Summary: Chapters 32–36

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.

Analysis: Chapters 32–36

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.