S1: This ad free podcast is part of your slate plus membership.
S2: For centuries, they have been trying to keep us where they want us. Watch demons disappear when you die. And yet human beings is not the skeletons behind.
S3: Welcome to the authority slates. His Dark Materials podcast. It’s Season 1, Episode 4 Armor where Slate’s resident scholars of experimental theology.
S1: I’m Dan Coats and my demon is a prairie vole named Gilda.
S4: And I’m Laura Miller and my demon is the Sea Otter named Sucky.
S5: Episode 4 covers a relatively short part of the book, just pages 163 to 203. And maybe as a result, to my mind at least, it stands as the most satisfying episode yet. In this episode, Lyra and Egyptian’s head north to try glistened and meet some important new characters. The Witches Console, Kaisa the Demon, Lee Scoresby, The Arrow Knot and Yorick Beerntsen an armored bear. We see Mrs. Colter and Lord Burrill bending the Magisterium to their needs. Mrs. Colter escapes punishment for her unauthorized sacking of Jordan College by telling the Magisterium she’s got Leard as real prisoner and Lord Borrell threatens a Magisterium elite theama Trist in order to get a question answered about his particular interest in the other worlds. So what is the Magisterium? What does it have to do with our world’s Catholic Church? And what is Philip Pullman saying about religion in these books? Today, we’ll take a closer look at the power that rules lyra’s world and how characters work within it and subvert it to achieve their own desires.
S4: As always, on the authority, we won’t be spoiling future episodes of the show, but we will be talking about the world of Philip Pullman’s books. So a few of the details we talk about might be spoiler adjacent if you’re concerned about such things.
S1: If you’ve got questions about his dark materials or responses to our show. Email us at. Ask the authority at Slate.com or find us on Twitter at Dan Case and at Magician’s Book. Just like listener Shannon McCann did, who answered Laura’s question about why Egyptians sell horses at the horse fair. The answer for a longtime horses were used to tow boats up and down the canals of England with a horse walking along the canal towpath pulling the boat behind it. It is likely the Egyptians have a connection to horses because of that. Thanks, Shannon. Right. So let’s start our discussion as the episode starts with Lee Scoresby, who’s played by Lin-Manuel Miranda. We first meet him up in his balloon, high above the clouds, singing a cowboy ditty along with Hester, his arctic hair demon. So first things first. This is a delight that Philip Pullman never really gets into in his books for a karaoke lover like me. The joy of singing with your demon. You have a singing partner for your whole entire life. She always wants to sing. Exactly. When you do, you’re always in harmony because of the mind meld between humans and demons that she seems totally great. Laura, what did you think about Lee Scoresby as we see him in this episode and about the choice of Lin-Manuel Miranda to portray him?
S6: I love Lin-Manuel Miranda in this role. I feel like one of the great things about this series is it’s giving me more of an appreciation for some of the characters that I didn’t pay as much attention to before. I never really love to LA partly because he seemed like such a sort of 1920s movie cowboy, like a Tom Mix type figure and a little bit of a kind of a cultural stereotype, not not in a way that was offensive, that in a way that wasn’t that interesting. And I really like the sort of fast talking scamp that he that he is. I mean he was always kind of a wisecracking cowpoke in the books, but there’s something a little little artful Dodger ish about the Lin-Manuel Miranda least Scoresby that I find very fetching.
S1: Well, I mean, the first thing is that he’s younger, right? So Lin-Manuel is is nearing 40 in the books. Lea Scoresby is in his late 50s. He’s almost 60. And he is he’s much more laconic. He’s much more soft spoken. He’s more likely to avoid a fight than to provoke one. As Les Scoresby does very early in this episode. And he you know, the lead Scoresby in the books talks a lot about how he’s been socking away money in his Wells Fargo savings account to go buy a ranch and retire like that’s what he’s looking forward to. And this leads Scoresby seems like he’s you know, he’s sort of mid-career, mid aeronautical career and he’s out still looking for adventure and adventure finds him. And that is appealing. And ad for a TV show where, you know, we want adventure, we want these characters and we want the story, but we also want great fun scenes.
S7: It seems like a like a not at all silly choice to to cast someone younger and someone fun in this role. The of the series is based to a large extent not only on the Lee of the Golden Compass, but on the Lee of an earlier book, and I wrote about this on Slate this weekend based on the Lee Scoresby of his. His Dark Materials spinoff novel, The Philip Pullman, published in 2008 called Once Upon a Time in the North.
S1: And it’s set 35 years before the events of the Golden Compass. And so in this book, Lee is 24. Younger than Lin-Manuel Miranda. But the character very closely resembles the Lee of the of this television series. He, too, is out looking for adventure. He, too, gets in scuffles in bars. He, too, is a like fast talking con man who tries to talk his way into an out of trouble. And I went earlier last week to a screening of this episode in New York that had Lin-Manuel Miranda doing a Talk Back afterwards. And he specifically made the point that the first bit of research he did when he got cast in this role was not to read the Golden Compass again, but go back and read once upon a time in the North. Sorry that he wasn’t that familiar with and that he thought ought to influence the least. Scoresby. He was playing as a as a younger guy. And he talked a lot about how a lot of this Lee is drawn from that care character. And in fact, that scene where Lee tries to con Mr. Silman, the fit, the town official who’s played by the actor that many people might recognize as doubly dursleys from the Harry Potter movies as he’s trying to con him with his legal mumbo jumbo. That’s a scene directly out of Once Upon a Time in the North. Also directly out of Once Upon a Time in the north is the very close relationship between Lee and York. Lee is heading to Trollies and because he’s heard that his friend yawk is in trouble and he wants to help him. He even reminds Hester that Bear saved our lives. And this episode makes a lot more of the long friendship between those two. They have that long, heartfelt scene talking to each other about their pasts and where Urich talks about how he doesn’t want to hold up to what he’s done. And this all, too, comes from Once Upon a Time in the North.
S7: What the book does, which is so delightful for fans of the series of the books series, but also I think for fans of this TV series and I won’t spoil anything for the rest of this TV series if you read it.
S1: What the book does is it gives us the very first meeting between Lee and yawk, them meeting and another rough northern town and getting in another scrape, becoming fast friends and developing this lifelong bond of the sort that really seems carried through in this series. Much more so than in the original Golden Compass novel where they know each other. And Lee’s sort of cracks wise about how bears are ordinary critters and and Yorke’s and ornery critter, no doubt. But you don’t necessarily get the sense that they’re tight the way that you do here. So Lee lands and trials and immediately gets in this fight in a bar. He steals and wallets, which I found quite shocking. I don’t often think of Lee as a as a thief, but you know, he doesn’t have any money and he’s he needs to get around. Meanwhile, Lyra and Farter Corum head over to the witches console. He says that he will send a message to Seraphina Pack a lot. And then he tests lyra’s, a leafy cometary. Laura will cover the witches in greater detail in a later episode. But can you tell us what it means that Father Corum had this relationship with a witch 40 years ago?
S6: Well, it’s it’s not an unheard of thing. Witches have relationships with human men every so often or all the time, depending on how you look at it. The witches live much longer than humans do. I mean, they’re human enough that they can have children with human beings, but they’re not quite human. As a rule, I think they can live as long as a thousand years. So for them to have a relationship with a human man and in lyra’s world, all the witches are women is a kind of well, it’s almost like having a pet to a human like you get it with the full knowledge that as much as you love it, it’s you know, you’re going to outlive it and you’re going to have to deal with losing it. So there is a sort of inherent little sadness or risk to to these love affairs.
S8: But they do happen and we see how much it as it affects far decorum, even 40 years later that he has aged. And this relationship meant so much to him. And the child they had who died also meant so much to him. And and he says to Seraphina, who he says also was, you know, went a little mad when that child died and they haven’t seen each other since in one scene. I really, really liked in this episode, which is a little bit of a throwaway in the book. I mean, it’s it’s in the book. This scene is meant to deliver a ton of information at once. And it’s the scene when Kaisa.
S7: Seraphin, as demon flies down and lands on one of the Egyptian ships and talks to Lyra and Father Corum and in in the series this is played. This makes it much more out of the great joy and also sadness the part of Corum feels in seeing this demon again. The demon of this woman who he loved and it seems sort of still loves and the fairy kind of odd, just slightly inhuman politeness of Kaisa toward him.
S6: Yes. It’s a very sort of ceremonial encounter. The scene where Father Corum tells Lyra about his history with Sarafina may be my favorite scene in the whole series so far. I thought it was magnificently done and it gets across so much of the theme of the work.
S9: What happened between you and Sarafina?
S10: We loved each other. Love to which. We had a chance.
S11: There was an epidemic. There was nothing we could do.
S12: And she wanted to rip the worlds apart, fly to Young Bay aka fight her.
S11: If that’s what it took to get him back. I would put to more. Peace. I haven’t seen her since.
S6: You know, we have this old man played amazingly by James Kosmo, who’s just incredible in this. And this child, we have experience and innocence. Which are the two sort of opposing forces in this story. And usually when you have a scene with a child and an old person in a movie, the old person is, you know, affirming or advising the child or dispensing wisdom. And this is unusual in that Father Corum is being so vulnerable and honest with Lyra. He’s really treating her almost as if she was an adult. But at the same time, you feel very much the difference between them. There is this way that experience can’t really be communicated. You know, what you understand about life through living a bunch of years can only be understood through living a bunch of years. You can’t you can’t really convey it to another person. And so she can’t really understand what he’s saying, although she has this great empathy for him. She can see how much he has loved and how much he has lost. And there is this very beautiful dignity and stature to to both of those experiences as he talks about them. There is what we were talking about earlier, the sort of grandeur of adulthood. There there is this weight and significance to what he has experienced that she can only get a little hint of. And I don’t know, I found that the whole scene incredibly moving, particularly because it’s it’s mostly underplayed.
S8: And it’s funny to think that as Father Corum and his weight of experiences to Lyra, so really as Seraphina to him reaches hundreds of years older than him, she’s lived ages longer than he ever will. And it will be really interesting to see how that is played. You know, should these two characters get a chance to meet up again? That relationship seems to just augment this notion of Philip Pullman’s that that the maturity of adulthood has value separate and in many ways greater than the innocence of childhood. And then that Pullman created these not exactly ageless but nearly ageless creatures who fight their own wars and have their own relationships, yet often touch down very gently on the human world and affect it in a great way. I find very moving.
S7: So then we get to the big reveal of Yorick Beerntsen, the enormous armored bear without his armor. Right.
S13: To say three years. As long as all that does not we’re not going to use one to help York.
S14: And we help. I owe you both know. No, it.
S12: How can you some look good naked?
S13: You do not, as in your armor, are wrong not to be over there. Rather, I don’t want to go.
S8: He has essentially been enslaved by the people of Charleston for his metalworking after they got him drunk on spirits and stole his precious armor. So what do you think of our old friend Yorick here? What what do you think of this kind of slightly more regretful Yorick as opposed to the arc of the book?
S6: Yeah, the arc of the book is kind of grumpy and surly. And he has been tricked not by the Magisterium, but by the townsfolk. So it’s almost like a weird fable, like mini narrative, you know, that the people of the village trick the bear by getting him drunk and stealing his armor. And then they hold his armor hostage in order to get him to do all this work for them. It’s a very sort of village’s story and not part of the big conniving Magisterium story. And I kind of like that about the book. I like the way that you feel like you’ve just briefly stepped into sort of like a fairy tale or a fable or a little legend of the peasant classes. But he is you know, he is kind of he’s got the scratched up snout, too, which I just think is. So it’s a nice touch. He looks like a tomcat that’s been through a few fights and is feeling pretty bad about himself and doesn’t really want to accept any help or comfort or hope of getting out. And so he’s not the most inspiring version of a armored bear, even if even taking into account the lack of armor and the books.
S15: One thing that really stands out is how prideful he is even at this low moment of his life that he he you know, he says from the get go. The only reason I’m here is because they stole my armor and I don’t know where it is. And I looked for and I couldn’t find it. But if I knew where it was, I would take it instantly and kill them all and go away.
S1: And that’s not the. We could hear the arc we get here, regrets the killing that he did in town. It seems when he was looking for his armor the first time, he is a little bit mopey. And I’m not convinced that you know, where that the change of lead from a little more wistful to a little more active seemed right. This almost seems like a change in the opposite direction. And I like the the big personality Yorick, who in his way is a keystone for us to understand the big personalities and the inhuman personalities of armored bears, armored bears who don’t really seem to truly regret killing the way that humans do. So I’m not convinced that that’s the best move, but I will say that he looks fucking great.
S5: And from those little from the little battle scars on his nose to how truly disgusting his fur looks, it really looks like he’s just been rolling around in shit for like months. And to that, like the big pot of spirits that he is shulgin. Just as I always imagined yawk Berentson would chug a big pot of spirits.
S6: I always thought of him in the book as being someone whose downfall is completely the result of booze. And maybe in this I see him less as ashamed of the killing, that ashamed of the weakness of the booze. I mean, he does seem like an alcoholic.
S1: Maybe that’s what they’re going for. I look forward to the scene of Yorick sitting in a circle with a bunch of other folks, just like talking through some stuff he’d like. Go to everyone and apologize for an attack. For all the harm that he’s done. While we do get layer of facing Yorick and Lyra giving him the information that he needs, although in this episode it’s it happens in a much more roundabout way.
S9: What do you know about cards? I play them with the skull as well. They are much cleverer than me. And generally, when I learned that sometimes a bad hand can be great, but sometimes when there’s no hope to bluff magnificently, remind me never to play cards with you. We need you and the bat. You need the bear. And I’m secondary. How do we get him to come with us?
S1: It’s not that York tells her. This is what I need. It’s that she tells Lee that she wants Yorick and that. And Lee tells her that what she needs is the armor. And then she tries to convince the Egyptians that they. Yorick and then they say no, and then she goes and gets them anyway, and it’s sort of it seemed like maybe there was just a little extra business added to make sure that this felt like a whole episode. And I agree with you that one of the things I really did like about it in the book was the way it seemed like a whole self-contained fable, as you say. You get the sense that long after the events of the Golden Compass, after all the cataclysm and the monumental world shaking events that we readers of the book know are coming. The people of Charleston will just still be talking about the time that that bear got away and how angry. And I love the bear and how it got away. Right. And Eddie’s scared. That servant in her hand, demon right out of that house. And it was so upsetting. And I missed I sort of miss that kind of small town, the like, almost like a children’s story in a way that I really loved in the midst of a book that is a children’s book, yet I love for its sort of non children’s key aspects.
S6: Yeah, it’s almost like a almost a picture book story. Yeah. I really love the setting. I just want to jump in here and say I’m very excited that we’ve finally gotten to the north. The idea of the north as this frontier space of adventure and fewer rules and more sort of wild, freewheeling characters that it’s basically like the Wild West. But instead of, I don’t know, sagebrush and desert, there’s there’s ice and snow and and these amazing bears. But it’s just the whole novel, at least the whole first novel is just sort of saturated with the romance of the sort of polar adventures then. And it’s just exciting almost. I can’t even tell if it’s that. I’m just so excited about the way that it’s portrayed in the episode or I’m I’m. And I’m still harboring all of the the thrill of the idea of the North from the book. So just like the moment where Lyra is at the front of the boat and she sees the mountain in the background and then the kind of ramshackle frontier town in the front. I just felt like, yes, yes, there north. They finally made it north. I just. And it’s exciting to have the setting open up in this way.
S1: And trawler’s and is so beautifully designed like that is a really great design job that they did. It is funny that we are introduced to the grandeur of the north through a real shitbird. This to you, this is like just a gritty, grubby shipping town with a bunch of bars filled with like chumps.
S6: Yeah, it reminds me of McCabe and Mrs. Miller. Oh yeah. Yeah, that old film. Yeah.
S1: Like a town in a town that just got built and like the last 20 years, many, many streets. Yeah. It was apparently built in Wales and they just like built it on a big sheep farm. They built it from scratch. And then the day after they finished filming all the trials and scenes, they just took it all down. So now that’s completely gone.
S6: And Lee, in the spirit of Philip Pullman’s Potemkin villages.
S1: Right. Exactly. And it’s and hearing Lin-Manuel Miranda this Talk Back talk about how much fun it was, just a walk around that set. It really made me appreciate, you know, the just the amount of physical set building and work that’s going into the set is not all digital magic on the show. You know, there’s plenty of CGI that they’re doing and they’ve you know, they’re obviously not building a bunch of Zeppelins and whatnot. And then the Bears are CGI and everything, but they really built this grubby little town and let all their actors walk around it. And for a week and they you know, they put a pinball machine in the bar. That hurts. There’s like a branded pinball trollin machine in the bar that no one ever looks at. But it’s just sitting there in the background. And there I think the level of detail in Charleston was really gratifying to me. And I like you. I’m excited about the move to the north, a place where the sort of the heart and soul of the first part of the story really resides and where the evil that they have to face also resides. But that’s where everything lives and it’s great that they’re getting there. Meanwhile, Mrs. Colter gets called in front of Magisterium officials. One of them is actually played by Daphne Keen’s dad. Though, I guess they’re all bald, white guys. But one of the bald white guys is played by Daphne Keaton’s dad. And they reprimand her for writing Jordan College, which apparently she was not actually authorized to do. They’re upset about it, but she refutes them because she tells them she has Lord Ezreal.
S16: Beautifully done.
S17: Should I tell you why you and why I go to my. I have to ask you.
S18: You have less real. In a jail controlled by bears who in this case? Control.
S5: So I was really interested in this interaction, seeing laid bare the way that they’re both trying to exert power over each other. And it made me want to talk about, well, what power does the Magisterium really have? So let’s take a closer look at the Magisterium in this episode. The name itself, Magisterium, comes from the Catholic Church’s name for the authority that the church has to interpret the word and will of God. So it’s why the word of the pope is the word of God. Basically, the Magisterium is that concept. So, Laura, that raises a question. How does the Magisterium match the Catholic Church? Our Catholic Church? And how is it different?
S6: Well, in the first place, it has no pope. In the second place, it has a much wider and deeper lock on the culture. I think the important thing about the Magisterium and lyra’s world is that there was no Protestant Reformation. The last pope was John Calvin, who in our world became a reformer and founded a major Protestant sect. They’re called that. I was raised as a Catholic. So Protestants are are still somewhat exotic to me, but they had a holy to you. Yeah, well, I’m just like they are the different denominations of Protestantism sects or what? I think they’re just denominations. But anyway, there’s a there’s the Magisterium and then there’s the holy church, which is perhaps there more or less the same thing. But very famously in the film version of the Golden Compass, they never use the expression the holy church because there was all this anxiety about offending Catholics, some of whom were, in fact, offended by both the books and the film. That church is headquartered in Geneva, which is where Calvin was active. And although we don’t get a full history of the institution, there is a strong suggestion that at the moment when in our world challenges were raised to the power and the dominion of the Catholic Church, that effectively caused a large number of congregants to split off and go into these these other religions, these other forms of Christianity, instead, somehow the Magisterium managed to hold it all together. So it is as powerful in lyra’s modern world as the Catholic Church was in, say, the Middle Ages, which is really powerful, but in an interesting way, not necessarily out of sheer force, more through sort of moral authority. It’s a little mysterious what the dimensions of the Magisterium power are. Are they the sort of validating power of the Catholic Church, the Roman Catholic Church, which in the founding the Anglican Church was founded because Henry, the eighth, wanted a divorce from his first wife and the pope wouldn’t give it to him. So he had to create his own church in order to do it. But the power to grant someone a divorce is not like a military power. It’s a power of authority, of belief, of the faith of a lot of people have in the institution and in laywers world. People don’t seem that religious. And so you makes me wonder if perhaps the Magisterium is almost more like a kind of a totalitarian state. In other words, that it has a very extensive police force, which it seems to have, and that imposes sort of ideological conformity, which it definitely seems to be doing. But it doesn’t have maybe the kind of moral authority that the Catholic Church had in the Middle Ages.
S1: Right. People are afraid of heresy, but not because of what it means for your soul. They’re afraid because what it means for your future means that you’ll be tracked down by the Magisterium if you commit heresy and and punished. And you don’t see in this ostensibly very religious world, people go to church. I can’t remember a single mention of anyone just going to church in in any of these books. I’m sure maybe there is like a casual mention at some point, but it’s not anything that is really registered to me. There are there are nuns, there are monks. I believe there are you know, there are people, there are clergy.
S7: But you don’t see them doing the kind of day to day work that clergy do in our world. And you certainly don’t see them preaching. So I like the idea of thinking of the Magisterium as a kind of like one world government that replacing the various secular authorities that we have in our world. With sort of one overarching authority that is ostensibly religious, but mostly that religion is used as a way of bending people to their will as opposed to actually trying to save people or get them to heaven.
S6: Exactly. And we don’t see ordinary people. I mean, if this was like any Catholics are both Catholic Catholics that I’ve known in my life. They don’t have rosaries, they don’t have crucifixes. They don’t talk about their souls or sin or anything of the sort. The ordinary people of this world seem not especially religious at all.
S5: You know, the totalitarian nature of this, you know, this sort of one world government is definitely suggested in their architecture in this series where they have these incredible like, I believe CGI fascist style, like Semien Brutalist things, the places that they walk around in and that enormous the grand chamber of the Magisterium, where maybe everyone comes together once every 10 years, I don’t know. But that seemed as they can arena that you could just fill with fanatical Magisterium officials.
S6: It absolutely looks like a governmental space or a political space, not a sacred space.
S5: Right. There’s no there’s no frill work. There’s no iconography. There’s nothing that suggests the overarching belief system up around which this bureaucracy is organized.
S7: It only suggests the bureaucracy. That’s the point of it. We we know, as you say, that they have a police force.
S8: We know that they have actually sort of multiple different kinds of police forces we’ll see over the course of this series. They are divided as the Catholic Church is into a number of little boards. And in the books, they talk about how these boards are forever jostling for power and seizing opportunities. When one board falls out of favor with with the higher authorities and another board does it. And perhaps this reflects in some way the lack of a pope at the head of this version of the church.
S1: And I know that the Catholic Church also is beriberi cratic, but within the Catholic Church is. Are there these kinds of power struggles? I mean, maybe not to the death, the way power struggles appear to be here, but are those little bureaucratic agencies within the Catholic Church trying to gain ever more power in this? You know, it’s sort of Darwinian fight or is it more peaceful?
S6: And now suddenly I’m the expert on Catholicism. No. I mean, I think that that is historically accurate. There are many factions within the Catholic Church. Different monastic orders from which officials can come and have different loyalties to different people. You know, little divisions that deal with, say, validating miracles, which is something that is may seem kind of absurd and charming, but actually is a huge, huge source of stress and tension within the church. The you know, whether certain occurrences can be validated as miracles and whether the cult of those miracles can get out of control and challenge the authority of the church itself or exorcism or I’m sure far more mundane, less interesting things like deciding what goes on the list of forbidden books. And and that sort of thing. And, you know, there have always I mean, it’s like any kind of powerful institution. There are always factions that struggle against each other. Sometimes there they take on the name of offices, but usually there’s people behind it who are fighting with each other for for power.
S5: So if that power that the Magisterium wields is essentially authoritarian, not moral, what then is their gripe with dust and with Azra rules work. And, you know, leaving aside the we we and at this point in the series sort of don’t know everything there is to know about dust. Still, they express people in the Magisterium that we hear from express their concerns with it in terms of, well, it is heretical. It goes against what we believe. But it seems like what they really must fear is a threat to their authority. Right. That they believe just holds within it the possibility of rebellion.
S6: It does. And it’s important to remember when it comes to Philip Pullman’s attitude towards religion. He doesn’t I mean, he is not a religious person, but he doesn’t sort of detest religion out of hand. He is more repelled by certain institutional qualities than one of them is the idea that you have a foundational text that is inerrant. It can never. Anything wrong in it? It can never be incomplete, and I believe that’s what the Magisterium is freaked out about with the dust, that it has a story, it has scriptures that are supposed to describe all of reality as the Magisterium wants it to be described that they are in charge of deciding what exists and how it works. And so if it turns out that there is some kind of X factor or that there are other worlds that are not accounted for in the holy scriptures that threatens their authority because it threatens the inerrancy of the text.
S7: And in fact, Pohlman does appreciate to some extent the power of that text, at least the story power of it.
S8: Right. He’s hit his maternal grandfather. Wasn’t Hegel’s clergymen. You talked about this in your profile in The New Yorker and he told Philip Pullman stories out of the Bible when he was young. And those stories obviously hold sway over this whole entire trilogy. You hear little bits and pieces and see little bits and pieces of many familiar Bible stories throughout. Starting from the Great Flood, that was the first moments of this TV series. You know, there’s this quote in the third book that a character, you know, where a character expresses what I think many people have taken as Philip Pullman’s overarching view of religion, which I think is not exactly accurate. But there’s this line that a character says the Christian religion is a very powerful and convincing mistake.
S7: That’s all. And Pullman has often said that he expected.
S5: Especially when the books became quite popular that they would engender a lot of protest, that the Christians would protest or even boycott the books. And he has been surprised that they haven’t really, as he once joked, he said poor J.K. Rowling got all the protests about her witches and wizards. And I and and I escaped it. But there were some protests of the movie, right, when that movie came out.
S6: Yeah. I think the main thing to remember is that most of the sort of. I’m just going to say fundamentalist type Christians who objected to the Harry Potter books were in America. And Philip Pullman’s books are very well known in the UK, but they weren’t so well-known in America. And one of the reasons why there was such pushback against the Harry Potter books is that they were just so ubiquitous and every child was reading them. And his dark materials was more for the sort of a particular kind of very brainy child who I can completely picture in my head every time I read them. I feel like I know exactly who the intended reader of these books is because I was that child myself. And those children are less likely to be in the kind of families where the adults are going to suddenly notice and be really upset.
S5: Or if they are and know those families, they’re smart enough not to tell their parents about the book.
S6: Yes, exactly. And I think the movie just ushered in the books and their themes to a wider awareness because it was then a pop culture thing, not a literary thing. And and there were definitely you know, there are definitely some Catholics in the UK who who objected to to the series, not so much for his athie ism as for the negative depiction of the church itself. And I’m pretty sure the Catholic Defense League, which is just the outfit that exists to be outraged about supposedly negative depictions of Catholics, had had a campaign against the original film. And that’s the main source of the complaints. I mean, it’s not clear from from the beginning of the story that that the person who wrote it claims to be an atheist and is sort of promulgating an anti-religious message, if that is in fact the case. I’m not always sure that is the case, but it’s definitely against religious power. And I just don’t think that religious power is as big a deal in the UK as felt to be as much of a threat to civil society as it is here.
S5: So obviously the Bible and its stories influence Pullman’s storytelling, as we’ve said. But there are two main literary influences on his dark materials that also have a lot to do with the sort of grand good versus evil religious themes that Pullman is addressing in these books. And it’s Milton’s Paradise Lost and the poetry of William Blake. Do you want to talk a little bit about those two influences and how so far we’ve seen them played out through the story as we’ve seen it?
S6: Well, when Phillip originally agreed with his British editor, David Fickling, to write this series, the idea was going to be that it was going to be based on Paradise Lost, because both of them remembered being taught, taught the poem in grammar school, I think. And and and in Philip wrote an introduction to a recent edition of Paradise Lost, where he goes into detail about how he had this beloved teacher. And she taught them the poem by having them read it aloud without really worrying whether they understood it first, because she knew that the glory of the poem, like the foundation of it, was the language and the sort of grandeur of that of its cadences and its sentence structures. And and and it’s all so full of exotic names and and and references. You know, it’s not obvious that this this series is actually based on Paradise Lost, which is, as Philip himself puts it, is basically a story about devils. It begins with all of the fallen angels in hell right after they have fallen. And they’re just kind of lying in these pits are these lakes of fire and and sort of they’ve just lost this. They’re their rebellion against God and they’re kind of pulling themselves to. Gether and Satan gives them a big pep talk and then eventually they figure out how they’re going to get revenge or try to strike back. And as he puts it, when you introduce the character at the beginning, that’s gonna seem like the main character. And and and so it is kind of a poem about Satan. And definitely William Blake thought that, you know, a couple hundred years later, when Blake was reading and writing, he described Milton as being a true poet and therefore of the devil’s party without knowing it. Like many, many people, Blake noticed that Satan is also the most interesting and exciting character in Paradise Lost. And for Blake, I mean, I would say that that Pullman’s ethos is closer to Blake’s. You know, he he also had ideas about innocence and experience that were not totally conventional. And he was a romantic. He was a free thinker. He was a swedenborg in, which is a sort of impossible to describe, sort of religious orientation or a belief in angels. He was like a visionary. He he. It’s almost impossible to really describe what Blake believed. But I think that his idea of innocence and experience is closer to Pearlman’s than Milton’s idea of the fall from grace and and justifying the way of God. tiemann, which is the express purpose that Paradise Lost has. But what Phillip loved about Paradise Lost, what he continues to adore about it, and what he was sharing with David Fickling when he was deciding that he was going to write this trilogy based on it. Is that just the kind of epic grandeur of it? I mean, this is like the Beethoven, the Grand Canyon, the CinemaScope of poetry. It is so big and of inspiring and and majestic and and thrilling that you never forgot it. You know, he learned parts of it. And at this famous lunch where Philip decided to write this trilogy, he and David were exchanging favorite quotes that they had kept from their childhood. And I could try to read some of those to you, but they are a little difficult to get across because Milton is sort of famous for something called in gentlement, which is breaking, breaking up sentences with the against the line.
S4: But I’ll read something that might give you a sense of of how how it feels. That’s a little bit easier to follow. And this is from the description of how a particular a fallen angel, the architect of heaven, fell. Nor was his name unheard or unadorned in ancient Greece. And in our sonin land, men called him Molesley br. And how he fell from heaven. They fable the throne by angry Jove Sheere or the crystal battlements from morn till noon. He fell from noon to do. He eve a summer’s day, and with the setting sun dropped from the zenith like a falling star.
S6: So it’s the kind of poem where when someone falls, they fall for an entire day. That’s how much space is taken up by this poem. And that was the effect that he was really reaching for.
S1: With clear as you go through this series that the it’s it begins very intentionally narrow and widens and widens and widens and widens through the three books and tell it becomes I mean, it is reasonable to say without spoiling anything, that it covers more territory than perhaps any of her children’s books series ever.
S4: And it’s more than cosmic.
S5: Yes. Yeah. And and and and that’s a beautiful way to think about that. I am really struck by that line from Blake about Milton that he was of the devil’s party without knowing it. And I guess Pohlman not only agree was a Gore agrees with that, but he loves to quote that. And then sort of puckishly add, you know, I’m of the devil’s party and I know what he said about Milton.
S4: It was it was the grandeur, the nobility, the overwhelming magnitude of ambition and imaginative power of paradise lost that attracted him. Not, I would say, the message, which is that you should be obedient to God.
S7: All right. So where do we end this episode?
S1: We’ve got Mrs. Coulter with her own bear, who she meets in a in a cave. And he’s wearing a fantastic, bejeweled, beautiful piece of armor himself. He’s holding Azrael captive and she woos him with promises of baptism. He, unlike Philip Pullman, does think he ought to be obedient to God, apparently. And Lyra and Egyptian’s with Lee and Yorick have left trollies and that are heading toward Wallbanger, the fields of evil. What did you think of this episode overall and what it is? We’ve we’ve recognized that we love trollies and we love being in the north. But how do you think that this episode sort of propelled us forward? And what did what did you love her? Not love about it?
S4: Well, one of the things I really loved about it is that we have more of the lyra that you and I both value. She’s crafty.
S6: It’s a bluffer. She’s she lies a little bit here and there. She is canny in a way that the she hasn’t been in some of the preceding episodes. And in fact, one of the smartest questions that she asks of the which is msra, which is what should I be asking you is is actually taken from farter CORUM. You know, it’s a kind of question that you can’t it’s hard to imagine a child being clever enough to ask, but it’s given to her in this episode and it feels that she’s more in charge or at least more of an active player.
S1: And in what’s happening, it’s really striking the difference between the witches console scene in the book and the witches council scene in the show. In the book, Lyra is Child, who is clever ish during that conversation, but also runs out and plays with the sprague’s of cloud pine and pretends like she’s flying while Father Corum and the Witches console have a very serious conversation about her. And here it’s her driving that scene. It’s her driving the conversation with the witches console. It’s her asking that question, that very potent question, and it’s her down in the cellar with the cloud pie and very carefully picking one out and understanding its meaning instantly. And and I like I think I like those changes even, you know, every time that I have my boring knee jerk reaction, if that’s not how it was. I do see like this is a way of making her more of a player in this great adventure in ways that I think will be beneficial down the line. I will say that it would not have killed Jack Thorne to in the scene where lyra’s bluffing, to not have her talk about how when she plays cards, she loves to blow. Yes, ok. Like I didn’t necessarily have to have for us to get that she is bluffing.
S6: Yes, it’s true. But then I think he is she has a little callback later where when Lee says you told me that that John Farr wanted to hire me, and then she she gets to say, what did I tell you about bluffing? Yes, it is really on the nose. But we kind of almost need that because she has been a little bit less manipulative and clever in the preceding episodes. And we needed, I think, a reminder that she literally did lie to Lee.
S1: Like she’s playing all of the adults off against each other to get the result that she wants, which has to have the kind of northern adventure that she has always dreamed of. She wants her bear. So I love. I love that it is a little bit for like childish purposes. But also, it probably is really going to help this expedition to have an enormous armored. Bear along with them. I will. I just think you can probably pull the ad entire scene off just with the bacon, just her ceiling leaves me. Yeah. Really tells you all you need to know about who holds the power. That conversation. So it ends with them heading up the hill toward the mountains. Lin-Manuel Miranda noted in his Talk Back that the thing that you can’t see in that shot because they digitally replaced it with all those majestic mountains was just a million sheep at the top of the hill that they they like ran their sledges and and walked up that hill. And then at the end of the shot, they were just surrounded by sheep.
S3: Then they had heard all the sheep away and get back down the hill. All right. That’s our episode. We will be back next week to discuss episode five of his dark materials, The Lost Boy, The Authority, as hosted by me, Dan Kois with Laura Miller on Twitter. I’m at Dan Coats and Laura is at Magician’s Book. Or Drop US a line. Ask the authority at Slate.com. Our producer is Phil Circus Engineering Assistance from Rosemarie Bellson, Slate’s editorial director for audio is Gabriel Roth. And remember, without stories, we wouldn’t be human beings at all until next week.