||The Golden Compass: Excerpts
Chapter Two - The Idea of North
Asriel," said the Master heavily, and came forward to shake his hand.
From her hiding place Lyra watched the Master's eyes, and indeed, they
flicked toward the table for a second, where the Tokay had been.
said Lord Asriel. "I came too late to disturb your dinner, so I made
myself at home in here. Hello, Sub-Rector. Glad to see you looking so
well. Excuse my rough appearance; I've only just landed. Yes, Master,
the Tokay's gone. I think you're standing in it. The Porter knocked it
off the table, but it was my fault. Hello, Chaplain. I read your latest
paper with great interest."
away with the Chaplain, leaving Lyra with a clear view of the Master's
face. It was impassive, but the dæmon on his shoulder was shuffling
her feathers and moving restlessly from foot to foot. Lord Asriel was
already dominating the room, and although he was careful to be courteous
to the Master in the Master's own territory, it was clear where the power
greeted the visitor and moved into the room, some sitting around the table,
some in the armchairs, and soon a buzz of conversation filled the air.
Lyra could see that they were powerfully intrigued by the wooden case,
the screen, and the lantern. She knew the Scholars well: the Librarian,
the Sub-Rector, the Enquirer, and the rest; they were men who had been
around her all her life, taught her, chastised her, consoled her, given
her little presents, chased her away from the fruit trees in the garden;
they were all she had for a family. They might even have felt like a family
if she knew what a family was, though if she did, she'd have been more
likely to feel that about the College servants. The Scholars had more
important things to do than attend to the affections of a half-wild, half-civilized
girl, left among them by chance.
lit the spirit lamp under the little silver chafing dish and heated some
butter before cutting half a dozen poppy heads open and tossing them in.
Poppy was always served after a feast: it clarified the mind and stimulated
the tongue, and made for rich conversation. It was traditional for the
Master to cook it himself.
sizzle of the frying butter and the hum of talk, Lyra shifted around to
find a more comfortable position for herself. With enormous care she took
one of the robes - a full-length fur - off its hanger and laid it on the
floor of the wardrobe.
should have used a scratchy old one," whispered Pantalaimon. "If
you get too comfortable, you'll go to sleep."
I do, it's your job to wake me up," she replied.
and listened to the talk. Mighty dull talk it was, too; almost all of
it politics, and London politics at that, nothing exciting about Tartars.
The smells of frying poppy and smoke - leaf drifted pleasantly in through
the wardrobe door, and more than once Lyra found herself nodding. But
finally she heard someone rap on the table. The voices fell silent, and
then the Master spoke.
he said. "I feel sure I speak for all of us when I bid Lord Asriel
welcome. His visits are rare but always immensely valuable, and I understand
he has something of particular interest to show us tonight. This is a
time of high political tension, as we are all aware; Lord Asriel's presence
is required early tomorrow morning in White Hall, and a train is waiting
with steam up ready to carry him to London as soon as we have finished
our conversation here; so we must use our time wisely. When he has finished
speaking to us, I imagine there will be some questions. Please keep them
brief and to the point. Lord Asriel, would you like to begin?"
you, Master," said Lord Asriel. "To start with, I have a few
slides to show you. Sub-Rector, you can see best from here, I think. Perhaps
the Master would like to take the chair near the wardrobe?"
at her uncle's skill. The old Sub-Rector was nearly blind, so it was courteous
to make room for him nearer the screen, and his moving forward meant that
the Master would be sitting next to the Librarian, only a matter of a
yard or so from where Lyra was crouched in the wardrobe. As the Master
settled in the armchair, Lyra heard him murmur:
devil! He knew about the wine, I'm sure of it."
murmured back, "He's going to ask for funds. If he forces a vote
he does that, we must just argue against, with all the eloquence we have."
began to hiss as Lord Asriel pumped it hard. Lyra moved slightly so that
she could see the screen, where a brilliant white circle had begun to
glow. Lord Asriel called, "Could someone turn the lamp down?"
the Scholars got up to do that, and the room darkened.
Lord Asriel began:
some of you know, I set out for the North twelve months ago on a diplomatic
mission to the King of Lapland. At least, that's what I pretended to be
doing. In fact, my real aim was to go further north still, right on to
the ice, in fact, to try and discover what had happened to the Grumman
expedition. One of Grumman's last messages to the academy in Berlin spoke
of a certain natural phenomenon only seen in the lands of the North. I
was determined to investigate that as well as find out what I could about
Grumman. But the first picture I'm going to show you isn't directly about
either of those things."
put the first slide into the frame and slid it behind the lens. A circular
photogram in sharp black and white appeared on the screen. It had been
taken at night under a full moon, and it showed a wooden hut in the middle
distance, its walls dark against the snow that surrounded it and lay thickly
on the roof. Beside the hut stood an array of philosophical instruments,
which looked to Lyra's eye like something from the Anbaric Park on the
road to Yarnton: aerials, wires, porcelain insulators, all glittering
in the moonlight and thickly covered in frost. A man in furs, his face
hardly visible in the deep hood of his garment, stood in the foreground,
with his hand raised as if in greeting. To one side of him stood a smaller
figure. The moonlight bathed everything in the same pallid gleam.
photogram was taken with a standard silver nitrate emulsion," Lord
Asriel said. "I'd like you to look at another one, taken from the
same spot only a minute later, with a new specially prepared emulsion."
out the first slide and dropped another into the frame. This was much
darker; it was as if the moonlight had been filtered out. The horizon
was still visible, with the dark shape of the hut and its light snow-covered
roof standing out, but the complexity of the instruments was hidden in
darkness. But the man had altogether changed: he was bathed in light,
and a fountain of glowing particles seemed to be streaming from his upraised
light," said the Chaplain, "is it going up or coming down?"
coming down," said Lord Asriel, "but it isn't light. It's Dust."
in the way he said it made Lyra imagine dust with a capital letter, as
if this wasn't ordinary dust. The reaction of the Scholars confirmed her
feeling, because Lord Asriel's words caused a sudden collective silence,
followed by gasps of incredulity.
how - "
can't - "
came the voice of the Chaplain. "Let Lord Asriel explain."
Dust," Lord Asriel repeated. "It registered as light on the
plate because particles of Dust affect this emulsion as photons affect
silver nitrate emulsion. It was partly to test it that my expedition went
north in the first place. As you see, the figure of the man is perfectly
visible. Now I'd like you to look at the shape to his left."
the blurred shape of the smaller figure.
"I thought that was the man's dæmon," said the Enquirer.
His dæmon was at the time coiled around his neck in the form of
a snake. That shape you can dimly see is a child."
severed child - ?" said someone, and the way he stopped showed that
he knew this was something that shouldn't have been voiced.
an intense silence.
Asriel said calmly, "An entire child. Which, given the nature of
Dust, is precisely the point, is it not?"
spoke for several seconds. Then came the voice of the Chaplain.
he said, like a thirsty man who, having just drunk deeply, puts down the
glass to let out the breath he has held while drinking. "And the
streams of Dust..."
from the sky, and bathe him in what looks like light. You may examine
this picture as closely as you wish: I'll leave it behind when I go. I'm
showing it to you now to demonstrate the effect of this new emulsion.
Now I'd like to show you another picture."
the slide. The next picture was also taken at night, but this time without
moonlight. It showed a small group of tents in the foreground, dimly outlined
against the low horizon, and beside them an untidy heap of wooden boxes
and a sledge. But the main interest of the picture lay in the sky. Streams
and veils of light hung like curtains, looped and festooned on invisible
hooks hundreds of miles high or blowing out sideways in the stream of
some unimaginable wind.
is that?" said the voice of the Sub-Rector.
a picture of the Aurora."
a very fine photogram," said the Palmerian Professor. "One of
the best I've seen."
my ignorance," said the shaky voice of the old Precentor, "but
if I ever knew what the Aurora was, I have forgotten. Is it what they
call the Northern Lights?"
It has many names. It's composed of storms of charged particles and solar
rays of intense and extraordinary strength - invisible in themselves,
but causing this luminous radiation when they interact with the atmosphere.
If there'd been time, I would have had this slide tinted to show you the
colors; pale green and rose, for the most part, with a tinge of crimson
along the lower edge of that curtain-like formation. This is taken with
ordinary emulsion. Now I'd like you to look at a picture taken with the
out the slide. Lyra heard the Master say quietly, "If he forces a
vote, we could try to invoke the residence clause. He hasn't been resident
in the College for thirty weeks out of the last fifty-two."
already got the Chaplain on his side..." the Librarian murmured in
put a new slide in the lantern frame. It showed the same scene. As with
the previous pair of pictures, many of the features visible by ordinary
light were much dimmer in this one, and so were the curtains of radiance
in the sky.
the middle of the Aurora, high above the bleak landscape, Lyra could see
something solid. She pressed her face to the crack to see more clearly,
and she could see the Scholars near the screen leaning forward too. As
she gazed, her wonder grew, because there in the sky was the unmistakable
outline of a city: towers, domes, walls...Buildings and streets, suspended
in the air! She nearly gasped with wonder.
Scholar said, "That looks like...a city."
so," said Lord Asriel.
city in another world, no doubt?" said the Dean, with contempt in
ignored him. There was a stir of excitement among some of the Scholars,
as if, having written treatises on the existence of the unicorn without
ever having seen one, they'd been presented with a living example newly
this the Barnard-Stokes business?" said the Palmerian Professor.
"It is, isn't it?"
what I want to find out," said Lord Asriel.
to one side of the illuminated screen. Lyra could see his dark eyes searching
among the Scholars as they peered up at the slide of the Aurora, and the
green glow of his dæmon's eyes beside him. All the venerable heads
were craning forward, their spectacles glinting; only the Master and the
Librarian leaned back in their chairs, with their heads close together.
was saying, "You said you were searching for news of the Grumman
expedition, Lord Asriel. Was Dr. Grumman investigating this phenomenon
believe he was, and I believe he had a good deal of information about
it. But he won't be able to tell us what it was, because he's dead."
said the Chaplain.
afraid so, and I have the proof here."
of excited apprehension ran round the Retiring Room as, under Lord Asriel's
direction, two or three of the younger Scholars carried the wooden box
to the front of the room. Lord Asriel took out the last slide but left
the lantern on, and in the dramatic glare of the circle of light he bent
to lever open the box. Lyra heard the screech of nails coming out of damp
wood. The Master stood up to look, blocking Lyra's view. Her uncle spoke
you remember, Grumman's expedition vanished eighteen months ago. The German
Academy sent him up there to go as far north as the magnetic pole and
make various celestial observations. It was in the course of that journey
that he observed the curious phenomenon we've already seen. Shortly after
that, he vanished. It's been assumed that he had an accident and that
his body's been lying in a crevasse all this time. In fact, there was
have you got there?" said the Dean. "Is that a vacuum container?"
didn't answer at first. Lyra heard the snap of metal clips and a hiss
as air rushed into a vessel, and then there was a silence. But the silence
didn't last long. After a moment or two Lyra heard a confused babble break
out: cries of horror, loud protests, voices raised in anger and fear.
what - "
- hardly human - "
- it's been - "
- what's happened to it?"
voice cut through them all.
Asriel, what in God's name have you got there?"
is the head of Stanislaus Grumman," said Lord Asriel's voice.
jumble of voices Lyra heard someone stumble to the door and out, making
incoherent sounds of distress. She wished she could see what they were
said, "I found his body preserved in the ice off Svalbard. The head
was treated in this way by his killers. You'll notice the characteristic
scalping pattern. I think you might be familiar with it, Sub-Rector."
man's voice was steady as he said, "I have seen the Tartars do this.
It's a technique you find among the aboriginals of Siberia and the Tungusk.
From there, of course, it spread into the lands of the Skraelings, though
I understand that it is now banned in New Denmark. May I examine it more
closely, Lord Asriel?"
short silence he spoke again.
eyes are not very clear, and the ice is dirty, but it seems to me that
there is a hole in the top of the skull. Am I right?"
a murmur of excitement. The Master moved out of the way and Lyra could
see again. The old Sub-Rector, in the circle of light thrown by the lantern,
was holding a heavy block of ice up close to his eyes, and Lyra could
see the object inside it: a bloody lump barely recognizable as a human
head. Pantalaimon fluttered around Lyra, his distress affecting her.
she whispered. "Listen."
Grumman was once a Scholar of this College," said the Dean hotly.
fall into the hands of the Tartars - "
that far north?"
must have penetrated further than anyone imagined!"
I hear you say you found it near Svalbard?" said the Dean.
we to understand that the panserbjørne had anything to do with
recognize that word, but clearly the Scholars did.
said the Cassington Scholar firmly. "They'd never behave in that
you don't know Iofur Raknison," said the Palmerian Professor, who
had made several expeditions himself to the arctic regions. "It wouldn't
surprise me at all to learn that he had taken to scalping people in the
again at her uncle, who was watching the Scholars with a glitter of sardonic
amusement, and saying nothing.
is Iofur Raknison?" said someone.
king of Svalbard," said the Palmerian Professor. "Yes, that's
right, one of the panserbjørne. He's a usurper, of sorts; tricked
his way onto the throne, or so I understand; but a powerful figure, by
no means a fool, in spite of his ludicrous affectations - having a palace
built of imported marble - setting up what he calls a university - "
whom? For the bears?" said someone else, and everyone laughed.
Palmerian Professor went on: "For all that, I tell you that Iofur
Raknison would be capable of doing this to Grumman. At the same time,
he could be flattered into behaving quite differently, if the need arose.
you know how, do you, Trelawney?" said the Dean sneeringly.
I do. Do you know what he wants above all else? Even more than an honorary
degree? He wants a dæmon! Find a way to give him a dæmon,
and he'd do anything for you."
following this with puzzlement; what the Palmerian Professor said made
no sense at all. Besides, she was impatient to hear more about scalping
and the Northern Lights and that mysterious Dust. But she was disappointed,
for Lord Asriel had finished showing his relics and pictures, and the
talk soon turned into a College wrangle about whether or not they should
give him some money to fit out another expedition. Back and forth the
arguments ranged, and Lyra felt her eyes closing. Soon she was fast asleep,
with Pantalaimon curled around her neck in his favorite sleeping form
as an ermine.
up with a start when someone shook her shoulder.
said her uncle. The wardrobe door was open, and he was crouched there
against the light. "They've all gone, but there are still some servants
around. Go to your bedroom now, and take care that you say nothing about
they vote to give you the money?" she said sleepily.
Dust?" she said, struggling to stand up after having been cramped
for so long.
to do with you."
is to do with me," she said. "If you wanted me to be a spy in
the wardrobe, you ought to tell me what I'm spying about. Can I see the
white ermine fur bristled: she felt it tickling her neck. Lord Asriel
be disgusting," he said, and began to pack his slides and specimen
box. "Did you watch the Master?"
and he looked for the wine before he did anything else."
But I've scotched him for now. Do as you're told and go to bed."
where are you going?"
to the North. I'm leaving in ten minutes."
what he was doing, and looked at her as if for the first time. His dæmon
turned her great tawny leopard eyes on her too, and under the concentrated
gaze of both of them, Lyra blushed. But she gazed back fiercely.
place is here," said her uncle finally.
why? Why is my place here? Why can't I come to the North with you? I want
to see the Northern Lights and bears and icebergs and everything. I want
to know about Dust. And that city in the air. Is it another world?"
not coming, child. Put it out of your head; the times are too dangerous.
Do as you're told and go to bed, and if you're a good girl, I'll bring
you back a walrus tusk with some Eskimo carving on it. Don't argue anymore
or I shall be angry."
dæmon growled with a deep savage rumble that made Lyra suddenly
aware of what it would be like to have teeth meeting in her throat.
her lips and frowned hard at her uncle. He was pumping the air from the
vacuum flask, and took no notice; it was as if he'd already forgotten
her. Without a word, but with lips tight and eyes narrowed, the girl and
her dæmon left and went to bed.
and the Librarian were old friends and allies, and it was their habit,
after a difficult episode, to take a glass of brantwijn and console each
other. So after they'd seen Lord Asriel away, they strolled to the Master's
lodging and settled in his study with the curtains drawn and the fire
refreshed, their dæmons in their familiar places on knee or shoulder,
and prepared to think through what had just happened.
you really believe he knew about the wine?" said the Librarian.
course he did. I have no idea how, but he knew, and he spilled the decanter
himself. Of course he did."
me, Master, but I can't help being relieved. I was never happy about the
anyone would be happy at that idea, Charles. The question was whether
doing that would be worse than the consequences of not doing it. Well,
some providence has intervened, and it hasn't happened. I'm only sorry
I burdened you with the knowledge of it."
no," protested the Librarian. "But I wish you had told me more."
was silent for a while before saying, "Yes, perhaps I should have
done. The alethiometer warns of appalling consequences if Lord Asriel
pursues this research. Apart from anything else, the child will be drawn
in, and I want to keep her safe as long as possible."
Lord Asriel's business anything to do with this new initiative of the
Consistorial Court of Discipline? The what-do-they-call-it: the Oblation
Asriel - no, no. Quite the reverse. The Oblation Board isn't entirely
answerable to the Consistorial Court, either. It's a semiprivate initiative;
it's being run by someone who has no love of Lord Asriel. Between them
both, Charles, I tremble."
was silent in his turn. Ever since Pope John Calvin had moved the seat
of the Papacy to Geneva and set up the Consistorial Court of Discipline,
the Church's power over every aspect of life had been absolute. The Papacy
itself had been abolished after Calvin's death, and a tangle of courts,
colleges, and councils, collectively known as the Magisterium, had grown
up in its place. These agencies were not always united; sometimes a bitter
rivalry grew up between them. For a large part of the previous century,
the most powerful had been the College of Bishops, but in recent years
the Consistorial Court of Discipline had taken its place as the most active
and the most feared of all the Church's bodies.
was always possible for independent agencies to grow up under the protection
of another part of the Magisterium, and the Oblation Board, which the
Librarian had referred to, was one of these. The Librarian didn't know
much about it, but he disliked and feared what he'd heard, and he completely
understood the Master's anxiety.
Palmerian Professor mentioned a name," he said after a minute or
so. "Barnard-Stokes? What is the Barnard-Stokes business?"
it's not our field, Charles. As I understand it, the Holy Church teaches
that there are two worlds: the world of everything we can see and hear
and touch, and another world, the spiritual world of heaven and hell.
Barnard and Stokes were two - how shall I put it - renegade theologians
who postulated the existence of numerous other worlds like this one, neither
heaven nor hell, but material and sinful. They are there, close by, but
invisible and unreachable. The Holy Church naturally disapproved of this
abominable heresy, and Barnard and Stokes were silenced.
unfortunately for the Magisterium there seem to be sound mathematical
arguments for this other-world theory. I have never followed them myself,
but the Cassington Scholar tells me that they are sound."
now Lord Asriel has taken a picture of one of these other worlds,"
the Librarian said. "And we have funded him to go and look for it.
It'll seem to the Oblation Board, and to its powerful protectors, that
Jordan College is a hotbed of support for heresy. And between the Consistorial
Court and the Oblation Board, Charles, I have to keep a balance; and meanwhile
the child is growing. They won't have forgotten her. Sooner or later she
would have become involved, but she'll be drawn in now whether I want
to protect her or not."
how do you know that, for God's sake? The alethiometer again?"
Lyra has a part to play in all this, and a major one. The irony is that
she must do it all without realizing what she's doing. She can be helped,
though, and if my plan with the Tokay had succeeded, she would have been
safe for a little longer. I would have liked to spare her a journey to
the North. I wish above all things that I were able to explain it to her..."
wouldn't listen," the Librarian said. "I know her ways only
too well. Try to tell her anything serious and she'll half-listen for
five minutes and then start fidgeting. Quiz her about it next time and
she'll have completely forgotten."
I talked to her about Dust? You don't think she'd listen to that?"
made a noise to indicate how unlikely he thought that was.
on earth should she?" he said. "Why should a distant theological
riddle interest a healthy, thoughtless child?"
of what she must experience. Part of that includes a great betrayal...."
going to betray her?"
no, that's the saddest thing: she will be the betrayer, and the experience
will be terrible. She mustn't know that, of course, but there's no reason
for her not to know about the problem of Dust. And you might be wrong,
Charles; she might well take an interest in it, if it were explained in
a simple way. And it might help her later on. It would certainly help
me to be less anxious about her."
the duty of the old," said the Librarian, "to be anxious on
behalf of the young. And the duty of the young is to scorn the anxiety
of the old."
for a while longer, and then parted, for it was late, and they were old
Copyright ©1995 by Philip Pullman
Continue to Chapter Three...