Lyra’s Wardrobe for the Far North

These descriptions of Lyra’s wardrobe during her visit to the Far North are based on the texts for Northern Lights/The Golden Compass and are edited from the entries in my The Definitive Guide: Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials: The Original Trilogy. Her wardrobe diverges from the film story of His Dark Materials; you can do in a third person narrative what can be awkward in film; for example, were the film actors in huge hoods, their faces would be hard to see. The novels are deliberate in creating a sense of how cold the Far North would be in a time of year when the aurora would be visible, that is, not high summer.

Anoraks: Essential outerwear. Lyra’s fur one is contrasted with the coal-silk ones provided the children at Bolvangar. Coal-silk is likely nylon, suitable for shopping bags (NL 98), but not sub-zero temperatures at this time. Anoraks are hooded garments that go over the head and use no buttons or zippers.

Money-belt/oilskin pouch: Lyra trades in the purse which so infuriated Mrs. Coulter when she wore it indoors in London for a water-resistant oilskin pouch the nurses at Bolvangar call her money pouch. It helps keep the alethiometer safe and would not have been conspicuous under the layers of furs she wore.

Skins and Furs: When Lyra runs away from Mrs. Coulter, she wears a dark wolfskin coat, one of the items Coulter outfitted her with including “furs and oilskins and waterproof boots” (NL 82) when she claimed she planned to take the girl north.

Wolfskin is not as good as reindeer for extreme cold, and the gyptians take Lyra to be outfitted in Trollesund, Norroway. There she gets a “parka made of reindeer skin, because reindeer hair is hollow and insulates well;” her hood is “lined with wolverine fur, because that sheds the ice that forms when you breathe.” Completing her outfit are reindeer calf undergarments, reindeer skin mittens, and boots with sealskin soles. Her waterproof cape is made of “semi-transparent seal intestine” (Chapter 10).

Join the Facebook page “Compounding His Dark Materials” to learn of new posts in your feed and comment with other readers.

 

When Lee Scoresby and Iorek Byrnison became Allies

There are two quotations which I think sum up best the characters of armored bear Iorek Byrnison and aëronaut Lee Scoresby. 

When Lyra asks Iorek if he is frightened as they watch witch armies approach Svalbard toward the end of Northern Lights, he responds, “Not yet. When I am I shall master the fear” (NL Chapter 12). He is the ideal warrior, who once he decides that by his own code physical fighting is required, enters it without second-guessing his decision.

Lee Scoresby’s values are similar, as he explains in The Subtle Knife: it”seems to me the place you fight cruelty is where you find it, and the place you give help is where you see it is needed” (p. 403). Together, as Lyra’s allies, they are a formidable team.

How the two met and formed their alliance is the subject of Once Upon a Time in the North, a novella Philip Pullman released in 2008, although it is set some 35 years prior to His Dark Materials.

Looking for work, Scoresby lands in a Muscovy oil town where corrupt officials have seized goods of a schooner captain and where it looks certain that the town will soon be run by a politician who despises armored bears and uses a paid assassin Scoresby bore witness against back in the Dakotas.

Scoresby, never one to avoid a confrontation with evil, takes on the role of ” guardian angel” for the captain, and Iorek offers his services on the grounds the captain’s enemy, the politician who despises bears, “is his enemy too” (51). And thus Iorek pledges his help to Scoresby.

Scoresby is not above spinning a yarn about being the captain’s attorney and fast talking the Customs officer with reference to plausible but fictional laws governing seizure of property. He is as slick a talker as he is fighter, and with Hester’s help, successfully defeats the assassins.

The townspeople prove to be relieved at the defeat of the seemingly popular politician; his stirring up feelings against the bears was aimed at getting into office so he could economically exploit the labor and resources of the town of Novy Odense. Nevertheless, they are happy to see the last of Iorek and Scoresby, who depart via balloon.

  • This is occasion during which Scoresby is given his Winchester in thanks by the captain after a gun battle with the politician’s assassin, whose dæmon is a rattlesnake.
  • Iorek declares Hester to be an Arctic Hare, meaning that Scoresby himself belongs in the Far North.

There are some found materials in the back, which tell us that

  • Lyra’s thesis for her M Phil is in Economic History is on Developments of Patterns of Trade in the European Arctic Region with Particular Reference to Independent Cargo Balloon Carriage (1950-1970).
  • One of her professors is Dr. Polstead (hero of La Belle Sauvage, I bet).
  • Other found bits include an illustration from The Elements of Aerial Navigation, which includes instructions on landing a balloon, and The ‘Shipping World’ Year Book.
  • John Lawrence is the illustrator, and there is a fold-out “board game,” “Peril of the Pole,” along with a spinner and game pieces, a snakes-and-ladders type of game of chance.

Once Upon a Time in the North: His Dark Materials

Lee Scoresby in His Dark Materials: Sources for His Name

Here is a sidebar  I wrote about Lee Scoresby in my The Definitive Guide: Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials: The Original Trilogy.

His name is derived from two sources: Lee Van Cleef and William Scoresby, Sr. and Jr.

Lee Van Cleef was an actor who appeared in a number of Westerns, including High Noon; The Good the Bad, and the Ugly; The Magnificent Seven; For a Few Dollars More, and other tales of bounty hunters, desperadoes, and treasure hunters — all variations on the theme of outlaws and lawmen in the Wild West.

William Scoresby, Sr. (1760-1829) of Whitby, North Yotkshire, captained whaling ships in arctic waters. In 1806, when Scoresby Sr., navigating through the ice off Spitzbergen, the largest of Svalbard’s islands (Svalbard ranges from 81º N to 74º N) made it to 81º N, he had gone further toward the North Pole than any white person before him. His record was broken by Sir William Parry (!), who traveled to 82º N.

William Scoresby, Jr. (1789-1857) began his arctic explorations aboard his father’s whalers and made yearly explorations off the coast of Greenland from 1803-1822, gaining renown as a scientist. In 1820 he published An Account of the Arctic Regions, which laid the foundation for future arctic studies in geography, natural history, and physical sciences.

Scoresby Jr. was the first to show that the temperature of arctic water is warmer below than on the surface. Terrestrial magnetism was one of his particular interests, which he continued to study even after ceasing his arctic explorations in 1823 and becoming ordained as an Anglican clergyman in 1825. He devised improvements in compass needles at the request of the British Admiralty, lectured in America, and in 1856 journeyed to Australia to make observations on magnetism in the southern hemisphere. His accomplishments as a mapmaker led to a large area off Greenland’s east coast being named Scoresby Sound in his honor, and there is a Scoresby, Victoria, Australia,  commemorating his southern travels.

For two instances of where Pullman mentions Scoresby, see Philip Pullman: A Life in Writing  and (Van Cleef) The Last Word .

 

 

The Alethiometer and Photo-mills [radiometers]

IMG_20190812_164654_2

Learning to use the alethiometer, Lyra and Pantalaimon discuss the possibility that after she sets the three symbol dials on her alethiometer,  what drives the unfixed needle to circle round and stop at symbols that answer her question is a spirit. Or it might be elementary particles. A discussion of the photo-mill at Gabriel College follows:

At Gabriel College there was a very holy object kept on the high altar of the Oratory….At the height of the invocation, the Intercessor lifted the cloth to reveal in the dimness a glass dome. . .he pulled a string attached to a shutter above, letting a ray of sunlight through to strike the dome exactly. Then it became clear: a little thing like a weathervane, with four sails black on one side and white on the other, that began to whirl around as light struck it. (Northern Lights 149)

The Intercessor takes it as an illustration that “ignorance fled from the light,” but the white side of the vane, wisdom,  “rushed to embrace it.” Now,

“… perhaps Pantalaimon was right. If elementary particles could push a photo-mill around, no doubt they could make light work of a needle” (NL 149).

Lyra has her doubts, and will later remember this conversation when she asks Serafina Pekkala about Dust, who replies that worries about it are a Church thing, of no interest to witches, but Lyra is left wondering if what pushes the alethiometer’s needle could be the same as the elementary particles the Intercessor claimed “pushed the little vanes around” of the photo-mill kept on Gabriel College’s high altar (NL 318).

Whatever acts upon the alethiometer’s unfixed needle, it remains a question why Lyra the child can interpret its movements in trance or intuitively, but the mature Lyra will need to study the voluminous commentaries on the symbols’ multi-faceted meanings in order to understand what she is seeing. I suspect this territory is where William Blake on innocence and experience, and the doors of perception, would be our best guide.

On the problem of radiometers (our world’s photo-mills): Radiometer.

 

 

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)

Join the discussion on the Facebook Page, Compounding His Dark Materials.

























































































library)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Fens Gyptians’ Byanroping

When a Byanroping, or gathering of families, is called by  John Faa, the king of the Eastern Anglia water gyptians, to discuss the kidnapping of their children by the Gobblers,

by a thousand winding channels and creeks and watercourses, gyptian boats were moving in toward the Byanplats, the only patch of slightly higher ground in the hundreds of square miles of marsh and bog. . . . so many boats filled the waterways that you could walk for a mile in any direction over their decks; or so it was said. (Northern Lights, 112-13)

Lyra delighted in this.
When I read La Belle Sauvage in 2017, I had to stop a few times because it was a fierce year for hurricanes, both in Florida and in Houston, two places I have lived. There was record flooding in Houston. As climate change continues to worsen, such events will be more common.
One image that struck me was in the Florida Keys, where there was a neighborhood with boat docks like carports. The boats were toppled and strewn. I thought, these people don’t know how to take care of their boats, remembering stories I had heard of people in the Keys in the past driving their boats deep into mangroves and lashing them together. In Miami, boat owners drove up the Miami River, and with the smaller boats in the center, tied up together and to the docks.

These pictures are to show how narrow these contemporary, urban canal boats can be — and how narrow the canals.

True, we aren’t talking about climatic storms in  Northern Lights but instead the gyptians coming together to counter a moral catastrophe. For the innocent Lyra, it it began as a time of play, to run uninterrupted from boat to boat, but soon she will be hiding in a cedar lined cupboard as the gyptians decide democratically to protect her and, at all risks, to save their children and others’ stolen and hidden in the North.

The gyptians demonstrate the power of community against authorities. They have kept themselves free of their manipulations and obligations.

 

Photo shared by Theresa Drouin.

This work has been released into the public domain by its author, G-Man. This applies worldwide.

 

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.

Join the conversation at the Facebook page, Compounding His Dark Materials

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.