RHCB | More Sites
More Sites
Random Buzzers
Random House
homeBooksThe AuthorMaterialsNewsletterPress

The Golden Compass

The Subtle Knife


Read an Excerpt

Reader’ s Guide

Teacher’ s Guide

Cast of Characters


The Liber Angelorum


The Amber Spyglass

Lyra’s Oxford

The Science of
Philip Pullman’s
His Dark Materials

The Subtle Knife


Trade Paperback

Laurel Leaf



Subtle Knife:
New cover look and bonus material! This Yearling paperback edition contains 17 pages of bonus material: the secret letters and notes of Dr. Stanislaus Grumman. It also features artwork by Philip Pullman at the opening of each chapter.


The Subtle Knife is the second part of the trilogy that began with The Golden Compass. That first book was set in a world like ours, but different. This book begins in our own world.

In The Subtle Knife, readers are introduced to Will Parry, a young boy living in modern-day Oxford, England. Will is only twelve years old, but he bears the responsibilities of an adult. Following the disappearance of his explorer-father, John Parry, during an expedition in the North, Will became parent, provider and protector to his frail, confused mother. And it's in protecting her that he becomes a murderer, too: he accidentally kills a man who breaks into their home to steal valuable letters written by John Parry. After placing his mother in the care of a kind friend, Will takes those letters and sets off to discover the truth about his father.

Will does indeed make an astonishing discovery, but it's not about his father. Along a busy road, he happens upon an extraordinary window in the air. Almost invisible to the eye, it opens into an entirely different world. Anxious to remain hidden, Will ventures through this window into the shimmering, haunted city of Cittągazze, where he meets Lyra Belacqua and her dęmon, Pantalaimon, who have also wandered into Cittągazze from yet another world while searching for the answers behind Dust. Aside from Will and his new companions, this city is eerie, empty and silent. The people have fled to the hills to escape the Specters, phantom-like beings that feed on the consciousness of grown-ups, leaving them zombie-like and void forever after. Only the children, who are safe from the Specters, venture out to scavenge for food.

Although safe in Cittągazze, the two pass through the window to Will's Oxford knowing that answers to their questions lie therein. Will inquires about his father's expedition to the North and learns that it included a study of atmospheric particles. And meanwhile, Lyra seeks out a scholar who can tell her more about Dust. The scholar Lyra finds is a certain scientist named Dr. Mary Malone, a member of the Dark Matter Research Unit, who has discovered the existence of Shadows, the very same mysterious entity as the Dust of Lyra's world. But even more startling is that Mary Malone has found that in these Shadows, or Dark Matter, or Dust, there is consciousness. These particles are conscious, and their awareness is what powers Lyra's alethiometer, and what surrounds all human thought and matter. Mary Malone's next task is to find a way to communicate with these particles, for they will tell her about the vital role she plays in the fate of the universe.

When Lyra and Will return to Cittągazze, Will reads the letters his father wrote during his final expedition in the North, and he learns that his father knew about the windows between worlds. His father planned to travel through a window to explore another world - just as Will had done himself. For Will, this was finally something both father and son could share, but more importantly, it meant that his father could be alive. Had he ventured through that window, John Parry could be worlds away, but somewhere he was alive. And Will resolves to find him.

Lyra, meanwhile, pays a second visit to Dr. Mary Malone, and this time there are authorities waiting to question Lyra about her interest in Shadow particles and Dark Matter. She inadvertently reveals her involvement with Will, immediately flees the lab, and runs straight into Sir Charles Latrom, a deceiving man who has seen Lyra work the alethiometer and realizes its value. Flustered by her escape from the lab, Lyra discovers too late that Sir Charles has stolen her alethiometer. When Will and Lyra try to get it back, they learn its ransom: a certain knife located in the high tower of Cittągazze.

The two young friends enter the tower together and climb to the very top, where Will faces a ferocious fight for the knife. Will ultimately triumphs, making him the rightful bearer of the knife. This is the Subtle Knife, and it is an object of extraordinary and devastating power. There is nothing sharper or more deadly, and its bearer is capable of cutting entries into countless other worlds. Armed with the subtle knife, Will and Lyra retrieve her alethiometer by outsmarting Sir Charles, who they discover has been conspiring with Lyra's own mother, Mrs. Coulter. With knife and alethiometer in hand, Will and Lyra return to Cittągazze to resume the search for Will's father.

In the meantime, Lyra's old friend, Lee Scoresby, the Texan aeronaut, has located a certain explorer, Stanislaus Grumman, a man with a legendary following. Grumman was a renowned explorer from the far North immersed in investigating Dust. He is rumored to have the most unusual osprey daemon, and it was said that he once rejected the love of a witch. Now a shaman, his tribal Tartar name is Jopari, a.k.a. John Parry. He is Will's very own father. While on his last expedition, John Parry stumbled through a window into another world. He found himself in the world of Specters, witnessed their horror, and fled into yet another world. Unable to find his way back to the window that led to home, he adopted the persona of Stanislaus Grumman and endeavored to learn everything he could about this Dust and its impact on the universe. Most importantly, Grumman learned of the subtle knife and the critical role its bearer plays in the fate of the entire universe. Grumman's task, with the help of Lee Scoresby, is to find the bearer of the subtle knife and inform him of the road that lies ahead.

What neither Will nor Grumman realizes is that this ultimate meeting is not between knife bearer and shaman, but rather between father and son. High on a mountaintop in the total blackness of the night, Will encounters Grumman who tells Will that he, with his knife, stands in the balance between the forces of Good and Evil and that his destiny lies in finding Lord Asriel. Curious to see this knife bearer's face, Grumman lights a match and the moment of light is enough for each to realize whom he is facing. In the next instant, Will's father is killed by the scorned witch, intent on revenge, and once again, Will loses the father he's never known.

Will climbs down from the mountain to return to Lyra, but instead finds two angels awaiting him. Lyra is gone; her alethiometer remains behind. Clearly, she has been taken away against her will. Friendless, fatherless and confused, Will has yet another journey ahead of him, a journey that will finally fulfill his destiny and reveal the secret of Dust.