Our Svalbard

The last two decades have changed Svalbard in our world from once being considered a stable enough place to house the International Seed Vault to one affected dramatically by global climate change, including the loss of polar bear and reindeer habitat, and the growth of tourism with the stress that the introduction of transient humans put on a place.

There has been a human population on the island archipelago for some time now; the first big thrust were Soviet mining operations, long abandoned.

It is home to the University Centre in Svalbard, the most northernly of universities and the Norwegian Polar Institute

Life as as a student on Svalbard sounds fascinating; no one is allowed beyond the school’s fenced parameters without a rifle or being in the company of someone trained in firearms. The threat of bear attacks is taken quite seriously. I recommend browsing the student life handbook for its worst case scenarios before submitting an application.

The Norwegian Polar Institute has extensive resources on problems facing the islands. Good maps are found here. There’s a concise summary of Svalbard essentials at Cittagazze

For more information on the unarmored bears of Svalbard, go here.

When I first started on The Definitive Guide, close to 20 years ago, I had a window open to a real time webcam. It was black and white and trained on a parking lot. Through the winter, I saw no signs of life but the occasional change of car or truck in its place. It was strangely peaceful to tune in throughout the day and night and see nothing happen.

Now there are lots of webcams to choose from.

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

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.

 

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?

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.

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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Greetings from Oxford University!

A kind reader sent me some pictures to share of contemporary Oxford University of the epicenter of Oxford University in Lyra’s and our world.

First up, is a picture of the Bodleian Library.


This is the University Museum, of great significance in The Subtle Knife (Pitt-Rivers). Below is Hertford College with welcoming banners.

The Radcliffe Camera of the Bodleian. Our kind reader toured a bit of its tunnels, which I hear are quite extensive and used for storage and safety.

Here is Brasenose College’s lawn with a view of the Radcliffe Camera. Brasenose is letter R on John Lawrence’s map in Lyra’s Oxford. Hertford is letter G. Jordan (unlike the other two, not of our world) stands in for Exeter and is represented by the letter H. So Jordan is north of Brasenose, which is west of Hertford, and all are south of the museum and north of the Botanic Garden.

Here’s an Oxford skyline:

And finally, the bench in the Botanic Gardens on which Will and Lyra said goodbye before he left for his world, with the sculpture of Will’s cat daemon Kirjava and Lyra’s pine marten, Pantalaimon.

Many thanks again to the kind reader who prefers to remain anonymous. If you want to join the public group page on this blog and you use Facebook, it’s here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/2376856019242919/ .