Summary: Chapters 17–23

Just as it seems that Lyra and the children have escaped, Mrs. Coulter arrives and tries to seize her. Roger and Lyra fight her off, and Lee Scoresby rescues the two children and Iorek Byrnison in his balloon. Lyra finally meets Serafina Pekkala, a beautiful witch queen. With the help of her clan, Serafina guides the balloon toward Svalbard, where the armored bears are holding Lord Asriel prisoner. Lyra learns that Iorek is the rightful king of the bears but has been exiled for killing another bear. The king of the bears is now Iofur Raknison.

Suddenly, cliff ghasts attack Lee’s balloon and the witch clan. Lyra is thrown out of the balloon and discovered by armored bears, who bring her to Svalbard, where she is put in a dungeon. Lyra wants to force Iofur to fight Iorek, since only by fighting and killing Iofur can Iorek reclaim his kingdom. But Iofur won’t fight Iorek because it would be undignified for the king to fight an exile. But in the dungeon, Lyra remembers that at Jordan College she heard that Iofur Raknison is desirous of a daemon. Lyra convinces Iofur that she, Lyra, is Iorek’s daemon and that if Iofur fights Iorek and wins, Lyra will become Iofur’s daemon. Iofur and Iorek fight, and Iorek tricks Iofur and kills him. Iorek is restored as the king of the bears.

Roger, Iorek, and Lyra go to the fortress where Lord Asriel is being held captive. While captive, Lord Asriel has been doing experiments with Dust. When they arrive, Lord Asriel panics until he sees Roger. Lyra tells Lord Asriel she knows he is her father. Lord Asriel tells Lyra that Dust is what makes the alethiometer work. He says that a man named Rusakov noticed that Dust clustered around adults, and not around children. He tells her the story of Adam and Eve and explains that Dust is another word for original sin, or Adam and Eve’s knowledge of themselves. Mrs. Coulter thought that cutting children’s daemons away might keep children free from sin. When daemons are cut away, enough energy is released to create a door to another world. Lyra tries to give Lord Asriel the alethiometer, but he refuses it. After Lyra goes to bed, Lord Asriel kidnaps Roger. Lyra realizes Lord Asriel is going to cut Roger’s daemon away in order to harness the loose energy and open a door to another universe.

Iorek brings Lyra to the frozen mountaintop where Lord Asriel has taken Roger, and Lyra battles Lord Asriel for her friend. She and Roger struggle free, but Lord Asriel still manages to sever Roger from his daemon. The sky is torn open and Lyra can see into another world. Mrs. Coulter appears and Lord Asriel asks her to come to the new world with him. He tells her that he’s going to find the source of Dust and destroy it. Mrs. Coulter refuses to come. Lord Asriel walks away into the other world. Lyra decides that if Lord Asriel and Mrs. Coulter hate Dust, then it must be a good thing. She and Pantalaimon decide to go and look for the source of Dust. They leave Roger’s body in the snow on the mountaintop and walk into the sunny new world.

Analysis: Chapters 17–23

When Iorek and Lyra are first getting to know each other, Iorek tells Lyra that armored bears can’t be tricked, but that Iofur is different. Because Iofur is so intent on being human instead of bear, he can be tricked. For this reason, Lyra succeeds in her ploy to get Iofur to fight Iorek, and Iorek succeeds in tricking Iofur during the fight and killing him.

Iofur thinks that being human means having a daemon and being admitted into Mrs. Coulter’s social circles, but in fact being human means acquiring vices and flaws. In Pullman’s books, it is precisely these flaws and vices that make human life interesting and valuable. Iofur’s quest to attain human status is understandable, even if it leads to his downfall.

Almost as soon as Lyra arrives at Bolvanger, Lord Asriel tells her the story of Adam and Eve. For the Church, this story is the tragedy that explains all evil and sorrow in the world. For Lord Asriel, the story of Adam and Eve is the story of the beginning of human experience. Just as Adam and Eve ate from the fruit and gained knowledge, children make the transition from innocence to experience in order to become fully developed human beings. If Adam and Eve hadn’t eaten the fruit, the human race would be like the nurses at Bolvanger: bland, boring, incurious, and utterly complacent. Lyra is the opposite of the people at Bolvanger who have undergone Intercision. She is vivacious, disobedient, and exciting.

Lord Asriel also explains Dust to Lyra. Dust is consciousness, or awareness of the world around you and all of its possibilities. Children do not attract Dust because they are still innocent and are thought to have trouble understanding the world. Adults, because of the knowledge they have gained through maturation, do attract Dust. Once you become an adult, a fully conscious being, you are capable of sinning, or doing bad things knowingly. The Church authorities in Lyra’s world equate Dust with original sin. They would like to eliminate Dust, thereby eliminating the human capacity to sin. But Pullman suggests that the capacity to sin (and the ability to choose not to sin) is essential to the very idea of humanity. Without that capacity, humans would be zombies.

Lord Asriel explains the many worlds theory, which posits that an infinite number of worlds exist. All of the worlds in the universe stem from the same core, but at every instant, millions of worlds are splintering apart. If, for example, an apple hanging loosely from a branch in our world did not fall, our world might remain the same. But in another world, the loosely hanging apple might fall, causing our world and that world to diverge in subtle ways. Every time two outcomes exist, a new world is created. Lord Asriel wants to break down the barriers between the worlds, which he accomplishes by killing Roger. When Lord Asriel leaves, he walks into another world that may or may not resemble our own. When Lyra follows him, she takes the same risk. Lyra’s conversation with her father echoes John Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost. In Paradise Lost, Milton tells the story of Satan, an angel who led other angels in a rebellion against God. Satan and his fellow rebels wanted freedom and power. They were defeated and cast out of Heaven. In Milton’s poem, Satan, bent on revenge, plots to destroy God’s perfect world, Eden, which Adam and Eve blissfully inhabit. He plans to trick Adam and Eve into disobeying God and eating from the tree of knowledge. Milton was a deeply religious man, but many readers have noticed that Satan is, at least initially, a seductively interesting and passionate character. In his trilogy, Pullman draws on Milton’s Satan for inspiration. Both Milton’s Satan and Pullman’s Lord Asriel are gentlemanly, powerful, and suave. But while Milton bemoans the fall from grace caused by Satan, Pullman hails it as the moment when humans gained freedom.