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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 in mind.

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 outright bad.

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 dæmon.

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 dæmon.

So was it the distance between Roger and his dæmon that killed him and opened the bridge, or Asriel touching the wire to his dæmon?

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 wire.

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 third books.

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 mentioned again.

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 book.

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 me.

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 in 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 book.

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