Summary: Chapters 23–28

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.

Analysis: Chapters 23–28

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.