Mrs. Coulter is keeping Lyra in a cave in the Himalayas of Lyra’s own world. She feeds Lyra a sleeping potion to keep her unconscious. A little servant girl named Ama decides to figure out a way to wake Lyra up. She gets a special powder from a local magician and brings it to the cave. Ama realizes that Mrs. Coulter is an evil woman. Lyra dreams she is speaking to Roger.
Back in the world of Ci’gazze, Will and two angels, Balthamos and Baruch, argue over what to do. Balthamos and Baruch, who are lovers, come from a low order of angels. They insist that Will come with them, but Will says he has to find Lyra. Baruch flies ahead to look for her, and Will and Balthamos make their way down the mountain. Will and Balthamos enter Lyra’s world and Balthamos agrees to pretend to be Will’s daemon so that Will won’t stand out. Baruch returns, having discovered where Mrs. Coulter is holding Lyra.
Suddenly, Metatron, the Lord Regent of God’s angels, attacks Will and the two angels, but they are able to escape. Balthamos tells Will that angels are made out of Dust. He also tells Will that God was not the creator of the universe, but was rather one of the first angels. When he gained power, he started telling the other angels that he had created everything. Another angel eventually found out the truth, so God banished her and all the angels that followed her. God is old now and Metatron rules in his place.
Baruch decides to go to Lord Asriel and talk to him. Balthamos agrees to continue pretending to be Will’s daemon in Lyra’s world and to help Will find Lyra. In Lyra’s world, the climate is changing because of the rip in the sky that Lord Asriel made. Serafina finds Iorek Byrnison and tells him that Lee Scoresby is dead. Iorek finds Lee’s body and eats it. Then he returns to his own world to lead the bears south to the snowy Himalayas, as the bears’ own icy kingdom has been melting.
Baruch approaches Lord Asriel’s fortress, the Adamant Tower. Two of Metatron’s angels attack him, almost killing him. Baruch is brought before Lord Asriel. He tells Lord Asriel that God now lives in a crystal chamber inside his roaming castle (which is called the Chariot or the Clouded Mountain) and that Metatron is the one who actually rules. Metatron no longer trusts the Church and wants to intervene directly in the lives of human beings in every world. Metatron and Baruch were men once—and they were brothers. Metatron banished Baruch.
Before dying, Baruch tells Lord Asriel where Lyra is and where Will is heading. Lord Asriel summons several of his allies, including King Ogunwe, an African king, and some Gallivespians. The latter are tiny people with poisonous spurs on their heels who ride hawks and dragonflies.
The Consistorial Court (an arm of the Church) finds out where Lyra is. They know that she is to be the new Eve, so they send a force of soldiers to kill her. They also send out a lone assassin, Father Gomez, to follow Mary Malone. They hope that even if their mission to kill Lyra fails, Mary will lead Father Gomez to Lyra.
Like all angels, Baruch and Balthamos are bene elim, a Hebrew phrase meaning sons of God. Baruch is a biblical character, the secretary of the prophet Jeremiah, and is also the putative author of the apocryphal text that shares his name. As he is dying, Baruch tells Lord Asriel that before he became an angel, he was Metatron’s brother. In life, Metatron was a “lover of the flesh,” but he banished his brother, Baruch, probably because Baruch is gay. In the characters of the angels Baruch and Balthamos, Pullman again points out the repressive nature of religion and the Church. Because Balthamos and Baruch share a vivid, strong love, they are condemned by Metatron and by the Church, which frowns upon homosexuality. In Pullman’s world, the Church uses the most vicious and power-hungry people as its servants and suppresses or banishes those who behave in unusual ways.
Metatron’s attack on Will, Balthamos, and Baruch illustrates Metatron’s desperate desire to get his hands on the knife. It also shows that Metatron, the angel in charge of executing God’s will on Earth, is a vicious killer.
Balthamos explains to Will that God is not in fact the creator of all things, but just one of the oldest angels. He seized power at the very beginning of creation and has ruled ever since through deceit, brute force, and war. Because God’s rule is based on a lie, he prefers to rule over people who are obedient and don’t ask questions. As Balthamos explains it, the first big rebellion was not, in fact, led by a male angel named Satan, but by a female being who recognized that God was lying. In Pullman’s book, the rebellion against God was a revolution against a tyrant.
Forces from worlds oppressed by the Church have made their way to Lord Asriel’s fortress, the Adamant Tower, to make a stand with Asriel. They no longer want a Kingdom of Heaven, in which one power rules over all and crushes dissent. They want to build a Republic of Heaven, in which each person is entitled to live freely and choose the direction of his or her own life.
Baruch’s news that Metatron has begun to rule in God’s place troubles Lord Asriel. It is unfortunate that the Church rules people’s lives, but at least the Church is a human institution susceptible to appeals from other humans. If Metatron, the cruelest angel, overthrows the Church and intervenes directly in human lives, appeals will go unheeded. Metatron was once a man but he has turned into a supernatural power who makes absolute judgments.
Father Gomez is a professional assassin who has been repenting for his murders before he commits them. Gomez’s behavior sends up the hypocrisy of the Church. Repentance is supposed to follow sin, cleansing the soul of someone who truly regrets what he or she has done. Father Gomez makes a mockery of repentance by feeling guilty about a sin he hasn’t yet committed, as if this preemptive guilt will allow him to one day sin freely.
Mary Malone has made her way into another world from the world of Ci’gazze. She meets the mulefa, strange people who have trunks like elephants, diamond-shaped bodies, and claws that they hook through wheel-shaped seedpods. The mulefa befriend Mary and take her to their town.
In Lyra’s world, Will and Balthamos are traveling together when Balthamos suddenly senses that Baruch has died. He panics, but Will convinces him to continue pretending to be Will’s daemon. As they travel toward the cave in which Lyra is being held captive, Will and Balthamos run into Iorek Byrnison and the armored bears, who are fighting with a town of humans. Will makes peace between the two sides and convinces Iorek, who is fascinated by Will’s knife, to allow Will to travel with the bears as they head for the Himalayas. Will tells Iorek that he is looking for Lyra and Iorek agrees to help Will in his search.
Mary learns to communicate with the mulefa. She consults the I Ching, a Chinese method of fortune telling akin to the alethiometer. It tells her to stay with the mulefa for a while. A flock of tualapi, vicious white birds similar to swans, attacks the mulefa village, destroying it and scattering the precious seedpods.
In Lyra’s world, Ama meets Will and Iorek and brings Will to Lyra. Will meets Mrs. Coulter for the first time. Mrs. Coulter explains that she is keeping Lyra asleep in the cave because she wants to protect Lyra from the forces of the Church. Will knows that Mrs. Coulter is lying and he leaves.
Aboard the zeppelin of the Consistorial Court, the two Gallivespian spies hatch their special dragonflies. Through a device called the lodestone resonator, they receive a message from their chief, who tells them to cooperate with Will in order to save Lyra. Will and Ama use the knife to enter the cave in which Mrs. Coulter is holding Lyra. They wake Lyra using medicine that Ama obtained. Before they can use the knife to cut through to another world, however, Mrs. Coulter looks at Will, and he thinks he is looking at his own mother’s face. His heart fills with sorrow and the knife lodges in the air and breaks into pieces.
The Gallivespian spies rescue Will and Lyra from Mrs. Coulter. Lord Asriel’s forces, commanded by King Ogunwe, meet the forces of the Consistorial Court and a great battle ensues. The Consistorial Court’s army retreats, and King Ogunwe captures Mrs. Coulter and brings her back to Lord Asriel. The spies insist that Lyra and Will bring the knife to Lord Asriel, but they refuse. They go to meet Iorek, who agrees to mend the knife. Will and Lyra decide they have to go to the world of the dead, because Lyra has to find Roger and Will has to find his father. In Lord Asriel’s fortress, Mrs. Coulter meets with Asriel and his allies. King Ogunwe explains to Mrs. Coulter that Asriel and his allies want to build a Republic of Heaven. Mrs. Coulter steals an airship called the Intention Craft from Lord Asriel and flies away. Lord Roke stows away with her.
Mary Malone has become very close to the mulefa, especially to one zalif (the word for a single mulefa) named Atal. Mary learns that the mulefa can see Dust, or Shadows, which they call sraf. Atal tells Mary that the mulefa have existed for 33,000 years, and that the Dust comes from the mulefa themselves and the oil from their seedpod wheels. According to mulefa lore, 30,000 years ago, a snake told a female zalif to put her claw through one of the seedpod wheels and coat it with oil. When the female zalif obeyed, she was able to see sraf. The female zalif had her mate, a male, put his claw through the hole in a seedpod, and at that moment consciousness came into existence for the mulefa. Mary decides to make a mirror with sap from the trees so she can see the sraf as well. The technique works, and Mary can see that sraf surrounds adults much more than it does children. Sraf looks like golden dust motes in sunshine. Atal takes Mary to speak to Sattamax, the wisest of all the mulefa.
Sattamax asks for Mary’s help. He says that 300 years ago, the seedpod trees started to sicken. Without the seedpods, the mulefa cannot produce more sraf, and without sraf, they will go back to being dumb beasts. Mary agrees to help.
Lyra, Will, Chevalier Tialys, and Lady Salmakia make for the world of the dead. They cut through to another world and follow a group of dead people until they find themselves in a strange, colorless town. The dead are allowed to cross a river, but Lyra’s group is not allowed to cross. They have to seek shelter in a shantytown filled with people who are accompanied by death instead of daemons. Death is a shadowy figure that accompanies each person through his or her life until it is time for that person to die. Then death takes the person away.
Back in the world of the mulefa, Mary builds a rope ladder to get to the top of the seedpod trees. The mulefa have turned Mary’s mirror into a kind of telescope, and with it, Mary can see thatsraf is not fertilizing all of the flowers. The mulefa build a platform in the tree canopy so Mary can learn more.
In the world of the dead, Lyra, Will and the Gallivespians approach the river that only the dead can cross. The man who rows the dead across in a boat tells Lyra that Pantalaimon can’t go across the river. As the boat pulls away, Lyra feels Pan being torn away from her heart. Will and the Gallivespian spies feel tearing in their own hearts as well. The boatman leaves them on the other side of the river, where harpies attack them. Will, Lyra, and the Gallivespians flee and find themselves in a valley, surrounded by whispering ghosts. They are in the land of the dead. The ghosts tell Will and Lyra that when living things die, they end up in this dull valley where nothing ever happens, and the harpies tell them every bad thing about themselves until they lose all hope.
Mrs. Coulter undergoes a transformation in these sections of the book, changing from a purely evil woman into a more complicated character. She is as manipulative as ever and she continues to hold Lyra hostage, but she seems to be softening. She cares for the sleeping Lyra in a loving way. Still, Mrs. Coulter does not abandon her double-crossing ways. She is hiding Lyra from the Church, the institution she is supposed to serve. She convinces Lord Asriel’s allies that she is trustworthy in order to learn what they are planning, and then she steals their Intention Craft and flies back to the Consistorial Court.
The mulefa narrate yet another variation on the story of Adam and Eve. For the mulefa, as for Lyra’s people, the first female’s fall is not the introduction of sin, but the beginning of all knowledge, all awareness, and everything good. In the mulefa version, Adam and Eve came to know themselves by coming into contact with the oil from the seedpod trees. And now, because of the oil from the seedpod trees, the mulefa are able to see what they call sraf, which is another word for what Lyra calls Dust and Mary calls Shadows. The mulefa know sraf for a thing of beauty. The mulefa do not have the equivalent of the Church. Instead, they have a religion based on an awareness of Dust. They worship the knowledge sraf brings them and live in a perfect harmony with everything around them. The mulefa tend the trees that give them their seedpods, and the trees, in turn, give the mulefa consciousness. Sraf fertilizes both the trees and the mulefa and gives them life. Sraf comes from above but is also made by the adult mulefa whenever they are exercising will rather than simply reacting or responding to their instincts. Whenever mulefa deliberately do something or build something (build houses, make art, create religious apparatuses, etc), sraf is created. The mulefa world is a one of innocence and abundance.
The boatman who refuses Lyra passage is very similar to the boatman Charon from Greek mythology, who ferries the dead across the River Styx into the underworld. Apart from a very few exceptions, the living are not allowed to cross the river. Greek mythology also contains harpies, who transport the dead to the underworld and torment them. Because they are without purpose or hope, the harpies try to destroy the hope of the miserable ghosts in the world of the dead. The Church divides the afterlife into two distinct divisions: Heaven and Hell. But Will and Lyra see that all those who die end up in the same bleak place, hopeless and abandoned.
Lyra is appalled by the world of the dead. She decides that it is not enough to find Roger: she must free all the dead from the valley. As she is convincing them to follow her, a ghost who was a religious zealot while alive steps forward and says that this valley is actually Heaven, and that Lyra and Will are emissaries from the Devil who have come to lead the dead into Hell.
The ghosts and the Gallivespians locate Roger and bring him to Lyra. Lyra apologizes to Roger for leading him to his death. While Will and the Gallivespians are conceiving of a plan to free the dead, Lyra comforts the ghosts with stories of her life in Jordan college. The harpies listen. Lyra and Will tell the harpies that they will make the dead tell stories. The harpies can feed on the stories of people who have lived full lives instead of on the spirits of the dead. In exchange for the stories, the harpies will lead the dead to an exit created by Will. With the dead trailing behind, the harpies lead the children and the Gallivespians to the highest point in the world of the dead.
In Lyra’s world, Mrs. Coulter flies the Intention Craft to the Consistorial Court where she meets with Father MacPhail, the president of the Court. She tells him about Lord Asriel and his fortress and about Lyra and Will. He places her under arrest. Lord Roke reveals himself to Mrs. Coulter later that night, and the two become allies of a sort. In the middle of the night, a young priest comes into Mrs. Coulter’s room and steals her locket. Inside the locket is a curl of Lyra’s hair. Lord Roke follows the young priest and sees him give the hair to the president. The Consistorial Court is planning to destroy Lyra with a bomb made from her hair.
Lord Roke attempts to steal the hair back from the Consistorial Court, while Father MacPhail suspects that Mrs. Coulter has an accomplice. He brings her to a place called Saint-Jean-les-Eaux (Saint John of the Waters). In order to activate the bomb, they need to sever a human from its daemon and they intend to use Mrs. Coulter for this purpose. Mrs. Coulter and Lord Roke fight the troops and Mrs. Coulter escapes.
Father MacPhail sacrifices himself, separating from his own daemon, who pleads with him not to cut them apart. The bomb goes off, despite Mrs. Coulter’s efforts to stop it. A witch in the service of the Consistorial Court kills Lord Roke. Lord Asriel arrives in the Intention Craft and takes Mrs. Coulter away.
The ghosts of Lee Scoresby and John Parry find Lyra in the mass of ghosts and tell her that the Consistorial Court has made a bomb and that Lyra has to find the place were some of her hair was cut away and shave that spot. Will shaves it and puts the hair into another world. When the bomb explodes, it creates a vast abyss next to the path on which the children and the ghosts are walking. Lyra almost falls into the abyss, but a harpy rescues her. The ghost of John Parry tells Will and Lyra that their daemons have gone into Lord Asriel’s world, and that Will, Lyra, and the ghosts of Parry and Lee Scoresby have to go there.
The world of the dead is bleak and dull. The dead huddle in gray masses. They don’t remember anything about life. They are bored and miserable. Their unhappiness makes Lyra, who has come looking for Roger, determined to free all the dead. The ghost of the religious fanatic who argues that the ghosts are in Heaven exemplifies the pig-headed blindness that religion can promote. Because it jibes with what his religion promised, the ghost of the fanatic prefers the illusion that he might be in Heaven to the promise of freedom that Will and Lyra offer. We see this same sort of blind obedience in Father MacPhail, who severs himself from his own terrified daemon, his own soul, in order to serve the Church. For Pullman, any institution that demands this kind of unthinking sacrifice cannot be worthy of anyone’s allegiance.
The Church leaders are terrified by the eleven-year-old Lyra because they know her passage from childhood to womanhood could somehow bring about their destruction. They know that she is the new Eve, the one the witches call “mother of us all.” They are willing to go to almost any lengths to destroy her. The bomb they build is strong enough to create a bottomless abyss in the world of the dead, yet they think nothing of detonating it. They are even willing to sacrifice Mrs. Coulter, once their staunchest ally, to kill Lyra.
When Lord Asriel comes to pick up Mrs. Coulter in the Intention Craft, it seems that they have made a new alliance with each other. Much of the trilogy so far has been about Satan (in the form of Lord Asriel) fighting the Church (as personified by Mrs. Coulter) for Lyra’s soul. Now it seems that Mrs. Coulter has abandoned her role of Church representative. It is not yet clear what she has become. Mrs. Coulter again behaves oddly in this section. She has double-crossed almost everyone she hasencountered, so her defection from Lord Asriel’s side is not surprising. What is odd is that her behavior seems to stem from love for Lyra. Mrs. Coulter, who has never seemed to care about anyone or anything except herself and her own lust for power, puts herself in several exceptionally dangerous situations because, it seems, she wants to save her daughter.
Will and Lyra cut a hole from the world of the dead into a new world. Will and Lyra fall asleep in that world, and the dead come pouring out. When the ghosts hit the air, they dissolve. In the world of the mulefa, Father Gomez kills one of the tualapi, vicious swan-like birds, and tames the rest. In Lord Asriel’s world, Mrs. Coulter learns that Lyra is still alive, and that she and Will have freed the lost souls in the world of the dead. Lord Asriel and King Ogunwe discover that the Clouded Mountain, which is also called the Chariot, is approaching Lord Asriel’s fortress. Metatron is driving it. He intends to attack the newly founded Republic of Heaven that Asriel and his allies have built. Asriel calls all of his supporters to fight Metatron’s forces. Lord Asriel and his allies must protect Lyra and Will, who have been temporarily separated from their daemons. If Metatron gets to Lyra and Will first, he will be able to control them, using the knife to break their resistance.
Mrs. Coulter and Asriel talk. Mrs. Coulter discovers that Asriel wants to preserve Dust forever. In the world of the dead, some ghosts have hung back to fight the specters in Lord Asriel’s world. Lyra and Will lead them to an opening. Chevalier Tialys and Lady Salmakia are dying. Will opens a door into Lord Asriel’s world, where there is a battle raging, and the ghosts rush out to attack the specters. As the terrible battle rages, Will and Lyra realize that they can almost see the specters, and that they must find their daemons. They see Mrs. Coulter pass overhead in the Intention Craft and it appears she has escaped again to double-cross Lord Asriel. She enters the Clouded Mountain and meets with Metatron. She tries to seduce him in order to trick him. At the same time, a few angels are trying to escape unnoticed. They are carrying God out of the Clouded Mountain in a glass case.
Lord Asriel, looking for Lyra, discovers the great abyss created when the bomb went off. Mrs. Coulter leads Metatron to the abyss, where she and Lord Asriel attack him. They drag him into the abyss, throwing themselves in with him to ensure that he doesn’t rise again. Back in Lord Asriel’s world, Lyra and Will find some cliff ghasts attacking God’s glass case. They kill the cliff ghasts and see that God is demented with age. They release God from the glass case, and he happily dissolves in the wind.
Lady Salmakia and Chevalier Tialys die, and Madame Oxentiel leads the two children to Iorek Byrnison, who carries them closer to their daemons. They find the daemons but are attacked by specters. The ghosts of Lee Scoresby and John Parry save them. Lyra grabs Will’s daemon, Will grabs Pantalaimon, and they use the knife to escape into another world. The ghosts of John Parry and Lee Scoresby say goodbye to Will and Lyra and drift apart.
As soon as they hit the air, the ghosts dissolve. Their molecules, whatever is left of them, separate and drift away to become one with their surroundings. In the strange deal that Lyra has struck with the harpies, the people who have fully lived their lives and who can tell the harpies stories about what it means to be alive will be led to freedom. Instead of being trapped forever in the bleak, terrible world of the dead, ghosts will journey through it and then rejoin the rest of the universe in a different form. This deal is a great blow to the Church. If all souls are released into the atmosphere to enrich the world after they die, the Church can’t use the threat of Hell to make people obedient.
Metatron is so enraged by Lord Asriel’s army that he attacks, bringing God’s home (the Clouded Mountain) straight to Lord Asriel’s fortress. Knowing that angels envy and desire the human body above all else, Mrs. Coulter flies to meet Metatron and weasels her way to him by displaying her youth and loveliness. Metatron can see into the very hearts and souls of most people, but Mrs. Coulter is able to deceive him. When Lord Asriel and Mrs. Coulter throw themselves into the abyss, dragging Metatron with them, the evil God figure is defeated, and the story ceases to be about the rebellion of Satan against God. It now focuses on Lyra’s awakening.
Pullman’s representation of God is typical of his portrayal of the Church. Instead of an all-knowing, all-powerful God with a vast and incomprehensible plan for the universe, Pullman’s God is half-crazed with age and infirmity. When Lyra and Will liberate God from his glass case, he seems pleased. He is so weak and old that he blows to bits with the first breeze, but his dissolution comes as a relief. It is as though God does not want the burden of leadership. In the end, Will and Lyra don’t kill God. Instead, they free him, and he becomes one with the universe again. The fact that God dissolves just like the newly freed ghosts suggests that perhaps God is simply the spirit of the living.
Lyra and Will fall asleep in the new world and wake to find that their daemons have gone again and they are in the world of the mulefa. Mary’s friends find them and bring them back to the village. Will and Lyra sleep again, and Mary goes to explore something the mulefa can’t explain. She finds the hole that Will and Lyra cut from the world of the dead and watches as the ghosts escape into the world of the mulefa. One of them turns to her before it dissolves and says, “Tell them stories.” Lyra goes down to the river to bathe without Will, feeling it would be strange to be naked in front of him. When Mary comes back, Will and Lyra befriend her. They discuss the many strange things that have happened and the things they have learned during their travels. Mary tells them she decided to stop being a nun because she met a man she liked who made her happy.
That night, Mary can’t sleep, so she goes to the grove of the seedpod trees. As she sits watching the sraf flow away, she realizes that she can see the clouds and the wind and the moon moving, trying to erect a barrier to keep the sraf from leaving the world. She realizes that the subtle knife was made 300 years ago, just the amount of time that sraf has been leaking out of the world through the holes made by the knife.
As she is returning to the village, Mary sees Father Gomez approaching with the tualapi he has tamed. He goes into the village, but it he can’t find Will and Lyra and so he leaves. The next morning, Will and Lyra go to look for their daemons. Father Gomez is following them, but before he can shoot Lyra, Balthamos returns and snatches Father Gomez’s daemon. As Balthamos leads Father Gomez away from Will and Lyra, Lyra tells Will that she loves him. She feeds him a piece of fruit, and they kiss passionately. Balthamos kills Father Gomez and then dies himself, calling out for Baruch.
That afternoon, Mary and Atal notice that the sraf is no longer flowing away. Instead, it is falling straight down, feeding the seedpod trees. Lyra and Will return hand in hand, and Mary sees that they are covered in sraf. It is their love that has stopped the sraf from flowing away. That night, Lyra and Will’s daemons meet Serafina Pekkala. Serafina names Will’s daemon Kirjava. She tells them that the daemons have to tell Will and Lyra something. Serafina then visits Mary and tells Mary that she, too, has a daemon, an alpine bird.
The next day, Will and Lyra finally find their daemons. Kirjava and Pantalaimon tell Will and Lyra that the holes they made with the knife allowed Dust (sraf) to leak out of the universe, and that all of these holes need to be closed. Lyra and Will remember something that Will’s father told them: people have to live in their own worlds or they will get sick and die. Kirjava and Pan tell Will and Lyra that every time the knife is used, a specter is created.
When Mary finally does play the serpent, it is as a storyteller. Mary was once a nun. She devoted herself to a celibate life in which she lived only for the Church and science. She turned away from the Church when she met a man and realized there was no point in not having a physical life. She realized that physical pleasure wasn’t something evil but instead a part of life worth celebrating. Throughout his trilogy, Pullman repeatedly emphasizes the goodness of physical life. Angels envy humans their bodies; Mrs. Coulter tricks Metatron, who feels lust even though he governs the most repressive part of the Church; and Mary’s story, in which she reveals to Will and Lyra that there is no shame in physical passion, awakens them to the possibility of erotic love.
After hearing Mary’s story, Lyra feels as though doors have opened all around her. She is suddenly alive with possibilities. But even before Mary tells her story, something is different for Lyra. When she wants to bathe in the river by the mulefa village, Lyra realizes that to appear naked in front of Will would be strange. Though they are as close as friends can be, Lyra, like Eve after eating the fruit, suddenly understands the weight of nakedness. The moment when Lyra and Will realize that they are in love and that they want to have a physical relationship is the moment when Lyra ceases to feel strange and uncomfortable. Like Eve in Genesis, Lyra offers Will a piece of fruit, which he eats from her hand. Their love for each other has allowed them to complete their passage from childlike innocence to adulthood.
Not long before Will and Lyra realize that they are in love, Mary sees that the stars and the clouds are trying to stop sraf from leaving the world altogether. She realizes that “matter loves Dust.” The consciousness that is Dust is such an essential part of the universe that the very stars, clouds, and moon are trying to stop its departure. But it is the love between Will and Lyra that eventually stops sraf from leaking away. When Will and Lyra come back to the mulefa village after realizing that they are in love, Mary and Atal can see that they are glowing and surrounded by Dust. Eve’s fall brought consciousness (Dust) into the world and Lyra’s fall has stopped it from leaving.
Every time the subtle knife is used to cut into another universe, it lets out Dust and creates a specter. The more the knife is used, the less Dust there will be. Without Dust, beings will turn into automatons, like the stupid nurses at Bolvanger. All the windows between the worlds must be closed, and the knife must be broken. Neither Lyra nor Will can live outside of their own world or they will die, but they will endanger everyone if they go back and forth between their worlds by cutting holes with the knife. Though it is their love for each other that saved all the worlds, Lyra and Will must separate in order to ensure the continuing safety of the universe.
Lyra tries to consult the alethiometer to see if the daemons are right that the knife creates specters and that every last hole has to be closed. She finds she can’t read the alethiometer. Will and Lyra realize that they have to leave each other and live in their own worlds. Xaphania appears and asks Will to teach her how to close the windows made by the subtle knife. She tells Will and Lyra that one window can be left open, but Will and Lyra know it has to be the window they opened for the dead. Xaphania tells them they have to break the knife. Xaphania leaves Will and Lyra to mourn their coming loss. Kirjava takes the form of a cat and Pantalaimon takes the form of a pine marten. Will puts his hand on Pantalaimon and Lyra puts her hand on Kirjava. They know their daemons won’t change shape any more.
The next day, Serafina Pekkala and the Gyptians arrive in a boat to pick up Will, Lyra, and Mary. The mulefa show the Gyptians where the dead escaped and tell the Gyptians they are planning to plant a grove of seedpod trees around it, because it is a sacred place. Before Mary gets on the Gyptians’ ship, Atal and the other mulefa give her seedpod seeds and some of their precious oil. The Gyptians sail on until they pass into the world of Ci’gazze. Lyra decides to go with Will and Mary into their Oxford world one last time. Serafina Pekkala teaches Mary how to see her daemon. Lyra and Will go to Will’s Oxford together, and there they find a bench in a garden. The bench is also in Lyra’s world. They agree that, even though they must live in separate worlds, they will return to this bench every year and think of each other. Lyra returns to the world of Ci’gazze and Will closes the window behind her. Will breaks the knife by thinking of Lyra.
Mary offers to help Will and his mother in their world. Three weeks later, Lyra is back at Jordan College. She tells the story of her adventures to the Master and to a female scholar named Dame Hannah, who offers to take Lyra under her wing and teach her. She promises to teach her how to use the alethiometer. Lyra accepts Dame Hannah’s offer. Lyra and Pantalaimon go to the bench in the garden. They talk about Will and Kirjava, and what their new life will be like, and what it will be like to have friends who are girls Lyra’s own age. Then agree they must find heaven whenever and wherever they are. The Amber Spyglass ends as Lyra and Pantalaimon resolve to establish a Republic of Heaven.
Lyra can no longer read the alethiometer because she is no longer in the childlike state of grace in which she existed before she fell in love with Will. Just like Adam and Eve, Will and Lyra had—for all their adventures—lived in innocence before they realized they were in love. Thanks to the success of her quest, Lyra is allowed to make choices, as are all other conscious beings. In defeating the Kingdom of Heaven, Lyra, Will, Lord Asriel and even Mrs. Coulter have ensured that people have the right to choose for themselves. With Will and Lyra’s separation, Pullman shows that with the right to mature and the freedom to choose come heavy responsibilities. But even painful responsibilities, Pullman suggests, are preferable to the unburdened and unconscious life that the Church prescribes.
In the final pages of the trilogy, the full significance of Will’s name becomes clear. Will symbolizes free will. His character, so strong and proud, stands for the right to choose the path one’s life takes. Though it might seem as if Will and Lyra have no choice but to part, they could have chosen differently. Had they prized their own happiness over the happiness of everyone else, they would have left the knife intact and cut back and forth between their worlds, letting Dust leak out. But they exercise their will and make the more difficult decision.
In Paradise Lost, Eve eats the fruit and is banished from the Garden. Adam loves Eve so much that he cannot bear to live in a world without her, so he eats the fruit and shares her banishment. Out of his great love for Eve, Adam chooses to fall. Will makes a less selfish decision when he gives up Lyra for love of the world. But both Adam and Will are making their first decision as adults.
In her Oxford, Lyra discovers that after Xaphania and the other angels closed the hole that Lord Asriel made, the Church all but collapsed. After talking to Dame Hannah, Lyra figures out that she has to work for what she wants. She will have to study to be able to read the alethiometer. But this right to pursue knowledge is the right that Lyra and Will fought for. The pursuit of knowledge and of a good and loving life is what will eventually build the Republic of Heaven on Earth.