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/