The Golden Compass
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Chapter 13 - Fencing

I’ve read that some people can’t read this chapter without crying profusely. I’m actually a bit jealous of them, because it seems that they’re getting far more entertainment value out of this book than I am if they’re deeply heartbroken over Tony Markarios.  

Maybe I can’t “feel” this scene properly because my first exposure to this was the film adaptation of The Golden Compass put out by New Line. Even knowing nothing about the source material before seeing the movie, it was obvious to me sitting in the theatre that they weren’t handling it the right way.

The film version cut out Tony Markarios entirely, and made Lyra’s own friend Billy Costa the severed boy Lyra finds in the shack. In the novel, Lyra is overwhelmed by horror and pity at the discovery of a person severed from their daemon, it didn’t matter who it was clutching that fish, the enormity of the hideous cruelty inflicted on this boy horrified Lyra nearly to the point of vomiting and she had to take a “time out” to gather herself before she could deal with Tony any further.

The movie ruined this by making this a HAPPY occurrence rather than a horror scene. The film has Lyra much more happy to have found her friend Billy (or at least half of him) than disgusted and revolted by his condition of being permanently severed from a element of his being that not even death could have parted him from.

The script made it out as though Billy had simply lost his teddy bear and they could go to the store the next day and get him a new one. Enough ranting about the film version.

This chapter shows Lyra’s strength and integrity. If I were to somehow come across a disemboweled person with their entrails hanging out in a lurid and somehow still living, would I have the will and compassion to even touch them, let alone carry them and their loose intestines into my car and put up with the sight and smell and the sound of his agony all the way to the hospital despite knowing there was no way he was going to survive this? Quite possibly not.

The fact that this is supposed to be utterly impossible probably makes this all the more traumatic for Lyra.

The understanding that a bear’s armor is his soul reminded me of how I am with my computer. In Chapter 11 Lyra sees Iorek taking care of his armor and thinks of the way she loves and cares for Pantalaimon.

Since 2001 I’ve nearly always have had my laptop within sight of me. Once when I had to have my iBook put into the Apple Store for repairs I joked to a friend that I had left my soul behind at the mall not considering the significance of what that meant. I’m always polishing and cleaning my laptop (now a 2006 model MacBook) with a soft rag and a product called “Apple Polish”.
Without exaggeration, the sum of my life’s work lies within my MacBook, and whenever I’m away from it I feel uneasy sometimes, worrying what would happen if I returned to wherever I left it to find it was stolen or destroyed, and am relieved when I’m reunited with it.

Diana Peterfreund wrote a great essay in The World of the Golden Compass: The Other Worldly Ride Continues called “Ghost in the Machine”, comparing the role her own computer (interestingly, also an Apple iBook) serves in her life to the daemons of Lyra’s world and the way people are incomplete and severely debilitated without them.

This is the first time I’ve read The Golden Compass since reading the second two books in the trilogy, and it feels kind of strange hearing Lee Scorseby (for some reason just calling him “Lee” doesn't feel right) and Lyra talking about Stanislaus Grumman knowing what an important role he plays in the rest of the story and how utterly ignorant Lee Scorseby and Lyra are of the magnitude of what they are talking about.

Since I’m young and unseasoned as writers go I found it immensely impressive how complex a story Pullman was able to set up from the very beginning, laying the groundworks for character interactions and story arcs across multiple universes seamlessly.

Well, after what somehow took three days to complete, I’m done with Chapter 13. Some of my favorite chapters in the book are coming up next. I can’t wait.

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