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 .

 

 

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?

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

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.

You are also invited to join the open public Facebook group, Compounding His Dark Materials https://www.facebook.com/groups/2376856019242919/

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.