The Golden Compass Page by Page
Chapter 10 - The Consul and the Bear

As I’ve mentioned before, when I do these commentaries, I listen to the audiobook and read from the text at the same time, pausing to write down whatever comments I have as I go along, and since this is the beginning of Part Two of the book I’m going to talk about the audiobook for a bit.

I purchased the audiobook as an iTunes download, and the book comes in four audio files about two and a half hours long each. The way these audio files are divided up is really user unfriendly and confusing.

The first track contains Chapters 1 through 5, and the second track has Chapters 6 through 10.

That means that the second track has four chapters of Part One, and ends with the first chapter of Part Two.

Would it have killed them to have each section be a third of the book, one for each Part? That would have made sense, or even better to have each chapter be it’s own track. My process for doing these is to listen to a chapter once with my screen turned off and no book, then I go back and listen to that chapter again reading along in the text and taking my notes.

It’s a huge pain in the butt to track back just a few minutes or seconds in a two an a half hour long audio file by dragging the position indicator on iTunes, I’ll end up jumping back fifteen minutes or more and have to waste a bunch of time hunting and pecking to find the beginning of the last chapter so I can re-listen. The only way this can be done is to keep a note of the tracking, but even knowing the exact minute and second of what you want to listen to won’t help you scroll easily to that spot quickly.

Even stranger, Chapter 10 in the audiobook starts with a full musical fanfare and introduction spoken by Philip Pullman as though it were the beginning of the audiobook and not a third of the way through it.

It actually goes through all the trouble of having this musical theme and announcing:

“His Dark Materials: Book One, by Philip Pullman - The Golden Compass, Part Two: Bolvangar, Chapter 10, The Consul and the Bear”

What is with that? Just “Part Two: Bolvangar, Chapter 10, The Consul and the Bear” would have sufficed. Why they feel the need need to remind us what book we were listening to, who it was written by, and the fact that it’s part of His Dark Materials? It’s not like it was the beginning of a new track or something, this literally pops up the instant after the last sentence of Chapter 9 is uttered in the same track, so it’s not like if it were arranged on CDs what this would be the point where you might be inserting a new CD or something.

So far this is the main complaint I have about the audiobook so far, it’s simply not easy to navigate through. Then again this is my first audiobook so maybe this is something I just need to get used to.

Wow, I spent a full typed page without having said a word about the actual chapter itself.

Let’s take a look.

“…[Lyra] made the acquaintance of an able seaman by flicking at him the pips she’d saved from the apple she’d eaten at breakfast … … when he’d sworn at her and been sworn at in return, they became great friends. (HDM 1, ch. 10, pg. 145, para. 4)

I love little things like that. They are almost photographic to me though they are so simple.

This chapter is the first to go into any further detail about the “settling” of dæmons, and it is the first time it’s explicitly mentioned that a dæmon’s settled form is supposed to reflect the nature of the person.

What exactly is the “science” behind dæmon forms and settling anyway? If humans have this component of their being that exists outside their physical body why exactly would it take the form of an animal anyway?

What if you locked a baby in a room the second they were born and never let them see or hear of any sort of animal, would their dæmon know to take a shape? Would it remain invisible? Would it try to take the form of a human? Or are various animal forms just somehow instinctual to the dæmon from birth like something passed down from the mother’s dæmon to the child’s dæmon?

It would make sense if dæmons imitated the shapes of animals in the surrounding environment, but unless there’s an exception in Lyra’s universe I don’t think snow leopards and golden monkeys are common in Britain where Coulter and Lord Asriel are from, and Pantalaimon took the form of a dragon (which may or may not be an actual creature in this world) in Chapter 3, and I remember scenes where Pan is imitating the forms of other people’s dæmons, so its not anything definite or obvious where these “forms” are originating from.

To complicate things, the significance or meaning of animals differs from culture to culture, not everywhere are foxes considered cunning, dogs faithful, owls wise, and wolves (quite sadly in Western culture) pure evil. Lyra’s seaman friend says that in having a seagull dæmon that he knows he is rugged and able to survive in tough conditions. That makes enough sense, but what about something like a cow?

In Europe or North America cows might likely be though of as dumb, slow, and good only for slaughter while Hindus revere cows as symbols of kindness, strength, and abundance. Would a man from England whose dæmon settles as a cow be anything like a person from India whose dæmon had the same form?

Remember in Chapter 1 when Pullman introduces us to the Steward and his dæmon?

He was a servant, so she was a dog; but a superior servant, so a superior dog.
In fact she had the form of a red setter. (HDM 1, ch. 1, pg. 7, para.1)

Okay, that would make perfect sense if all dæmons could change shape at will like Pullman originally imagined when writing Chapter One, but in a world where dæmons are supposed to settle around age 12, how exactly is it that this servant’s dæmon is going to know that her person is going to grow up to become one of the top servants and thus take on a form that shows servility, yet high status? Was he promoted for having a pretty dæmon or something?

Is Lyra’s world ruled by a rigid caste system in which people are born and are basically told from birth “You will be a servant end of story.”? If this is true, than that would mean that basically every person in the world born in into slavery or servitude has a similar enough personality that their dæmons would all take on the form of dogs, which is on a practical level pretty hard to swallow.

What if a kid born into a family of servants settled as something other than a dog? Would the person be ineligible to become a servant, since Pullman says that all servant’s dæmons are dogs? I could imagine there being a lot of pressure on a kid in that situation to have their dæmon settle as a dog, but in this chapter we learn that the form the dæmon takes isn’t up to the person desires at all, but up to their true nature.

And then they’re the tartar soldiers guarding Bolvangar, they all have wolf dæmons. How is it possible to find hundreds of people who all have nearly identical souls? I know a few people in the armed forces, and I couldn’t imagine any of them as having wolf dæmons were they to have been in Lyra’s world. Is having a wolf dæmon a requirement for joining the army or something? Or are they just saying that anyone who would join the army has the personality of a wolf?

Once again, I could swallow all soldiers having wolf dæmons if adults dæmons could change shape, but they can’t so the thought of all servants having dog dæmons and all soldiers having wolf dæmons is pretty difficult to take seriously.

Did Pullman just want to have all the bad guy soldiers have big scary dæmons to make the little children with their bunnies and ferrets and sparrows seem that much weaker? And look at all the Church officials, I remember nearly all of them throughout the trilogy having aesthetically unattractive dæmons like snakes, lizards, frogs, and large insects.

As well developed and believable as Pullman’s dæmons are, its these things and some other things that come up at the end of “The Amber Spyglass” that make me feel as though Pullman had competing concepts of what exactly dæmons were that he unconsciously switched between throughout the trilogy.

I enjoyed the little scene with Lyra running around what I’m imagining to be the Consul’s backyard trying to fly with the pine branch just being the cutest little kid ever, and then in the same breath the Consul is talking all about how this little girl is going to have to save the universe.

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