Mark Reads ‘The Subtle Knife’: Chapter 14

In the fourteenth chapter of The Subtle Knife, Lee Scoresby and John Parry face a difficult challenge on their journey to find the bearer of the subtle knife. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Subtle Knife.


John Parry and Lee Scoresby are an interesting pairing, and I like that Pullman has stuck such disparate characters together in this ballon. And despite that Lee is never quite sure what is going on, or what sort of secrets that Parry has hidden from him, he still presses forward with his dependable, sensical dæmon at his side. I think that this chapter, more than any other, shows us how deep and true the relationship is between a dæmon and their companion, maybe even more so than Lyra and Pan.

Pullman brings us back to these two balloon travelers, who have travelled into Cittágazze and will soon head towards wherever Parry thinks the bearer of the subtle knife is. (This is still unsaid.) It’s a real testament to Pullman’s talent that he can give us the experience of yet another character entering Cittágazze for the first time, and not one bit of it seems repetitive and boring. For Lee, it seems to be just the beginning of the strangeness of his journey with the shaman, and he looks up the ruined city with shock and confusion. Even though he has the absolute least interaction with the place, he is the most jarred by what he witnesses. In the process, we’re given a huge chunk of information from Parry about the Specters. Lee is able to see them, being an adult, and he frantically asks Parry what those things are. The answer Parry gives is also a huge clue to what this book is about:

“The Specters feast as vampires feast on blood, but the Specters’ food is attention. A conscious and informed interest in the world. The immaturity of children is less attractive to them.”

IT’S LIKE A LIGHTBULB WENT OFF IN MY BRAIN. There it is, the real difference between children and adults, and the reason why Dust and the Specters have such a varied response. We’ve known this was all tied to age, but what Pullman is doing here is using the point of human knowledge and experience as a way to create a physical phenomenon. If Dust are the rebellious angels, then perhaps they’ve been waiting all of this time to show humanity the truth about the world, through a conscious and informed interest, in order to get them on their side. It seems to suggest that this book is going to be about the fight to keep an informed interest in the world, instead of the opposite. That would mean the Magisterium wishes to keep people in the darkness of immaturity forever by severing their dæmons.

It’s a fascinating concept, and given what I went through as both a non-denominational Christian and a Catholic, it makes me think about the veneration of children within large sects of Christianity. In Catholicism, we were taught that children are born into sin, but cannot be held accountable until at least the age of seven, and it’s drilled into our skulls how precious and perfect and ideal children are in God’s plan. Even Jesus himself was described to me in terms of youthful veneration: his innocence was childlike and his goodness was as we were born. And let’s just accept that as true for the sake of this: I don’t want to be a child anymore? That may be a simplification of the whole thing, but not only did I have a shitty childhood that was not virtuous and joyous and innocent, but things are a hell of a lot better now! I like knowing about the world, even if it most of it is awful and enraging! I enjoy having experiences, negative and positive. Hell, the more I have, the more fulfilled I feel. I think it’ll be interesting to see how much further Pullman takes this idea.

Lee and John continue flying through the city, and we get some more of that Southern sass of Lee’s, who is baffled that Parry doesn’t think they should land to help anyone else. He makes a remark about his ignorance of Parry’s ideas of how they should help, adding in a dig at the man’s apparent inability to fly, despite Lee being told Parry had the gift of flight. Parry’s reply, that he can fly, since he clearly summoned Lee and is flying right now, made me chuckle. But it also made me wonder what sort of powers that Parry possessed since becoming a shaman. Pullman doesn’t take long to answer it when Lee and Parry realize they are not alone in the skies of Cittágazze. First, Lee spots another balloon and before he can ascend high enough, a flare is sent streaming into the sky, and they know they’ve been spotted.

It’s here that we actually get to see Parry use his weird shaman powers. I feel like Lee’s request for a “stiffer breeze” is almost just an aside, as if he doesn’t expect the man to actually bring one by. Except then the man goes into a trance and then Lee feels a breeze just moments later. Um, that is awesome? He’s like a silent air bender. Unfortunately, any hope of outrunning the other balloon is shot to hell when Lee spots four zeppelins in the distance.

Well, fuck.

So begins one of two ridiculously tense moments in chapter fourteen. (What, that’s like….the twentieth such moment in the whole book? Christ, this book is just non-stop.) I think most, if not all, of this chapter highlights what Lee is actually good at, and how Parry must place his faith in Lee’s ability to fly the balloon properly. As Lee maneuvers the balloon towards a set of mountains nearby, he notices that something else has arrived behind the balloon and the zeppelins: a vicious cloudbank that rains dark green. And right before his eyes, Lee watches a zeppelin go down when a flash of lightning strikes it.

GUESS THE SHAMAN IS INDEED WORKING HIS MAGIC, RIGHT? Like…HOLY SHIT.  That is so awesome! Of course, it would have been too convenient if Parry was just able to take all four of them down at once. However, I’m glad Pullman shows us how exhausting and draining this, that the act requires a whole lot of energy on Parry’s part. Lee, knowing this, decides that it’s no longer time to worry about the zeppelins; he needs to get his balloon landed safely and hidden before they are spotted entirely. Lee does manage to land the balloon even better than he hoped, but I honestly expected something terrible to happen. We’re almost to the end and anything could happen at this point, so I started getting nervous. However, Lee proves yet again that he is a masterful flyer, and the two manage to find their feet on solid ground after a little bit of work. It seems, though, that some camping is in order, as they can’t go anywhere with zeppelins overheard searching for them. Lee manages to get the gasbag out of sight and the two spend the night hiding from the zeppelins.

I actually had to read the dream section that comes next twice. I flat out did not understand what I’d read the first time around, so I returned to the beginning of the segment to try again. I think it’s purposely a bit vague, but the general idea is that Parry’s uncanny shaman powers involved him entering Lee’s dreams in a way to give him a glimpse of what he can do. What was so confusing to me was the fact that Lee was dreaming about something that was happening at that very moment. So when he awoke after images of a burning shaman, a Specter controlled by John, and watching a Specter suck the life out of the pilot of one of the zeppelins, I thought, SURELY THIS IS ALL JUST A METAPHOR FOR WHAT LEE IS GOING THROUGH.

NOPE. NOPE. For Lee wakes up to see the flickering remains in the distant forest that most certainly belonged to the zeppelin that crashed into the mountain. Meaning that John Parry can control the Specters into doing his bidding. Holy shit, y’all.

Lee’s fourth dream shows him how John was also able to control (or at least summon) a group of birds to attack the third zeppelin. I really enjoy that Pullman doesn’t deprive of us the weirdness and the exhilaration that Lee feels in his strange, dream-bird form either. Which makes me wonder…what exactly was John Parry doing to make this happen?

I suppose that’s not important, and I definitely enjoy the strangeness of it all. It’s clear that this is not at all what Lee expected to happen when he swore to protect Lyra, and he even brings up the idea of leaving, especially since he certainly isn’t comfortable with so much death going on around him. But Hester reminds him that there are more men coming. “Survival first, morals later,” she says.

That survival thing she’s referring to? Yeah, John Parry wakes up and informs Lee that the remaining zeppelin is going to ignite the forest with napalm in order to kill them or flush them out into the open. As the rush to leave, it’s actually kind of sad to me that Lee is forced to leave his balloon behind because I’ve come to associate him with flying. Stuck to the land, it’s almost as if he’s a different person. His job as an aeronaut is so intrinsic to his character.

It became clear to me what a disaster this chapter would become fairly quickly. From Pullmans description of the animals fleeing a fiery death, to the sheer impossibility of escape, to the realization that they’ve basically walked into a trap, it felt like the obvious was about to come: The two of them would be captured by whomever was flying that last zeppelin. (I mean…it has to be the Magisterium, right? Who else could it be?)  The only hope is reaching a narrow passageway in the mountains before they are spotted. The two rush as quickly as possible, but Parry’s exhaustion from his night of spiritual warfare slows them down, so much so that Lee must admit that disaster has struck: They’ve been spotted.

What happens here is unbelievably harrowing, and as the Tartan soldiers descend on a ladder, Lee is faced with a choice: Give his gun to John Parry and turn himself in, or allow John Parry to escape and he’ll face the soldiers himself. As they move to the shelter of the gulch and Lee’s made it clear he’ll choose the latter, he asks but one thing of John Parry: Is what he’s doing going to help Lyra or harm her? When John replies that it will help, Lee makes sure that Parry knows exactly what he means:

“Because, Dr. Grumman, or John Parry, or whatever name you take up in whatever world you end up in, you be aware of this: I love that little child like a daughter. If I’d had a child of my own, I couldn’t love her more. And if you break that oath, whatever remains of me will pursue whatever remains of you, and you’ll spend the rest of eternity wishing you never existed. That’s how important that oath is.”

Oh, Lee Scoresby. You fill my heart with such a fierce sense of joy and respect.

It is with this that Parry departs and the title of the chapter, “Alamo Gulch,” suddenly rings truer in my head: This is Lee Scoresby, the lone Texan, up against an army of twenty-five. He’s outnumbered. He thinks back to the games he played as a child, re-enacting that battle, and knows it is no longer a game anymore. His first shot? He takes out the port engine on the zeppelin floating overhead.

The battle that takes places here filled me with dread and doom while giving me such an intense love for the character of Lee Scoresby, the man who had vowed to protect Lyra and was now crouched behind a rock with twenty-five armed soldiers set to open fire any minute. Lee’s thoughts briefly wander to the beauty and passion of his hare dæmon, to how he is connected to Lyra in some way he cannot understand, and the first shot rings out. The battle commences.

I thought that the title of the chapter was a clue to Lee’s stand against the Tartan soldiers and would act only as a reference to how outnumbered he was. Even when he discovered that a bullet had clipped his scalp, I thought that Lee surely had the upper hand as he continued to drop those blue-shirted soldiers.

And then he is shot in the shoulder. It doesn’t stop him, only gives him a brief pause, but then something happens that made me realize that maybe this chapter title was a lot more literal:

Then there was a long silence. Lee fumbled in his pocket and found some more bullets. As he reloaded he felt something so rare his heart nearly failed; he felt Hester’s face pressed to his own, and it was wet with tears.

I didn’t even know that this was something a dæmon could do, and a fresh wave of terror washed over me. This is bad. This is really bad. Hester apologizes for telling Lee to steal that Skraeling ring, which got him into this mess in the first place. When Lee tries to respond, a second bullet pierces his left leg, and then a third hits his head.

I’m not even going to hide this: By this point, I had tears in my eyes. This could not be happening. Lee was a rock. He was solid and dependable and his skill with a rifle was not matched by anyone else. Hester reminds Lee that Serafina gave him a flower to use to summon her if he needed her, and I held on to the tiny shred of hope that she would find a way to help Lee in this moment of desperation.

She doesn’t come. Another bullet lodges itself in Lee’s chest, and three shots later, the second to last man is dead. Lee is sprawled on the ground, his hare dæmon telling him there is just one man left, one man heading back to the zeppelin, and there is but one bullet left in his gun. So Lee does the only thing he can: he shoots the zeppelin overhead, which erupts and then crashes in flames, killing those who are left of the Tartan regiment.

This couldn’t be it. Where was Serafina? Lee remarks that he wishes these men didn’t have to die, and that he didn’t have to die either.

She said, “We held ‘em off. We held out. We’re a-helping Lyra.”

Then she was pressing her little proud broke self against his face, as close as she could get, and then they died.

No. Nope. It still hurts. I am not okay with this. And I am going to sob myself to sleep for a week. Just…..FUCK. I must have cried for five minutes straight, just spread out on the sofa in my apartment, because this man was not supposed to die. I thought that John Parry would certainly perish before he saw his son, and that maybe Lee would be tasked with telling Will what he needs to do. That’s what I thought would happen once the zeppelins spotted the two of them.

I just feel awful. Completely awful. Lee will never be able to express how much he loved Lyra to her face. Just…my god, this is terrible.

About Mark Oshiro

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

127 Responses to Mark Reads ‘The Subtle Knife’: Chapter 14

  1. James says:

    "A conscious and informed interest in the world."

    To me, that's all original sin and the whole Adam and Eve thing has ever been, which is why I love Pullman and these books so much. As I understand it, Adam and Eve is just an allegory to explain why there is suffering in the world; we have free will and sometimes our choices don't do us any favours. Of course, people take it as "original sin" or "we suffer because A WOMAN SINNED and now we're paying for it". But marking of the difference between children and adults here as having an informed interest in the world really ties it in to the whole thing for me. Adam and Eve ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Life and Death, and became aware and conscious of themselves and the world around them; their daemons settled. Fascinating stuff.

    In other news, ALL OF MY CREYS. I love Lee and Hester *so much* and I teared up just reading this review. I take comfort in that he at least has a damn good death and goes out fighting for Lyra.

  2. Maya says:

    Okay everyone. Let's get together and have a hug pile over here.

    RIP Lee and Hester, badasses extraordinaire.

  3. Kris says:

    All I can say is


    ;_; forever

    Thank you Mark.

  4. Araniapriime says:

    it’s drilled into our skulls

    Like trepanning? Just sayin'. 😉

  5. eleventysix says:

    I teared up while reading your review, Mark. After I'd already cried while reading about Lee's battle last night; and then I sat back and scolded myself for not remembering it from my first read through when I was younger. I guess something about feeling young and rather invincible and really, really needing to finish the book before I got to school because it was due back that day and I'd absolutely never had a library fine and what was going to happen to Will and Lyra?! made me skim this…and it's quite clear that I shouldn't have.
    Pullman wrote this section so well. Lee is an absolutely incredible shot. He's pragmatic, and clever and tough, but even with all that, he never forgets his morals or his basic humanity. It's amazing that one of his last thoughts before he dies – protecting someone a little girl (perhaps not so) far away whom he only met by chance – is that he wishes he hadn't had to take the lives of a group of men who clearly had no qualms about killing him, although they had the advantage in the fight. He was a Good Man by nature, and I think that's such a rare thing to find, in any of Pullman's worlds.

  6. Laurel says:

    Best chapter in the book. Totally destroyed. Lee! Hester!

  7. muzzery says:

    Oh man, I was dreading you reading this chapter Mark, because of the ENDLESS TRAGEDY.

  8. Ryan Lohner says:

    This chapter is especially incredible in the audiobook. You can actually hear Pullman fighting back tears as he relives the scene, and the actors playing Lee and Hester really bring their A-games.

  9. stellaaaaakris says:

    It's a testament to how well-written Lee Scoresby is that I always sob when I read this chapter. He's only been in, what, maybe 8 chapters (I don't think even that many) in 2 books and his death (and Hester's of course) shatters my heart. His decision to pretty much give himself up as a sacrifice, there's next to no chance he will survive, with the hope that John will keep his promise so that Lyra will have a little bit of safety destroys me.

    • @lizbang says:

      I couldn't believe how little time we spend with Lee when I reread this. For all the sobbing and heartache I felt reading it the first time around I convinced myself that Lee had been way more in the picture than he is. How can Hester be my favorite character when she's in the story so briefly?

      • RoseFyre says:

        I know, right? This chapter is why I adore Lee and Hester, but when I was rereading TGC, I realized that Hester may have appeared in that book, but she never spoke and was never even named! And yet, she's still my favorite daemon ever. It's all this chapter, seriously. All this chapter.

  10. AnonAndi says:

    Ah, Mark. As soon I saw you were on this chapter I was like "Welp, where's my box of tissues because this is going to be an almighty cry fest." Lee Scoresby you didn't deserve to die, you were too amazing. But at least he went with one hell of a fight!
    Seriously unprepared.

    You know what would make this slightly better? * ARMORED BEAR HUG*

  11. Hellen says:

    This is one of the few scenes I remember really clearly from when I read these books as a kid, and it is so incredibly heartbreaking. If ever there was a character who deserved to live a long and excellent life, it was this one.

  12. elusivebreath says:

    I completely forgot about this part until I got to it last night and omg I cried just like the first time all over again. And then again right now, at work, reading this review. RIP Lee and Hester <3

  13. cait0716 says:

    This chapter is just completely heartbreaking. So sad that Lee had to die. But what an epic death scene! It reminds me of (spoilers for another series Mark has committed to) jura Obebzve qvrf ng gur raq bs Sryybjfuvc bs gur Evat (gur zbivr). <- (rot13)

    I love that John Parry was a Boy Scout and carries dry matches with him. It's such a great little detail. He certainly did pick up grains of wisdom from everywhere he went.

    • flootzavut says:

      Oh! Yes, it's very reminiscent of that.

    • barnswallowkate says:

      He certainly did pick up grains of wisdom from everywhere he went.

      I loved that grains of wisdom concept. I also liked his line about nothing coming natural for a human, that everything has to be learned. Not only does it suggest that you can learn anything you want and it's OK to suck at it for a while, it also means that things you believe about yourself and the world are learned and can therefore be changed. It's a small line but it was really cool to me.

  14. Quandary says:

    My heart just broke. ;_;

    I mean, back when I read it some two weeks ago. I literally stopped reading and sobbed and sobbed. Such bravery and such dignity. Of all characters, Lee was possibly the one who most truly embodied the concept of Doing The Right Thing – right as in moral and good – and he did it in this amazingly matter-of-fact way, without bragging about it, not because he stood to gain from it, but because that's just the kind of man he was. And yes, the relationship he had with Hester… admirable. And I loved the detail of Hester's beautiful eyes.

    Darn, just writing this comment and thinking of this chapter brought tears to my eyes, and I haven't even read the review.

  15. Partes says:

    This scene is one of the best deaths I've read, I think, and the reason for that is simple: the death isn't something that just happens to Lee as he does something brave, it fully encompasses him as a character. His pragmatism is shown in the way that he chooses such a smart position to hold, and takes men down with the efficiency of clockwork; his kindness and bravery is emphasised but not overstated, as he realises that violence is something that he has to do, but not something he has to feel good about; his character is expanded upon as he draws a parralel between the violence of adult life and the joy of playing during childhood.

    Lee Scoresby dies on the ground, rather than he over the clouds he loved, but I think back to when he spoke of his love of Texas and feel like he'd be incredibly proud of how he fell. In death he was high above others, looking down on them with empathy even while aimed his sights to take their lives. Iorek would have been proud.

    He died thinking of a little girl he wanted to protect, and even as I feel horrifically sad I can't help but smile at his strength of character.

    <img src=>

    • cait0716 says:

      That's a beautiful picture, thanks for sharing

      • Partes says:

        I love it, too, although I can't find who it's drawn by. It's the cover of 'Once Upon a Time in the North', which is a novella based around Lee generally being a bamf. I was hesitant to post as it's a prequel which Mark might read, but it doesn't give away any spoilers and I feel like it encompasses Lee as a character perfectly. Plus, you know, it's on the front of the book. Hehe.

        • arctic_hare says:

          I love that book. Gonna have to reread it for comfort again after this chapter. :'(

        • Imma ordering that book today in honor of Lee and Hester.

        • Mauve_Avenger says:

          I'm pretty sure that all of the art in the two companion books is done by John Lawrence. At least, John Lawrence is listed on the back of Once Upon a Time in the North and all the artwork in both books have a very similar style.

          I'm not absolutely sure if this is the case, but I like to think that the thing poking up out of the basket in the middle is Hester's ears and the top of her head.

          • flootzavut says:

            definitely Hester

          • theladymania says:

            It is John Lawrence, Pullman talked about loving working with him specifically as he uses traditional methods of engraving and woodcutting, as opposed to illustrations that just mimic the style.

    • flootzavut says:

      Love the picture.

    • barnswallowkate says:

      Aww look at Hester's little ears poking over the top of the basket <3

    • notemily says:

      I do love that Lee keeps saying he doesn't want to be killing people, right up until he dies. He knows that in this case violence is necessary to his purpose, but he still doesn't think it's right and he doesn't romanticize it as a glorious thing to do. I love him.

  16. @GalFawkes says:

    Anyone else think Hester is a shoutout to Hester Prynne from The Scarlet Letter? It too dealt with religious fundamentalism, in a way. If it is, mad props to Philip Pullman.
    Oh and also: RIP.
    I love Lee Scoresby and Hester so much. My favorite Lee moment was his spelling out to John Parry in no uncertain terms that his concern was with Lyra, and he wasn't OK with using people like pawns in a grander thing, and he adds that he's just an ignorant man, so what does he know – that could have been in a previous chapter too. I'm too lazy to find it. But that's my favorite Lee Scoresby moment.

  17. enigmaticagentscully says:


  18. frogANDsquid says:

    At that point i put the book down and didnt read the last chapter until about 3 days later. Lee+hester <3

  19. meguca says:

    I don't usually cry at books – I can't remember the last time I did, maybe at the end of Harry Potter?? – but there was definitely a tear or two here over Lee ;_; I definitely did not expect him to die.

  20. Hanah_banana says:

    Lee and Hester dying still makes me cry every single time. It actually affected me more than any death I've ever read in a book ever – more than anyone in Harry Potter, more even than the shock death in Pullman's 'Shadow of the North' (oh god I cried for HOURS). I think it's partly because it's such a brutal, inevitable death. I mean all the deaths in Harry Potter are horrible and upsetting, but I think all of them happen very suddenly and unexpectedly, and there's no details about pain and suffering – I think they're all basically instantaneous aren't they? Whereas Lee…Lee goes down fighting, he goes down slowly and agonisingly and inevitably. I was crying long before he actually died because I knew it was coming and he was so brave and brilliant, and every bullet punching into him was like a punch in the stomach for me because it made his death all the more certain.

    It's actually a really shocking and unusual thing to have such a graphically described death in a book aimed at young people, and I think that's why it's stayed with me more than any other. That kind of thing sticks with a ten year old. But in a good way, and I'm so glad Pullman did it.

    RIP Lee Scoresby, and RIP Hester. You were two of my favourites and eleven years later I'm still not over your deaths.

    • flootzavut says:

      It's also a show of talent that the death is brutal and graphic but it doesn't feel gratuitous and it's still beautiful. Kudos, Mr Pullman!

  21. flootzavut says:

    I know I'm coming at it from a different angle, being a Christian myself, but I find the whole "immaturity and ignorance are good" thing that some churches have going as weird and sometimes downright offensive. Just… well I guess, so's you know it's not just you and indeed it's not just atheists who find that strange.

    I wonder if this is also one of the reasons why the church in the books "feels Catholic" to me (for want of a better phrase) – I've never attended a church which venerates childhood in that way, and especially with the Madonna-and-child aspect of the faith (Jesus seems to be more venerated as a child than as an adult) it feels very alien to me.

    Lee and Hester :'( I'd forgotten that was in this chapter. I love Hester, I want her to be my daemon…

    • flootzavut says:

      "Then she was pressing her little proud broke self against his face, as close as she could get, and then they died."

      *all the tears*

  22. shortstack930 says:

    I had a feeling he would die eventually but it still is so sad 🙁

  23. arctic_hare says:

    FUCK THIS CHAPTER T______________T

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    I seriously want to give you all the hugs somehow over the internet, Mark, because I reacted the same way when I first read this chapter. I just cried and cried, and I set the book down and didn't pick it up again for at least a couple days, even though I'd been tearing through it and there was only one chapter left. I was as heartbroken as you are. Still am – I've been dreading you getting to this chapter, and I only reread it because I wanted to truly keep up with this rather than skipping over it. And I cried again. It started when Lee said what he did to Grumman/Parry about Lyra. And Hester, little Hester, crying, oh my god. This is like the perfect storm of DO NOT WANT when it comes to fictional character death for me. How could you, Pullman? :'( :'( :'( Agh, tearbending again.

  24. Nomie says:

    Lee is a leaf on the wind, watch how he soars. ;_______________;

    [WORDPRESS HASHCASH] The poster sent us ‘0 which is not a hashcash value.

  25. barnswallowkate says:

    Warning for tl;dr and *making it all about myself*

    Ok. So. You know how I don't really cry at fiction, ever? And I've read this trilogy twice already? Somehow after reading this chapter last night I put the book down and wept for 20 minutes. The description of Hester putting her face on Lee's & them dying just wrecked me. I turned having part of your soul that looks like a cute animal dying in front of you and turned it into my husband* and my cat dying someday and just couldn't deal. Now I'm scared to find out what other tragedies I've forgotten in what's left of the story.

    *I don't believe in soulmates or even any "You complete me" BS like that. It's just that when they describe what the human/daemon relationship feels like, the closest feeling I can come up with to that description is how I feel for my husband. God I'm a sap.

    • flootzavut says:

      I don't think that comparing that to your relationship with your husband is sappy, I think it's beautiful. We should all be so fortunate as to have a relationship in our lives like that.

    • I don't believe in any of that stuff either but after reading this chapter (and sobbing on the train to work like a doofus because even though I've read it before I forgot it was coming), I text my missus to tell him that I think that he and I are each other's daemons. It's sappy but it's true 😀

  26. barnswallowkate says:

    Also, time to break out the big feel-better guns:

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  27. knut_knut says:

    I definitely did not remember Lee dying T_T I was like OH LAWL I'VE READ THIS BEFORE! HE DOESN'T DIE! WAIT….WAIT NO… D: D: D: RIP Lee and Hester <3

    • Brieana says:

      Yeah, I thought Lee died way later on. I was thinking "oh, he doesn't die now. I remember that he had a flower with him when he died" and then when Mark mentioned the flower, I was like "SHIIIT".

  28. Patrick721 says:

    I think we need some Manly Tears for this chapter
    <img src="; border="0" alt="manly tears Pictures, Images and Photos"/>

    <img src="; border="0" alt="manly tears Pictures, Images and Photos"/>

  29. tesla says:

    In an immature attempt to counteract the sadness of Lee and Hester, I have to share that every time I saw the word "zeppelin" in these books, I was reminded of Randy's "Whoopie! A zeppelin!" in A Christmas Story.

    Now back to mourning two great characters…

  30. Tonja says:

    "Even Jesus himself was described to me in terms of youthful veneration: his innocence was childlike and his goodness was as we were born. And let’s just accept that as true for the sake of this: I don’t want to be a child anymore?"

    OMG, THIS!!!

    I've lurked until now, because this part of the series is what really grabbed and spoke to me personally.

    I didn't have a shitty childhood per se – I had clothes to wear, food to eat, parents who loved me. It was all pretty normal, I guess. But I loathed being dependent and ignorant and subject to the authority of others. I couldn't wait to be in the world, to make it or break it according to my own abilities, resilience and strength. To me, there is nothing romantic or cute about the naivete of childhood.

    When I was briefly Catholic, I got into a huge discussion with my Godfather about the film, The Last Temptation of Christ. He hated the film, and I loved it. He didn't appreciate Jesus depicted as a fully informed adult with a full complement of adult feelings and thoughts. He preferred the innocent, lamb-like and child-like Jesus.

    Me? I thought it was much more meaningful that Jesus knew fully what he was missing out on – intimacy, romantic love, marriage, family – and chose to sacrifice himself anyway. Not that I feel particularly drawn to those specific life paths, but I understand they are popular choices for many people.

    So, tl;dr, this passage and insight into the core values of Christianity describe exactly why I no longer identify myself as such. Innocence and purity are equated with ignorance and dependence and that frankly, is anathema to what I'm about.

  31. @bambbles says:

    I just wrote my own blog post how I dont remember most things about a book (besides major plot points) after a read. I usually devour things. In fact quite a few times Mark has pointed out things I missed on multiple rereads.

    My point with this is that I remember this (well actually I remembered he died not the context surrounding it which made the reread so much more sad!). But I not only remembered that he died, I remember quite vividly what I was doing when I read this chapter (which I can only do a very few books).

    I was at a baseball game for my sister, watching alone sitting off to the side in my lawnchair reading this book. I remember being so aborbed in this scene I missed my sister make the play of the game (she was quite distraught … then she read the books and understood).

    Lee! Hester and Lee were my favorite characters! And then having to watch them just … die in a blaze of glory but still. My heart broke. I couldnt even let out the cry I wanted because I was in public! Oh but the tears! So upsetting…

    What a great man! *hugs to all!*

  32. serdaigle says:

    This chapter was the reason I stopped reading the series the first time around. SO UNFAIR.

  33. Becky_J_ says:

    Today seems to be a tearful day. Its only 11am and I've already cried twice. Once at this review, once at the fact that HARRY POTTER ends tonight oh my god my childhood .

    Anyways…..back to the story….. I think the part that got me was when Hester pressed her tear-filled face up against Lee's. Their relationship hasn't been like others'…. I remember when they were going up the river to find Grumman he talked about how they rarely talk to each other and such. And yet I got the feeling that theirs was one of the truest and strongest relationships. So when Hester pressed herself to him, trying to be as close as possible, my heart just broke.

  34. Skelly says:

    every time i reread these books, i think that this chapter is in book three. it isn't until lee steals the ring that i remember, suddenly and horribly, just what is coming, and how soon. and then i melt into the world's biggest pile of tears.

    today, all i had to do was see the words "ALAMO GULCH" and i started crying.
    lee scoresby (and hester! oh, my sweet fancy jesus, HESTER), you are the ultimate badass(es). mark, thank you for being as destroyed by this as i was.

  35. hazelwillow says:

    Mark, your thoughts about innocence and experience: I just want to add another note to the discussion, which is that Pullman is responding not only to the veneration of innocence in Christianity but also to similar themes in Children's Literature. Many children's books include something about how un-desireable it is to grow up, how you will lose something and never regain it. See Narnia (I could go into specifics but am I right in remembering you are planning to read it? Or have you already). Peter Pan (the original play and novel, not the Disney etc) is its own case in point.

    I wasn't brought up in a church that venerated innocence, but I was brought up reading all the classic and new kids literature I could get my hands on. I used to dread growing up. I loved Peter Pan. I still do, but now I see… its flaws. These books were extremely important to my growth because they…. provided a counterpoint, through the types of ideas you've pointed out above.

    And that's all I'll say for now.

    Lee and Hester –their death. I cry every time I read it, really cry. It's the most perfectly written triggering grief I've ever read, I think.

  36. @Leenessface says:

    <img src="; border="0" alt="Image and video hosting by TinyPic">
    <img src="; border="0" alt="Image and video hosting by TinyPic">

  37. PeanutK says:

    When I opened today's review and saw the chapter title, I swore out loud on your behalf because I knew this was going to be just awful.

    It broke my heart into a million pieces when I reached that final line of the chapter "and then they died". I thought for sure the summoning flower thing was going to work, because why would it be set up earlier if it wasn't going to be used, right? Unfortunately, Phillip Pullman had other plans for our poor unprepared hearts. 🙁
    Lee, you're so awesome and brave and badass, why aren't you immortal?

  38. Julezyme says:

    God, I love Lee and Hester. This is a grown woman with an iPhone totally crying on the subway over this review. Hester makes me feel so calm and peaceful. I imagine Lee as a thinner, rangier young Clark Gable but with sun-bleached hair. Sigh … Lee and Hester make me want to be a better person. Why couldn’t he have summoned Serafina sooner? Damn you, Pullman!

    But guys, seriously, what is going to happen when we get to gur fprar jvgu Onygunzbf jura Onehpu qvrf?


    • notemily says:

      Bu tbq V sbetbg nobhg gur tnl natryf!

    • stefb says:

      I know this comment's from 3 weeks ago, but I'm catching up with Mark Reads HDM–all I wanted to say was I PICTURE CLARK GABLE FOR LEE TOO! I'm glad someone else sees it lol Even the guy who does his voice in the audiobooks, there are parts where I'm reminded of a Clark Gable with a Texan accent.

  39. Pixie says:

    No, not Hester! She and Lee were my favorites. :'(

  40. Andrew (Chagrin) says:


    And then Armoured Bearcub wrote a song about it that makes me cry every time I listen to it:

    • Andrew (Chagrin) says:

      Lee is sneakily one of my favourite characters ever. Because of my ambivalent feelings about the trilogy I don't often think about it in terms of things I love absolutely, but the characters are so damn good.

      • flootzavut says:

        This. Totally. I have problems with some aspects of the trilogy… Znel Znybar'f qrpvfvba gung fur vf na ngurvfg arire enat gehr sbe zr, naq gur zhyrsn'f flzovbgvp eryngvbafuvc jvgu gur gerrf qbrfa'g frrz gb jbex nf vg fubhyq nf uvf pyvapuvat nethzrag sbe ribyhgvba. (rot13)

        But there is some wonderful writing and wonderful storytelling along the way and his characters (even those I don't like) are all fully rounded and feel "real"; Lee and Hester are so vivid even though their appearances are relatively few.

  41. @maybegenius says:

    I think I've mentioned before that I'm not really a crier? Emotional scenes in novels and movies often give me that chest-tightening sad feeling, but it's not very often that a scene literally makes me cry. I have to have a whole lot of emotional investment going on for that to happen.

    But when Hester presses her little face against Lee and she's crying and they're both full of so much love and passion for each other and they KNOW they're going to die but they go out fighting?


    Lee/Hester are some of my absolute favorite characters from this series. They're just so noble and spunky and brave and true. I can't. I just can't. LEE WHY.

  42. Mauve_Avenger says:

    I left this a bit late, but here are my notes from this chapter:

    -I like that John Parry mentions outright that what Lord Asriel has done shifted the locations of the existing windows. It suggests that other than the beings who have otherworldly powers (like the angels who brought Ruta Skadi to Asriel and perhaps Grumman himself) are now on even footing; even if you knew the location of a window a month ago, it all would have changed.

    -The mention of the black-haired boy rubbing his eyes and shaking his head because he thinks the Specters are just momentary floaters or something is horrifying. Apparently the ability to see the Specters builds gradually, then, and the people who can barely see them just convince themselves that it's nothing. Until they can't deny seeing them anymore, and then it's too late. They've become Indifferent.

    -There are two things that potentially bother me about this chapter, or would have bothered me if I hadn't needed to look them both up. "Sudden squall" is redundant; all squalls are, by definition, sudden. The other one is a bit debateable given the multiple-universes in the book: Pullman said that the "smell of cordite" from the guns firing in the gulch mirrors the smell of the burning forest behind them. The phrase "smell of cordite" apparently gets used often enough in modern novels for Wikipedia to make note of it, but the problem is that cordite bullets haven't been used with any real frequency since a little after WWII. Since the guns are presumably from Lyra's world it's possible that they still use cordite, but I don't know.

    -Grumman mentions that the zeppelin-people are planning on setting the forest ablaze with a mixture of “a kind of naphtha blended with potash’ that ignites when it touches water. So it’s a version of Greek fire, which in some documents was said to be made of naphtha (the real-world kind, not Lyra’s kind), sulphur, and nitrate of potash. Grumman said that the mixture was invented by the Imperial Navy to use in the war with Nippon, confirming a historical comparison point for us. He’s obviously refering to the napalm in the incendiary bombs used in the Firebombings of Japan in WWII (Greek fire being napalm‘s grandparent), though he says that it was invented by the British military for use in ‘their war’ against Japan, whereas both roles in our own world were filled by the U.S. It's possible that in Lee’s world none of the countries that stand in for our own United States got involved in the war.

    So yeah…Whoever’s after Lee and Grumman at this point, they’re trying to flush out or kill an ~entire force~ of two guys by setting an entire forest on fire using freaking napalm. (Well, possibly technically not napalm, but still.) This doesn’t seem disproportionate at all.

    -And can I just take a minute and appreciate (and you know, cry) at these descriptions?

    "It felt like an explosion in his left shoulder. For a few seconds he was dazed, and then he came to his senses, with his left arm numb and useless. There was a great deal of pain waiting to spring on him, but it hadn't raised the courage yet, and that thought gave him strength to focus his mind on shooting again."

    "Another long silence. The pain nearby was losing its fear of him. It was like a pack of jackals, circling, sniffing, treading closer, and he knew they wouldn't leave him now till they'd eaten him bare."

    All the tears. :'''''''''(
    <img src=""&gt;
    ALL.OF.THEM. (ToT)
    <img src=""&gt;

    • flootzavut says:

      "Since the guns are presumably from Lyra's world it's possible that they still use cordite, but I don't know. "

      I think it's one of those things that's used erroneously even when it's known to be erroneous (I can't spell erroneous today, it just looks wrong…) – I'm sure I've heard it used to describe the smell of fireworks which presumably aren't actual cordite?

      Bit like the "tzing" of a sword as it's pulled from its scabbard, which would be serious damage to a sword in realy life.

      By the way I love the Amelie gif… I always think that is the perfect way to express the feeling of that particular scene in the movie!

      Random factoid: apparently some tourists visiting Paris and finding it isn't the idyll depicted in Amelie etc have to be repatriated because the shock is too much for them. Strange but true…

  43. Billie says:

    My grandma was an avid reader and had excellent taste, so one day me and my dad thought she ought to read His Dark Materials, which we were both obsessed with. And she absolutely loved TGC and was absolutely loving TSK. Until this. After this chapter she outright refused to read the rest of the book, not to mention Amber Spyglass. She kept saying that they had killed 'her cowboy' and that she would never forgive Pullman. We all thought she would get over it and eventually finish the series, but she didn't. At all. And she died not having read it. I cry every single time I read this chapter, partly because Lee was always a favourite and it's one of the most beautiful death scenes I have ever had the pleasure/utter horror or reading, and partly because I always think about my grandma. Just…just too many tears.

  44. SecretGirl127 says:

    My husband sees me readng and crying and asks what's going on. I explain that this book is so good that I'm crying because a rabbit just died. He just shakes his head and goes back to his computer. Then, not two hours later, we are at a restaurant for dinner and the evening's special is rabbit. I tear up, he just shakes his head some more. Needless to say, I had the fish.

  45. acbatz says:

    This is the single most affecting passage I've ever read, ever. It doesn't matter how many times I've read this book, I bawl like a baby every time I get to this point. I've kind of been dreading you getting to this point, after reading how another person got as attached to Lee as I am.

  46. pennylane27 says:

    The worst part is that I can't really bring Lee and Hester to live in Denialville with other characters who I refuse to believe they died, because it actually says and then they died. The finality of that sentence just kills me. And they were so brave and they loved Lyra and it's just too much.

    And in 6 hours I will be a sobbing wretch again as I watch Harry Potter and my childhood come to an end. So yeah. Not a good day.

  47. fizzybomb says:

    Hester was failing. "Hester, don't you go before I do," Lee whispered.
    "Lee, I couldn't abide to be anywhere away from you for a single second," she whispered back.


    "You think the witch will come?" "Sure she will. We should have called her before." "We should have done a lot of things." "Maybe so …"


    Another crack, and this time the bullet went deep somewhere inside, seeking out the center of his life. He thought: It won't find it there. Hester's my center.

    Just… I can't even… *sobs*

  48. Rachel says:

    Lee….. : (((((

  49. pica_scribit says:

    I cried both when I reread the chapter and reading your review of it, Mark. R.I.P. Lee and Hester. If nothing else, it was a worthy death.

  50. Kit says:

    I don't remember how old I was, late childhood/early teens. My mom was still reading me and my brother bedtime stories every night. She was reading this chapter to us and started crying, and then we were all crying… I think I'm still a little traumatized by this chapter…

  51. muselinotte says:

    The imagery of The Specters clustering around the boy nearing adolescence is so, so, so horrifying to me… Gives me shivers every time :/

    Also, I really hated the bit of foreshadowing that Pullman offered here… I nearly stopped reading here on my first read:
    And now those eyes were looking down at the last landscape they'd ever see

    That's the point where I just went
    <img src=>

  52. ChronicReader91 says:

    LEE!!!! HESTER!!!! :'( :'(

    Of course, after I delared Lee my favorite character, this would happen. Why do I always fall in love with the characters that are doomed?

  53. Ellalalalala says:

    Well, now my heart's gone and got itself completely decimated. Thanks for that, Pullman. I'm going to go cry in a corner now.

  54. theladymania says:

    I'm going to go out on a limb and say when I read this as a kid, this was possibly the first time I felt a sense of loss in a book, as opposed to just being sad because of what was happening in the plot. I have a very strong memory of sitting in my childhood room, crying over Lee and Hester's death, and I know it actually affected me more than deaths occurring in real life in my family around that time (admittedly, people I wasn't close to).

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