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Chapter 3 - Lyra's Jordan

in the beginning of Chapter 3, Pullman mentions Jordan College being paid rent by “atomcraft works” that were built on their land.

It may seem odd to think of a society so old fashioned and “Victorian” feeling with it’s airships, oil lamps, and steam trains to have harnessed atomic power, but I then considered that in our world, if not for World War II and the Hindenberg disaster, rigid airship technology may have continued to develop, thus retarding the development of the air liner, and that steam locomotive technology itself was not obsolete in the 1960’s when it was culled from Britain's railways, but the technology was allowed to stagnate once effort went into developing diesel locomotives. There was even a period during the oil crisis of the 70’s in which auto manufacturers were experimenting with modernized steam engines to power fuel conserving automobiles.

Heck, I've even read accounts of steam powered milling equipment being used to make nuclear reactor components in the UK during the 1970s.

It’s interesting that airships and steam trains alone, in addition to strong class prejudice, are enough to give this world such a Victorian vibe. I think a lot of the detail of Lyra’s universe is not in what Pullman describes as being in the world, but rather than what he leaves out. He doesn't mention television, radio, digital electronics, or extensive use of automobiles so we naturally paint a mental picture of a world without them.

This chapter is awesome and one of my favorites. It was very immersive, and it left me with the feeling of having been by Lyra’s side living the adventures of her and the other Oxford children. The culture of the children felt very authentic. I remember when I was twelve, when my dawn to dusk was all about going on little adventures around the neighborhood with my friends and having rock throwing wars with other groups of kids and “borrowing” tools from our parents gardens to build makeshift fortresses in the woods, and how each day was the same as the next and they would all just blend into each other.

How we thought we could control the world around us by banding together, that we could dig an underground fallout shelter to hide in when World War III broke out, how we would spy on the quiet old man and his dog who roamed the neighborhood who we imagined to be a kidnapper and that we were the only ones who knew the truth, and how we would go on expeditions into the town landfill in the forest behind our neighborhood and behind trees whenever a truck would drive by.

The descriptions of Lyra’s visits from Lord Asriel felt very realistic. It was telling to see Lord Asriel indirectly, though seemingly deliberately encourage Lyra to explore the forbidden underground passages of the college after knowing she already gets into trouble on the roof.

Lyra’s story about the rook is entertaining enough here, but it’s really a great seed to plant for the following chapter when we find out that the story about feeding the rook and healing it so it could fly away was a lie and that Lyra and Roger killed and ate the bird instead.

Asriel’s gift of “five gold dollars” to Lyra also enhances the old fashioned feel of this world since the use of gold “dollars” as currency makes me imagine a world which never hit upon the “progressive” ideas of Federal Reserves and fiat paper money that dominate our universe. I also wondered if these dollars are the national currency of Lyra’s Britain, foreign coins from another country, or if the word “dollar” is just being used as a description for a large coin. Since the word dollar isn’t capitalized in the text, I’m just going to presume it means a large coin similar to an American silver dollar.

Following Asriel and Lyra’s meeting, we are introduced to the rumors of the disappearing children and are told the story of Tony Makarios’ kidnapping by Mrs. Coulter and the Gobblers. This kid’s whole life is heartbreaking, a drunk mom who doesn't know how old her son is, forced to steal to eat and his low status causing him to be targeted to be kidnapped and experimented on.
Everything about the way the as of yet unnamed Mrs. Coulter seduces the children is creepy and unnerving, the way her dæmon is described as stroking all the captured children’s dæmons in the warehouse by the shipyard, how they all seem entranced with here and are described as feeling hope and love from touching her coat and long just to be in her presence.

Lyra’s lurid tale about Lord Asriel routinely and casually murdering people just by looking at them made me laugh out loud, especially once Lyra and Roger took to re-enacting the scene using cream dip.

It was also funny watching Lyra and Roger get drunk and seeing their intoxicated dæmons stumbling around having contests to see who could take the ugliest form.

It is a bit after this than in the crypt that Pullman provides a brief, almost parenthetical explanation about how children’s dæmons can change shape but adult’s dæmons keep only one form. This is probably of the most important technical details we learn about dæmons as it drives the motivations of both Lord Asriel and the Oblation Board, but it’s presented in a little spot where it fits in well so it’s remembered by the reader, but doesn't distract from the action at all.

The image and description of the dæmon coins in the skulls of the dead scholars in the catacombs gave me a warm and fuzzy feeling when I read it and it illustrates how precious and loved people’s dæmons are without spelling it out. The nightmare inducing guilt Lyra feels after switching of the dæmon coins also helps express this.

Lyra and Roger’s encounter with Jordan's Intercessor, Father Heyst, it the first of several unpleasant encounters children have with religious authorities in the His Dark Materials trilogy. Father Heyst essentially discounts Roger as being a legitimate companion for Lyra due to him not being nobly born and sends him off to work in the kitchens. He asks Lyra if she misses the friendship of children “like her” and laments that she is missing out on the “pleasures and pastimes” (HDM 1, ch 3, pg. 47, para. 4) enjoyed by the children of nobility.

While Father Heyst’s classist attitude may be a realistic depiction of a priest belonging to a Catholic Church whose power, authority, and hierarchal culture seized total control of society, the fact that there is no warm or loving religious figure to counter Heyst anywhere in His Dark Materials is a serious flaw that drains credibility from the story’s message and helps the arguments of those claiming that His Dark Materials serves no purpose other than to defame religion.

I’ve watched interviews in which Pullman talks about his childhood church experience and how he had positive authority figures in his life who belonged to churches and were religious, yet religious figures in His Dark Materials such as Father Heyst are universally designed to be disliked.

However, since this is the first such encounter in the series thus far, this problem is not a problem quite yet, and in fact this encounter establishes the fact that amongst the adults of status and power in Lyra’s world, Roger’s value as a human being seems to lie only in his utility as a servant, and that despite Lyra and Roger’s close and rewarding friendship, the upper class, religious and secular alike treat Lyra as being entitled to a better life than Roger’s by reason of her parentage alone.

I don’t find this mentioned very often in discussions about The Golden Compass, but I find this book to be, among other things, a tragedy about class prejudice leading to the mutilation and murder of many innocent children including Roger. 

Well, the Gobblers show up and seem to have nabbed Billy Costa, and a bunch of gyptian kids confront Lyra about his whereabouts and a brawl nearly breaks out, and as the children prepare to fight there is a description of Pantalaimon becoming a dragon that I somehow totally overlooked on my first reading.

...Pantalaimon, contemptuous of the limited imaginations of these gyptian dæmons,
became a dragon the size of a deer hound. (HDM 1, ch 3, pg. 49, para. 4)

So is that to say that dæmons can take the form of mythical creatures, or that in Lyra’s world dragons, though exotic, actually exist? This is the only moment when we see any mythically formed dæmon in the series, so whatever the answer, I suppose it can’t be too important.

The rest of the chapter from here gave me a very real feeling that I was watching Lyra and all the children of Oxford’s world crumble around them while no one else seems to notice or care, with children being kidnapped and Lyra leading an adventurous child expedition to hunt down the Gobblers and find Billy.

Eventually, with no success, and the shadow of Billy's real disappearance hanging over them all, the fun faded away.
(HDM 1, ch 3, pg. 51, para. 5)

The feelings this invoked reminded me of the time when I was perhaps eleven to twelve years old and someone had stolen my bike from the front yard while we were inside my house, and me and nearly all the kids in the neighborhood were searching around our little two block development until dusk looking for the bike and the thief, though realistically we knew the thief had surely ridden beyond the limits of where our parents would allow us to search, and even if we did find him, he would probably have been a bigger kid or even an adult we couldn’t have dealt with at our age anyway.

The mix of excitement and melancholy as Lyra wanders around the indifferent, twilit streets of Oxford trying to make sense of this assault on her little world reminds me of a scene towards the end of Chapter 3 of the video game MOTHER 3 in which the player assumes the role of a helpless little monkey who is forced to deliver propaganda-broadcasting “happy boxes” to a peaceful, selfless rural community, leading to it’s descent into a corporate dictatorship.

Once Lyra returns to Jordan and after searching in vein for Roger, sits on the roof with Pantalaimon as the sun sets, which Pullman describes so beautifully that I could almost see it as a painting, a painting which I wouldn’t mind hanging in my room as a matter of fact.

With the zeppelin vanishing in the distance and the sky darkening as the sun set I understood right away that I was to feel that the sun was setting on the world of Lyra’s childhood. Actually, this reminds me of the scene in Star Wars when Luke is watching the suns set over the horizon. I could just hear the "Binary Sunset" theme being played as Lyra and Pan look out over Oxford.
For some reason in the film adaptation they turned this into a scene between Lyra and Roger (who won’t be kidnapped until later that night in that version) rather than Lyra and Pantalaimon, which is a real shame because generally the film version reduced Pan’s role to that of a constantly nagging, complaining, and often unseen animal sidekick rather than Lyra’s heart-mate, but this is about the book so moving on;

This was her world. She wanted it to stay the same forever and ever, but it was changing around her,
for someone out there was stealing children. (HDM 1, ch 3, pg. 55, para. 3)

As touching as this is, I found the last part of this quote redundant and clunky, since its obvious that someone is stealing children, and thanks to the earlier parts of this chapter we understand that for Lyra’s world to change for any reason would have been tragic for her, let alone that her best friend had been kidnapped.

Regarding the audio book version of The Golden Compass that I’m listening to as I’m writing this, I should comment here that Rupert Degas, the actor who voices Pantalaimon, does a convincing job of having the same character’s voice come out fittingly depending on what form Pan is in when he is speaking, yet not diverge to the point where it’s distracting or gimmicky. This is only my first time listening to this book in audio form and I can totally recommend it to anyone who cares enough about this book to be reading my commentary on it.

The chapter ends with Lyra sitting down for dinner with the Master, some miscellaneous male and female scholars, and a young woman called Mrs. Coulter who just happens to have a golden monkey dæmon.

I honestly can’t understand how anyone smart enough to read through the end of Chapter 3 could not instantly figure out that Mrs. Coulter was running the Gobblers, but then again I’ve met people who have played Metroid Fusion from beginning to end and still didn’t realize that Samus was a woman.

I would like to close this chapter commentary by saying that I find it sort of difficult to believe that the Oblation Board would literally go from town to town plucking large numbers of children from each city like a touring rock band. Way to be subtle.

I also would rather not believe that someone as attractive and distinctive as Mrs. Coulter could single handedly seduce tens of dozens of children who passively follow her like lemmings onto a ship and all the way to the Arctic Circle because she seems “nice”, and all the while not getting busted the parents, especially with the rumors going around about so called “Gobblers”.
I’d much rather imagine that Mrs. Coulter captures some of the children in her seductive “nice” way while most of the Oblation Board agents are just thugs who grab kids out of playgrounds and off streets or wherever.

And finally, I’d also like to believe that my twelve year old self would have been more than smart enough not to let a lady seduce me into being whisked away from home to a cold laboratory in the Arctic Circle to have my soul cut away in exchange for a cup of hot chocolate.

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