Lee Scoresby’s Balloon

This edited description of Lee Scoresby’s balloon from my Definitive Guide draws on both The Golden Compass/Northern Lights and The Subtle Knife. Most relevant chapters are 10-11, 13-15, and 17-22 in the first volume.

Ropes criss-cross the balloon and are secured to an iron ring protected by a sheath of leather; this is the balloon’s suspension ring. On the leather rimmed basket edge, there’s an instrumentation panel with a compass and altimeter. The basket is level with Lyra’s chin. Lee Scoresby carries oxygen tanks and piles of furs to offer some protection from the extreme cold of open-air Arctic flying, sometimes using canvas as a bivouac.

He also travels with a back-up, smaller balloon for emergencies or flying without passengers, for example, surveying for the gyptians as they approach Bolvangar.

Scoresby’s main balloon can handle the weight of himself, two children, and an armored bear.

Lee’s is a hydrogen balloon. He can tell from above if the ground looks promising for refueling. Ground-gas vents near mines are most efficient sources, or he can make the gas from rock-oil or coal. In a pinch, he can pour sulphuric acid over iron filings. At Bolvangar, he helps himself to some from Mrs. Coulter’s zeppelin’s gasbags.

Lee controls buoyancy by a spring-levered gas-valve attached to a rope, which can be looped around a cleat in the suspension ring in order to keep the valve open. He can slowly open sandbags that have been used as ballast around the balloon’s basket to ascend more rapidly. To descend, he can gradually release gas. For a quick landing, as in Bolvangar, he can use a rope to open a flap on the top of the balloon.

One problem is the wind can make a partially deflated balloon into a sail. In an emergency, the aëronaut can use a grapnel, like an anchor, to snag onto a treetop from which he can assess his best next move.

Once landed, the balloonist needs a new source of fuel to get going again.

Weather conditions are the greatest concern. Lightning can cause explosions, and fog makes navigation nearly impossible. Speed and direction depend on prevailing winds. Scoresby was lucky to have Serafina Pekkala’s witch clan drag his balloon against prevailing winds as he approaches Svalbard.


Featured image is Lunar halo and luminescent cross observed during the balloon Zénith’s long distance flight from Paris to Arcachon in March, 1875. https://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2002716357/. Many balloon pictures are part of the Library of Congress’s Tissandier Collection. http://www.loc.gov/pictures/search/?q=Tissandier%20collection.

Svalbard in the Books

Our world’s Svalbard,  NOAA geood 0479:

Edited from The Definitive Guide to Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials.

Lyra “asked Iorek Byrnison about Svalbard, and listened eagerly as he told her of the slow-crawling glaciers; of the rocks and ice-floes, where the bright-tusked walruses lay in groups of a hundred or more, of the seas teeming with seals, of narwhals clashing their long white tusks above the icy water; of the great grim iron-bound coast, and the cliffs a thousand feet and more high” (NL 225)

In HDM, Svalbard is the island nation of the panserbjørne (or armoured bears) and the site of Asriel’s exile, where he plans to reveal a bridge to another world by creating a “breach in the sky.”

Its interior is “mountainous, with jumbled peaks and sharp ridges deeply cut by ravines and steep-sided valleys,” and extremely cold. When Lyra arrives, the snow is thigh deep and its perimeter high cliffs are plagued by cliff-ghasts. There is no wood on the island, but coal pits are numerous. Asriel’s lab is south of the frozen sea that reaches to the Pole. To the east and west are “Great jagged peaks thrusting sharply upwards, their scarps piled high with snow and raked by the wind into blade-like edges as sharp as scimitars” (NL/GC 390).

Although they have visited and been imprisoned there, no human settlements exist on the island. Traditionally, the bears live in ice forts and forge iron into armour in fire mines.

When HDM opens, Iofur Raknison, the prince who succeeded the exiled king Iorek Byrnison, has rejected this culture and is determined to impose a human culture in place of the bears’. Mrs. Coulter has encouraged this because “There are human laws that prevent certain things that she was planning to do, but human laws don’t apply on Svalbard” (GC/NL 357). There she can build her experiment stations without scrutiny. In exchange she promises Raknison what he covets most, a daemon. Svalbard is also where she fatefully imprisons Lord Asriel, but Raknison allows him to set up a lab.

With the restoration of Byrnison, the returned king demands a clearance of all things human and the return of human prisoners to their homelands. However, the breach in the sky Asriel makes radically changes the island’s climate: “the mountains lay bare and black, and only a few hidden valleys facing away from the sun had retained a little snow in their shaded corners” (Amber Spyglass). He contemplates moving his bears to the Himalayas until the hole in the sky can be sealed.

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).

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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 .

 

 

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

Lyra and Her Dæmon

Lady with an Ermine Leonardo da Vinci

The first words of His Dark Materials are “Lyra and her dæmon,” and we know immediately that we are in a different world. Pullman said “Dæmons came into my head suddenly and unexpectedly, but they do have a sort  of provenance. One clear origin is Socrates’ daimon. Another is the idea of a guardian angel.” 

The notion of the human-dæmon bond, he adds, was strengthened by Da Vinci’s painting, Lady with Ermine.

mons in Lyra’s world are readily perceived. They take the form of animals, and children’s dæmons change until they reach adulthood. Then the dæmons settle. Narratively, they serve the purpose of allowing us to hear the internal debates a character has with herself. Dæmons may encourage their person to do something  — or not — but finally the dæmons and their people act as partners. One cannot live without the other.

In several passages, dæmons are equated to the soul. Breaking the bond between human and dæmon results in the release of tremendous energy. Even very brief physical separation is usually devastating (there are exceptions) to both human and dæmon.

Some in Lyra’s world believe that dæmons are “infected with Dust” (NL/GC 285). Its Book of Genesis says that Adam and Eve’s dæmons were unsettled in Eden, and one of the things Satan promised Eve was that she would learn its true — or settled — form. Knowing this brought “sin and shame and death” into the world (NL/GC 372).

Their physical status is odd. They have the abilities and nature of the animal whose form they appear in; birds fly, wolves are aggressive. One does not touch another person’s dæmon, but their dæmons can. They can feel pain, but they don’t eat or reproduce. They can communicate when their people are ignorant of each other’s language.

mons do not go through an infancy and growth period. On Twitter, a reader asked Pullman on her daughter’s behalf, if they are born with the person. He replied he’d never considered that, and some things are best kept private.

I think their dæmons appear with newborns’ first independent exhalations. That feels plausible to me.

mons pose a problem for translating the novels to a visual medium. Puppets have been used in stage productions. Movies favor computer-generated images. 

The problem for viewers like me is the animals in any scene get my attention. There’s a commercial that has been running on US television in 2019. A family of golden retrievers are driving, and then the three puppies in the backseat are let out and trudge onto obedience school. I have no idea if it is a car company or insurance commercial. I just want to watch the dogs.


Pictured above is a pine marten, one of Lyra’s dæmon’s favorite forms. US Fish and Wildlife Services (public domain).

Waiting for The Secret Commonwealth

A few nights ago, The New Yorker published on-line a phone interview about Philip Pullman and what to expect from the second book of The Book of Dust, The Secret Commonwealth, available tomorrow, October 3, 2019.

One thing that did not surprise me is that Lyra will be going to Turkey. Among the found materials at the end of Lyra’s Oxford is an ad and itinerary for an Aegean cruise, with the port call to Smyrna circled for Monday, May 11.

Smyrna is an ancient city and strategic port, sometimes Greek, and most recently Turkish. It is known now as Izmir.

The College of Izmir is mentioned in chapter 8 of Northern Lights/Golden Compass (132). Lyra conflates the story of Asriel’s near poisoning by the Master of Jordan College in a tall tale she tells the gyptians in which she claims a Turkish ambassador dies after poisoning Asriel’s drink. She says that as a show of friendship, the glasses were exchanged prior to the toast.

There are many older photos of Smyrna, (now Izmir) here.

Who she is going to see and why, I don’t know yet.

We also learn in the interview that Lyra is “marked by melancholy, and the reason for that, and probably one of the results of that, is she and Pantalaimon have suffered a rupture.”

They are not getting along.

Initially, this surprised me, but consider the end of The Amber Spyglass. She is he and he is she, but still, when she left Pan to cross fully into the World of the Dead, that had to have hurt. Knowing her parents died as they did, that too, hurt. And Lyra’s (and in turn Pan’s) lover is forever inaccessible in another world.

What Year Is It in Lyra’s World?

Lyra’s world is like ours in many physical ways, and not. Its history is different than ours, but how about time?

To answer this, go to Once Upon a Time in the North, a novella about how Lee Scoresby and Iorek Byrnison met.

It is past 1911 (p. 54) when the two meet. I believe at one point in Once Upon a Time in the North, 1918 is mentioned.

Thirty-five years lapse between when Scoresby is given the rifle he uses in the final shoot-out in Cittàgazze. (In The Subtle Knife, he’ll tell Grumman he has not seen his mother’s Navajo ring in decades.)

Now look at the two found scraps that follow the story. We learn that:

  • Lyra continues at Oxford and has completed her thesis on Developments of Patterns of Trade int 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).
  • Her M Phil is in Economic History.

So do the math. Lyra was about 14, I’d guess, in His Dark Materials. Scoresby was probably around 55 at least when he died. So say 20 years has elapsed since Lyra was born and Scoresby died. It is past 1970 when Lyra completes her M Litt. So, very roughly:

  • Scoresby was born around 1900; dies in the mid-1950s.
  • Lyra was born in 1940; completes her degree post 1970, age 30.
  • So how did Lyra spend her teen years or 20s? Will The Secret Commonwealth cover this?
  • Or does time move differently in different worlds of the multiverse?

I’ll have more on Iorek and Lee later, when the subject of armored bears is raised at Jordan College.

Jesse James’s Winchester Rifle. https://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2005682813/