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.

 

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

Ideas of North

If you want to know in general what His Dark Materials is about, read chapter 2, “The Idea of North,” in Golden Compass/Northern Lights. The North is not the Arctic, it is conceptual rather than geographic, and a malignant site, although others have been attracted to its pristine quality. The Jordan Scholars fall in the first category, fearing it as the home of vicious armored bears, witches, and vile peoples.

Their stance is Biblical. “Then the Lord said unto me, Out of the north an evil shall break forth upon all the inhabitants of the land.” Jeremiah 1:14. See also Isaiah 14:12-19 and Jeremiah 6:1, and 4:6.

This is also part of Scandinavian mythology or folklore. In Robert MacFarlane’s The Underland’s chapter “Red Dancers,” he visits a very remote archipelago north of Norway to see cave paintings. It is a difficult journey, and MacFarlane notes that writer Hein Bjerck says of the artists who made the paintings that visiting the caves were “‘ritual actions,’ journeys to the ‘outer fringe of the human world'” and that some of the traditional names for the spot are “Church-Cave, Hell’s Mouth, Hell’s Hole, Troll’s Eye” (264).

The Idea of North by Peter Davidson: read its table of contents here is the best all-around book on the subject I’ve read.

On polar exploration, I recommend The Discovery of Slowness by Sten Nadolny. A good deal of it is about Sir John Franklin’s early life, when his qualities of deliberateness and slowness were widely condemned. But they proved needed in the trudge to try to get to the North Pole.

Nadolny’s prose is slow in the way Franklin’s approach to life was, making the book a stylist’s dream, whatever the subject,

What amazes me about polar explorers isn’t their initial voyages, but that once home, they turn around and do it again. The audacity of Vitus Bering’s two expeditions across the whole of Russia to the Pacific is the subject of The Island of Blue Foxes by  Stephen R. Brown. The logistics of lugging from St. Petersburg all that was needed to build ships on the Far East coast is mind-boggling. Again, he did it twice.

One of my favorite movies about life on the taiga of Siberia being lived traditionally in contemporary times is Happy People by Wernher Herzog.

As a native Miamian, I had (have?) a romanticized notion of North. I didn’t see snow fall until I was 19, and have never been in snow deeper than 10 inches. But as a child, North was the Other: a place never hot or humid.

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Picture: Iceberg in North Star Bay, Greenland. By Jeremy Harbeck – NASA

Comment here, or join the discusssion on Facebook in the public group, Compounding His Dark Materials at https://www.facebook.com/groups/2376856019242919/

Magic Lantern and Athanasius Kircher

Possibly invented by Athanasius Kircher (1602-1680) and a precursor to pre-digital 20th century slide projectors that used 35 mm slides, the projector Lord Asriel requests was once called a magic lantern. A reflector and lens focused light on a glass slide; oil (naptha in Lyra’s world) provided the source of light.

In the 2007 10th anniversary editions of His Dark Materials include what Pullman calls “lantern slides,” ideas or images that came to mind after the books’ initial publication. He uses this term because they remind him of his grandfather’s collection of painted slides for storytelling, a way-back precursor to film.

Athanasius Kircher makes an appearance in Lyra’s Oxford in an ad as the author of Polymathestatos: A Festschrift in Honour of Jocelyn Godwin.

In our world, Jocelyn Godwin is a composer and author of Athanasius Kircher: A Renaissance Man and the Quest for Lost Knowledge (1979).


The magic lantern image is from Giorgio de Sepibus, Romani Collegii Musaeum Celeberrimum, p. 39, and is among the Athanasius Kircher ((1602-1680)) collections and research activities at Stanford University. Public domain.

 

Poppy in the Retiring Room

When first we see Lyra and her dæmon Pantalaimon, they are sneaking around in the Dining Hall. But when they hear someone approach,they head for the Retiring Room, a private spot off the Dining Hall, used only by the Scholars and their male guests.

Among the usual decanters and crystal, there is a smoking-mill and a rack of pipes, chafing dish, and a basket of poppy-heads. Lyra’s father, Lord Asriel, favors an 1898  Tokay. Wine is part of the culture to the extent that Asriel speculates to his dæmon that failure to dress properly for dinner may mean a fine of so many bottles.

The action begins when Lyra sees the Master adding a white powder to the wine. Too late to escape, Lyra and Pan sneak into the wardrobe where the Master keeps his academic robes. When Asriel is about to drink the Tokay, Lyra spills the wine.

It’s too late to escape; Asriel lets her return to the wardrobe, with orders to keep an eye on the Master.

There’s a brief interlude before Asriel’s presentation.

While it is not unusual for gentlemen to retire with their wine and tobacco (in Lyra’s world called “smokeleaf”), there’s also this:

“The Master lit the spirit-lamp under the little silver chafing-dish and heated some butter before cutting a dozen poppy-heads open and tossing them in. Poppy was always served after a Feast: it clarified the mind and stimulated tongue, and made for rich conversation. It was traditional for the Master to cook it himself.” (NL/GC 19).

In other words, the Master is preparing opium, or perhaps morphine. A rack of pipes for smoking tobacco seems rather odd; pipe smokers chew their mouthpieces, etc.

But if the poppy heads are under the direct control of the Master, if only he is allowed to prepare them in the most private room in the college, then the rack of smoking pipes is understandable. The preparation of this at once stimulating and relaxing substance seems to fit into the category of arcane knowledge.

By growing his own poppies, the Master avoids the nefarious opium trade Philip Pullman described in Ruby in the Smoke, the first of the Sally Lockhart novels. The special occasion, controlled by the Master use of the drug would preclude addiction.

Anyone who lives where recreational use of opiates is a problem knows better than to underestimate the drug. If you’ve had major surgery, you have probably had morphine. It works. But even pharmaceutical grade, delivered in monitored doses, has side effects, including slowing down the digestive system and causing unpleasant nightmares.

Opiates are so tightly controlled in the US that there is a thin line between gardening and manufacturing. Michael Pollan, who specializes in botany and culture, writes extensively about this.

The Master’s method for cooking seems a bit simplistic, according to the very few descriptions I can find of the process of going from flower to a resin, the most probable way of smoking. Just watch Peaky Blinders for examples of post WW1 use in England.

I doubt if further details will be forthcoming in the miniseries.


Featured image:  Five styles of tobacco or opium pipes]; Created / Published: 1878  https://www.loc.gov/item/2009630115/  [Library of Congress]

Scene 1: Dining Hall of Jordan College

The picture above is of Oriel Dining Hall, c. 1865. Jordan College’s would look much the same: “The three great tables that ran the length of the Hall. . .[with]  the long benches . . . pulled out ready for the guests. Portraits of former masters hung high up in the gloom” (page 1). Slightly raised, running the width of the hall, would be the High Table with fancy chairs (rather than benches) suited for the College masters. 

When I was at University College, the long benches facilitated some camaraderie among the students, primarily about the food. It included some kind of meat and potatoes (often prepared two ways at the same meal), something like Brussels sprouts, and a salad in which a piece of iceberg lettuce was topped with Spam or some other potted meat.

Young men were to wear jackets and ties to dinner, and ladies, dresses. I have no idea what I wore, but if hose and heels were required, I must have looked a sight.

And there was no ice.

Has anything changed?

Image: Oriel Dining Hall, c.1865. Andrew Dickson White Architectural Photographs Collection, Cornell Univ.

 

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).