Tell them stories.

The ghost of a dead woman speaks these words to Mary Malone in The Amber Spyglass after Lyra and Will have cut a hole from the world of the dead into the world of the mulefa. In the world of the dead, Lyra made a deal: the harpies would escort the ghosts to the window if the ghosts would tell the harpies stories about their lives. Only those who had lived their lives fully and could tell stories about what it meant to be alive would be allowed to pass into the world of the mulefa. Those who had squandered their lives and had no stories to tell would wander forever in the world of the dead.

The ghost exhorts Mary to “tell them stories,” reminding her to live fully and to accumulate a rich assortment of stories with which to feed the harpies. The ghost’s words also reflect Pullman’s belief that stories and storytelling are an integral part of human existence. One of Lyra’s great powers is her ability to mesmerize audiences with invented stories. When she is in a tight spot, Lyra will distract her audience by making up some fantastical tale about robbers and barons. When Lyra is in the world of the dead, however, her storytelling abilities don’t work. In fact, the harpies respond to her lies by attacking her. Of course, Pullman does not mean for this scene as an attack on fiction—indeed, his own invented worlds rival Lyra’s. He simply means that the best stories contain nuggets of truth, and that the most successful writers are those who draw on their own life experiences to tell stories.