregard this, I apparently can't read.

            • flootzavut says:

              lol 🙂

              and re: "I am going to have to decline addressing the consent issue, though, just because I can't think of any way to phrase a response that doesn't run the risk of straying into spoiler territory."

              That is exactly the problem I keep stumbling into… a conversation to be saved for a later chapter I guess!

        • flootzavut says:

          I tried to say what I was trying to say without spoiling – sadly I now no longer had an edit button for that post… I could delete it? thoughts? I was trying to be vague enough that it wouldn't be a spoiler but it's kind of difficult given how later events in the book impact on what I'm trying to say and I may well not have succeeded well…

          I… um… it's kind of hard to explain where I am coming from WITHOUT spoiling…

          I posted about this in another reply to someone, but (assuming you have read the books – if not, DO NOT go there!) if you go to the hdm Wikia there is a section about Pantalaimon and if you read the middle section (below personality, above forms, can't name the section because its heading is a spoiler) then… well _if_ you have read the books, just go read it and hopefully you will see what I mean. I'm sorry, I'm really struggling to explain myself without risking massive spoilers…

          I agree that it's a testament to Pullman's skill that he makes no deliberate analogy, and we are still disgusted and horrified. But this:

          "It was as if an alien hand had reached right inside where no hand had a right to be, and wrenched at something deep and precious."

          … especially as Lyra is a child and she is being subjected to this by an adult, I think the echo it makes in the mind of sexual abuse is deliberate. Like I say, I'm by no means saying "touching a daemon is like raping someone", I'm just saying that as analogies go, rape or sexual assault is probably as close as we're like to get.

          I found it very interesting, in Erin's (I think…) post where she talked about a boy who suggested that everyone having a daemon renders men and women equal in their vulnerability to such attack – the lad apparently said that in the HDM world "everyone has a vagina". That may be simplistic (and I'm by no means saying men cannot be molested, abused, or raped) but it's a very interesting point.

          Like I say, I don't think Pullman is intending to make it an analogy of rape, or of abuse, but I do think the echo of that kind of act is being used to create part of our disgust and horror at what happens.

          • linguisticisms says:

            You definitely explained what I intended much better than I did.

          • I edited out the vaguely spoilery paragraph; hope you don't mind. Didn't want to delete the whole post and remove your personal experience from this conversation.

          • Pullman may not be intending an actual full-on analogy, but he is definitely — and I give him the credit for doing so deliberately — using language that is commonly associated with rape:

            It was as if an alien hand had reached right inside where no hand had a right to be, and wrenched at something deep and precious.

            And, specifically, language that is commonly associated with the rape of a child:

            But they fell on her again, three big and brutal men, and she was only a child, shocked and terrified

            Anyone else read The Bluest Eye? The "big and brutal men" bit really echoed the rape scene from that book, for me.


        • enigmaticagentscully says:

          "Though I have to say that part of the greatness of what Pullman's done is created something horrifying *without* using an analogy. So he's managed to create a new crime that is despicable for its own, separate reasons."

          That's a good point, I agree with you there – this is very definitely something that can only happen in Lyra's world, that we can't ever experience or really understand as we don't have daemons. I think the reason most people jump to 'rape' as an analogy is that it's the closest thing we have? And it's human nature to try and draw on experiences and events that we can more easily empathise with to give the story more emotional impact to us.

    • xpanasonicyouthx says:

      Ok, mods and everyone else, I think this is an important thread to discuss, so I'm leaving it up, but please be wary of spoilers, ok? I know there's a lot to talk about but I'm still way, way, way behind y'all and I don't want to know more about what happens with dæmons in the future, ok?

  28. Ellalalalala says:

    I am a quivering wreck. What an emotional rollercoaster of a chapter. It's got right under my skin, and I kind of want to scrub it out.

    Other people have articulated my response to this chapter far better than I could, but one thing I haven't seen mentioned much is the line about how the original procedure was too traumatic for the adult operators. I mean, WTF? "If you remember, we had to discharge quite a number for reasons of stress-based anxiety." OH I'M SORRY WAS PHYSICALLY RIPPING A DAEMON FROM ITS SCREAMING CHILD TOO STRESSFUL FOR YOUR DELICATE SENSITIVITIES

    Must. Remember. To. Breathe.

    Get here now, Iorek. I require some bear-based badassery to make things right.

  29. pica_scribit says:

    Oh, my dear Mark. You are just…not prepared. And there is nothing else I can say right now.

  30. Oh god, this chapter. COOL STORY TIME!

    Since my early teens I've been subject to nightmares that come every 4-5 months, on average. I call them Bad Dreams, as "nightmare" doesn't even begin to cover how awful and traumatic they are. When you wake up wanting to tear your own skin off, sobbing into your pillow, literally nauseous with fright, nightmare really doesn't cut it.

    I read TGC for the first time when I was 14, and I remember sitting up in bed with a torch on a school night when I reached this chapter and this line in particular:

    "It was as if an alien hand had reached right inside where no hand had a right to be, and wrenched at something deep and precious.

    She felt faint, dizzy, sick, disgusted, limp with shock."

    I read that passage three times, put the book down and wrote it on the back of a Christmas card. To this day, I haven't found anything that better describes the way those dreams make me feel.

    Philip Pullman isn't a perfect writer by a long shot, but damn. Dude is good.

  31. Brieana says:

    I think the effect of the Church can be left to interpretation.

  32. monkeybutter says:

    <img src=""&gt;

    I just want other people to suffer with me!

  33. Hanah_banana says:

    Oh god I had to throw Mere Christianity across the room in order that I would stop torturing myself by reading it and so quite possibly end up ripping out actual pages. Which, as someone who refuses to even break the spines on books because I want my shelves to look pretty, is a scary thing. But much as I love and adore the Narnia books I was filled with so much anger by Mere Christianity. Ugh CS Lewis, that book failed so hard. (Though not as hard as The God Delusion which I actually WANTED to ruin because it made me so angry as an atheist.)

  34. BradSmith5 says:

    YES, it should be normal, and I kept trying to tell you guys that back in Harry Potter! Pages of walking through buildings. Waiting for owls. TAKING the O.W.L.s. Rrrrgh, none of it matters; get on with the STORY!

    • monkeybutter says:


      Listen, I admit that Rowling isn't a perfect writer, and that in the later books,which are my favorites, her editors seemed to let her go hog-wild. But her audience wanted every tiny detail — listen to the cries for the Encyclopedia — so I can't really fault her for giving them an enjoyable reading experience. HP fans want to be immersed in that magical world, so the books are heavily detailed. It works for Harry Potter. I hope whatever she writes next is a bit tighter, though.

      • cait0716 says:

        Hasn't she even said that OotP needed to be tighter? Or maybe it was GoF? I remember her admitting that one of the books did get away from her in the details and she wishes she'd had another editing pass at it. 6 and 7 are much shorter than 4 and 5 were. I love the series, but those middle ones do drag a bit.

        • monkeybutter says:

          I think she's said it about OotP, but GoF could use some editing, too. It's my least favorite after CoS.

        • Hazelwillow says:

          I think GoF was rushed because it was the last one written on a deadline, despite the fact that it had more plot to get through. I wonder if it would have been better edited with more time.

        • notemily says:

          OotP definitely needed some editing. I thought the movie did a pretty good job of separating the wheat from the chaff on that one.

      • BradSmith5 says:


        Oh! Yes! An encyclopedia! It could be included with the book on a DVD as bonus content! And when you read it on a Kindle or something the optional entries UNLOCK as you get to certain chapters! Maybe you even get an achievement; I'm not sure how those ebooks work. I'm happy, you're happy!

        Now I will withhold my story about my cherished cactus because our undying friendship is not relevant to this post.

        Even though I want to tell it. 🙁

    • flootzavut says:

      As I said somewhere down below, fast pace = /= "good"… pace should be appropriate to the story. Not making any arguments for or against the pace of HP books, I'm too tired to even think that hard, but just pointing out that the pace of the story needs to be right for the book. Whether it's fast or not is not the point: whether is is "right" and whether it is forced is the thing.

      (What Pullman gets so spot on is that the pace is fast, which is appropriate to the nature of the story, and yet at no point does it feel forced or rushed. Undeniably, that is skilful.)

      • BradSmith5 says:

        Yeah, I just want every bit of the story to be meaningful somehow. I didn't have any problems with pacing. Sorry, I should have thrown in some boring action scenes as examples too. Like that final dash through "Meat Grinder City" in "Mockingjay." I was like "WHY is all of this happening again?"

  35. arctic_hare says:

    This chapter. *shudders* Awful, awful, awful. Not in the poorly written way, in the way that gets inside you and makes you hurt and want to cry or throw up or both kind of way. Pullman's been setting us up for this since near the beginning, with all the mentions of the taboo against touching other people's daemons, and here's the payoff. The description of how she felt when the man grabbed Pan is horrifying, and makes you feel sick inside even though you've never had a daemon. It's a real testament to Pullman's skill, and how well he's set us up for this scene, piece by piece over the course of the novel up to this point.

    But they fell on her again, three big and brutal men, and she was only a child, shocked and terrified

    It's so easy to forget how young and vulnerable Lyra actually is. She's always being so badass that I often don't stop to think about the fact that she's still a child, same as all the other children we've seen. Their youth and small size makes them vulnerable to these horrible adults. This scene makes it plain that Lyra, for all her badassery, can be caught unawares and is in just as much danger as becoming like poor Tony Makarios and all the other countless severed children as any of the others; she's not invincible. And while that's a good thing, because an invincible protagonist would be unbelievable and unsympathetic, it also makes these proceedings all the scarier. Which is as it should be.

    It's so heartbreaking to see her screaming at these men's daemons that they shouldn't be helping them do this, they should be helping her escape. I just want to cry rereading that whole part of the chapter, where she's struggling so desperately, to no avail. The sentence fragment I quoted above makes me feel so nauseated: this is sick, this is wrong, these are grown men preying on a child and overwhelming her, they have already violated her and now they are going to mutilate her, cut part of her away. Pan is a part of her, her soul, the very idea of intercision is so scary even though I don't even have a daemon. These people are pure evil, if I didn't already know that then this entire chapter would have cemented it for me. As it is, it's just more information on just how deeply evil they are.

    And then Mrs. Coulter walks in, and we see just how much of a hypocrite she is, without it even being spelled out for us. It's all there in her reaction: she's horrified and sickened to see Lyra about to be severed from Pan. This is the same woman that the kids said liked to watch, that these horrid men said had a ghoulish interest in seeing children be ripped from their daemons. Evil as those guys are, I think the saying about broken clocks being right twice a day applies here: she is a ghoul, and a deeply hypocritical one at that. It's perfectly okay for other people's children to go through this, but not her child. And think about the underlying class issue: she preyed exclusively on lower class children that the upper reaches of society didn't care about, that the police had little interest in searching for when they went missing. She herself is wealthy, and I doubt there were any wealthy children targeted for this. So, to her, the children of the poor are disposable, their pain and suffering just tools for her to get what she wants, but hands off her child, hands off other rich kids. Sounds a bit like our society too, no?

    It's a relief that Lyra has been spared that awful fate, but that relief is tempered with fear, for she's not out of the woods yet.

  36. flootzavut says:

    Gorgeous sketch.

  37. xpanasonicyouthx says:


  38. flootzavut says:

    It never ever occurred to me, though I knew the description made me feel somewhat ill, but the second I read where someone posted that I was like, "Ohhhhhhhhhhh! Yes, exactly!"

    (And, of course, "Ugh… I wish I hadn't read that…" too, if I'm honest…)

  39. flootzavut says:

    "One of the boys in my YA Lit class a few years ago mentioned that in some ways, daemons put men, women and children on equal ground physically, because they are all equally vulnerable to being violated this way. (Or, as he said it, “everyone has a vagina”.) Reading the passage over again now, I think there is definitely some truth to that."

    Blimey, that's a very insightful young man there.

  40. flootzavut says:

    See, I'm not sure about it "should" be the norm… I tend to shy away from "should" anyway, it's a dangerous word :p but there are different types of books. Pullman's pace – and how it doesn't seem remotely forced – are very appropriate for this book, but in another book this madcap pace would be inappropriate, even annoying. Different styles, different books, are paced differently, and that is just fine. Extreme example because I'm too tired to think of one that is more appropriate 😉 but I don't read Jane Austen for a face paced, thrilling ride, and I don't read Pullman to relax and laugh and escape from the stress of life.

    • monkeybutter says:

      Oh, I don't mean that everything should be action action action, but that the books don't go off on unnecessary tangents. Every word and every scene should move the story along, regardless of the pace. But then again, I really enjoy Neal Stephenson's books, so maybe I should back off on that "should," haha.

      • flootzavut says:

        I've not read nor even heard of Neal Stephenson *blush*

        I guess I mean there's a difference between relevence and pace… a story can be told in such a way that everything is relevant to the story and to the characters but be told in a very slow, measured way, and there again it's possible to write a story that's very fast paced without actually telling it well 🙂

        (Suspect we may be saying very similar things in different ways?)

        • monkeybutter says:

          (yeah, we are, haha)

          Well, if you're interested, Snow Crash is his most widely read and easiest to approach, but it's not for everyone. Cryptonomicon is a lot more disgressive, sometimes relevant, other times not but still fantastic in their own way. The lengthy food porn regarding Cap'n Crunch comes to mind (especially since I tore the top of my cereal box this morning and was filled with sorrow).

          • notemily says:

            Blarg, I hated Snow Crash. But then, I don't like cyberpunk in general. "Ooh, look at me, I have this fancy world where people do fancy things with fancy technology." It's very flashy.

      • cait0716 says:

        We almost got Neal Stephenson to speak at my college graduation.

        As a sci-fi nerd, I feel like I should read Anathem and Cryptonomicon, but Snow Crash took me a month to read and it's scared me away from his books a bit. I still intend to read more. Some day…

        • Snow Crash is a lot easier to get through than his later works, believe you me. By comparison, it practically races by. Some of his books don't get going until 200-400 pages in, and they don't need that much setup.


        • monkeybutter says:

          Yeah, he's not for everyone, and I know his endings bother people. And it's more like spec fic than sci-fi, especially Cryptonomicon since it's so history-heavy. If you ever give them a chance, Cryptonomicon is a lot less dense than Anathem

        • sabra_n says:

          If you want something way less sci-fi – though still very much enamored of science – you can always go for The Baroque Cycle, a good chunk of which is basically RPF about Newton and Leibniz and such. 🙂

          • monkeybutter says:

            lol, if it took her a month to get through Snow Crash, she'd never get through those beasts.

            • sabra_n says:

              It took me three years to get through The Baroque Cycle – one summer for each book, because I didn't have time to read fiction during the school year. I read other books during those summers, too, but…yeah, it took a while. And I'm a fairly fast reader.

    • t09yavorski says:

      Funny thing is, this is my first time reading this book that the pace feels fast. All other times this book has seemed to be reasonable paced for me (and for one or two rereads it seemed to drag). I think it is the chapter by chapter that really shows how quick this book actually moves.

  41. I read these books for the first time when I was 10-11, and reread them when I was 17-8 (I'm 21 now), and one of the things that was most interesting to me about the process of doing that was how much more viscerally horrifying this idea was to me as a quasi-adult. It's not that I wasn't horrified by it as a child but it didn't phase me as much: I think the fear got me more than how incredibly disturbing it was. Darkness in children's/young adult literature is so fascinating because kids are so much more resilient than we typically think they are. Part of it was definitely just that I wasn't mature enough to appreciate how horrible the idea of this is, but I also think that kids can accept horrible things like this more easily because their imaginations are so active and their consciousnesses so much less concretely formed. I ADORED these books as a kid precisely because they were probably the darkest and most upsetting things I had read — so I guess it's also probably a craving that kids around that age have for more adult things, not just in a superficial and silly way but in a deeper way: you want to KNOW what awful things people are capable of, because you are curious, and because you know instinctively that knowing is important.

    I really wish I had time to read them again now, I'm sure that they would seem much different to me even a few years later (no spoilers, but I think The Amber Spyglass especially would be richer to me now since he is most philosophical there). If only I had the time! But doing it vicariously through you is proving an excellent alternative. 🙂

    • hpfish13 says:

      Visceral is a great word to describe Pullman's writing. His use of language has an almost physical effect on you.

      • sabra_n says:

        That's "sensationalism" – writing that literally makes you feel physical sensations. It gets a bad rap sometimes, but when it works, it works.

  42. Hazelwillow says:

    Yeah. While i don't particularly enjoy seeing "vagina" equated with innate vulnerability, but yes, I see what the boy in your class, and you, mean. Good point and interesting! Of course most power and vulnerability is simply social, and that doesn't seem to have been too effected by the fact of daemons in lyra's world.

    • Erin says:

      I agree about the complications with equating the two, but I understood his meaning. Everyone, regardless of gender, can potentially be raped, but there seems to be a much higher risk for women. That might not be entirely a physical issue, though, because I think a significant part of it can be attributed to culture and how women are expected to present themselves; women's clothing styles have a tendency to make their bodies more accessible. One has to wonder if the number of male rape victims would be higher if they wore skirts or dresses as frequently as women do. It's probably much easier to overpower someone if you're not also trying to remove their belts or pants.

      And I also agree about the social and political impact… Lyra's world obviously has a number of marginalized groups of people, including women. I originally had a few thoughts about that in my comment but I decided it was too long and rambly so I cut them out, lmao. Really, I think that daemons do equalize certain things, but they're more internal. The daemon is kind of like the other half of yourself, so it seems to be some kind of a manifestation of the individual's spirit, and since the daemon vanishes when the person dies, I guess it doesn't have a true physical form. So its nature lends itself to being considered intangible, which would make it easier to dismiss. I'm guessing they also serve as an equalizer in social interactions. I mean, I can't be the only person out there who feels much more confident around strangers if I'm with one of my own friends – imagine if the best friend you could ever have is with you always, in every social situation, reminding you of your own value in a way that probably makes a lot of the people in Lyra's world more confident. But I think the daemon's power is viewed as significant only in personal ways, with no greater implications about mankind or the way the world should work. Kind of like the Christian Patriarchy movement, people can easily say "men and women are equals in spirit, but they're not equals in physicality/leadership/intelligence/intuition/etc". No matter the environment, there are probably always people who find some way to justify their oppression of others.

      (edited because I thought my phrasing turned incoherent, lol)

      • rumantic says:

        It's probably much easier to overpower someone if you're not also trying to remove their belts or pants.

        Possibly triggery

        Women get raped when they were wearing trousers too. Opportunistic rapes where a skirt might present less of a target are rare. People are most likely to be raped by someone they are close to, and/or that they trust. Rape does not always involve direct force, if there is force involved, it may begin after the trousers are off. Clothing is not relevant to rape.

        I wonder if actually, what he meant was not that everyone has a vagina, but that everyone has a penis. Everyone has hands. Even those who don't have hands or cannot use their hands has the ability to touch another's daemon. Everyone is vulnerable in the same way, though, and I think that's an interesting observation. (I wonder if those with unthreatening daemons like, say a rabbit, are more vulnerable than those with threatening daemons like a German Shepherd dog or a tiger or something. But perhaps that goes back to the clothing analogy.)

        • Erin says:

          I didn't know that, actually. I've always been taught that one of the ways to reduce the risk of being raped was to wear clothing that would require more effort to remove. Then again, I DID know that rapes are usually committed by people that the victim knows, so it probably should have occurred to me! Also, you saying that made me realize for the first time that, even though rape committed by strangers is much less common, every time I can ever remember someone talking to me about ways to protect myself were under the assumption that rape is done with direct force and violence. What the hell.

          And yeah, his analogy really goes both ways. Everyone can violate someone in this way, and everyone can be violated in this way, regardless of physical strength, age, or anything else. And that is an interesting point about the appearance of the daemons playing a factor. My natural inclination is to say that it probably would make a difference, but it's hard to decide. Because there's such a powerful taboo about touching the daemons of others, human-to-daemon interaction is pretty complicated. It might not be an issue because humans relate to daemons in such a vastly different way than they would relate to regular animals. I haven't read these books in a few years now and I'm trying to remember if Pan ever speaks directly to a human being that isn't Lyra. We see daemons speak to one another, and of course to their human, but I wonder if there's also a slight taboo against them even speaking to another person's "other half".

  43. flootzavut says:

    Actually I think I must've phrased myself wrongly, because I was agreeing with you, or at least trying to! Whether touching a demon uninvited is exactly rape, I couldn't say, but I think the analogy is as valid a one as we're going to get.

  44. crimsongirl says:

    My comment got deleted? Or maybe it didn't go through… But it was a reply to caito716:

    I'm not going to type it all out again, but long story short, I'm Catholic and going through confirmation and haven't ever been discouraged from forming my own conclusions, or have my priest force his own interpretations on the congregation, like 'MY word is LAW' and so forth.

    All that being said, this is just my personal experience, and obviously different than what your mother went through. I'm sorry that she had a negative experience.

    General comment on the book:

    So far, I don't see what's so offensive. I haven't read it myself and I'm just following along with Mark and going to wikipedia when I don't want to wait. I think it is true that any institution can be dangerous especially if it the sole authority, and mixing religion and politics isn't smart.

  45. roguebelle says:

    I loved when he made that statement, because reading the books, I always pictured her blonde, and then would have to correct my mental image, which was just frustrating. 😉

  46. flootzavut says:

    It's difficult isn't it! OK I shall leave the post and trust to mods to delete if they think it is a problem.

    In a way I guess it's one of those discussions that, interesting as it is to have now, it's just a bit too hard to talk about properly at this stage in the book because there's so much about daemons and what they represent that is yet to be explained!

  47. flootzavut says:

    Just IMO, but from a British/Protestant/"low church"/could hardly get further away from Catholicism if I tried standpoint, I imagine you're absolutely right. I think there's an aspect of Pullman's personal philosophy that is against religion of any kind, but the church in the books never felt at all familiar to me, and tallies with few, if any, of my "church experiences" (for want of a better word). I'm guessing that it will feel a good deal more familiar to Catholics or former Catholics, though it will be interesting to see whether that guess proves true.

    • hpfish13 says:

      Yeah, I feel like I'm in the same boat. This depiction of the Church is so foreign from that my own, which is about as far from Catholicism as possible while still being Christian.

      • flootzavut says:

        Hoping this doesn't come out totally wrong – I'm kind of glad it's not just me!

        Side note: I so wish I had worked out how to actually LOG IN to my intensedebate account back when we moved to It's so nice to be able to have a conversation and know when someone has responded without having to check back. Gah. Oh well, better late than never. Random non sequitur over now…

  48. flootzavut says:

    I'm only saying this because you said you wanted to be a writer, and as such you want to have an excellent grip on words – I think you mean you aspire to be like Pullman.

    (Sorry, I'm a word geek and a fellow writer and I can only just about help myself at the best of times! As you are an aspiring writer, well it seems like it is actually helpful and not just totally annoying that I should tell you the right word… and I almost typo'd that as "write word" which says it all 😉 must learn to type English…)

    ETA: oh and re Mark's preparedness? Couldn't agree more! So many sucker punches to come…

  49. t09yavorski says:


  50. enigmaticagentscully says:

    Oh, just the utter horror of the situation in this chapter…
    I think it's just so powerful because Lyra is completely helpless in a way we've never seen before. She's always been tough and fast and able to get out of any scrape. And she's very clever and a brilliant liar so we're just so used to her being able to work her way out.
    But this time – it all happens so fast, this group of grown men against a small child. She has no hope of fighting them off, no chance of talking her way out of it and no time to even think about escape. She's just completely overwhelmed and on top of that these men break all the rules and touch her daemon. After we've been told that even in the middle of battle people don't do that.

    This chapter is always very hard to read for me because of the clear parallels to sexual molestation. The idea of being so helpless; of someone taking something that they have no right to take that gives a sense of revulsion and violation beyond the mere physical act itself. It's not something I have any experience in, thank goodness, but Pullman describes this scene so vividly that I almost feel like I am reading a scene of rape.

    I suppose it's a testament to his writing that this chapter makes me feel so uncomfortable. But I'm glad it's over with now, anyway. Mrs Coulter to the rescue! And who would have ever thought we'd be glad to see her intervene?

  51. evocativecomma says:

    Did you read the Wrinkle in Time books as a kid?

    • cait0716 says:

      No, I missed them. And since learning about them, I'm kicking myself for it.

    • notemily says:

      Those books are amazing, and L'Engle never beats you over the head with Christian themes. In fact, she writes about (gasp) MAGIC! The horrors! She can't be a REAL Christian or she would know that MAGIC IS OF TEH EVOL and makes you a Satanist or something.

    • monkeybutter says:

      They are THE BEST. A Wrinkle in Time is still one of my favorite books (Meg <3 <3 <3 ). And I remember picking up Many Waters when I was 11 because it had this cover

      <img src=""&gt;

      I had such a crush on Sandy and Dennys. And Cal. The books also have great stories, haha.

      • notemily says:

        I READ THE ONE WITH THAT COVER TOO. I think that's probably the most blatantly Christian-themed of the four, since it's set in an actual Biblical story, but the thing is, we never really know if they were transported back through time, or if they were transported into the Bible. Like, we never find out what the magic computer actually does, which I think is really interesting.

  52. Ash says:

    I just realised, he’s properly demonised her hasn’t he? And it couldn’t have been done if we had seen more of her. Coulter is now an embodiment of everything that is seriously fucked up. Isn’t a similar thing being done to Asriel; we’ve seen incredibly little of him to. We know almost nothing about them but the stories told by others.

  53. rumantic says:

    Rape myths are so pervasive 🙁 Most of the time people spreading them are doing so in ignorance and often good faith (as well as the fear argument I mentioned earlier) – the more you learn about it.. ugh. Angry is an understatement 😉

    • drippingmercury says:

      Argh, I know.
      This reminds me of something Mark recently reblogged on tumblr about victim-blaming: Why Did I Blame The Victim?

      I <3 this post because it quite succinctly explains why victim blaming is so pervasive and why it's harmful. Plus, it's always encouraging to read about people realizing and addressing problematic behavior. 🙂

  54. BradSmith5 says:

    Well, my spring cactus had numerous, bright blooms when I got it. But then came…the separation! Only instead of having an invisible tether cut, I went away for a week during a 100 degree summer. When I got back in my apartment to see my cactus buddy, every flower had withered from the heat and fallen off. 🙁

    But! Through that ordeal our friendship grew: I resolved to always leave the A/C on a bit, and––although the flowers never came back––it always produced plenty of green, jagged leaf-like segments!

  55. notemily says:

    HATHEIST. Awesome word.

    I've only read a couple of Narnia books, but Wardrobe's obvious Christian analogy never bothered me, because it was a story. A fantasy story. The same way the parallels to the Christ story in Harry Potter don't bother me. There's a reason why that story has been so compelling to so many different people for so long–because it's a good story. Some people choose to make it the foundation of their religion, but I just look at it as a timeless tale.

  56. sabra_n says:

    Little Israeli-born Jew that I am, I also had no idea bout the religious allusions in the Narnia books until I looked them up in a library catalogue and saw them listed under "Christian" or whatever. It almost felt like a betrayal at the time.

  57. Danielle says:

    UNPREPARED. You think shit has got real now? It is a FLICKERING HOLOGRAM.

    Someone said being rescued by Mrs Coulter is "out of the frying pan into the fire". It's more like "into the nuclear reactor". God that golden monkey I hate his FACE ughhh *shudder*

  58. notemily says:

    Awww *hugs Lyra and Pan*

  59. sabra_n says:

    The horrific image of Lyra and Pan trapped in their cages, so close but unable to touch each other and seconds away from permanent separation, is one of the ones that really, really stuck with me after reading this book.

    So of course, it's one of the many things the movie managed to make boring. Well done, guys!

  60. nanodragora says:

    It is a testament to Pullman's skill (and your own) that just reading the review of this chapter is giving me SERIOUS anxiety. My heart is racing and my feet are twitching and I feel a weird choking sensation in my throat and OH GOD I AM DYING THIS IS SO INTENSE! D:

  61. And so even "self-protection" tips about rape can feed a victim-blaming culture.

    OMG all the tears. I have currently been having a painful conversation with a beloved friend about this. She said she was interested in my thoughts on her conviction that, although women are NEVER NEVER NEVER at fault for being raped, don't women at least have some responsibility to keep themselves safe by not dressing provocatively and being aware at all times where they are and who they're with? My thoughts – let me show you them – foremost being the thought that I AM NOT AS SAFE AS I THOUGHT I WAS because female friends around whom I had felt safe turn out to buy this line of thinking THAT HURTS WOMEN. And now *I'm* the bad guy because she thought it was safe to talk out these thoughts with a friend, how dare I get so upset with her, how dare I suggest that by her pushing this line of thinking she is supporting rape culture, and how dare I link her to Melissa McEwan's fantastic article on rape culture that has 101 in the title and my friend of course doesn't need 101 linkage thank you very much…

    It makes me so upset. The prevailing thought seems to be that, as long as you provide the preface "of course the rape victim isn't to blame" then it's fine and dandy to suggest that women have a responsibility to make themselves more rape-proof. And my friend is trying to get me to agree to a viewpoint that is demonstrably misogynistic, but I'm the bad guy for feeling under attack.

    I think it does come down to fear, like you say. My friend is ostensibly proceeding from the premise that it's always bad to consider the victim helpless, and it's always empowering to find ways in which she can protect herself. The problem is, "women have the responsibility to keep themselves safe" isn't empowering — at best, it provides false security (as though women have never been raped in combat fatigues or in jeans or in burqas; as though women have never been raped in broad daylight or in their own beds or by trusted friends), and at worse, it disempowers them by providing the demonstrable incentive not to report rape when it happens — either because we have internalized the guilt, or because we assume the police or the judge and jury will consider us the guilty party for having failed to live up to our "responsibilities."

    I love how McEwan puts it. To paraphrase: The only guaranteed way not to be raped is never to be in the presence of a rapist — and it's not like rapist glow purple or wear handy signs to help us identify them!

    Gaaahhhhhh. Thank you for saying good things, thank you for helping to stand up against the tyranny of rape culture, and thank you for providing me an opportunity to vent.

    • nanodragora says:

      My sister believes that "it's a woman's fault for being raped if she dresses like a slut." When my friend and I heard her say that we were shocked into silence. It's a scary thing to hear from someone so close to you, someone you've been around your whole life, someone of your blood, someone you thought you knew. It was at that moment that I saw my sister in a whole new light. I realized how going to college had made us grow up in completely opposite ways. I couldn't believe she said that, that she fully believed it, and that when we pointed out that "men are not dumb beasts who cannot help themselves when they see too much skin" she argued her point.

      It made me unbelievably sad and disgusted to hear that.

    • rumantic says:

      I got really upset reading the follow-up blog to the one I linked earlier. Someone left a comment on that entry about how the victim "is not to blame but should take some responsibility" and she followed that up in a separate entry. The comments on it went unmoderated for a while and some of them are beyond belief 🙁

      The one which annoyed me was this same guy going on about how you wouldn't leave your expensive jewellery on show, and your insurance might be invalid if you didn't have a smoke alarm. I wanted to say firstly, if everyone had expensive jewellery, it wouldn't make a difference if you hid it or not. And secondly, is there some kind of "rapist alarm" I don't know about, because that would be quite useful 😉

      In the same vein this was quite interesting the other day "Why do people imagine we need analogies for rape?

    • rumantic says:

      What is 101 linkage, by the way? I haven't heard that expression before.

      • drippingmercury says:

        Not the person you were asking, but I had the link handy.

        Melissa McEwan's 101 on Rape Culture is here. I also recommend perusing Shakesville's entire Feminism 101 page. It is just loaded with useful explanatory articles… as the title would imply, I guess.

        • rumantic says:

          So a 101 is a collection of related articles? (Thanks for the links :))

          • laleia says:

            In college, 101 classes are often introductory classes, so referring to things as "Subject 101" is a shorthand for "Introduction to Subject".

          • drippingmercury says:

            Ha, sorry, I totally misread your question. laleia's correct, the site is basically an introduction to various topics related to feminism.

  62. monkeybutter says:

    Yeah, that was one of the things that bothered me about what the scientists were saying about Mrs Coulter being ghoulish. They know that their actions are horrific, so much so that many of them have been discharged because of it. But somehow it's okay for them to continue because they found a way to divorce themselves from the action. Their holier-than-thou attitude and disregard for the children is really, really disturbing.

  63. Stephalopolis says:



    I can't.

    This is…. I can't even….


    • Stephalopolis says:

      And like you, Mark, when I read about Pantalaimon being touched, I gasped out loud and felt such a HUGE feeling of revolution, I felt like puking.

      Guys… this is fiction. FICTION. What is this book doing to me????

  64. Really one of the moments that stood out for me in the *movie*.

    Before I hear your outcries, Nicole Kidman's acting was so pitch-perfect when she opened the door to see her daughter being severed. Brilliant.

    Note: Philipp Pullman knew that Nicole Kidman had to play this role 10 years before they made the film. He also said: "I was clearly wrong. You sometimes are wrong about your characters. She's blonde. She has to be."

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