Mark Reads ‘The Amber Spyglass’: Chapter 18

In the eighteenth chapter of The Amber Spyglass, Will and Lyra make it to the world of the dead–entirely by accident. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Amber Spyglass.


Oh, this is just fantastic. It’s like I’ve been waiting my whole life to get to chapter eighteen of The Amber Spyglass. It’s weird. It’s disorienting. It’s creepy. And all of it is overwhelmingly exciting.

We join back up with Will, Lyra, and the Gallivespians, and it’s clear now just how grating the two parties are on each other. Pantalaimon voices his distrust to Lyra as they  watch the morning begin on some unnamed beach. It must be hard to get used to thes creatures, who are always watching and listening to everything you do and say. Even worse, they’ve all seen what a mere prick of the stinger can do to a person when Chevalier Tialys did just that to Mrs. Coulter.

So Lyra pulls out her alethiometer, and I love that at this point in the trilogy, it’s so natural to her, that she can pretty much immediately reach the mental state she needs to be in in order to read the instrument. Surprisingly, though, the alethiometer tells her NOT to get rid of the spies.

Do not try, because your lives depend on them.

WELL, OKAY. I’m not even bother going to ask why, as I’m sure I’ll find out. The alethiometer tells Lyra that to get to the land of the dead, they must “go down” and “follow the knife.” Hey, alethiometer, stop speaking in mystical code. Just say, “Go past that mountain, hang a left, and then head down into this valley,” or something. Why am I not surprised that jaded, hipster angels are behind all of this?

Still, I’d rather spend forever with hipster angels than the Gallivespians. I don’t dislike them in the slightest, and I’m fascinated by their culture. Yet I can’t deny how frustrating they are, especially Tialys. The problem is that while Will and Lyra have more power than the spies, they only barely do, so every decision is like reading a married couple bickering about what to have for dinner. Lyra and Will want privacy. Tialys wants them to leave the knife behind. (WHICH HE CAN’T EVEN USE, BY THE WAY.) This is why what happens later is actually an interesting moment for the Gallivespians, since it’s the first time they openly don’t oppose Lyra and Will.

After deciding their best option is to continue on and avoid telling the spies where they are going, Will and Lyra discover it’s simply not going to be that easy. The spies aren’t fools, and Tialys immediately demands to know what they intend to do. You know, I wouldn’t be surprised if he’d actually listened in on their conversation either way. So Will demands an act, a guarantee of trust, from the spies: He wants them to swear beyond a “proper guarantee” that they won’t just sting them in their sleep in order to send them on to Lord Asriel. Understandably furious at this, Tialys offers up a counter offer: He’ll hand over the lodestone and only request it with Will’s permission if they tell them where they are going.

I seriously love that Will and Lyra are just like, “FUCK IT WHO CARES,” and agree.

“All right,” Lyra said, “that’s fair. So here’s where we’re going: we’re going to the world of the dead. We don’t know where it is, but the knife’ll find it. That’s what we’re going to do.”

The two spies were looking at her with openmouthed incredulity.

LYRA FINALLY SHUT THEM UP. Oh god, THIS IS SO FUNNY TO ME. Like, she has finally said something to shock them into silence. And again, it’s not that this isn’t the most absurd notion of all time. Hell, I think Lyra’s explanation to the Gallivespians is indicative of just how bizarre and shaky the justification is for their desire to go there. Every world around them is falling apart, people want to murder both of them, and they want to go visit the dead because Lyra’s dream and a golden compass told her to? Even Tialys is so flabbergasted by all this, that all he can come up with is a response that essentially spells out how impossible this all. Lyra’s response? Well, she told them what they are intending to do, so she demands they hand over the resonator lodestone. LOVE YOU FOREVER, LYRA.

Will has his own problem, though, separate from all of this: He cannot risk breaking the knife again. I still don’t understand why it had such an averse reaction to him thinking about his mother, but there was a frightening moment while he was looking for a new world that I thought it was going to happen again. Fortunately, he manages to cut into a new world, and now I’ve lost count of how many universes we’ve seen in this book. Is this the sixth one? It looks like a farming country, but the beauty of the place is quickly lost when Lyra comes back from her brief scouting to report that she just found four dead horses. Will spots a dead man himself, and suddenly the whole world feels wrong. There seem to be no living people, and the drone of buzzing flies surrounds everything.

Lyra wonders aloud if this is the world of the dead, but Will is sure that it’s not, just an unfortunate choice of a place to travel to. That’s pretty much confirmed when Salmakia rushes into the farmhouse where they are gathering supplies to inform them that men are coming on foot with weapons.

Oh christ, where did they end up? Will leaps into action and begins to cut into a new world:

And at once he was aware of a new kind of sensation. The blade seemed to be sliding along a very smooth surface, like a mirror, and then it sank through slowly until he was able to cut. But it was resistant, like heavy cloth, and when he made an opening, he blinked with surprise and alarm: because the world he was opening into was the same in every dealing as the one they were already standing in.

WHAT. HOW IS THAT AT ALL POSSIBLE. Maybe it only very recently split off from another world? I DON’T GET IT. Neither does anyone else, but with soldiers or warriors of some sort close on their heels, there’s no sense to standing around, right? With great difficulty, similar to whatever force made it hard for Will to cut through to this world, they push through to this new universe.

“Will,” said Lyra, and he turned to see that there was another figure in the kitchen with them.

His heart jolted. It was the man he’d seen not ten minutes before, stark dead in the bushes with his throat cut.

WHAT THE HELL WHAT IS GOING ON. Is this the first chance we get to see a double?? I mean, I’m sure I’d be just as terrified if I watched two people and two tiny humanlike creatures on dragonflies enter into my kitchen. As Lyra tries to get some information out of the man, he says something that confused the hell out of me.

“I’m dead,” he said. “I’m lying out there, dead. I know I am. You ain’t dead. What’s happening? God help me, they cut my throat. What’s happening?”

WHAT???? HOW????? He couldn’t see his own body through the window, so how would this man know he died in a parallel world?

“Are you a ghost?” Will said cautiously.

The man reached out his hand, and Will tried to take it, but his fingers closed on the air. A tinge of cold was all he felt.

AHHHHHHHH THEY ARE IN THE WORLD OF THE DEAD!!1!!!!!!!1111!!1! Oh, this book is my favorite I LOVE YOU SO MUCH, BOOK. So this is how death happens? You die and then immediately end up in this other world? More than anything else, I just wanted to know the logistics of how this worked. I was saddened by Dirk Jansen’s despair at the realization that he’d died, and touched by how willing Lyra was to do what she could to comfort him, even assuring him that they’d go with him to wherever he was going. They pass Dirk’s own body on the way out, which is even stranger to me. How could the world of the dead mimic Dirk’s world? How could his body be in two places at once?

Yet I had no time to consider such things, because Will points out that they’ve come to a village full of dead people. I still have chills now just thinking about it, of lines of men, women, and children, all converging slowly on this one spot. It’s even creepier to me that the world around them starts fading. It leads me to believe that this all has to be some sort of illusion, a replication of the world in which the souls we see here came from. But why would it disappear?

As the group of the living comes upon those who died, they discover the ghosts are far more afraid of them than vice versa. It’s clear that they are still alive, and the group of ghosts is forced to come to terms with the fact that they are now dead. (Ugh, that child…it is too much.) The Chevalier reports that the ghosts are seemingly drawn to something, and that the further they move away from their homes, the more faded everything becomes. But where are they going? Why are they headed there?

I just can’t imagine anything more daunting than the idea that you would walk through a world that is simply nothing but grey, unable to see anything that was “bright or lively or joyful,” and not pass out from terror. Maybe the world of the dead functions like a group hallucination for each person, and in the case of the people killed en masse in Dirk’s world, they can all see the same thing.

It’s clear, though, that they are headed for a single place: a “refugee camp” of sorts, as described by Chevalier Tialys, and it’s one of the creepiest images I’ve ever read in a book:

As they moved on, they could see a movement on the horizon to the left and right, and ahead of them a dirty-colored smoke was rising slowly to add its darkness to the dismal air. The movement was people, or ghosts: in lines or pairs or groups or alone, but all empty-handed, hundreds and thousands of men and women and children were drifting over the plain toward the source of the smoke.

This is horrifying. The smell becomes overwhelming to, and it’s clear that rot is associated with death for a reason. There’s no color, and the only living things aside from this group of travelers are the weeds and grass.

Ahead of them, above the water, was the mist. It rose like a cliff to merge with the gloomy sky, and from somewhere inside it came those bird cries that Tialys had referred to.

Between the waste heaps and the mist, there lay the first town of the dead.

A town. A singular town, which implies that there are more. What is the mist?? What are the birds??? OH MY GOD WHAT IS GOING ON. If the next chapter is another character aside from these, I WILL RAGE. I MUST KNOW MORE.


Remember to enter the BridgeToTheStars contest to win a copy of The Amber Spyglass, and to visit this week’s spoiler thread!

About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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57 Responses to Mark Reads ‘The Amber Spyglass’: Chapter 18

    • ldwy says:

      My copy doesn't have epigraphs, and I'm really enjoying the added layer they provide, so thank you so much for posting them each day!

    • Tilja says:

      Thanks again for the epigraph!

      Btw, I put the sticker at the back of your card (just cutting a fringe of the upper and lower safety paper outside it to make it stick without sticking it). I think that's the best place for it to be, where it belongs. ^-^

  1. Ryan Lohner says:

    "But mommy, I don't want to be dead!" It's a talented author who can make you cry for a nameless character who appears in one scene this late in the story.

  2. John Small Berries says:

    "I still don’t understand why it had such an averse reaction to him thinking about his mother"

    If I remember correctly from The Subtle Knife, cutting through universes requires a certain kind of concentration – like using the alethiometer or The Cave – and thinking about his mother jarred him out of that specific mental state.

    • cait0716 says:

      Yeah, Will succeeds when he accepts the thoughts of his mother rather than trying to push them away, much like with the pain in his hand when he was first trying to use the knife.

      • Tilja says:

        Exactly. The concentration needs to be focused and he was splitting it in two places when concentrating on his mother as well. Cyhf gung yvar nobhg gur xavsr svaqvat fbzrguvat vg pna'g phg guebhtu zhpu yngre. V guvax vg'f n irel vagrerfgvat vqrn gung nobhg srryvatf naq gubhtugf nf zber cbjreshy guna nalguvat va nal jbeyq, fb zhpu fb lbh pna'g phg gurz njnl ab znggre ubj zhpu lbh gel. Zef Pbhygre vf na rknzcyr bs gung nf jryy.

    • enigmaticagentscully says:

      This is only my vague interpretation, but I thought that using the knife had something to do with Dust right? And we know that is all tied in with puberty and coming of age and stuff, so I assumed that the thought of his mother in that context jarred him out of the right frame of mind because the relationship between mother and child is more of a childhood thing. Whereas using the knife needs Will to be an independent person with the full knowledge and responsibility for his actions that comes with Dust.

      IDK, just thinking aloud. But I thought the fact that he thought of his mother was significant, rather than that it just broke his concentration as any stray thought would.

  3. Jenny_M says:

    There's something about this chapter that creeps me out and intrigues me all at once. I was especially creeped out by the smug dead guy telling all the other ghosts that they were going to be judged and sent to heaven or hell. Dude, you're dead, quit being smug!

  4. cait0716 says:

    I'm so excited we're getting to the land of the dead! It's just so different from any representation I've seen before. I mean, the dead hang out in a shantytown? Weird.

    I love the beginning of the chapter when Lyra's watching the sunrise. The imagery is just stunning.

  5. George says:

    Something in your post provoked a question I've had for a while when you referred to the alethiometer as the golden compass, because I don't know if it is? Does anyone know? I guess that's the assumption given the name of the first book, but I'm confused by the Milton quote the name came from?
    Can anyone clarify this? Please 🙂

    • Ryan Lohner says:

      The original title of book one was Northern Lights, but apparently the American publisher got stuck on the idea of the alethiometer as a "golden compass" and made that the title, despite it never being referred to as such in the book (though it is in the movie). Pullman has said he prefers the American title, given that it means all three titles refer to an object.

      • _Sparkie_ says:

        Can I ask when Pullman said he preferred the American title? As reading the BTTS article suggests he tried in vain to get them to use the original one.

      • FlameRaven says:

        The story I read on Wikipedia is that the publisher went with 'Golden Compass' for the US version because 'The Golden Compasses' was going to be the name for the trilogy as a whole. Basically they mixed up the trilogy name with the first book title.

        I feel like The Golden Compass does fit better with the other two titles, but it's really a minor detail in the end.

    • tigerpetals says:

      Well, I suppose that it is. It's used to guide people's decisions, like a real compass is used to help people find their way.

    • monkeybutter says:

      Okay, the Milton quote is:

      Then staid the fervid wheels, and in his hand
      He took the golden compasses, prepared
      In God's eternal store, to circumscribe
      This universe, and all created things:
      One foot he centered, and the other turned
      Round through the vast profundity obscure

      So, in the original it was compasses, the kind you draw a circle with, that God used in the act of creation. The symbols of the alethiometer are a way of organizing information and thought; every symbol stands for something on varying layers. The alethiometer isn't the golden compass in the poem, but the way it encapsulates all human knowledge (or information in the universe) is similar to the way that all of creation is circumscribed by the golden compasses in the poem. And, on another layer like tigerpetals mentions, it's like a directional compass in that it can provide guidance.

      So The Golden Compass works for a title referring to the alethiometer, but it's not what Pullman intended, as other people mentioned. Oh well!

  6. BradSmith5 says:

    I'm kind of getting sick of the alethiometer. I enjoyed watching Lyra talk things over with Pan at the start––but then they just ask their magic plot device what to do. And then they do it. I mean, geez, what's the point of discussion then? And of course Will cuts into the Land of the Freakin' DEAD without even trying. I did like how he had to psych himself up so that the knife wouldn't break, but man––the people saying that Will is too perfect might be on to something.

    The atmosphere being set up here IS perfect, though! I don't know how many of you played "Doom 2," but there is a level called "The Suburbs" that I'm flashing back to right now.

    • George says:

      I personally feel like Will cut straight to the land of the dead because that's where he wanted to go; the alethiometer had said to follow the knife and using the knife is a mental task so it kind of makes sense to me that if that's what Will wants he should find it.

      And I agree about the alethiometer, but I don't find it a big deal, and it would seem strange and unlikely for her not to use it.

      • rumantic says:

        I think that might be right as well – in the beginning, he only ever found his own world or the citagazze world, isn't that a bit of a coincidence that the first "snag" he came to every time lead to the same world? I think it's because he probably hadn't even thought that other worlds existed, rather than that he was feeling the other snags but didn't notice them.

      • BradSmith5 says:

        Yeah, that seems like a good theory. I was on the fence about this––otherwise I would have been in full sarcasm mode. I mean, what's the alternative? We watch Will cut through 300 worlds until we find the right one? 😉

    • lovelyhera says:

      I also think that the knife, which is basically sentient in the same way the compass is, from all accounts, first lead them to a world with recently dead, where it would make sense that the world of the dead would be close by. He couldn't have cut into it from a world where everyone was alive. And from that logic it makes sense. They're just "following the knife". So while it's very plot convenient, it rings true in universe to me.

      • BradSmith5 says:

        I really do appreciate these explanations. I mean, I didn't realize the amber spyglass showed up in yesterday's chapter until someone told me, ha,ha,ha.

  7. Becky_J_ says:

    Oh God I was so excited for you to get to the World of the Dead! I was super creeped out by it the whole time, but I also love the awesomeness of this chapter.

    Just say, “Go past that mountain, hang a left, and then head down into this valley,” or something.
    Hahaha I'm sorry this is just way too funny. The alethiometer would be epic if it talked this way. But it MAY not leave much of a plot…..

    Lets just summarize the awesomeness of this book for a second. Lyra's father is trying to kill God. TO KILL GOD. Will has a really really sharp thing that makes everything better. IOREK BYRNISON. That's all I have to say about THAT. Mary is getting snuggly with some freaky awesome diamond-shaped deer with elephant trunks who talk and ride around like living motorcycles and are pretty much the best thing ever. And now…. WE ARE IN THE WORLD OF THE DEAD. I'm sorry, but were you prepared?? no you were not sir!

    This sounds like some sort of Arcade Fire/Rob Zombie mash-up.

  9. Tilja says:

    Remember when I said you hadn't started the book yet? Welcome to the beginning! I was going to mention it yesterday when you exclaimed on it but rl got in the way too early in the day for me to have time. It's been one thing after another and it's only begun.

    If I don't comment too much is probably because I'm trapped with doctors, but I'll read all the reviews whenever I can.

  10. flootzavut says:

    "so every decision is like reading a married couple bickering about what to have for dinner"

    LOL thanks for this simile I love it 😀


    "AHHHHHHHH THEY ARE IN THE WORLD OF THE DEAD!!1!!!!!!!1111!!1! Oh, this book is my favorite I LOVE YOU SO MUCH, BOOK."

    LOL this genuinely made me laugh out loud – I was sooooo waiting for the penny to drop.

    The world of the dead is very creepy. It reminds me of images I've seen and read of the concentration camps and Jews being herded along streets. Fair play Mr Pullman, creeeeepy stuff.

    There was something else I thought happened here and it doesn't, but that's good, I feel more keysmashes will appear in the imminent future 😀

  11. drippingmercury says:

    It looks like a farming country, but the beauty of the place is quickly lost when Lyra comes back from her brief scouting to report that she just found four dead horses. Will spots a dead man himself, and suddenly the whole world feels wrong. There seem to be no living people, and the drone of buzzing flies surrounds everything.

    Lyra wonders aloud if this is the world of the dead, but Will is sure that it’s not, just an unfortunate choice of a place to travel to. That’s pretty much confirmed when Salmakia rushes into the farmhouse where they are gathering supplies to inform them that men are coming on foot with weapons.

    Oh no, Will you sliced into Westeros! GTFO NO ONE IS SAFE THERE.

    • cait0716 says:

      I've been reading this at the same time as the third ASOIAF book and had that same thought. This chapter had some striking similarities to the chapter I read from that book this morning and I got briefly confused about which book I was reading.

      • drippingmercury says:

        I was thinking of a specific chapter in the second book – Rot13'd since I don't know where Mark is in the series:

        Vg erzvaqrq zr bs gur ivyyntr jurer Traqel naq Neln ner gnxra ol Fre Tertbe naq pb. Vs bayl Jvyy unq fyvprq vagb gur cynpr gurl jrer orvat uryq – znlor gurl pbhyq unir gnxra Neln naq Traqel gb gur ynaq bs gur qrnq jvgu gurz naq rirelguvat jbhyq or NJRFBZR naq Neln pbhyq fnl uv gb Arq vafgrnq bs jngpuvat gur Gvpxyre ng jbex. 🙁

        • cait0716 says:

          V gubhtug bs gung, gbb. Gur puncgre V whfg ernq va gur guveq obbx unq n pnyyonpx gb gung fprar jvgu Neln gnyxvat nobhg gur Gvpxyre. Htu, V whfg jnag ure gb or unccl.

        • FlameRaven says:

          Ubarfgyl nf hcfrggvat nf Arq'f qrngu jnf… gurer ner jbefr sngrf va Jrfgrebf. Yvxr gur Bguref trggvat lbh! Be orvat oebhtug onpx ol gur Ybeq bs Yvtug. Ubarfgyl tvira jung jr frr bs crbcyr jub raq hc univat gur ynggre unccra gb gurz… V xvaq bs guvax gur Bguref ner orggre. Rira vs gur Bguref cbffrff lbh naq znxr lbh na vpr mbzovr, lbh'er ng yrnfg cebcreyl qrnq, vafgrnq bs cnegyl nyvir. D:

        • xpanasonicyouthx says:

          I just got to the part where

          Gung jrveq pnfgyr/ubzrfgrnq guvat jurer Neln naq gur bguref jrer fyrrcvat ng ba gur jnl gb gur Jnyy jnf nggnpxrq ol gur Ynaavfgre cnegl naq rirelbar vf qlvat naq Neln uvq haqrearngu gur onea? Be jurerire vg jnf.

          And basically I was nearly having a heart attack. can't just ONE THING go right for her?

    • notemily says:

      Did anyone else think that the Fire Nation had just invaded the village?

  12. Hanah_banana says:

    I have nothing insightful (I spelt that 'inciteful' FOUR TIMES before I realised why it looked wrong – thanks news for filling my brain with the word 'incite' :/ ) to say about this chapter, I just have to express my excitement that AT LAST YOU HAVE REACHED THE ACTUAL SHIT-GETS-REAL PART OF THIS BOOK. YOU CANNOT GET MORE REAL THAN THE SUBURBS OF THE FREAKING DEAD THIS IS GOING TO BE SO AWESOME. 😀

  13. arctic_hare says:

    HELLO AND WELCOME TO CREEPYTOWN. 😀 Yeah. I love this chapter. The fact that we don't know anything about this world Will's cut into just makes it more eerie: we're given a slaughtered town, a guy dead in his own yard, and all those dead horses. The description of the buzzing before we knew what it was was also creepy. AND THEN WILL CUTS THROUGH TO THE EXACT SAME THING AND THAT GUY IS THERE WHAT. WHAT. I too initially thought that it was the first instance of seeing doubles of someone, but – no. I find the fact that these poor people see an illusion of where they died that gradually fades to be really spooky and evocative. Pullman did a fantastic job here of creating the images in my mind of this unreal, otherworldly place.

    That child that doesn't want to be dead, agh. And how about that jerkass talking about people being separated and going to heaven and hell? Smug bastard. I agree with you, Mark – let's PLEASE pick right back up with this story thread in the next chapter, I WANT MORE! Yay for creepy. B)

  14. muselinotte says:

    Besides all the weird awesomeness that the world of the dead is, I wanted to point out how incredibly touching I find the moment when Lyra tucks Wills cloak back around him while taking care of avoiding his "daemon"…
    She even imagines a form… this is so beautiful to me…

    I find it a little off-putting how easy it was for them to reach the world of the dead, but I guess with a knife that good, these things happen… 😉

    The procession of the dead makes me think of refugees, they don't know where they have to go, they don't know where they're going, they just know they have to go… so sad.
    Town of the dead? Utterly terrifying!

  15. Albion19 says:

    Why am I not surprised that jaded, hipster angels are behind all of this?


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