Posted on March 9, 2014 at 11:35 pm


how’s everyone doing on the golden compass?  we were slated to finish it yesterday according to our schedule, but if you’re not done with it, no worries!  you’re still free to discuss the golden compass until we’re done with the whole his dark materials series 🙂

starting today, you can liveblog/post about the subtle knife, the next book in the series.  happy reading!

Posted on February 26, 2014 at 2:01 am

The Golden Compass Chapter 2


I’m approaching this novel somewhat from a more structural point of view – having read and loved it multiple times as a child and again as a teenager, and having very distinct memories about it. So this discussion is best suited for people who already have read HDM and want to revel in its intricacies.

Chapter 2 in particular is interesting to me because it lays out the entirety of the plot for the rest of the novel.

Spoilers, obviously, under the cut.

Read More

Posted on February 23, 2014 at 6:04 am

member check-in!

The time we have allotted to reading The Golden Compass is drawing to a close in two weeks. We’re trying to gauge where people are, so let us know which of the following applies to you:

  1. I’ve started reading pt 1 of The Golden Compass.
  2. I’ve started reading pt 2 of The Golden Compass.
  3. I’ve started reading pt 3 of The Golden Compass.
  4. I’ve finished reading The Golden Compass.
  5. I’ve started reading The Subtle Knife.
  6. I just read all three books and you can’t stop me.
  7. I’ve read these books before, but I haven’t reread them recently.
  8. I have yet to start reading them a first time.

You can answer at this handy poll or just reply to this post with a number. How far have you gotten, friends?

Posted on February 22, 2014 at 4:05 am

The Golden Compass: Chapters 11–17


  • so if dæmons and humans can only be a little ways apart from each other at a time, then how come witches’ dæmons can part so far from them?
  • what IS the nature of a dæmon’s connection to its human, anyway? do they know each others’ thoughts? or are they just like really close friends with a special bond?




  • “They were both conscious that he mustn’t be too lively, for the dæmons of dull people were dull themselves.”

    idk something about this is rubbing me the wrong way and I can’t really pinpoint it or anything :/


  • how did the witch’s dæmon unlock the door and the cages? can the dæmons of witches also perform magic?


  • oh my GOD that was a tense chapter, holy shit


  • “and most of all of the golden monkey, whose hard little fingers had run swiftly over Lyra’s body when only Pantalaimon could have noticed; and who had felt, around her waist, the oilskin pouch with its contents.”

    so there’s a taboo on humans touching dæmons… is there a taboo against dæmons touching humans? because there doesn’t seem to be a reaction here against that, but idk if this is simply to show exactly how, idk, “evil” Mrs. Coulter and her dæmon are

  • “By this time she was near the kitchen, and Pantalaimon flashed a thought into her mind, and she darted in.”

    so dæmons can flash thoughts into their humans’ minds… still wonder exactly what level of connection there is between dæmons and their humans

  • “A wolf dæmon leaped at him: he slashed at her in midair, and bright fire spilled out of her as she fell to the snow, where she hissed and howled before vanishing. Her human died at once.”

    !!! what kind of damage can be done to dæmons, and by whom? can regular animals harm dæmons like that? or is this something special confined to the panserbjørne (sp?)?

only tagging the chapters that actually had some liveblogging…

Posted on February 17, 2014 at 5:29 am

The Golden Compass: Daemon Shifting

i think that the daemons taking on fantastical creatures is one of my favorite parts about these early chapters. When they discovered wine in the crypt, the daemons shifted into uglier and uglier gargoyles, and Pan also shifted into a griffon to one-up the other kids during their warfare. 

But do daemons ever settle as adults into fantastic creatures? It doesn’t seem like they do–at least, it’s not mentioned as of yet (nor do I recall it being mentioned later on, but my memory is also very bad).

Wouldn’t it be interesting if a daemon decided to settle as a gryphon or a cockatrice or a chimera (and so on and so forth) so that they could still capture that essence of being multiple beings even if they could no longer shift? 

I also found it interesting that a daemon’s transformation is dependent in part by how “clever"or "imaginative” the child is–or, that is how Pullman seems to be contextualizing it to me. It does bother me, because I feel that this sort of accusation of oh these kids are unimaginative, they’re a bit on the slow side, so on and so forth, is unduly aimed at the poor kids, whose daemons inevitably take on very common appearances–rats, sparrows, so on and so forth, which is saddled with some negative connotations (lack of imagination/ cleverness, sense of meanness and so on and so forth). 

But putting that aside, daemon shifting is really interest to me! They talk several times about how the children’s and daemon’s senses intermingle–tbh, I’d be really interested in seeing more about how the daemons and the children enter into symbiotic relationships with each other (what if Lyra were blind or deaf, for example, how would that affect Pan’s shifting and their relationship?)

Which makes it even more odd that Mrs. Coulter told Pan that he should turn away from Lyra when she was taking the bath. Pan serves in his own way as an extension of Lyra–she feels his pain, he feels hers. Would he also feel her shame? Which, to be honest, would be a terrible thing to foster in a child and their daemon.

I think that Pan knew that Coulter and her demon did not follow daemon-human norms (is this the right phrasing? i’m unsure) though. At one point he mentions that he thought Mrs. Coulter’s daemon was going to leap at her when Lyra had mentioned Dust, when heretofore humans touching daemons who aren’t their own and vice versa is deeply frowned upon. Not even when Lyra was hiding from the people who chased her down the streets did they touch her daemon, leaving Pan for their own to deal with. Even though it was the monkey that attacked Pan during the confrontation between Lyra and Mrs. Coulter, I don’t believe that the monkey would have hesitated to leap on Lyra in the heat of a moment, as Pan mentioned earlier. Mrs. Coulter does not respect autonomy, and the relationship with one’s daemon is very much about that (and I think that’s also reflected in how a daemon chooses to shift as well).

That daemons serve, in a way, as extensions of the self is really fascinating too, speaking on a gender spectrum (whereas Mrs. Coulter attempts to sever and deny that aspect of Lyra–i’m sure she had her own reasons for asking her monkey to turn away from her, which I’m very, very interested in–for example, is this tied into why she has not yet called her daemon by name?–but i do think that it was wrong to impose her preference onto Lyra even though i feel like there are a lot of untapped feels here–dysphoria, ace-aro spectrum stuff, etc but this is rabbit trailing so i’ll stop here). It’s easy to imagine these kids as being bi-gendered and it’d be interesting to see if Lyra and Pan ever flipped with each other.  

I’m being very rambly for which I apologize, but if daemons can shift from fantastical creatures to “real” creatures would it be possible that they could also shift into human shape? Imagine Pan bearing Lyra’s visage. 

Posted on February 16, 2014 at 5:10 am

The Golden Compass: Chapters 9–10


  • * “Dæmons might touch each other, of course, or fight; but the prohibition against human-dæmon contact went so deep that even in battle no warrior would touch an enemy’s dæmon.”

    😮 I wonder if someone’s going to touch another person’s dæmon and what would happen if they did…

  • “If you was to crack it open,” said Farder Coram, “you’d find no living thing in there. No animal nor insect, at any rate. I seen one of these things afore, and I never thought I’d see one again this far north. Afric things. There’s a clockwork running in there, and pinned to the spring of it, there’s a bad spirit with a spell through its heart.”


    “But don’t clockwork run down?”

    “Ordinary clockwork, yes. But like I said, this un’s kept tight wound by the spirit pinned to the end. The more he struggles, the tighter it’s wound, and the stronger the force is. Now let’s put this feller out the way.…”

    !!! clockwork beetles!!! ahhhhhh I wonder what other kinds of clockwork there is, what kind of tech there is… since the beetle is connected to a spirit, I wonder to what level magic and the supernatural is involved with the technology; a lot of it seems to be without magic, but this one invokes the supernatural, and maybe the alethiometer does as well?


  • “From time to time he even tried being a fish, and once joined a school of dolphins, to their surprise and pleasure.”

    how do animals and dæmons interact??? like, if your dæmon turned into a mouse and a non-dæmon cat found it, would there be a fight or anything???

  • “They found it easily enough: a crude concrete shed with a red neon sign flashing irregularly over the door and the sound of loud voices through the condensation-frosted windows.”

    neon? that seems a bit out-of-place, and according to wikipedia, neon signs weren’t really invented until ~1910 or so… I wonder what the timeline for this version of England/Europe is supposed to be, whether it’s in the 1800s or 1900s or what…

Posted on February 10, 2014 at 4:19 am

The Golden Compass: Chapters 6–8


  • “Lyra walked delicately through it all, her senses magnified and mingled with Pantalaimon’s, keeping to the shadows and the narrow alleys.”

    wondering about the physical connection between humans and their dæmons—we’ve seen that humans can feel pain from their dæmons being attacked, and here we’re seeing maybe that dæmons’ shapes may affect their humans’ senses as well? hrmmm

  • “An old man was laboriously reading a picture-story paper and smoking a pipe, with his spaniel dæmon curled up asleep on the table.”

    so we have someone with a dog dæmon who doesn’t appear to be a servant… hmm…

  • “[…] And the Breathless Ones…”

    “Who are they?”

    “Warriors half-killed. Being alive is one thing, and being dead’s another, but being half-killed is worse than either. They just can’t die, and living is altogether beyond ’em. They wander about forever. They’re called the Breathless Ones because of what’s been done to ’em.”

    there was some great meta about how monsters often defy binaries, and this is a great example of that—being neither alive nor dead and thus being monstrous as a result of that… the meta talks about trans people identifying with monsters, partly because of that rejection of a binary, and idk if that’s going to play into how Pullman genders people, things, and places in the books


  • “You en’t gyptian, Lyra. You might pass for gyptian with practice, but there’s more to us than gyptian language.”

    ooo if the gyptians are coded as non-white, maybe this—Lyra’s potential ability to pass for a gyptian—could further support reading her as non-white 😀

  • “Now when your mother found herself with child, she feared to tell her husband the child wasn’t his. And when the baby was born—that’s you, girl—it was clear from the look of you that you didn’t favor her husband, but your true father, and she thought it best to hide you away and give out that you’d died.”

    ooooooo and since Lord Asriel is her true father, and I’ve headcanoned him as south asian, that totally makes sense to put Lyra as south asian too…!

  • “On t’other hand, the law allows any man to avenge the violation of his wife, and the dead man’s lawyers argued that he were doing just that.”

    something about this rubs me the wrong way?? but idk

  • “Bernie was a kindly, solitary man, one of those rare people whose dæmon was the same sex as himself.”

    !!! what does it mean for a dæmon to be the same sex as their human?? HMMMMMMM, my mind immediately turned to those human/dæmon pairs as indicating queerness of some sort—initially I thought only of sexuality, but callowyn also brought up gender (so the possibility of trans characters!)

  • mrs. coulter is lyra’s mom??? WHAAAAT


  • “Meanwhile, around the edges of the fen country, the police were knocking at doors, searching attics and outhouses, inspecting papers and interrogating everyone who claimed to have seen a blond little girl[.]”

    nooooooooooooooo 🙁 I mean there are poc with naturally blond hair but. I just. I really want south asian!lyra >:/ I mean in a ‘verse with dæmons and Dust and other magic I’m sure it’d be ok for hair colors to be a little different but. yeah. I WANT TO BELIEVE and this is disappointing me a lot >:/// I’m tired of white characters being unmarked and default and blech I was so hopeful that the books would allow for poc/non-white interpretations

Posted on February 9, 2014 at 9:26 am

The Golden Compass: Chapters 4–5


  • “Are you a female Scholar?” said Lyra. She regarded female Scholars with a proper Jordan disdain: there were such people, but, poor things, they could never be taken more seriously than animals dressed up and acting a play.”


  • “You need female company. Female guidance.”

    The word female only suggested female Scholars to Lyra, and she involuntarily made a face. To be exiled from the grandeur of Jordan, the splendor and fame of its scholarship, to a dingy brick-built boardinghouse of a college at the northern end of Oxford, with dowdy female Scholars who smelled of cabbage and mothballs like those two at dinner!”


  • “She had seen a great deal of beauty in her short life, but it was Jordan College beauty, Oxford beauty—grand and stony and masculine. In Jordan College, much was magnificent, but nothing was pretty. In Mrs. Coulter’s flat, everything was pretty. It was full of light, for the wide windows faced south, and the walls were covered in a delicate gold-and-white striped wallpaper. Charming pictures in gilt frames, an antique looking-glass, fanciful sconces bearing anbaric lamps with frilled shades; and frills on the cushions too, and flowery valances over the curtain rail, and a soft green leaf-pattern carpet underfoot; and every surface was covered, it seemed to Lyra’s innocent eye, with pretty little china boxes and shepherdesses and harlequins of porcelain.”

    I’m interested in seeing how gender plays out in the books—how things, people, places are gendered, whether Pullman subverts the dominant narratives of how roles and spaces are gendered, or whether he upholds the dominant narratives… so far I don’t care for how he totally undermined female Scholars, but it’s still early on in the book that I don’t know what kind of role gender and gendering plays in the books.

  • “Ready?” said Mrs. Coulter. “I thought we’d go to the Royal Arctic Institute for lunch. I’m one of the very few female members, so I might as well use the privileges I have.”

    another instance of how spaces are gendered—are all the exploratory groups, the academic groups, skewed heavily toward men? how does Mrs. Coulter fit in as a woman; what kind of pressures does she have; how does that influence her character?  and how does being a woman grant her “privileges”?  is she marginalized?  or is she upheld as more important because she’s a woman?

  • “Pantalaimon watched with powerful curiosity until Mrs. Coulter looked at him, and he knew what she meant and turned away, averting his eyes modestly from these feminine mysteries as the golden monkey was doing. He had never had to look away from Lyra before.”

    gender also seems very binary in this ‘verse so far—there’s a system of opposites it seems, with male vs. female, and little room for anything that diverges from that—dæmons appear to be a different gender from their humans, and I’m interested in seeing how interactions between dæmons and their humans are gendered as well—like this scene; is Pantalaimon not supposed to watch as Lyra bathes and such? what kind of things is he barred from seeing, from participating in? what kind of intimacy between dæmons and humans is normal; what kind of intimacy is taboo?


  • “After that they might go to tea and meet some ladies, as well dressed as Mrs. Coulter if not so beautiful or accomplished: women so unlike female Scholars or gyptian boat mothers or college servants as almost to be a new sex altogether, one with dangerous powers and qualities such as elegance, charm, and grace.”

    idk, there’s something to say about gender here I think, but I don’t know what that might be? idk idk idk. something about separating different types of femininity? also idk if I like how Pullman is characterizing elegance, charm, and grace as “dangerous"—like—is he painting traits coded as feminine as dangerous? or are these ungendered traits only dangerous when they’re feminine? it’s getting late and my brain isn’t really working anymore. discussion here to be continued I guess.

  • “Mrs. Coulter didn’t teach Lyra the latter arts directly, but she knew Lyra was watching when she made herself up, and she took care to let Lyra see where she kept the cosmetics, and to allow her time on her own to explore and try them out for herself.”

    idk I just like that Mrs. Coulter gives Lyra room to explore that side of her femininity? idk. brain not working.

  • re: Lyra not complying with Mrs. Coulter’s wish for her to take off her bag, and Mrs. Coulter’s dæmon attacking Pantalaimon in response—wow Mrs. Coulter’s temper there scares me… to have her dæmon physically attack Lyra’s dæmon, and to have that hurt transferred to Lyra; it’s a really uncomfortable scene that feels like a form of abuse—although idk if it’s classifiable as "abuse”, as I don’t really know the boundaries of the term? either way it made me really uncomfortable and I think that’s the point, to code Mrs. Coulter as dangerous and ruthless and not one to be crossed, even when dealing with a child.
  • “[My parents] were a count and countess,” [Lyra] said. “They both died in an aeronautical accident in the North.”

    oh well that explains some about Lyra’s parents—still kinda curious about them though and I bet we’ll learn more later

  • “I don’t know your name,” said Mrs. Coulter very quietly, “but I shall find it out within five minutes, and then you will never work as a journalist again. Now get up very quietly, without making a fuss, and leave. I might add that whoever brought you here will also suffer.”

    again reinforcing the dangerous side of Mrs. Coulter, beyond what we saw earlier with the children as well—ughhhh I want to know more about her and why she acts the way she does ahhhh

I’m excited to see the ways in which my incipient ideas on my liveblogging turn into actual meta and/or discussion later 😀

Posted on February 9, 2014 at 5:50 am

The Golden Compass: Chapters 1–3


  • iirc, Lyra’s dæmon isn’t actually a moth—I don’t remember, can dæmons shapeshift? was it an only-until-puberty thing? is your dæmon’s shape deterministic of your future? e.g., if your dæmon turns out to be a dog, are you destined to be a servant, since all the servants have dogs as dæmons? or do all the servants just happen to have dogs as dæmons, and a dog-shaped dæmon isn’t necessarily deterministic of your position as a servant, as other jobs can have other daemons? does dæmon shape come with a class/caste hierarchy??? idk, this will probably be revealed in future chapters…
  • “You’re supposed to know about conscience, aren’t you?” —Lyra

    what is the dæmon’s relationship to their human? DO they serve as the human’s conscience? probably something that will be revealed in future chapters as well

  • apparently “anbaric” is the term Pullman uses in the books for electricity (thanks Google)—wonder why he’s using a different term and how electricity affects the universe and the worldbuilding
  • “Lord Asriel was a tall man with powerful shoulders, a fierce dark face, and eyes that seemed to flash and glitter with savage laughter.”

    POC!Asriel plssssss (although—POC is specifically a US term; idk if it’s applicable to race politics in the UK? I don’t tend to like the term “non-white” but if it’s more appropriate to the UK then I’d use that term. but duuuude, South Asian!Asriel maybe??? which could possibly implicate Lyra as South Asian, barring other descriptions of her? 😀 😀 😀 and yes I know “dark” can mean something like “serious” as well instead of skin tone, but I’m going to interpret it as skin tone here because I can)


  • what is Dust??? I don’t remember… and why is it significant that there was a child there?
  • “Streams and veils of light hung like curtains, looped and festooned on invisible hooks hundreds of miles high or blowing out sideways in the stream of some unimaginable wind.”

    ahhhh, how pretty…

  • “[Lord Asriel] stood to one side of the illuminated screen. Lyra could see his dark eyes searching among the Scholars as they peered up at the slide of the Aurora, and the green glow of his dæmon’s eyes beside him.”

    dark eyes! more fuel for my south asian!Asriel interpretation 😀

  • “Lord Asriel said, “I found his body preserved in the ice off Svalbard. The head was treated in this way by his killers. You’ll notice the characteristic scalping pattern. I think you might be familiar with it, Sub-Rector.”

    The old man’s voice was steady as he said, “I have seen the Tartars do this. It’s a technique you find among the aboriginals of Siberia and the Tungusk. From there, of course, it spread into the lands of the Skraelings, though I understand that it is now banned in New Denmark. May I examine it more closely, Lord Asriel?”


    “To fall into the hands of the Tartars—”

    I hope Pullman deals with race well—he doesn’t seem to be painting the scalping as barbaric or really Othering the Tartars here…

  • “Indeed I do. Do you know what [Raknison] wants above all else? Even more than an honorary degree? He wants a dæmon! Find a way to give him a dæmon, and he’d do anything for you.”

    so not everyone has a dæmon??? wait how does this work

  • “The Master was silent for a while before saying, “Yes, perhaps I should have done. The alethiometer warns of appalling consequences if Lord Asriel pursues this research. Apart from anything else, the child will be drawn in, and I want to keep her safe as long as possible.”

    Google says the alethiometer is basically the Golden Compass… I wonder what the tech is like in the His Dark Materials ‘verse… is it something with a vaguely steampunk-ish aesthetic, with lots of brass instruments? is it some other kind of aesthetic entirely?


  • I wonder what the real Oxford is like compared to Pullman’s Oxford…
  • “In every part of the kingdom there were dye works and brick kilns, forests and atomcraft works that paid rent to Jordan, and every quarter-day the bursar and his clerks would tot it all up, announce the total to Concilium, and order a pair of swans for the feast.”

    atomcraft—another tidbit of worldbuilding here… is it atomic energy? how does it play into the tech that’s being built up in this universe??

  • “As for what experimental theology was, Lyra had no more idea than the urchins. She had formed the notion that it was concerned with magic, with the movements of the stars and planets, with tiny particles of matter, but that was guesswork, really. Probably the stars had dæmons just as humans did, and experimental theology involved talking to them. Lyra imagined the Chaplain speaking loftily, listening to the star dæmons’ remarks, and then nodding judiciously or shaking his head in regret. But what might be passing between them, she couldn’t conceive.”


  • Pullman used the term “Eskimo”, which is outdated, and used “gyptian” for Roma, and idk if that’s a problematic term to use for Roma, since it’s tied to g***y? but idk, I’m not part of either group, sooooooo yeah
  • ooooo Lyra’s learning Arabic… wonder if that’ll come up again ever…
  • omg who is this mysterious lady what does she want (based on “dark hair” I kind of want to headcanon her as another POC/non-white character but at the same time I want to be sparse on headcanoning antagonists as POC/non-white…)
  • “As people became adult, their dæmons lost the power to change and assumed one shape, keeping it permanently.”

    oh, that answers my question from earlier… although! I’m still interested in seeing if people’s dæmons are deterministic of their futures and whether there’s some kind of class or caste system based on people’s dæmons (do people judge others based on what shape their dæmons are?)

  • wait, what happened to Lyra’s parents? how come she’s always surrounded by Scholars and such?
  • there seems to also be an undercurrent of strong class divisions going on… the slums vs. the “nobles” in Oxford; I wonder if there’s going to be any kind of subversion of the class divisions or whether Pullman’s just going to take them for granted and be uncritical of that…
  • “It was a mighty voice, a woman’s voice, but a woman with lungs of brass and leather.”

    “lungs of brass and leather”, gosh, what a good description

  • “No one worried about a child gone missing for a few hours, certainly not a gyptian: in the tight-knit gyptian boat world, all children were precious and extravagantly loved, and a mother knew that if a child was out of sight, it wouldn’t be far from someone else’s who would protect it instinctively.”

    I like that…

  • “Rooks were cawing somewhere, and bells were ringing, and from the oxpens the steady beat of a gas engine announced the ascent of the evening Royal Mail zeppelin for London.”

    ZEPPELINS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! steampunk-ish aesthetic??? idk!!! but whatever it is, I like it :DDD

  • OH SHIT WHO IS MRS. COULTER AHHHHHHHHH I still kinda wanna headcanon her as someone East Asian but idk, idk idk, I don’t want to cast villains as POC/non-white ppl soooooo I think I’ll hold off until I know more???

Posted on February 6, 2014 at 7:14 am

His Dark Book Club is live!

Hello everyone!  The book club that callowyn and rubato mentioned is finally live! 😀

Between February 8 and March 8, we will be reading The Golden Compass (aka Northern Lights) by Philip Pullman.  Anyone can participate, but please check our rules page first to see how everything works.  

To be added to the blog, please message hisdarkbookclub with the e-mail address you use for tumblr so we can invite you to contribute.  (If you don’t want to give out your e-mail address, you can still follow the blog and respond to posts; you just won’t be able to liveblog on the main or start discussions.)  

If you’re coming in after the 8th, don’t worry; you can still participate!  We will be using a tagging system to ensure that discussion can still happen while people are at different points in the book.

Feel free to ask if you have any questions! 🙂  Happy reading!

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