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Chapter 1

This forum is for all stuff related to the first book in the trilogy: The Golden Compass. This book is called Northern Lights in the UK.

Chapter 1

Postby AmyraMoon » Wed Jan 02, 2013 2:21 pm

Lyra and her dæmon Pantalaimon are introduced as if it were the most natural thing in the world and not the least bit strange. We are left to interpret it any way we like in relation to how a dæmon would be represented in our world, but this chapter does not leave much room for interpretation because of the pace. Interesting ideas are introduced. Lyra's uncle Lord Asriel's image for one. Also the entire idea of living in a College with a secretive location, called the Retiring Room, where only the elite were allowed. As foreshadowing, it is mentioned that seeing the Master put the poison in the Tokay changed everything for Lyra.

Spoiler:
She later goes on to prevent a death. Question is, how did the Master know that Lord Asriel would ever be alone in the Retiring Room with the Tokay? Perhaps he read it in the Alethiometer after much laborious study. If so, that is kind of remarkable.
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Re: Chapter 1

Postby seyla » Thu Jan 03, 2013 1:52 am

I had completely forgotten how quickly the opening chapter sucked me in! It was all down to introducing Dæmon and then just teasing the reader with details about how everything works. I remember reading this chapter for the first time and immediately being taken by the concept, and it's no different the third time around. I only intended to read a few pages before bed and instead I ended up finishing chapter two as well!

Spoiler:
I don't think the Master needed Lord Asriel to be alone for the poisoning to occur. I imagine, had the plan worked, he'd pin it on a lowly servant - perhaps one who'd resented Asriel's attitude - and if anything scholars in the room would have created witnesses the Master could use to his advantage. All that needed to happen was Asriel to have his drink before others, him to die and then Master to jump in going "Aha! Poison in this decanter!" The Librarian would be quick to back this story up too, judging by the following chapter.
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Re: Chapter 1

Postby latency » Thu Jan 03, 2013 11:04 am

Seconded.

I don't want to do a fanboy-gush or anything, but the quality of the writing just blew my mind. It's amazing how many mechanics (dæmons, countries, etc...) he laid out without addressing the reader... I got tot he end of the first page and thought 'Oh god I have to re-write my entire book. It looks like an awful school homework compared to this...'

One thing I did notice was that although the writing is really confidant about what it's telling you, I think Pullman was still formulating dæmons are this point. Pantalaimon is extremely adult and mature at the start of the book, he barely even uses contractions (don't / do not) when speaking.
I wonder if Pullman was initially imagining dæmons to be a conscience or sending, before he developed them into a reflection of the soul...?
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Re: Chapter 1

Postby authority » Sun Jan 06, 2013 12:03 am

latency wrote:I wonder if Pullman was initially imagining dæmons to be a conscience or sending, before he developed them into a reflection of the soul...?


I had the same thought, the "you're supposed to know about conscience, aren't you" remark jumped at me. But on balance I think if anything Pantalaimon's behavior is the opposite of conscientious in this chapter, all he does is keeps telling Lyra to just ignore the attempt at her uncle's life since it's nothing to do with her apparently. Prudence maybe but hardly conscience.

That scene did get me wondering about something I've never come to think of before though - the familial ties of a Dæmon. What does a Dæmon feel about, say, its person's mother? Does it feel she's its mother too? Does it feel so about the mother's Dæmon? I'm not sure it's ever addressed in the books but then again most characters' families are so broken or dysfunctional that there isn't much opportunity to.
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Re: Chapter 1

Postby AmyraMoon » Sun Jan 06, 2013 10:28 pm

Pullman did mention in one of his interviews that he doesn't plan things out too much. I found the quote using a Google search of this site's content, which is really useful by the way!
Question: How long did it take you to write the His Dark Materials trilogy, with all the philosophical and religious problems that Lyra and her friends run in to?
Morgan Lee Elwell, 14, Richmond, Virginia

Philip Pullman: Seven years from beginning to end. But I didn't plan it all out in advance - otherwise I would have spent seven years following a plan and would have gone mad. You have to have the freedom to let the story go off in unexpected directions. But I did a lot of re-writing to sort it out afterwards. That's the way I work.


I think definitely the idea of Dæmon evolved as the story grew more intense. I like the description: reflection of the soul. 'Soul' is normally referred to as the representation of a human being's humanity which includes what makes them seem alive. A spirit of a person is normally nothing more than their soul in some intangible, nonphysical form. I don't see though why the reflection of the soul can't include conscience. Consciences don't always need to advise people to do the unequivocal, morally right thing, because there normally isn't one right thing to do given the situation, and I think repeatedly in the books we are presented with morally ambiguous situations.
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Re: Chapter 1

Postby authority » Mon Jan 07, 2013 9:56 am

AmyraMoon wrote:Pullman did mention in one of his interviews that he doesn't plan things out too much. I found the quote using a Google search of this site's content, which is really useful by the way!


He says the same thing in the foreword to the series (not sure if all editions have it or whether all have the same one) and I agree that it might be futile to try to compile a single coherent picture of things especially from the early chapters but it's fun to try. Plus, there can be multiple schools of thought as to what is 'true' in the context of the story. For instance is it what the author thinks after he's finished writing or what the text as a whole ends up saying?

I think definitely the idea of Dæmon evolved as the story grew more intense. I like the description: reflection of the soul. 'Soul' is normally referred to as the representation of a human being's humanity which includes what makes them seem alive. A spirit of a person is normally nothing more than their soul in some intangible, nonphysical form. I don't see though why the reflection of the soul can't include conscience. Consciences don't always need to advise people to do the unequivocal, morally right thing, because there normally isn't one right thing to do given the situation, and I think repeatedly in the books we are presented with morally ambiguous situations.


I agree in general but I think this particular case is unambiguous. The characters don't argue from two opposing moral positions, rather Lyra is arguing from a moral position while Pantalaimon is arguing from one of prudence (and perhaps fear). The nature of the 'self' in the story is certainly very complicated with Dæmon, ghost, death and all. It's been a while since I last visited the trilogy and for my part I would like to reserve judgement as to the nature of Dæmon and limit my speculations to what I've read so far. It could very well be that Pullman intended Dæmon to be the conscience at some point but certainly Pan's behavior in this case does not exemplify it.
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Re: Chapter 1

Postby tearsintheearth » Tue Jan 15, 2013 5:08 pm

The Dæmon mechanic is absolute genius, it hooks readers right from the start. That's part of what makes the Northern Lights so good, its such an original idea (no doubt PP will cite it to influences) that you almost relish each time you hear it.

The familial ties point is a good one, its something we never really get to explore with Lyra being an 'orphan'. It makes you wonder what family ties are like with Dæmon and how discussions meals play out with them. Do the people do all the talking or do Dæmon have a significant part as well. Sometimes Dæmon almost seem left out of the conversation and how they act is more significant, if you watch out for them you'll see. Got a few on the top of my head but can't think of how to use the spoiler tab so I won't put them in.

I'm not convinced that Pullman was trying to formulate Dæmon in the early chapters, I'm sure he did originally but he will have gone back and rewritten such and important aspect. I think the contrary viewpoint of Pantalaimon was almost to draw a Dæmon into conversation to make you realise that he's an extension of Lyra. I think the remark about conscience wasn't specific to the Dæmon, just a comment about how Pantalaimon is a more measured and cautious version of Lyra. It wouln't make very much sense to have such a great idea about the extension of a person then use it on conscience. I reckon Pullman had a really good plan of how he was going to develop Dæmon's before he started. It's one of the themes that is not only sending a message but also directly figures in the story as well.
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Re: Chapter 1

Postby eloise » Sun Jan 20, 2013 6:50 pm

I agree with latency, I had forgotten what a truly astounding storyteller Pullman is. I've also been reading it aloud and you get to experience his writing differently as well, and I absolutely adore it. One of the things that struck me was Pullman's ability to let the reader create such a vivid image in their mind of these characters that is based almost solely on their actions and physical presence as opposed to their physical attributes. Describing Lord Asriel for example:

"All his movements were large and perfectly balanced, like those of a wild animal, and when he appeared in a room like this, he seemed a wild animal held in a cage too small for it."

Sorry I'm posting so late, I have been reading way ahead it seems!

Spoiler:
In response to AmyraMoon's question, if the Master had indeed used the alethiometer to predict that Lord Asriel would be alone, wouldn't it have been wrong? Wouldn't the alethiometer have known that Lyra was in the closet?
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Re: Chapter 1

Postby authority » Fri Feb 08, 2013 2:13 pm

tearsintheearth wrote:The familial ties point is a good one, its something we never really get to explore with Lyra being an 'orphan'. It makes you wonder what family ties are like with Dæmon and how discussions meals play out with them. Do the people do all the talking or do Dæmon have a significant part as well. Sometimes Dæmon almost seem left out of the conversation and how they act is more significant, if you watch out for them you'll see. Got a few on the top of my head but can't think of how to use the spoiler tab so I won't put them in.


I wonder what the family gatherings are like. Does everyone have a 'deamonist' grandmother they have to listen to at Christmas? "Would you believe I had to sit next to someone with a pigeon for a Dæmon at a restaurant? Back in my day those poeple wouldn't even be allowed in. What is this country coming to?"

eloise wrote:In response to AmyraMoon's question, if the Master had indeed used the alethiometer to predict that Lord Asriel would be alone, wouldn't it have been wrong? Wouldn't the alethiometer have known that Lyra was in the closet?


That's a good point, although since he has to rely on the books for interpretation perhaps we can allow for the possibility that he is not perfect at reading the alethiometer. Maybe it said, "Asriel will be alone except for someone in the closet" and the Master interpreted it as, "Asriel will be alone and btw, he's secretly gay". Easy mistake to make.
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