Aurora Borealis in Art & the Barnard- Stokes Business

Until recently, the aurora had been seen by few. Now you can check daily on its activity at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, and view dozens of professional and amateur photos as you do so. Start here.

Or enjoy some artists’ renderings, imaginative and as seen on expeditions.

The Uprising of the North
 [Grand caricaturama]
Creator(s): Nast, Thomas, 1840-1902, artist, 1867
Medium: 1 painting : tempera(?) ; 7 ft. 10.5 in. x 11 ft. 7 in.
Summary: Cartoon shows “a night scene. Columbia stands on a balcony draped with the United States flag, with the American Eagle beside her, wings outspread. She brandishes her sword, and below her, mounted knights salute her with drawn swords. In the distance is a wide landscape of mountains, valleys, rivers and lakes–a whole continent–with beacon fires everywhere. In the sky is a vision of the Capitol, with rays of light radiating from it like the aurora borealis. … The painting reveals Nast’s complete belief in the righteousness of the Northern [American Civil War] cause. It also reveals the basic romanticism that governed his politics and art. …”
 No known restrictions on publication. No renewal in Copyright Office.

This odd painting is an allegory of the 19th century American Civil War but of note is that in Lyra’s world the aurora borealis is associated with battling armies of angels. Moreover, there is a city in the sky.

The Barnard-Stokes Business: (GC/NL Chapter 2): Accoording to the Jordan College Master, while the Holy Church claims there are only two words, one physical and the other “the spiritual world of heaven and hell.” Barnard and Stokes, a pair of “renegade theologians, theorized that there are numerous physical worlds — “material and sinful…close by, but invisible and unreachable.”

While I am not claiming any such status for the city in Thomas Nast’s painting, it seems too cool in context to overlook. Less fantastic first-hand geographical explorations follow.

 Aurora borealis, as observed March 1, 1872, at 9h.
25m. P.M. C. 1881
Medium: 1 print : chromolithograph ; sheet 92 x 122 cm. or less.
No known restrictions on publication.
flick’r commons (British Library)

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What Brought Me to His Dark Materials

I am well-positioned to agree with Pullman that school librarians should be professionally trained. When my children were young they went to a small, progressive private school, and in exchange for their tuition, I was the sole librarian. I was enthusiastic, loved the job, and unqualified. I read to my kids a lot, but that isn’t enough.

The picturebook crowd was easy enough; I’d simply choose books with large, vivid pictures that those in the back could see. But what about those who were older? Library time was an hour a week, with 20 kids in a roughly 18 ft by 30 ft space. So I read to all groups.

The ages extended to about 14 years; grade divisions included several years in a single class. But even the oldest kids loved to be read to. Sometimes I read Peter Sis picture books with them, Tibet through the Red Box, for example. Some of the best art, I’d argue, is to be found in children’s books. David Almond’s Skellig worked well, and I recall one mother telling me the only reason her daughter came to school was to hear the next chapters of Kit’s Wilderness.

But where to go next? Harry Potter they would read on their own. The Series of Unfortunate Events proved unpopular because some did not see the humor in the events endured by the orphaned children. So I got on a children’s lit list-serve, and the answer was unanimous: Philip Pullman. I ordered a selection and started reading.

The school was small enough that there was no cafeteria and the kids ate their lunches outside or in a commons area shared by all the classes. 

A November day came with a soaking rain. The kids dashed over to the trailer (or caravan) housing the library, and I began reading Philip Pullman’s Clockwork, or All Wound Up. It’s suspenseful, with a sinister villain, a mechanical heart, and a storyteller. Library time ended, the rains did not, and the kids asked if I would keep reading through lunch. I said sure, but no one was obliged to return (I think they all did anyway). They ran and collected their lunches, and I resumed. I was about 15 pages from the end when lunch was supposed to be over. They asked if they could send an emissary to the classroom teacher for an extension of lunchtime, and she of course agreed.

That was a very satisfying day.

I had begun The Golden Compass with them, but we didn’t get too far. I had been watching the antics of the soccer coach. This was a school that previously had no bullies. Parents would complain; I suggested we approach the Head. No one went with me, but I took the matter up, notwithstanding that the coach’s mom was the Head. She ranted and raved at me. In the end, my children were allowed to finish the year but I was banned from campus. The Philip Pullman books I’d ordered remained, of course.

My instincts, my gut-feelings, that this man did not belong around children are now indisputable. Ten years after my departure he was convicted of felonious child endangerment.

After I was fired, I began writing The Elements of His Dark Materials.

Meeting Philip Pullman

On October 30, 2007, I met Philip Pullman for a few brief moments at a New York Times Talk in advance of the release of The Golden Compass.

I didn’t tell him in advance that I was coming. It was a rather momentous decision. I’d never been to NYC and had two young children and my husband worked long, long hours. But even so he encouraged me to fly up for the talk, spend the night, and come home the next day.

I went immediately to Times Square after checking into my modest but serviceable hotel. My aim was to be in the front row, and I succeeded.

So I sat at Pullman’s feet as he discussed the creation of His Dark Materials. The soles of his shoes looked new (the following morning I I would ditch mine in favor of some more appropriate walking wear), and he had on his customary bold socks.

One question I remembered his answering was that like so many children, he didn’t feel bound by his family of origin. Life was elsewhere, in a sense.

The interviewer, Charles McGrath, asked about progress on the Book of Dust. Pullman made a gesture suggesting the manuscript was already over 2 feet high. Of course, it would be 10 years before the publication of La Belle Sauvage, but I believe him. La Belle was luxuriant in its descriptions, and The Secret Commonwealth seems just brimming with details, a book that even at 600 pages could have satisfactorily been much longer. These are meticulously considered works.

I waited to be the end of the autograph line after I bought a copy of an anthology he had edited, Detective Stories, because it was the only book on display I hadn’t several copies of, and I am thrifty.

When I reached him, I said, “I’m Laurie Frost,” and when that didn’t register, the title of my first book, “Elements.” He rose from his seat and took both my hands and held them briefly. 

Then I went off into the night and still had time right before it closed to go to the top of the Empire State Building. I had on a full skirted dress and it blew in the wind.

When I’d been home a week or so I had a note. He and Jude had spent part of the next day at MOMA as had I. But I was very shy then, and thought all an author had to say to me was in his books, if I looked hard enough.

Quite by chance a very old friend has invited me to spend time with her when she has a cataract procedure November 5. So the evening of November 4, 2019, the release of the miniseries, I will be in NYC for the second night in my life.

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Trepanned Skulls in Oxford: “the gods can talk to them.”

Thanks once again to @hisdorkmaterials, we have some very special pictures of Oxford to share: the trepanned skulls at the Pitt-Rivers Museum in Will’s (our) Oxford, or at least those currently on display. Some, he said, had been removed for cleaning (perhaps attracting too much dust, as trepanned skulls do, according to Lyra’s alethiometer), or I suspect, for traffic flow purposes in this place on the Museum floor. Notice the precision of this operation, one voluntarily undergone by shamans and sorcerers as a way to facilitate conversations with spirit voices.

Trepanning is mentioned only briefly at the beginning of Golden Compass/Northern Lights; the fourth chapter of The Subtle Knife, when Latrom meets Lyra, is titled “Trepanning.”

It is also rumored that witches can be trapped in bottles. @Hisdorkmaterials provides an example from the Pitt-Rivers:

Pullman discusses these in an essay in The Guardian, “The Limits of Reason: Why Philip Pullman Believes in Magic“:

But could there be a Varieties of Magical Experience? Could the mental universe that produced witch bottles and sigil, and grimoires, and the whole idea of magic itself, be rich enough to sustain an examination of that sort?

Pullman believes so, describing an exhibit devoted to the subject at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford:

Whether witches were “filthy quislings” or harmless village healers, they and those who believed in witchcraft and magic existed in a shared mental framework of hidden influences and meanings, of significances and correspondences, whether angelic, diabolic, or natural. Everything in the exhibition testifies to a near-universal belief in the existence of an invisible, imaginary world that could affect human life and be affected in turn by those who knew how to do it; and so do millions of other objects of similar kinds collected, exhibited, studied, or uncollected, unknown, lost, throughout the world and every period of history. As do legends, and ghost stories, and folk tales. If anything is a permanent fact of human nature, this is.

I find it endlessly fascinating, and I call that world “imaginary” not to disparage or belittle it. Imagination is one of our highest faculties, and wherever it appears, however it “bodies forth / The forms of things unknown” (Theseus in A Midsummer Night’s Dream), I want to treat it with respect.

Could the Republic of Heaven be The Secret Commonwealth?

Skraeling Island

I was looking for something else entirely when I came upon Barry Lopez’s Horizon. Opening it at random I was on Skraeling Island. 

I had worked hard 15 years ago looking for connections between our world and Lyra’s, and thought I’d found what there was to be known of Skraelings. Either there wasn’t much on the web or I should have focused on Norse sagas.

Skraeling Island is about 660 miles nautical  north of the Pole, off the coast of Ellesmere, Canada, where there is evidence of 4000 years of human habitation, including migratory paleoEskimos or Thule habitation 800 years ago, and relics and materials found in Norse excavations. West Greenland can be seen from the East. SW Alaska is 1500 miles west.

A question that may come to unexpected consequences as the poles continue to melt is whether this is evidence of Scandinavian colonization of these remote horizons of Canada or instead of trade in neighboring Greenland.

Lopez is on this archaeological expedition because writing about living in extreme environments is his life’s work, and he speculates on what dealing with the scarcity of resources in a land of such stunning horizons could have been like, if, for example, the dreamscapes of people living through months of darkness would differ, if their shamans would guide them through. Perhaps ceremonies comparable to Navajo Beautyways helped in time of privation to reveal a high level of coherence existing everlastingly as these explorerers lived on the brink of survival in the harshest of lands.

Lopez speculates that the Skraelings’ relationship with the bears was quite complex. They needed their meat and furs, every part of them, to survive. But they respected them. In their isolation they saw the bears as the only other beings able to walk upright. Perhaps they lived in villages, too.

It opens ways of considering how Lee Scoresby of New Denmark [Greenland] fought Skraelings on Nova Zembla. Consider that the original Americans were thought to have arrived via the Bering Strait. As the Paleo-Eskimos came east through New Denmark and on into Muscovy lands, Russian archipelagos, this means peoples of the Old World came to the New, although in our world’s history, a mirror reality says that Europeans coming into New France [Canada] were inhabitants of  the Old World encountering the New.

Ruins on Skraeling Island. Nick Newberry Archive (see below).

Photo from Nick Newberry Archives. For educational purposes only.https://www.newberyphotoarchives.ca/in/photos/15-skraeling-island

Map by Mike O’Rourke. Used for educational purposes only. https://www.researchgate.net/figure/The-location-of-Skraeling-Island-in-the-Canadian-High-Arctic-Map-by-Mike-ORourke_fig1_264004582

Details below. The island is 7000 ft long y 4600 ft in width and is part of the Queen Elizabeth/Canadian Archipelago

Source: Barry Lopez. Horizon. Chapter “Skraling Island.” pp. 131 – 203. NY: Knopf, 2019.

 

 

Zeppelins

The night before they depart for London, Mrs. Coulter tells Lyra, “Now we’re going to leave very early in the morning bu the dawn zeppelin” (NL 72).

So I thought, we need some zeppelin images, for who can have enough of these? I turned to my favorite site for images that have public domain status, the Library of Congress’s Photographic division. There are dozens more you can search with keywords, zeppelin, airship. If you want to look at these in more details, I have included LoC call numbers. There are also some intriguing images in the Flick’r Commons, including some from Bergen, Norway.

Title: Wellman Lifeboat from “Trent.”

Airship (blueprint) Bain News Service, publisher

Cabin of Zeppelin airship, ggbain 08376 //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ggbain.08376

The “Graf  Zeppelin” as it appeared in its last trial flight, which included a visit to England. 1928.

Zeppelin Passenger ship from 1920-15 appears to have an inside and outdoor passenger area. The outside basket in other documents refers to the “lifeboat.” Library of Congress, ggbain 09494 //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ggbain.09494

Perhaps this onelike the mooring mast at Bolvangar is. Photo from the early 1920s shows shows a British rigid airship R33 tied to its mooring mast. (ggbain 32943 //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ggbain.32943)

i’m very curious about the docking of this Graf Zeppelin in Norway, found on Flick’r Commons. I suppose it is a space-saving technique for unoccupied airships, which must  land on the ground, in spite of mooring masts, and at a horizontal position.

(Passing the Hotel Bristol
Artist: Atelier K.K. (Knud Knudsen), Date/place: 1930, Bergen/Norway, Subject: Graf Zeppelin over Bergen).

Lapland

From Chapter 2 of His Dark Materials, “The Idea of North,” Golden Compass/Northern Lights: Lord Asriel began:

“As 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 up on to the ice, to try and discover what has happened to the Grumman expedition” and to investigate “phenomenon only seen in the lands of the North.”

Lapland has become a largely derogatory to refer to the land of the Sami, the indigenous people of the far North extending across Scandinavia and into Russia, boundaries largely irrelevant to the semi nomadic reindeer herders. Their problem isn’t within themselves, but with colonists from the South, seeking their land, lumber, and resources, and creating mayhem in the usual way — family separation: sending children to government schools or factories, fostering them with non-Sami families, and forbidding the use of language. Slow genocide.

Was there a King of Lapland in Lyra’s world? Perhaps; the scholars do not doubt Asriel’s claim. But more than a standing army, they seemed to fear the witch clans and further north, the armed bears. North and north are used throughout the book. North is the destination; north is the way there.

On the Sámi people of today, I recommend: 

Documentary: The Only Image of My Father.(https://www.amazon.com/Only-Image-My-Father/dp/B07H5P9MXY/ref=cm_cr_arp_d_product_top?ie=UTF80. May be found on Amazon Prime. Fifty years on, the pain of family separation endures. Also, see these websites:

https://www.unric.org/en/indigenous-people/27307-the-sami-of-northern-europe–one-people-four-countries

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/S%C3%A1mi_people

Join our conversation at https://www.facebook.com/groups/2376856019242919/. This is a group page for Compounding His Dark Materials.

 

9964732875_40d91762e5_z
Norrbotten, Kiruna, Jukkasjärvi, Lappland, Byggnadsverk-Jordbruk, Miljöer-Fjällmiljö

Norrbotten, Kiruna, Kiruna, Lapland, Other-Animals, Environments-Mountain environment
Norrbotten, Kiruna, Kiruna, Lappland, Övrigt-Djur, Miljöer-Fjällmiljö

Norrbotten, Kiruna, Jukkasjärvi, Lapland, Other-Animals, Environments-Mountain environment
Norrbotten, Kiruna, Jukkasjärvi, Lappland, Övrigt-Djur, Miljöer-Fjällmiljö

Sami camp at lake Luossajärvi near Kiruna in Lapland. People, dogs and huts.

Sami family with reindeer, Jukkasjärvi, Lappland, Sweden.

Sami family in Lapland, with a sledge, reindeer and a dog.

 

91622_raa_kmb_16001000027564

 

Sources:

https://www.europeana.eu/portal/record/91622/raa_kmb_16001000027564.html. Allard, Björn. Riksantikvarieämbetet – http://kmb.raa.se/cocoon/bild/show-image.html?id=16001000027564. Public Domain Mark – http://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/mark/1.0/

Featured Image: Njommelsaska i Lappland by Carl Svantje Hallbeck, 1856.

Satellite Image:

 Image courtesy Jacques Descloitres, MODIS Land Rapid Response Team at NASA GSFC – Moderate-resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS), flying aboard NASA’s Terra satellite.http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/NaturalHazards/natural_hazards_v2.php3?img_id=2611, Public Domain

 


@Laurie Frost, 2019. all rights reserved. Photos are in public domain or Fair Use.

Trepanning

Lord Asriel lies in the Retiring Room when he presents a head packed away in ice as that of Stanislaus Grumman, formerly a scholar at Jordan College. It isn’t Grumman’s but some other unfortunate’s.

Immediately, the scholars deem the scalping patterns and evidence of trepannation to be the work of Skraelings (indigenous peoples of their New Denmark (our Greenland)) or Tartars of Siberia. These are perhaps the people least understood and hence most despised in Lyra’s world.

Trepanning is basically drilling a hole in the head. I first read of it way back in the 1970s, maybe in Village Voice, who knows, as a means of alleviating pressure in the skull. I suffered from sinus problems as the consequence of having moved to a place with open air iron smelting and terrible pollution, and it didn’t seem a half bad idea.

The next time I encountered it was here in Jordan College’s Retiring Room. The assumption is it was an act of aggression.

Sometimes you bore in to let something out, and sometimes you bore through to let something in. Stay tuned.

Caption for featured photograph: “The crude method of trephining [sic] with the sharpened edge of a stone practiced by peoples living in Peru some 500 or 600 years ago is revealed by the skulls at the National Museum.” 1926, LC-USZ62-115187

Eskimos and Inuits. And Skraelings.

It’s confusing these days. When I was little, the Eskimos lived in Alaska in igloos. In Lyra’s world, it seems to be used in general terms for indigenous peoples of the North.

Now, in our world, Eskimo is widely seen as a derogatory term, since some linguists say that Eskimo means “eater of raw meat,” and I guess the offense here is that in the division of raw and cooked as uncivilized vs. civilized. To me, you may as well complain about the low rates of veganism among coastal peoples of the Far North.

But there are some peoples for whom Eskimo remains a valid term.

Inuit is the plural of inuk, which means human, and is also used to refer to the languages spoken by these indigenous peoples.

However, not all Artic indigenous peoples speak languages with a common root. Inuit works for peoples of the Canadian Arctic and Greenland, but Eskimo covers non-Inuit native Arctic speakers. In Alaska and Siberia, the languages are Inupiaq and Yupik.

Lord Asriel uses Eskimo when he tells Lyra he will bring her back a carving from the North. Later, a Nova Zembla bartender speaks of the Inuits of Beringland (Alaska).

Skraeling does seem a derogatory term. When Lord Asriel presents what he claims to be the scalped head of a once-time Jordan Scholar, the faculty is aghast at scalping patterns they associate with Tartars and “aboriginals of Siberia and Tungusk” (GL/NC 26), which they claim to have “spread into the land of the Skraelings,” but is now banned by New Denmark (presumably Greenland).

Skraelings are also said to be able to snatch demons away from children by hand, (273) and to use poisonous arrows in battle (315).

The word Skraeling is found in Norse sagas about the attempted conquest of Vinland. They were described as “short people with threatening features and tangled hair on their heads. . . .large eyes and broad cheeks” by Ari the Wise. Around 1000 AD another historian noted in Historia Norvegiae that in Northwestern Greenland Skraelings “have no iron at all; they use missiles made of walrus tusks.”

The old Norse word Skraeling means “to glide,” but is usually used with derision for “small people” who seem “scared or scruffy.”

The Magisterium’s censor at the Nova Zembla observatory is known only at “the Skraeling,”  (SK chapter 6) and one of Mrs. Coulter’s victims, Tony Makarios, a London street kid, is half-Skraeling (NL/GC chapters 3, 12, 13, 14, 15, 17, 21, 23; AS 19 passing).

eskimo

 

Nunivak_maskette

 

The ivory carver–Nunivak. Curtis, Edward S., Created / Published 1929.

Featured: Inupiat in a kayak, Noatak, Alaska, c. 1929 (photo by Edward S. Curtis)

LOC. https://www.loc.gov/item/2005691848/

ru.wikipedia.org

Exeter, aka Jordan College

From Jon at the enthusiastic Twitter @hisdorkmaterials come these pictures of Exeter College, aka as Jordan in His Dark Materials. Just as the novels do, the video release of the trilogy, His Dark Materials, begins at Jordan [Exeter} college and is shot on location. From Yaxley Quad, it is possible to look up at the building where Pullman the student had his rooms.

For this picture Jon stood in the Quad looking up to the second window at the top from the far left, right near the waterspout, and what appears to be a chimney or turbine, and the gutters and roof.One can easily imagine a lithe teenager deciding exiting by the window and avoiding the stairs and questions of older scholars not too bad an idea, and so Lyra’s journeys on the rooftops may have been not entirely imaginary. His would have been the rectangular shaped windows.

exeter-chapel-jon-2-atraight

These two pictures show the Chapel of Exeter. Tilting the one allows for the pathway and steeple to show, as well as conveying the sense that all the buildings abut one another.

Was it in these vaulted halls that Pullman first contemplated Dust? Or in such grandeur rejected  a rich and demanding presence obscuring the nature of spiritual life, which has naught to do with fine trappings and political powers?exeterart

exeter-chapel

exeter-chapel-front

All credit for these lovely pictures: the generosity of Jon @hisdorkmaterials. Follow his accounts of what is happening on the ground there.

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