Mark Reads ‘The Amber Spyglass’: Chapter 21

In the twenty-first chapter of The Amber Spyglass, Philip Pullman takes every fluffy kitty, every eager puppy, every adorable baby animal, all of your hopes and dreams, and stomps them to death. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Amber Spyglass.


Before we begin, we’ve got a new banner up this week from the talented folks over at You can see the full image it is cropped from right here.

I’ve sat on writing this review for four full days now, and every time I returned to this document, I’d read the introduction, and I’d have no inspiration. To explain that, I do my reviews, one at a time, in advance on the weekends, as I’m discovering that I have very little time during the week to do much writing. So I read chapter twenty-one on Tuesday, and then couldn’t find the inspiration of what to write until Saturday. No words would come to me, and I was stuck swimming through vague concepts and ideas. I have read things in the past that either shocked me into silence (of which Pullman has done before) or were so unbelievably gutting that I didn’t know what I would write aside from imitating sobs. (Pullman, Rowling, and Zusak have all done that to me.)

I suppose, then, that I should provide some context to why the events in the first half of “The Harpies” have affected me so strongly, and why this may have been one of the more difficult things I have ever read.

Just a warning, frank talk about death/loss ahead.

I’ve spoken openly in many past reviews about how the loss of my father hit me particularly hard, especially since he was the first person who was really close to me that passed away. A friend from college that I met my freshman year died due to complications from AIDS when I was twenty, but I was never super close to him, and while I grieved the loss of my friend, it was easy for me to detach from any pain that I might feel. The same thing happened when a friend’s older brother (who I somewhat knew) passed away while I was a senior. I think that, frankly, my lack of experience with death is what made my dad’s passing in 2006 particularly hard. I had no knowledge of how to cope, or how I should react, or what I should do with all the awful feelings swirling around inside of me.

That’s not some unique idea, though. I think anyone who experiences death of a loved one goes through a pretty similar thing. Obviously, we all cope differently, and our lives dictate how we might react to any given moment, not even considering death. But in those first moments when you receive the news, and when it’s finally confirmed, there was a loneliness that ripped through me, worse than what I’d ever felt before, and it was coated in terror. It was a loss of safety. If my father could die, then so could my mom, or my brother, or even me.

But it all felt like a cruel joke to me, something I still can’t really comprehend or conceptualize. It is an absurd notion that, to this day, I don’t think I’ve ever dealt with. My father is still alive somewhere. He’s just not home. It’s an awful behavior, lacking in any rationality, but I still do it. I avoid visiting my mother because my father is in every fiber of that house. Only he’s just not there and I don’t like having to face it.

It is like you are standing on that shore, and your father is in the boat, and he didn’t drift away. It’s more like he is staring at you, and you don’t get to reach out and say goodbye. The boat disappears. And sometimes, if you squint hard, you can swear that you can see the outline of the boat in the fog that swirls in the distance, so you simply wait, knowing it is inevitable that the boat will have to come closer, come into focus, come back to the shore, and you can see your father again, and he was simply on an extended vacation.

A very close friend of mine got sick last year. They slipped into a coma, and spent weeks being unresponsive. Imagine someone you talk to every single day can longer speak to you. No, it’s worse than that. Imagine that they cannot communicate. They woke up after weeks of silence and stillness. Those weeks of winks, squints, and squeezes were as close to a spiritual experience as I’ll ever get. But imagine those don’t happen, and imagine that silence becomes this overarching, smothering thing. This time, you’re in the boat, and you’re watching the static figure of your friend on the shore. You’re yelling, crying, screaming at them to get their attention, but they merely stand there. They don’t wave back, they don’t call after you. In fact, they’re facing the opposite direction, and you don’t even get to see if they have a reaction. Instead, their image starts fading away from the world, and no matter how much you fight the current, the shore continues to slip away.

The absurd finality of death is what scares me. I like being alive, even if I don’t necessarily like what happens inside of it all of the time. The very idea that this can stop and there is no more is not something I care to face most days, but life has a funny way of forcing you to. But all of the things you love or all of the faces and voices you have in your life will one day disappear. And whatever you believe about our after life, I imagine it’s still something that isn’t particularly comforting. Unless you do believe the people you love are in your afterlife, then perhaps this experience is not as jarring to you. But I don’t think I have any sort of afterlife in my post-death existence. I think that death is just blackness and nothingness and that’s the end of the road. Which IS REALLY AWFUL, I know, but I’ve never got the sense that there’s anything more.

And I think that’s why I was so excited to see the world of the dead here in The Amber Spyglass. These characters were being given the chance to see what happens after you die, and I believed they were doing so without having to face the repercussions of what death means. It was a peak at something hopeful, that there’s a chance that death is not the end of everything. So, despite that all of these characters felt a foreboding sense of dread as they journeyed to the boat that would take them to the world of the dead, I did not feel that. I was excited, strangely, and I knew that my feelings on death motivated this sense of anticipation.

So I almost experienced a giddy joy as they came upon the old man who rowed the boat back and forth between the shore and the land of the dead.


There was no need to speak. Will got in first, and then Lyra came forward to step down, too.

But the boatman held up his hand.

“Not him,” he said in a harsh whisper.

I initially believed he meant Will and that Will would have to stay behind because of the knife. Well, I thought, at least the journey would focus more on Lyra!

“Not who?”

“Not him.”

He extended a yellow-gray finger, pointing directly at Pantalaimon, whose red-brown stoat form immediately became ermine white.

“But he is me!” Lyra said.

“If you come, he must stay.”

“But we can’t! We’d die!”

“Isn’t that what you want?”

It was like a sack of bricks was shot out of cannon into my chest. It was the first of countless moment where I simply refused to read another sentence. It’s not that I was mad at Pullman, or that this was poorly written, or that this was bad plotting. But in just a few sentences, Pullman was showing me that there is no act without consequences, and there would be no death without loss. Lyra had made a decision, and she would have to face the ramifications, as painful as they are.

Like Lyra, I fought every second of this idea, and when I finally got the courage to sit down and keep reading, I found myself begging Pullman to find a way for Lyra to bring Pantalaimon with her. I kept looking for a loophole, some commandment the Gallivespians could give that would change this, something Will could do with the knife that would change this reality.

“It’s her misfortune that she can see and talk to the part she must leave. You will not know until you are on the water, and then it will be too late. But you all have to leave that part of yourselves here. There is no passage to the land of the dead for such as him.”

That’s when I knew this was inevitable, that there was no other answer. This was what she had to do in order to get to the world of the dead. And this is where I lost it:

And she looked back again at the foul and dismal shore, so bleak and blasted with disease and poison, and thought of her dear Pan waiting there alone, her heart’s companion, watching her disappear into the mist, and she fell into a storm of weeping. Her passionate sobs didn’t echo, because the mist muffled them, but all along the shore in innumerable ponds and shallows, in wretched broken tree stumps, the damaged creatures that lurked there heard her full-hearted cry and drew themselves a little closer to the ground, afraid of such passion.

It just felt too close to me. It singed a little too close to my heart. When I came home the day my brother called me and told me our father had died, this is the sensation I had when I looked upon the empty recliner he called home. This is what I felt as I stared at the seemingly lifeless body of my friend as they slept in that still state of inactivity. It was revolting to me that people have to go through this, and it was repulsive that life amounted to these moments of sorrow and loss.

Will could hardly watch. Lyra was doing the cruelest thing she had ever done, hating herself, hating the deed, suffering for Pan and with Pan and because of Pan; trying to put him down on the cold path, disengaging his cat claws from her clothes and weeping, weeping. Will closed his ears: the sound was too unhappy to bear.

I don’t even intend to laugh at this, but in hindsight, I sort of have to: I kind of wish I could have filmed myself reading this chapter IF ONLY so all of you could hear the inhuman noises that came from my mouth. I mean, it was some disgusting sobbing, and not like that gentle crying with tears welling in your eyes and a lump in your throat. I mean like that shake-your-whole-body-the-world-is-ending type sob.

I think it took me close to an hour to read this chapter, and Pan’s ever-changing form that personified “misery” was like the last nail in the coffin of my happiness. I know I’ve commented about it before, but dæmons (sadly) are not real, and I don’t have a true sense what this separation is like, and yet Pullman has built this world so fully, I felt like I was losing my father all over again, or that I was staring at the body of my friend in a hospital bed once more, and I could not escape the sense of hopeless despair that creeped into my body. Pan and Lyra are always supposed to be together, and I did not want to read a book where they would be apart. I simply couldn’t do it. So I’d read a paragraph and go stare out the window, or pet my cats, or pick up my guitar and senselessly keep myself busy. The truth of the matter was that I was just flat out in denial. This wasn’t happening. It couldn’t happen. There would be no justice in the world if there wasn’t a way around this.

…but as the boatman let go of the iron ring and swung his oars out to pull the boat away, the little dog dæmon trotted helplessly out to the very end, his claws clicking softly on the soft planks, and stood watching, just watching, as the boat drew away and the jetty faded and vanished in the mist.

Yep. Done. Gone. Spent. Wasted. Completely gutted and heartbroken. It happened. There was no other way. It happened. I WILL NEED TO BE HELD FOR AT LEAST THE NEXT YEAR. I can only think of one book that has ever affected me this profoundly and violently, but it still comes nowhere close to what I felt when I read this and what I still feel thinking about it.

And thus the prophecy that the Master of Jordan College had made to the Librarian, that Lyra would make a great betrayal and it would hurt her terribly, was fulfilled.

I HAD COMPLETELY FORGOTTEN ABOUT THIS. oh my heart i will never heal. oh my god this is so upsetting to me.

AND AFTER ALL OF THIS, after one of the most heart-wrenching, haunting, and disturbing things I have ever read, PHILIP PULLMAN IS NOT EVEN DONE RIPPING OUR EMOTIONS APART. THIS SECTION ALONE WAS ENOUGH TO FILL A CHAPTER, but no! He is not done yet! As the entire group feels the anguish of the loss of their souls (except the dragonflies, because apparently they don’t have souls?????), Pullman gives us Will’s loss, and it is so fucking gutting and awful and how is this real and christ:

And it was worse than that. It was as if he’d said, “No, don’t kill me, I’m frightened; kill my mother instead; she doesn’t matter, I don’t love her,” and as if she’d heard him say it, and pretended she hadn’t so as to spare his feelings, and offered herself in his place anyway because of her love for him. He felt as bad as that. There was nothing worse to feel.

No, there is not. I literally cannot think of anything worse. what has this book done to me.

The though came to Will and Lyra at the same moment, and they exchanged a tear-filled glance. And for the second time in their lives, but not the last, each of them saw their own expression on the other’s face.

In the midst of all of this, it was lovely to read this, because I felt this swell of…I suppose it was pride. I was proud of these two being friends, and I was proud of the way they unequivocally had each other’s back, and I was proud that I could read a series with such complicated, nuanced, and empowering characters. Even in this moment of extreme loss, they look to one another and experience the slightest sensation of intimacy, and I think that is a powerful testament to their loyal friendship.

But it is a very tiny moment of joy and comfort, and the picture that Pullman paints is bleak, grim, and final. I genuinely do not know how they will make it out of the land of the dead, and the oarsmen is certainly not helping that. The fatalistic monologue that he gives the passengers is one that seems devoid of everything God or god or any gods or religion tells us of the world beyond the living, and it sounds worse than any hellfire sermon given behind a pulpit. I’m curious as to what sort of justification this place has in the grand scheme of the Authority, especially since the Bible is so insistent on life after death. In this world, though, it seems no one goes to heaven because the kingdom is not open to anyone. There is no joy or love or hope after death. All humans pass through this place of dim fog and sorrow, and there is no comfort. Who you were, who you know, how much you owned…absolutely none of it mattered.

How the hell are they going to get out of this?

Well, actually, the first thing our travelers have to deal with is getting in to the land of the dead. After reaching the shore of the island where all dead folks are left, they walk through the mist until they come upon some sort of wall, behind which they can hear “mournful shrieks and wails that hung in the air like the drifting filaments of a jellyfish.” There’s a door in the wall, which…there’s a door to the land of the dead, y’all. This is ridiculous.

But it is not at all as ridiculous as the introduction of the harpies, the creatures from Greek mythology that are half women, half vultures. Harpies guard the door to the world of the dead, and somehow, Pullman makes them even more terrifying than I recall them being. I’m intrigued by the contrast to the two sets of guardians to this place, though, since the oarsman is a quite, gentle man, and the guards are vicious harpies, and I wonder why this is the order that a dead person faces. I mean, you’ve lost your soul along the way. Are you really going to get smarmy with a harpy at the end of this?

The harpy that they encounter first seems incredulous at the idea that these people are not dead, which is kind of fascinating to me. I mean….they lost their souls. Aren’t they technically dead? Maybe so, but in spirit, they are very much alive. Who else would decide to attack HARPIES? God, I love the ferocity with which all of these characters, the Gallivespians included, fight to get beyond the harpies, even after what they all just went through. WHO ELSE WOULD DO THAT? Yes, they don’t succeed because they are clearly outnumbered, but it’s the effort that I’m impressed with.

And leave it up to Lyra to attempt to find a way to talk her way into the world of the dead. SERIOUSLY. She offers to tell a story to the No-Name Harpy in exchange for being let inside. Lyra, the great storyteller, believes she can use her ability to get past this creature, and I dearly love her for it. It’s sort of like she’s been training for this very moment.

Well…okay, perhaps not. Even if she was, I could not have expected what the harpy does just seconds into Lyra’s story: She screams that Lyra is a liar and RIPS OUT A CHUNK OF HER HAIR FROM HER SCALP. WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON? In the chaos that follows, Will grabs Lyra and pulls her towards the door. I was disturbed by Pullman pointing out how the cries of, “Liar! Liar!” sounded so much like Lyra’s name. Will, that wonderful badass that he is, CUTS OUT THE LOCK ON THE DOOR WITH THE SUBTLE KNIFE, and the Gallivespians follow behind him into the world of the dead.

oh my god THIS BOOK, Y’ALL.


If you are just aching to discuss the many spoilery things that this chapter and others I’ll read this week, BridgeToTheStars is hosting a conversation about THE WORLD OF THE DEAD and you should probably go hang out there with other His Dark Materials fans. You still have a chance to enter the contest BTTS is hosting in conjunction with me to give away a signed copy of The Amber Spyglass!

Even cooler, they got a chance to speak with Helen Crawford-White, who worked on my favorite cover designs for the trilogy. I would highly advise that you read her interview and check out the photos!

About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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150 Responses to Mark Reads ‘The Amber Spyglass’: Chapter 21

  1. Ryan Lohner says:

    The thing about the great betrayal gets even worse if, like me, you'd assumed that it referred to her bringing Roger to Asriel, and thus was well in the past.

    Personally, I believe in reincarnation and karma (not really much else from Eastern religions, but that part really appeals to me), so I'm not that put off by the topic of death. Still, I really teared up reading this.

    • cait0716 says:

      I'd thought that was the betrayal, too. Even on this re-read, somehow I'd forgotten that this was the fulfillment of that prophecy.

    • stellaaaaakris says:

      Yup, I've read this trilogy at least a dozen times in the past decade and EVERY TIME I forget that this is the real betrayal. I always think it's Roger, probably because the chapter is called "Betrayal" and that's how Lyra thinks of it, but then we get to this chapter. And since I forget it every time, it hurts that much more when I re-realize. Pullman, I am impressed and heart-broken.

      • Tilja says:

        That was Pullman misleading us intentionally. He was probably laughing maliciously at all those people who thought he actually gave everything away in the first book, saying, "Oh, you poor Unprepared folks. YOU HAVE NO IDEA."

        • flootzavut says:

          Talented writer, but my he is an evil git sometimes!

        • eleniel says:

          I don't think it was Pullman being misleading. Roger IS the betrayal in the prophecy. The line about the prophecy being fulfilled now is referring to the second part, about it hurting Lyra terribly. The only reason she wanted to go to the world of the dead badly enough to give up her own soul is BECAUSE she betrayed Roger.

    • monkeybutter says:

      Echoing everyone else: yup, I thought it was Roger and completely forgot that the prophecy was referring to Pan, even though I remembered that they would be separated. It definitely makes it worse by emphasizing how terrible the physical and spiritual pain of leaving behind her daemon is.

    • flootzavut says:

      "The thing about the great betrayal gets even worse if, like me, you'd assumed that it referred to her bringing Roger to Asriel, and thus was well in the past."

      Yup, totally. Double whammy because Pullman makes us all think that we're past the awful betrayal.

      • Hazelwillow says:

        Lyra betrayed Roger, and to make amends she came down here. So her betrayal was of Roger, and it is now hurting her greatly.

  2. Rheine says:

    Yeah, this chapter is just so powerful.

    *hugs you forever*

  3. MRB says:

    I think I waited my whole life for you to read this chapter. I was waiting for it. Back when you announced you were going to read the trilogy, I thought of this moment, and I felt for you. As I feel for you now.

    *holds you until the end of time*

    • this, man, oh god. when you said you were reading these, Mark, first I thought how the religious stuff would affect you and then I thought of this.

      Nobody ever recovers from reading this chapter, I don't think. I think it literally scars you for life, and I mean that without an ounce of hyperbole. I can recall that mental image of almost-shapeless Pan on the shore without a tiny discrepancy, right from when I read it when it came out, and just reading this review opened up a whole barreload of feelings as if they were fresh and new.

      It's about loss, and particularly, loss you might have caused or influenced, and it taps into the weight in the chest of everyone who's felt either of those things.

      • xpanasonicyouthx says:

        Ah, seriously. That's exactly what it is. Thanks for commenting dear. OMG I HAVE MET YOU. come to the bay area!!!

  4. cait0716 says:

    There are accounts that, if we open our hearts to them, will cut us too deeply – Neil Gaiman

    This chapter is hard to read and it never gets easier. The separation of Lyra and Pantalaimon makes my heart hurt just thinking about it. Then Pullman spends so much time describing it, and goes on to describe the equivalent feeling in Will. It's just too awful. And though all of that Will and Lyra at least have each other for comfort. The thought of Pantalaimon sitting back on the dock by himself is almost too much to bear. I hope that whatever invisible part of himself Will left behind is able to provide some comfort to Pan. Somehow. Otherwise it's worse than Jurassic Bark.

    I think that death is just blackness and nothingness and that’s the end of the road.

    I think this, too, Mark. I think death is the end of everything. But I don't think that's horrible. I think a rest, an eternal, dreamless sleep, is the best we can hope for. Eternity honestly scares me more than oblivion. Especially when you start thinking about what it really means, how long that actually lasts. Whether you spend it in eternal bliss or eternal torment, it has to just get boring eventually. I'd rather just cease to be aware of anything.

    Finding out that Lyra sounds like liar was a truly mind-blowing moment for me. There was some discussion back in TGC about how to pronounce her name, and the first time I read the series I'd been pronouncing it wrong. Then I got to this chapter and realized it sounded like liar and everything made perfect sense. Sort of like Hermione in GoF, but on a much larger scale.

    • stellaaaaakris says:

      I had a similar realization with her name. I was never sure how to pronounce it, so I read it two different ways until I got to this chapter. Sometimes it was Lyra, pronounced correctly, other times it sounded similar to Kyra or Keira.

      • rumantic says:

        I always thought it *was* pronounced Lie-rah, rather than lie-ar, but it was just that they were calling "Liarliarliarliarliar" and over and over again with more than one harpy calling it, it just sounded as though they could have been saying Lyra.

        It was Lie-rah in the audiobooks and film, wasn't it?

        (Or am I totally misunderstanding? :$)

        • cait0716 says:

          It's definitely Lie-ra. I had originally thought it was pronounced closer to Lee-ra, but I was wrong

        • stellaaaaakris says:

          As cait0716 says, it's pronounced Lie-ra. It just took me until this chapter on my first read to be absolutely sure it wasn't Lee-ra, because that sounds nothing like "liar."

    • flootzavut says:

      "There are accounts that, if we open our hearts to them, will cut us too deeply – Neil Gaiman"

      *sobs* <3 Neil Gaiman – King of words.

    • ChronicReader91 says:

      I'm glad I'm not the only one- I've been pronouncing it LEE-RAH instead of LYE-RAH. Whoops.

      • SorrowsSolace says:

        There's a quote by Rudyard Kipling about Death (mentioned in one of Gaiman's works too)

        ""They will come back, come back again,
        As long as the red earth rolls.
        He never wasted a leaf or a tree.
        Do you think he would squander souls?"
        — Rudyard Kipling"

        It's oddly comforting as is the Gaiman work I read, (on the way to my Grandad's funeral.)

  5. Raphael says:

    My dad died two years and a bit ago, when I was 17ish, and I loved HDM dearly but have not, since then, read about the World of the Dead. I felt too scared to do it. It was too real. It was too well-written. So I think – I don't know how you feel, Mark, because you can't know how that feels for another person – but I think I know how hard it was for you to read this chapter. Pullman gives his readers the same weight, I think, that he gives his characters. He doesn't give us an easy way out. Sure, this is a beautiful, strange, enormously imaginative world to escape into, but the sheer force of it means that when shit goes down as it does here, you can't just shrug it off as a book. You're in this for good. And you're not prepared. And thank you for telling us about your father.

  6. Rainicorn says:

    Wow, Mark, this is a helluva review. I think your review of this chapter is possibly more heart-rending than the chapter itself. It's a sign of a truly powerful book that it can reflect back aspects of your life and experiences like a many-sided prism.

    Growing up with this series, each time I reread it, I got some new appreciation out of it. I found new nuances when I reread it after finding out what a "coulter" is; when I reread it after learning who Azrael is; when I reread it after I'd read Paradise Lost; when I reread it after rkcrevrapvat n oebxra urneg; and this – when I reread this chapter after I'd read The Aeneid, I was just knocked out by how skilfully Pullman weaves in aspects of Virgil. I think there's a paragraph describing the boatman that is very close to a verbatim translation of a passage in Aeneid Book VI. [/classics geek-out]

  7. myshadow says:

    This is going to be a tl;dr of death in my life.

    For me personally I still have issues dealing with the loss of a loved one, and I've know a lot of people
    who've died and I'm only 20. I just don't think about them or talk about them because it hurts way to much. Heck, my first loss was my dad and I was not even four yet. I only have like two memories of him before he started losing the battle of cancer. And I still remember his body laying the casket with his eyes closed. I don't remember if there were any major deaths between from turning 4 to 13. In 8th grade a few of my pets died, then my mom's ex-boyfriend died of cancer and then a few weeks later my neighbor, who I was really closed to killed herself. Then the summer before 9th grade my uncle died of cancer and it was so hard to see him in the casket. Then the summer before 11th grade by grandpa was really sick because of cancer and died October 3rd and then a month later my geometry teacher died. Then the last day of my junior year a girl I kind of new from the fandom I was in at the time died from cancer. My senior year my other uncle died of cancer and this lifeguard I had a crush on died in January because he had an aneurysm. All those things happening plus of stuff is the main reason why I hated high school because there was just too much going on and I couldn't handle it. Sometimes I can't believe how I functioned during those years.

    Back on topic: I also was interested to see what the World of the Dead was like. It's just really fascinating to me how they're roaming around together.

  8. Meenalives says:

    So here is where the story becomes an echo of the Orpheus myth, and thus guaranteed to grab my attention (I’m writing a PhD dissertation on underworld descents in opera, and I will read just about anything that includes the world of the dead). I am therefore about to write a long and very geeky comment.

    One of my complaints about this series on re-reading is how little Pullman touches on theology that is non-Christian, but in this section we get pure classical mythology and epic as viewed through 2,000 years of Christian re-interpretation by writers such as Dante (note: I’m sure there are a lot of Milton references in here too, but I’ve yet to read Paradise Lost). The first and most obvious sign of the classical underworld is the boatman ferrying souls across the river, known in mythology as Charon. This figure was taken up by numerous Christian writers about hell, probably following the example of Dante, who most likely took his description of Charon from Virgil. Virgil’s Charon, while still an old man, is nowhere near as beaten down as Pullman’s. As Robert Fagles’ translation of the Aeneid says, “And here the dreaded ferryman guards the flood/grisly in his squalor – Charon… /his scraggly beard a tangled mat of white, his eyes/fixed in a fiery stare, and his grimy rags hang down/from his shoulders by a knot. But all on his own/he punts his craft with a pole…He’s on in years but a god’s old age is hale and green.” Virgil’s Charon ferries all souls, like the boatman in The Amber Spyglass, but Dante’s ferries only those souls going to hell, the wicked or unbaptized. He is perhaps even more terrifying, hurling abuse at those he ferries.
    The harpies have a slightly more obscure relationship with the underworld. The are mentioned in one line of the Aeneid as being one of many monstrous creatures that guard the land of the dead, but are given no further explication, though they show up in a different part of the epic as monsters with a terrible hunger. In Dante, the harpies are found in the forest of the suicides, where they tear apart the trees into which those who take their own lives are transformed. I wonder whether Pullman here is conflating the harpies with the Furies, also often depicted as horrifying winged women. Their job was specifically punishing wrongdoers, especially those who killed their family members, both before and after death (I have other reasons for thinking this but they’re spoilers).
    Lyra, in this chapter, attempts to become Orpheus, charming the guardians of hell with her voice, but her lies are futile even for entering the underworld, and it remains to be seen how she will leave it (always the more difficult task).
    Next up tomorrow: The ordering of Hell.

    (If you read all of that, you should get a prize.)

    • eleventysix says:

      Your geekiness was fully appreciated on my part (also: Fagles!!). Rereading this chapter, I couldn't help but see Pullman as portraying Lyra and Will and the Gallivespians similar to suicides (I have no idea if this was his original intention or not): they went willfully, though not eagerly, to their deaths, despite meeting resistance along the way. Of course, they aren't really dead (somehow), and the very Charon-ish boatman doesn't really seem to think of them as suicides, so what do I know. But your mention of Dante's reference of the Harpies brought that to mind.

      Oh, and (I’m writing a PhD dissertation on underworld descents in opera, and I will read just about anything that includes the world of the dead
      …I have to admit, I kind of (really) want to read that.

    • Tilja says:

      Read and understood. I haven't read Virgil but now, thanks to your description, I want to do it. I've read and absorbed plenty of mythology and noted all these things but I completely forgot about the Furies; you're right, the Harpies seem like a fusion between them.

      The carrier of souls is a common figure in all sorts of mythologies throughout the world. A figure always takes the soul to the world of the dead to undergo judgement and purification or damnation. One thing I'd really like to see here in the land of the dead is the feather and the scale, a way to balance judgement on a full life. We'll see some things but I always tend to wish for more on comparative mythology in a story depicting the afterlife. 🙂

      • flootzavut says:

        If memory serves, in Zoroastrian theology, where the dead were left to be eaten by animals and wild dogs, the dog became sacred as the animal which took the body/soul to the afterlife… or something… I wish I could remember more.

    • myshadow says:

      Yay someone else who thought of Charon while reading this book! Also in one of the early chapters of the Golden Compass where the dead had coins relates to Charon.

      • flootzavut says:

        ^ this reminds me of something Terry Pratchet's Death says… rot-13'd for spoilers of Mort.

        Zbeg, Qrngu'f ncceragvpr, nfxvat nobhg gur fbhepr bs Qrngu'f zbarl…

        "Ubj qb lbh trg nyy gubfr pbvaf?" nfxrq Zbeg.

        VA CNVEF.

        Makes me laugh every time… which maybe tells you something about me…

    • ldwy says:

      Haha, I read it all and demand my prize. But I've always loved classical mythology, although I've never delved into it as deeply as you must have. It was really interesting to read!

    • breakingmyprogramming says:

      Yay! What prize do I get?

      Reading about the harpies tearing apart the souls-as-trees of suicides seems to me to be slightly similar to the harpies in The Amber Spyglass. They still don't leave the dead in peace. No?
      A bit harsh of them. You would think you'd finally be left in peace as a tree.

    • arctic_hare says:

      Gimme my prize, because I read and loved that. 😀

      • Meenalives says:

        You get the libretto of Stefano Landi's "Death of Orpheus." Lots of Maenads and an ending where Orpheus rejects Eurydice in favor of ascending to Olympus.

    • flootzavut says:

      Yes please! :p I love reading stuff like this from people who clearly know what they are talking about!

    • maccyAkaMatthew says:

      I read all of that and I'd say it's a prize in and of itself.

      Have you read any Russell Hoban? He has reworked the Orpheus and Eurydice myth into a couple of his novels, Kleinzeit and The Medusa Frequency. He also wrote the libretto to Harrison Birtwhistle's The Second Mrs Kong wih more Orpheus and Eurydice and also King Kong.

      At his best, Hoban is amazing, some of his work comes crosses over into the imaginative realms usually mapped out by science fiction or fantasy genre fiction, but most of it is closer to magical realism (how I hate that term) with a rootedness in the present among all the weirdness. I'd thoroughly recommend all his early work, although I think he falls off a bit from Angelica's Grotto (1999) onwards.

    • xpanasonicyouthx says:

      Read this and LOVED IT. I'd never read Virgil either, so this insight is fantastic.

  9. pennylane27 says:

    I don't know what to say without quoting whole chunks of the review. It's scary how much I agree with your views on death and afterlife. Sometimes I almost envy people who believe the people we love go to a better place when they die, but I just can't believe it myself. I can't imagine what could be better than being here, even with life's complications and bad things and everything.

    And really, reading about Lyra and Will leaving parts of themselves behind was so damn-i-don't-even-have-words that I had to force myself to keep reading, something I rarely have to do. THANKS PULLMAN.

  10. Kiryn says:

    I had to write something, if only because it seems like, for the very first time, I’m going to be the first to comment. Send!

  11. summeriris says:

    My brother died 10 years ago. I had already lost my mother and father, but somehow when I lost my brother I knd of lost it for a while. He was only 1 year and 9 months older than me. He had no right dying on me like that, Anyway I was 3 thousand miles away from him, this was not going to tear my heart out, it just wasn't. I was not going to let it.
    I sat for 2 days almost without really thinking anything but what I just wrote. My sister made the arrangements for us to fly from Aberdeen Svotland to Michigan o collect his remains. My daughter's husband made the arrangements for the interment here in Aberdeen and my aunt arranged for the service at the chapel where we were all baptised. I sat like a zombie and didn't think of anything but craziness. I feel ashamed now, but at the time it was all I could do. For all that I was not going to let losing him tear my heart out, it still has not healed. And this chapter makes me feel like that again. It has one ray of light for me, this is where I started to love The Chevalier and Lady Salmalkia.

    • cait0716 says:

      I like this. It can be read as a condemnation of Lyra's constant lying. It can also be meta-commentary on the whole fantasy genre. Great epigraph for a great chapter

    • Ronna says:

      May I ask that you type out the transcription of the epigraphs when you post them? My reasons are selfish (I usually read the reviews on my cellphone and most images don’t like that), but it would also make the epigraphs more accessible and open for discussion to everyone =)

  12. breakingmyprogramming says:

    Your imagery is so beautiful and powerful it hurts my insides.
    Although I'm glad my insides can still be affected in this way! Highly useful for checking that I still have insides 🙂

  13. Lauren says:

    The first experience I really had with death was my friend's dad dying back in January. I mean, distant relations of mine had died before, but they were old and I'd never known them and nobody else seemed too sad about it. Then I came home from a sleepover and my mom told me that he'd died of a heart attack last night. She was crying really hard, too- she'd known him for even longer than she'd known that same friend's mom, and they met back when she was in high school or college in Louisiana. Even though I barely knew him, seeing how hard it hit my mom and imagining what my friend's family was going through, I sobbed my heart out that night. I was half in denial about it until the funeral a couple of days later. My friend's mom was crying- she never cries. She's one of the happiest people I know. That, and seeing the body, really drove it home to me: No-one in my life was invulnerable to death. These things could affect me.

  14. Even though it's been 10 years since I first read this, many times, over and over I've remembered the pain Will felt when that boat moved away from the shore, I can still almost feel the tearing in my chest. I identified with Will's pain more than Lyra's perhaps, because he never even knew what he lost, he always thought he was alone, which is both better and far worse I feel. Although I'm not sure. What does everyone else think?

  15. Erin says:

    can we talk about the part with the smushed toad? i don’t *get* the part with the smushed toad.

    • As there's another sentence about broken and suffering creatures on the banks of the water, I think it's implied that nothing can live happily/healthily there? Whether those animals found their way there by accident or were actually born there, I have no idea, but I think it's mainly a device for Will to have an existential crisis/difference of opinion with the Gallivespians over.

  16. Tilja says:

    The Harpies was the WORST chapter to read nfvqr sebz Jvyy naq Ylen'f frcnengvba va gur raq. I have to commend Pullman on being able to describe in the simplest, most understandable fashion, the worst kind of feelings a human being can have. He gives such perfect comparisons that most people can relate to and fills them with pure force.

    I feel your pain, Mark. Very recently, only a little over a week ago, while I was commenting on your review, I got a text message saying that some close friend had died and had to leave the review incomplete to start the hard labour of calling everyone I could reach and telling them what I didn't believe myself had happened. It was one of those people with nothing wrong who enjoyed being alive and never wanted to die. She had just moved the previous day to a new appartment and was happy for the opportunities and removal of troubles that gave her. She just dropped dead. She hasn't been buried yet, the officials released her body that same day, but since the doctor hasn't yet put their ass down to write the report (I repeat, the body was released because everything was in order and they even said that once released, there's nothing more they'd want to do), the family can't dispose of the cremation and burial. So she's rotting away, I don't even know if in the open or they at least put her in a cold room, while those sons of bitches enjoy themselves. It's not their child anyway, so why bother doing things to make the family less wretched?

    I am too outraged at the selfishness, unprofessionalism, disrespect and downright cruelty of these people. The mother has only realised her daughter is not alive a few days ago, while having to fight the corrupt system to allow her to bury her daughter.

    This is the way I react to death normally, with anger at the living for doing everything in their power to worsen an already bad situation, never caring to make it less painful. This is also the kind of experience I've had with death: always made worse by bureaucracy and medical malpraxis, both in life and after death.

    • monkeybutter says:

      That's horrifying. I hope that her mother manages to get her body back soon and can lay her to rest, but even this much delay and unresponsiveness is despicable.

      • Tilja says:

        Supposedly, the medical report is due tomorrow. Let's hope they're not still sitting on their butts on it. Ten fracking days to write that they performed a superficial autopsy the morning of the decease to find she died of asfixiation and then dropped her out. Fucking sons of bitches who deserve their children to die and see if they like their own fucking corruption on themselves.

        Sorry, I was talking today with her fiancee (they were getting married in October! She was the one who found her dead) and we can't figure out what the hell happened and that brainless doctor won't say anything more in the made up report. This is so frustrating.

        Let's just hope there IS a report tomorrow.

  17. See, I read this chapter while on a road trip. (Because books are great for road trips! Right?) I was sobbing _so much_ at the part of the chapter where Pan and Lyra are made to separate from each other. No joke, my friends thought something was terribly wrong with me. Even re-reading your review made me cry a bit, because Pullman has just broken my heart with this chapter. </3 Someone hold me, I think I have, um, something in my eye. And I need a hug to, uh, get it out properly.

  18. James says:

    I'm a spiritualist and a medium and I believe in reincarnation, so I don't have a fear of death but I know others like me who do. My beliefs mean I can have some comfort others don't, but it doesn't make losing someone hurt less and I would never for a second dismiss the pain and grief of someone who thinks death is the end because of them. It's a very personal thing, which is why I like the idea of the individual Deaths that was introduced last chapter so much.

    "except the dragonflies, because apparently they don’t have souls?????"

    This is the only thing I really don't like or agree with in Pullman's canon. The fact that Dust only affects and surrounds humans and is attracted to conscious thought says that animals don't have consciousness and this part quite clearly has them without souls and that just… I cannot abide the inherent arrogance of humans thinking we're the only creatures who engage with things consciously.

    Anyway, that one gripe aside, this chapter is so beautifully written and so utterly soul-wrenching. *HOLDS FOREVER* Pullman has this fantastic ability to make you feel everything his characters feel which is never more apparent than this chapter. Just. UGH, PAIN FOR ALWAYS. It makes me have to clutch at myself because I don't have a corporeal daemon to cling to!

    As Meenalives pointed out above, this chapter introduces other mythologies which is another reason I love it so much (despite the PAIN). Charon! Harpies! It's great for me as a Classicist to see the heroes on a journey to the Underworld, like Odysseus and Aeneas before them, with those elements included.

  19. Vikikiwa says:

    I feel the same way about death. The idea that there's nothing, just nothing scares me more than anything else. I've heard people say it's ok because it means the end of pain but pain is not what I'm afraid of. Pain is just part of life. The idea of oblivion scares me so much I just won't face it. I completely disassociate myself from any difficult situations. When my godmother killed herself I made jokes at her wake (which disgusted my family). I didn't go my grandmother's wake but I was making people around me cry with laughter at her funeral. I'm a pretty awful person for this. It's not hard for me to accept they're gone because I pretend they were strangers and I cut all emotional connection. Anything bad happens and it feels like it happened or is happening to someone else.

    Actual comments on the chapter: the whole 'Lyra is a lier' thing has me thinking about something in language theory. I've tried googling this book but I can't find it at all (I may have read it in Spanish). To greatly simplify something I read years ago it says that lying, as in the ability to say things which are not 'real' or 'true', is a step towards or a necessary part of representing abstract concepts since they are neither 'real' nor 'true'. I might have to come back and change this into something that makes sense.

  20. BradSmith5 says:

    Oh no. I had a prediction about the finale in my head, but the events here ruin that! I was so SURE that Pan would fit into Lyra's final temptation somehow; that her choice would involve destroying him to save the worlds or something. So why is he being abandoned here!? Is he going to come back? I don't think he can, can he? I don't like this. I was certain I knew what was happening up until now.

  21. arctic_hare says:

    This chapter hurts. Bone-deep, heart-deep, soul-deep hurt. :'( And I feel like I read it twice because your review gets the same reaction out of me, only magnified. Thank you for sharing these personal recollections and insights with us; you don't by any means have to, but you do anyway. Thank you. I don't really have anything to share back as eloquently – but then, that's a good thing. My memories of such terrible grief are too distant to really recall clearly.

    On a less soul-crushing note, I, like others above, am ridiculously pleased that we're seeing some Greek mythology elements coming into play here. Hell yes! 😀

  22. Amanda says:

    My friend read this chapter while listening to this song, Little Hell by City and Colour. It's terribly fitting. I get chills and almost start crying every time I hear this song, because just the thought of this chapter tears my heart out.
    [youtube lPF926pisrQ& youtube]

  23. flootzavut says:

    "But it all felt like a cruel joke to me, something I still can’t really comprehend or conceptualize. It is an absurd notion that, to this day, I don’t think I’ve ever dealt with."

    When my dad died and I was telling people, whenever they expressed their sympathy to me I felt this awful urge to laugh because it felt TOO DAMN RIDICULOUS. I felt like when I told people he had died that I was actively lying to them. Similarly when I started to talk about being abused as a kid.

    But the thing that I remember that most epitomises this for me is that, on September 11th 2001, I was in Israel. We were doing practical work in a school/hospital in East Jerusalem/the edge of the West Bank, we'd had a really good, productive day, we knew we were going to be able to finish the work (which had been in some doubt), we had a day off in Galilee to look forward to… basically, we were in very good spirits as we walked back to our hotel. I will never forget the rowdy crowd of us as we started up the steps to our hotel rooms. One of our leaders, Ian, was waiting at the top.

    He said, "There's been a terrorist attack on the World Trade Center." We just stared at him.

    "And the Pentagon is on fire."

    D'ya know what, I had to bite my tongue not to LAUGH. It seemed so ridiculous, so unbelievable, that for a moment I thought he was making it up.

    Then we crowded round the TV, saw the second plane hit, and it all became a lot more real (especially given that the initial temptation was to blame the Palestinians and bomb East Jerusalem/Gaza). But I will never forget that urge to laugh because it was just tooooo silly, and how on EARTH could the Pentagon, of all places, be on fire. You might as well have told me that Buckingham Palace was on fire, or that the Eiffel Tower had fallen over. It seemed too silly for words.

    Anyway, just for what it's worth…

    • monkeybutter says:

      I actually accused my History teacher of lying when he told us that a couple of planes had hit the WTC, and another had just hit the Pentagon (that's the point when they had decided to tell us.) I thought it was a sick joke, and I snorted at it. I guess my first reaction to tragedy is disbelief, too. Maybe it's just the shock keeping me from processing it?

      • flootzavut says:

        Yeah, my reaction was similar… my "logical" brain knew that Ian was not the kind of person who would make up something like that, but it really was the best explanation I could come up with – the reality was just too ridiculous, sounded like a bad movie.

        The other weird thing was that what Ian knew, a few snippets from people at home (mostly telephone conversations along the lines of "get out of there, it's not safe!") and seeing the second plane hit/the fire on the WTC, that was all we saw or knew until we got back almost a week later. It was very strange to watch the footage all a week late. Kind of meant it never felt reeeeeeeeeeeeeally real…

        Also because some of the footage from Israel was totally disconnected with what we were actually seeing on the streets. Talking to people on the phone they were saying, Oh, the Palestinians are celebrating in the streets in Gaza and East Jerusalem… and I was standing in a phone booth in the Old City going, um, well I can't speak for Gaza, but they're not doing that in East Jerusalem… it was weird, seeing how disconnected the reality was from the reports that were being shown.

        I am kind of glad to know someone else had a similar reaction.

      • ldwy says:

        I too was in history class when it happened, as a matter of coincidence. He turned on the news and we were watching it, and then the principal made an announcement. I remember they rapidly arranged to get everyone home from school early, all across the city…meanwhile it was still so hard to even believe it at that point.

    • notemily says:

      I thought it was a joke when I first heard about it, too. I was in college, walking back to my dorm from Women's Studies, when some woman I'd never met before was like "everyone needs to go to the Lecture Hall, because of the World Trade Center." I just stared at her with a confused smile, because I thought she was making a joke I wasn't getting.

      My college was tiny and nestled in rolling mountains, so we got crap TV reception and almost nobody even had a TV. So we all sat there in the lecture hall listening to public radio on the giant speakers. I didn't even see the images of the falling towers until I got back to my room and looked it up on the internet.

      • flootzavut says:

        I think somethings are just so horrific they defy belief – like the Towers collapsing. Way back in '96 there was a school shooting in Dunblane, Scotland, and 15 kids of 5 and 6 were killed, and I remember that being similarly so horrific that it was incomprehensible. The number and the age of the children just made it seem beyond belief.

        I guess in a way it is good to realise that in our media-saturated world where we see so many images of appalling suffering and horror that we are still *able* to be shocked. It's so easy to get "compassion fatigue" and just see those images as news, not real things happening to real people.

        It was like a bad movie, though, especially the images of the Towers falling and the clouds of dust and debris. I can't imagine what that was like to live through…

  24. flootzavut says:

    And by the way, Lyra and Will losing their souls makes me think of the fact my Best Friend Ever is moving away on Wednesday and I don't know when I will see him again. For the first time in my nearly 33 years I have a friend who gets me on every level, who seemingly can read my mind, and I don't know how I'm going to cope and I am so terrified of losing him. It makes me cry in that embarrassing, how many tears can one person hold, shaking down to the core of my being and wailing with grief sobbing. I don't think I've ever even cried this much when friends or relatives have died, and I have had waayyyyyyyyyyyyyy too much experience of that. *HUGS ON THE ASTRAL PLANE*

    • ldwy says:

      Hugs for you. Distance can be really trying, but I'm sure you too will do whatever you can to stay close! A friend like that is so rare, you'll find ways to make it work, although of course it will be different.

      • flootzavut says:

        THANK YOU!

        I have really never had a friend like this before and it has, no exageration, changed my life. So him moving away scares me. I don't know how else to say it except, I always thought the idea of soulmates was tosh, but not necessarily in a romantic way, that is the best way to describe this friendship for me. Like it was meant to be. So my head says, there's no way a friendship like this can just die on the vine, but my heart is plain terrified! I think there's also a part of me going, "But it's not faaaaaaaaaaaaair" because we've lived in the same area for about 6 years, but only met about 18 months ago. So there's a little kid inside me who is really pissed off at my bad timing!!

        *HUGS BACK*

  25. cobaltazure says:

    I'm sure that I've said ALL THE TEARS before, but I've never really meant it the way that I do with this chapter. This one leaves me a sobbing wreck every time, even when (like with this time) I try to skim over it to try to dull the pain. The image of Pantalaimon in dog-shaped form on the jetty as the boat pulls away may be the most heartbreaking thing ever written. It sure did stay with me even though it's been five years since I last read this book.

    There have been other deaths since my first reading, but the one I'll always associate with this chapter is the death of the dog I grew up with. I was two when we got him, so it was like he had always been there to follow us around, herd my classmates on days when you could bring your pets to school, and charm people who said that they didn't like dogs. But we had to say goodbye to him. We got another dog, but it was becoming apparent that we had been thinking more about filling the dog-shaped hole in our lives than about finding the right dog. So I read, and when Pan was left behind on the shore, I saw the dog I grew up with in his place and bawled my eyes out because the pain of saying goodbye to him was still with me. I don't want any afterlife that doesn't include every dog that I've ever loved.

  26. TreasureCat says:

    My emotions surrounding death and what comes after death are a bit too painful and current for me to feel as comfortable talking about as some of these wonderful comments. But I would really like to leave a quote from Lemony Snicket, which basically sums death up perfectly for me:

    It is a curious thing, the death of a loved one. We all know that our time in this world is limited, and that eventually all of us will end up underneath some sheet, never to wake up. And yet it is always a surprise when it happens to someone we know. It is like walking up the stairs to your bedroom in the dark, and thinking there is one more stair than there is. Your foot falls down, through the air, and there is a sickly moment of dark surprise as you try and readjust the way you thought of things.

    • flootzavut says:

      That quote is awesome… so true. Even when it's totally expected and you almost hope it will come to end suffering, there's no way to prepare for it actually happening.

    • ldwy says:

      Wow, that really is an unexpectedly perfect description. Thanks for sharing.

    • monkeybutter says:

      Great quotation. I loved that series more than I ever expected to because of bits like that.

    • t09yavors says:

      That quote always gives me chills when it is said in the movie.

    • meguca says:

      Lemony Snicket is very quotable and this is one of my favorite things he's written. 🙁

  27. xpanasonicyouthx says:

    I'm busy doing my other job and hunting for a house or apartment to move into (OH GOD MUST MOVE IN TWO WEEKS I SHOULD STOP PROCRASTINATING), but I have read most of these comments. Thank you all for having the courage to share with me and the rest of the community. These stories hurt to read, but I am so flattered you would open up to everyone. <3<3<3<3

  28. muselinotte says:

    This chapter is a true marker of what a brilliant writer Pullman really is.
    He has the ability to make me feel physically sick, just by his words, by the images he creates…
    Them loosing their daemons really tears at my heart every single time, it's just too damn real!
    I have not had to deal with great losses in my life so far, for which I'm extremely thankful, but Pullman's depiction of this horrifying concept of loss is so real to me still…

    The harpies are truly terrifying, stuff of nightmares…

  29. stellaaaaakris says:

    I choose to believe in an afterlife, not because that's how I was raised in the Catholic Church, but because I simply cannot handle an alternative. I don't know if in the afterlife there is consciousness or a heaven or hell or whatnot, I just have to believe there is something after. I need this belief to keep, I'm not sure what the word is, a hold of myself I guess. Sometimes when my insomnia strikes, I can't sleep and my mind drifts to death. And it starts to feel like a panic attack and it's horrible. I have to get up and watch comedies until the sun comes up because otherwise I'd be lying there, shaking and unable to breathe. It comforts me and, if I'm wrong, I won't realize anyway so might as well go with the idea that lets me keep living.

    While my grandfather dying 4 years ago was sad because I did love him, he lived so far away that, even though I cried a little when I heard the news, the thing that really undid me was seeing how it affected my dad. I'd only ever seen my dad cry once before, when I had fainted and needed to be brought to the hospital because they didn't know what was wrong (really bad pneumonia), so seeing him crying at his father's funeral hurt me. And the only time I was truly a mess was on 9/11 when I didn't know what happened to my mom who worked in Tower One. I was 13, home sick and I was watching it all on the news and I was the one who had to field all the calls from people asking if she was safe but I didn't have any answers for a long time. Luckily she was (my brother and I had passed on our germs so she left a little late and was still in the subway when the planes hit and they were able to back up).

    But yeah, this chapter strikes a chord with everyone; even if they haven't experienced something like that, it brings something to mind. Okay, Pullman, I give up. You've drained me.

    • I spent my entire adolescence having those nightly panic attacks thinking about things like death and the afterlife and the size of the universe. Oh god. It was so horrible.

      I'm a lot better about it now but like, still. I just can't fall asleep unless I'm exhausted already.


      • notemily says:

        Ha, I just posted my comment about the size of the universe. Glad I'm not the only one who gets freaked out by that.

        • You definitely aren't. Like an idiot, I took a class in college called "Stars, Galaxies, and the Universe" and that was SUCH a bad idea.

        • stellaaaaakris says:

          Gah, that freaks me out too! I watched that episode of Firefly, where the guy who looks kinda like Eddie Murphy in the red spacesuit breaks into Serenity, at around midnight. That week there had already been a bunch of break ins in my neighborhood so that quickly put me on edge. Plus he's super creepy and THEN HE JUST FLOATS AROUND IN SPACE AND WAITS TO DIE. We just needed somebody to be buried alive for that episode to have pretty much all my worst fears.

          I used to have a recurring nightmare that I'd be the only person in the world who survived…something and it was horrifying. The loneliness is what gets to me, about that dream, about the size of the universe. It just feels so heavy.

    • notemily says:

      What gets me in that panic-attacky way is the idea of the universe. The uncaring, vast universe on which we are just a speck. A comet could hit us and we could all die, and the rest of the universe wouldn't even blink. I guess that's my version of the "uncaring God" who just sits back and lets evil shit happen, except it seems so much colder because there's no entity to do the caring or not caring. We just exist, surrounded by nothingness.

      It is really sad to see how the death of grandparents affects parents. I love my grandmother, but when she dies, I think I'm going to be more worried for my mom than anything.

      I'm so glad your mom was OK.

  30. AnonAndi says:

    Ahh.. Mark, this review made me cry at work. I remember numerous people on my life passing away. Most of them were quite elderly and by all respects had lived good, and full lives. But it was always still so foreign, so strange. I remember being 5 and screaming that they couldn't close the coffin on my great-grandpa because then he wouldn't be able to breath. I remember being 15 and holding my great grandmas hand as she died, and just blankly staring like this was all the worst and strangest dream ever.
    But your analogy of them being off in the distant fog, and that they must come back. Shouldn't they? You seriously wrenched my heart out at that. It's taken me 8 year to get over that feeling. It was all over one of my cousins, the one I was closest to. She was the level-headed, fun loving, kind of woman. Who cared about everyone, loved anybody no matter what. She was married and 22 weeks pregnant, we were all so so very excited. And I still remember sitting downstairs, watching Star Trek Enterprise of all things when my moms voice floated downstairs. Next thing we knew we were at the ICU, everyone else was there just as fast, everyone spoke quietly, and I just sat there. I just kept thinking, this is not happening. For three days we all sat in that hospital, and for three days I thought she would wake up any second. That she would be okay and we would all be happy again and that this was the most cruel nightmare I had ever had. The car accident couldn't have been that bad right? But we watched as first her son died, and then they finally pulled the plug on her. And life thinking things will always be okay just kind of shattered.
    I sobbed reading this, I remember that flat out this-is-impossible-please-make-it-stop kind of sobbing. And you never quite get over it… Just kind of eventually numb to it. Or maybe people are better at dealing with stuff than me, probably.
    Also, Mark, I feel like this community can agree we will collectively group hug you for the rest of EVER.

  31. ChronicReader91 says:

    There aren’t enough sad GIFs in the world to convey the ENDLESS SADNESS of this chapter. Nothing will suffice. The only thing sadder was your own stories. I wish I had something DEEP and MEANINGFUL to add, but no. I've been fortunate enough to not lose anyone I'm very c,lose to yet…I know that will have to change someday, and I'm dreading it.

    One thing: aren’t daemons supposed to be, for lack of a better term, a person’s soul? If so, then this is radically different from every version of the afterlife I’ve ever encountered. Instead of your soul being the only thing that survives, it’s what you have to leave behind.

  32. PeanutK says:

    These chapters about the world of the dead are really difficult for me to read. I'm a very new atheist. As recently as five months ago, I believed in a God. Then, I stopped believing in that. And, as recently as two months ago, I still held on to hope of an afterlife. For a while, I turned to stories of Near Death Experiences and Out of Body Experiences as a way of continuing to hold on to that hope, because to me, the idea of oblivion is terrifying. Even when I believed in God, I was scared of dying because I love being alive so much. I love walking through the woods, laughing, meeting people, cuddling with my cat, learning things, feeling the grass on my feet, reading books, watching good movies, everything. As painful as life often is, I'm in love with it. After I gave up on NDEs and OBEs, and I stopped believing in an afterlife, I fell into depression I hadn't felt since middle school. The idea that one day it'll all be over, that there will be no more laughter or grass or love or joy for me, for everyone, just emptiness and oblivion, is the worst possible thing for me. Because no longer can I hear about someone who suffered all their life suddenly dying and comfort myself with the thought that they're in a better place. Because they're not. That suffering and pain was all they would ever get to know. I can't live with that thought, or the thought of people I know who love life so much just…ending. I want to believe in an afterlife, I want that to be real, but I've lost the ability to see how it could be. So, I try to avoid thinking about death.

    Now, about these chapters. They present an interesting question for me, and I'm still not sure what the answer is. Which is worse? No afterlife at all, or one where there's no joy, where you're cut off from your spirit and where there is just mist and fog and harpies? I'm not sure which one I'd rather have myself. I suppose at first it wouldn't be so bad, especially if you ran into loved ones and were able to reunite with them, but after a long time….it would get depressing. Also, if people have been cut off from their spirit (and that's what I see daemons as, not exactly the soul, but rather the thing that gives the soul life and passion), then they're probably not going to be able to be happy. They'll just…exist,like the kids and the nurses at Bolvanger. Although, these people haven't been severed, just separated over a long distance it seems. Still, I don't think anyone could ever feel anything like hope in this place.

    (sorry if a lot of this is just rambling. This series makes me feel a lot of things)

  33. Didgy says:

    My grandfather died a few years ago, and I've always felt guilty that I wasn't sadder. To be honest, he had been a grumpy old man who I didn't see much, and who had been ill for a long time. But I'll always remember at his funeral, the moment when I realised that I was the only person who wasn't crying. I had loved him, of course, and I did cry eventually, but I couldn't help but feel that I didn't deserve to be there, with all the people who had known and loved him, who missed him, who were crying. Don't get me wrong, I was sad, but I just felt like I ought to be more sad.

    I want to thank Mark, and everyone at MarkReads, for the chance to finally say that, and get it off my chest. I've never really been moved to comment here much before, although I've been reading the blog for a long time, but I feel like this is a community where I can share these kind of things, and have people who understand. Thank you.

  34. Many Rainbows says:

    ok, i have to admit, I had to skip over the parts where you were not strictly talking about the book/your reaction to this chapter. I know you put yourself out there talking about your father, but for once.. I just could not do it, I could not read it. after having been triggered at church yesterday by SURPRISE! talk of suicide, i could not risk being triggered again by talk of your experiences. But I want to thank you for putting that warning there, so I could know to skip that portion of your post.

    Now, on to discussion of the actual chapter! It is AMAZING that Pullman could describe Lyra's misery at having to leave Pan behind, and be able to elicit a physical response from his readers. I remember when I read this chapter, i felt actual PAIN at Lyra having to leave her daemon behind. Almost as if I was Lyra and having to leave a piece of me, my soul (if it exists) behind.

  35. notemily says:

    My father is still alive somewhere. He’s just not home.

    This, this exactly. I've never had a close relative die but I have had my childhood dog put to sleep (ALL THE CREYS), and for a while, I kept expecting him to run to the door excitedly when I opened it and jump up on me in greeting. I know a dog isn't the same as a person, but it's still a horribly sad experience.

    It's just… so hard to conceive of someone being just GONE. They were there, they affected your life in so many ways, and now they're just NOT. And it's so hard to realize that they're not just taking a long vacation, or whatever.

    I read a book called Zen Physics for a class I took in college on death and dying. I remember the author saying, we didn't exist before we were born, we have no memory of that time, and we don't mourn the decades before our birth that we weren't alive to experience. So why are we so afraid of not existing after death? We won't be there to experience non-existence, we'll just be gone.

    And that makes a lot of sense to me in theory, but still–I can't conceive of dying. Now that I have human consciousness, I don't want to give it up. How can something as complex as a person just… stop existing? When I'm gone, what happens to the "I"?

    That goddamn boatman is so depressing. At this point when reading the book I always think, they're not going to come back. The boatman says nobody EVER comes back, so how can they possibly manage it? It seems hopeless, but then when the Harpy says "but you're alive," I start to have hope again. If they're still recognizably alive, then maybe there's a chance they can get through this. They have crossed into the land of the dead, but they are not dead. Not yet.

    I want to talk a little bit about the random injured toad that they come across on the way to the shore. Tialys says to kill it, but Lyra says "maybe it likes being alive," and Will agrees, that they can't know whether or not the toad is in so much pain that it wants to die. He chooses to err on the side of life.

    Now, I've learned a lot about ableism in the years since I last read this book. And what this made me think of was the debates over severe disability and the very elderly and people with brain damage. Some people say, "I'd never want to live like that [unable to take care of myself], I'd just want to die." And maybe that's true, but how can you really know until you're in that situation? And to act like people in that situation are only to be pitied is to forget that they are still people in their own right, and their lives are their own, and they might LIKE being alive and not want to die.

    I believe in the right to choose one's time of death, but I also believe in the right to choose to live, and if the assumption is that people with severe disabilities should want to kill themselves because "who would want to live like that," it can create some problems when those people actually would like to keep their lives, thank you very much.

    Um. I'm probably not talking about this very well. s.e. smith talks about it more eloquently, if anyone would like to read more. And there's a great post at bad cripple about it too.


    Count me among the folks who always assumed the "betrayal" referred to in the prophecy was about Roger. Every time I read this, it takes me by surprise that it could be something OTHER than Roger.

  36. Becky_J_ says:

    I AM SO MAD I MISSED THIS CHAPTER REVIEW. I literally had one chapter that I was waiting for out of ALL the chapters in all three books, and this was it. And what do I do? I sleep in cause I think it's Sunday, and all of a sudden I realize it's Monday AND I FREAK THE FUCK OUT because oh my god I missed this chapter.

  37. Becky_J_ says:

    After reading all the comments and rereading the review…. I have to say, I have never had a member of my family die. Not a close one. Not even a grandparent. And I dread with all my heart the day it happens. My cat died a couple of years ago, and it literally crippled me. I fell to the floor sobbing. I can't even IMAGINE what it would be like for it to be a person who I love. Sometimes, I have nightmares that I'm at a funeral for my best friend, and then in the middle of it it turns into a funeral for my mom, and then to my grandma, and my brother, etc. I wake up crying and terrified, and all I want is to call them up and make sure they're ok. You know that scene in Harry Potter when Molly Weasley is trying to get rid of the boggart and it just keeps turning into her dead children? I spent probably ten years of my life wondering what the boggart would turn into if it met me, and I couldn't think of it…. but now I know. It would show me all the people I care about, dead.

    And on a different note, when Pan has his claws tangled in Lrya's clothes and her skin, and she has to literally pull him off and keeps trying to set him down, I freaking lost it. I should have known it would be more difficult than just leaving him…. it would have to be physical, nauseating, and heart-wrenching. Guh. And now I forever picture Pan as a little, forlorn, abandoned puppy, alone on the end of a pier, watching his Lyra sail away into darkness.

  38. Sarah says:

    Mark, I have been reading your reviews for over a year now and every now and then I leave a comment, but I am more of a lurker. I just wanted to say how much this one affected me. Partly because I love these books, but also a lot has to do with the experience you wrote about with the death of your father.

    I lost my Dad a month ago, so obviously it is still very raw for me at the moment, and this just summed up how I am feeling a lot of the time:

    My father is still alive somewhere. He’s just not home.

    My Dad died just a couple of weeks after my parent’s wedding anniversary, a week before my Mum’s birthday, a few weeks before my birthday, a few weeks before my sister’s wedding. That’s just too cruel, he can’t be gone right? The sense of disbelief you talk about, and how every little bit of my parent’s home seems infused with his presence really hit home.

    This was difficult for me to read (not that you didn’t warn us!) But I am glad that I did. Thanks xxx

    • xpanasonicyouthx says:

      Thank you, Sarah. Thanks for sharing. I know the pain very well, and I hope you, too, are able to heal as I was.

  39. Roonil Wazlib says:

    Ever since you announced you would be reading this series, I have been waiting for you to get to this chapter. I have read this book countless times and it still breaks my heart every single time. This is the first part of any book that I remember crying and being so moved and so upset. Just the imagery, and Pan was my favorite character, and Lyra's reaction… I will never be over it. And I was simultaneously dreading you reading it because it just tears you apart inside, but also looking forward to your reaction. Every time you mentioned something about Pan or them never being alone or how sad something was, I had to hold in a comment about this chapter. And I cried while reading this review. Oh my gosh. Thinking that she might never see Pan again…I can't even handle it.

  40. Cakemage says:

    I am not ashamed to admit that this chapter tore my heart out and stomped on it. I hope you're proud of yourself, Pullman.

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