The Golden Compass Page by Page
Chapter 23 - The Bridge to the Stars
This is it, the final chapter. Getting to the end of doing this feature
genuinely feels like the end of an epic journey that's taken me
entirely too long to complete.
This calls for some appropriate music. I’d suggest Movement 1 of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, which so provided HERE
If you’ve downloaded the audiobook, try playing this track on a
loop starting at 30:49 on Part 5 of the iTunes download right after
Pullman says the name of the chapter, it’s so appropriate
you’d think it was actually written and performed with that music
This chapter contains some of the best dialog between Lyra and Pan in
the whole trilogy. Just the first page alone brought me closer to tears
more so than anything else in the book.
As awesome as I believe this chapter is, they are a few things about it how
it’s written that are clunky, unnecessary, or perhaps even
First off, where are the dogs that pulled Asriel’s sledge?
Thorold explicitly mentioned that dogs were pulling his sledge in the
last chapter, so what happened to them by the time Lyra reaches Asriel
and Roger? Did Asriel kill them? Did they vanish? At least mention that
the dogs were laying obediently nearby or something. I have the feeling
that Pullman was so excited to be writing this scene that he may have
literally just forgot all about the dogs.
Second, how exactly does Roger die? What exactly is it that Asriel does to him?
Everything I had known this far about intercision lead me to imagine
Asriel tying Roger to a contraption where the boy was shacked up or
tied to a chair and that he was cut from his dæmon by either an
electric current or a special knife like at Bolvangar, and the rest of
the machine harnessed the energy to tear a hole between the universes.
As a matter of fact, photos from the deleted film version of this scene
that would appear in the kiddy picture book version of the film
actually showed Asriel strapping Roger to such a device, and I
didn’t see that until long after I read the book.
This was so vivid in my mind that my mental image somehow usurped what
was actually going on as I was reading this chapter for the first time.
Okay, let me get this straight.
Lyra and Roger and their dæmons are running from Lord Asriel. Okay.
Next, Stelmaria catches Roger’s dæmon and Asriel approaches to attach a wire to her. Check.
Then, Lyra and Roger try to stop since they were running and Roger is
gaining distance from his dæmon as we’ve seen before this
is an extremely painful and dangerous thing to have happen. I’m
following this so far.
And then the snow drift Lyra and Roger are trying to stop on collapses
and they continue down the hill, further away still from Roger’s
And finally, the narration describes that Roger’s body goes limp
and that this is the moment that the bridge to the other universe is
formed from the spot where Asriel had touched the wire to Roger’s
So was it the distance between Roger and his dæmon that killed
him and opened the bridge, or Asriel touching the wire to his
As far as I can tell at the moment what happened was that first
Asriel’s dæmon caught Roger’s dæmon as Roger
and Lyra are still running away, then Asriel attaches the wire to
Roger’s dæmon, and then, the snowdrift collapses, causing
Roger to fall down the slope until the distance between himself and his
dæmon becomes fatal, and their connection is separated, releasing
the energy needed to create the bridge into the machine through the
Now that I actually worked that out, it makes enough sense, but why
make this sequence so complicated in the first place? I would have
expected Lord Asriel to just use a version of the silver guillotine
that he himself supposedly invented, according to the gossip Lyra
overhears at Bolvangar.
I suppose the implication here is that Asriel was talking about the
burst of energy that comes from severing the link between a person and
their dæmon just coming from outright fatally destroying the bond
of a sacrificial subject via distance rather than doing it the
“nice” way like at Bolvangar where the subject were
actually hoped to survive the procedure.
So what was Asriel planning to do exactly had Lyra not shown up to
unintentionally help him yet again? Was he just going to boot Roger off
the side of the cliff? Tie him to the sledge and send him sliding down
the hill while Stelmaria held Roger’s dæmon still for him
to attach the wire?
One thing I was thinking was that Pullman didn’t want Asriel to
actually kill Roger “with his own hands” so to speak, since
the way this unfolded with the snowdrift collapsing was something of a
freak occurrence that simply played into Asriel’s favor, and
therefore Asriel isn’t overtly a child slaying maniac in the way
the Church is portrayed, though I personally don’t consider
Asriel any kind of a good person or that his actions were “for
the best” or “justified” as seems to be the tone of
Pullman’s narration and the characters in the second and
And lastly, what happened to the witch that was holding the wire up in
the sky for Lord Asriel? I personally would have probably sooner
imagined that Asriel would use a small gas balloon to float his wire
up. The narration seems unclear as to whether it was a witch herself
holding the wire up, or just her dæmon, and the witch is never
Does Asriel have the power to simply “vanish” people and
creatures he no longer has any use for? Did the witch and her
dæmon go to the same place that the sled dogs went to after
pulling the sled up to the edge of the cliff?
Why exactly did Lord Asriel need a child sacrifice to pull this off
anyway? He talked about the link between body and dæmon
containing tremendous energy that could be utilized, but not
specifically children and their dæmons.
Does this have something to do with the fact that many adults at
Bolvangar are severed from their dæmons, yet function fairly
normally, but lacking imagination and free thought, while children who
have this done to them seem to be severely maimed and slowly fading
shadows of their former selves? Or is that simply the difference
between what happens to someone who is willfully severed from their
dæmon as opposed to having it forcefully done to them?
Do children release more energy than adults when they are severed from their dæmons?
We see in The Amber Spyglass
that (highlight to reveal spoiler) an
adult willfully severs themselves from their dæmon to provide the
energy for a bomb so powerful that it tears a hole in the very fabric
of existence itself, so why would Asriel need a child in order to
operate his device?
Couldn’t Asriel have simply used Thorold as his sacrifice? Its
not like Asriel needs Thorold with him in the other universe. In The Subtle Knife (highlight to reveal spoiler) we see that Thorold is left abandoned in the house in Svalbard with no instruction whatsoever from Lord Asriel.
I guess Lyra’s world with its Victorian trappings still embraces
a viewpoint that children are somehow less human than adults. I
remember that in Bram Stoker’s novel, Dracula,
children are consistently both by the narration and characters referred
to as “it” rather than “he” or
“she”. Even the undead lord of darkness Count Dracula is
called “he”, and ironically seemed to be considered more of
a human being than his child victims.
I don’t ask these questions to challenge the events of the story
itself, Roger had to be killed by Lord Asriel for this story to work,
I’m just wondering on a technical level what precisely is going
on and what societal influences caused Asriel to decide that a child
was a more acceptable sacrifice than an adult.
And then Mrs. Coulter shows up. How? Pullman himself pointed out that
her doing so would have been apparently impossible. I actually
don’t have a problem with this, as it adds to the dream like
strangeness that this scene seems to want to project.
(highlight to reveal spoiler) I
like how Asriel mentions Lord Boreal as being Mrs. Coulters’
lover almost in passing and how insignificant that seemed at that time
I was first reading, only to find that Boreal essentially turns out to
be the main antagonist of The Subtle Knife. It's also really odd for me
to think that Lyra would never see Lee Scorseby alive again. They seem
so close and yet they've spent very little time together during this
And finally, my second favorite quote in the entire His Dark Materials
trilogy, and one of my favorite quotes from fiction in general;
So Lyra and her dæmon turned away from the world they were born in, and looked toward the sun, and walked into the sky.
(HDM 1, ch. 23, pg. 351, par. 2)
This entire story and the ending blew me away when I had first read it. While The Golden Compass
is far from being perfect or the best story ever written, or even the
best story I personally have read, something about it just fits me like
a glove and makes me a huge sucker for it.
I don’t think I’ve ever felt as awestruck or excited after the end of a book as I had been after finishing The Golden Compass
. The sheer possibility was mind numbing, I mean, literally anything
could happen to Lyra now, who knows what the next story could possibly be about?
I hadn’t even read the dust cover of The Subtle Knife
, so I was truly left to my own imagination as to what the next book would be like.
One prediction I made was that the city Asriel crossed in to was in our
own “real” world, which I had actually been predicting
since watching the beginning of the film version when I was somehow
convinced that the city in the Aurora was the Manhattan skyline, and
that in the introduction of the film (highlight to reveal spoiler)
It explicitly shows a transition through a curtain from our Oxford into
Lyra’s Oxford, and the narration even mentions “our world
(of the people watching the movie)” as opposed to “their
world” where people have dæmons.
While I’m discussing the film adaptation, let me say that
I’m genuinely thankful that the last three chapters were cut from
the movie despite them having been filmed. While this was a major
disappointment for the fans, discovering true ending and nature of Lord
Asriel in the book after seeing the film made the ending way more
shocking and unexpected, and therefore more emotional and enjoyable for
Furthermore, the version of Chapter 22 that was planned for the film
looked like it was going to suck. We actually get to see this in this
film footage as it’s used in cutscenes of the video game based on
the movie, and all it seemed to be was that Lord Asriel sees Lyra,
freaks out until he sees Roger, and then tells them both to go to bed
after thanking Lyra for “bringing him what he needed” and
ignoring the alethiometer.
Chris Weiss was probably forced to delete Asriel’s in depth
explanation about Dust and Adam and Eve and the Church and the Oblation
Board from the script because it was too religious, but in that case
why even bother making the film in the first place? For this version of
Chapter 22 to make it to the screen would have done the book greater
injustice than having just deleted it entirely.
And in the Chapter 23 scenes, Roger doesn't even “die”
properly, but just “transforms into Dust”, and Lyra goes
into the new world literally looking for Roger rather than to stop Lord
Asriel. Scenes from this even made it into the film trailers, which I
thought meant that the sequel was already being filmed and that these
were glimpses of it, and this was before I read the book to even know
what they were of.
I cherished the feeling of wonder and mystery that grew in me after first reading The Golden Compass
so much that I waited more than six months before opening The Subtle Knife
despite having owned the entire trilogy in a boxed set from the
beginning. I also predicted that there was no way the second book would
live up to my expectations, which I was correct about.
I've seen versions of The Golden Compass
bookstores that include "lantern slides", which are kind of like
Pullman "writing his own fanfiction" and includes little scenes almost
like photographs of things that had no place in the book, yet add to
the depth of that universe, and other versions that include notebook
pages from Lord Asriel in the back. I've glanced at these, and I can't
even read Asriel's handwriting. I like "extras" like this, but
seriously, why should I be forced to buy multiple versions of the same
book in order to get canon information? I'm not obsessed enough to
rebuy an entire novel for just a few pages of new material that isn't
part of the story itself.
This seems a good place to say that while I would probably love having
a dæmon, such a state of existence would put me at risk to a
tremendous amount of physical and emotional pain and anguish, and as I
am now I can barely put up with my bum ankle. Additionally, a
technologically backward theocracy where the government psychologically
mutilates kidnapped children in order to control their minds and develop weapons of mass destruction
is not my idea of a place I’d like to spend my time, though
according to certian sources I'm already living in exactly such a world
and simply refuse to accept it.
The greatest irony is that the religiously motivated fanatics who have
made every effort to defame Pullman and stop people from reading His Dark Materials
would surely love living in Lyra’s universe, while the fans of
the books who write online about how fun Lyra’s world would be to
live in would find it absolutely miserable.
So, that finishes up me sharing my experience and criticism of The Golden Compass
Thank you for patiently waiting for me to get all the chapters online
and for reading what I had to say about this fun, thought provoking
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