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S2: They have been trying to keep us where they want us. Watch demons disappear when you die. And. Yet humans in these nasty skeletons behind. With.
S3: Our children back. Welcome to the authority Slate’s His Dark Materials podcast. It’s Season 1 Episode 2. The Idea of North where Slate’s resident scholars of experimental theology I’m Dan Coats and my demon as a prairie vole named Gilda.
S1: I’m Laura Miller and my demon is a sea otter named Saki.
S4: Hi Laura. Hi Dan. In this episode Laura stays in a very swanky Air B and B but something is crawling and the walls. Episode 2 takes us up to about page 102 of the Golden Compass. But it also presents the show’s first major divergences from the original text divergences that we’re going to talk about a lot today and we’re going to go in depth on demons. What are they. What do they represent. Why are they so adorable. Why does that magisterium guys beetle demon crawl on his face like that. That is horrible.
S1: On the authority we’re going to do our best to talk about the world of the books without spoiling the story of the books so we’ll fill in the blanks for those of you who haven’t read the books in a while or at all and discuss things like demons Egyptians dust and Panzer. Bjorn in great detail but we won’t give away what’s in store for Lyra or for astral or for anyone else. Nevertheless some of the stuff we talk about might be considered spoiler adjacent by people with a serious allergy to knowing anything ahead of time.
S4: All right so let’s talk about this episode the main meat of the episode of course is Lara and Mrs. culture. But I want to touch on a couple of the B plots before we get to that a plot. We’ve got these hilariously creepy magisterium guys like literally one of them like has a hunch telling Mrs. Coulter that they think her ablation board experiments are dangerous. We’ve got the Egyptians raiding a house where the gobblers were keeping kids but they’re too late. They do find a little Billy’s sweater however a very cute green jumper and we’ve got the very first big divergence in plot in the form of Lord boreal already you wanna talk about what we learn about Lord boreal and where he can go.
S1: Yeah well this is the my first big instance of taking issue with this adaptation Lord boreal we see he’s somewhat changed from the book. He’s young and kind of Foxy and he and he’s very sinister. Instead of this sort of silver haired gentleman who I always imagined with like a goatee we see him skulking around in a dilapidated greenhouse and then he just sort of walks through a window in the air and he winds up in the Oxford of our world where there are cars and a lot of other things that don’t exist in the Oxford libraries world iPhones yes iPhones. Forget about that mean things. Cars and iPhones that don’t exist in libraries world and I really don’t like this choice made by the show runner. I think that one of the really great things about the whole the the trilogy of novels is the way that certain moments open up a whole new way for the plot to go and we come too quickly to the possibility of travelling back to the world that we the readers or the viewers actually inhabit. It’s this distant vision of a city in the northern lights in Israel’s talk but it isn’t really till the end of the Golden Compass that the possibility of going to that city becomes even possible to really imagine if you’re not Lord Israel. And it’s such a thrilling moment when I think back on these books I think back on the thrilling moments that Pullman creates where you just feel like you’ve walked through a door into a whole new realm of possibilities. And I don’t like that it’s given away so soon and I don’t like that it becomes part of this kind of exile ish conspiratorial storyline instead of a storyline of discovery and wonder.
S5: I’m interested by that by the second part of your objection particularly at the kind of story that is given to this moment of discovery. Because I do think for people who are new to this it’s still pretty wondrous to watch what Lord Azriel does even as he’s mysterious and we don’t know what his motives are exactly. I think a lot about the the structure work that Philip Pullman did in these books and I remember opening up the very first book for the very first time the Golden Compass which was published in the UK US Northern Lights. And there’s a note there’s an author’s note at the very beginning of that book before the action of the book starts before the table of contents that says the Golden Compass forms the first part of a story in three volumes the first volume is set in a universe like ours but different in many ways. The second volume is set in the universe we know the third volume will move between universes so long before the story itself takes us into the idea of a multiverse. Long before we understand the characters can move between universes Philip Pullman understood that and he warned us of that and it’s true that that moment at the end of the Golden Compass when we when characters finally do move between universes I am not going to spoil who they are is thrilling and is a moment of high adventure and maybe even more elegant. And for me structurally as someone who really loves narrative is the beginning of the subtle knife. The second book in the trilogy when all of a sudden we’re just in this world in our world with all new characters who we haven’t met before. I find that very narratively thrilling. All that is to say I’m not sure I’m with you in instantaneously objecting to this move. I feel as though to keep driving this TV series forward something where a structure a medium where we’re so dependent on action and intrigue and where they’ve already made the decision to tell this story not entirely from laborers point of view in ways that for the most part the first book doesn’t do right. The first book with very minor exceptions six very closely to liars point of view and it’s only later in the trilogy that we start expanding to scenes from Lord Israel’s point of view or Mrs. culture’s point of view or the Magisterium point of view etc. In this version of his Dark Materials the TV version we’re already getting lots of different points of view we’re already seeing scenes set in the Magisterium we’re already seeing scenes that have nothing to do with like oh Lord Israel in the wilderness etc.. So I don’t think that I mind necessarily an early reveal of this canonical piece of information that Lord boreal among all the other characters in these books does have the ability and has long had the ability to move between universes to worlds both like in so many ways and you only seem to care about what this world knows you might be better to think about what your world can do for this one. How it comes out. She. Let them pay you to advise me. That’s information we find out much later in the series in the books but it is true right it’s true to the series The Lord boreal for many years according to the timeline and these books has had this ability to travel from this universe the demon universe to our own with iPhones and fancy Volvo’s and whatnot. Yeah I don’t know I I still feel like it’s going to detract from the moment where as real and Lyra realized that they can do it which is which in the books is the same moment that we realize that’s truly possible it is truly thrilling and I do appreciate the notion that when it’s presented in the context of adventure it’s so much more thrilling than what it’s presented in the context of the unknown right this mysterious as you say X Files Z conspiracy theory meeting between Lord boreal and this mystery guy who’s infatuated with his demon.
S6: Also why do we need to see that. I mean their conversation is basically like I want you to go find Grumman and that just seems like we have so many different story threads to care about and that just doesn’t seem that interesting. If there was some reason why we needed to know that if it pushed the story forward in a way that felt urgent maybe I would feel differently about it but it feels like one of those things where I had to watch it twice before even really remembered what he wanted from this hyperlink that he has in our universe. You know I want you to find this guy who as far as we know we’ve never even seen him. We thought we saw his head frozen in a block of ice but that’s as close as we’ve gotten that wasn’t even really him.
S4: I don’t mind it. I’m curious to see how will develop and I think it’s totally possible that you’ll end up being right and that this will have been a bad choice. That doesn’t really drive the action either. That’s entirely possible too but I also think it’s totally possible it could pay off that it could open up a different storyline that will make maybe the second or third or fourth season of the series a little less crowded and busy by moving a little of the action that otherwise happens there into this season. I think the jury’s out and in part because and I’ll talk about this a little bit more. I Jack Thorne who has written all these screenplays and who is essentially the showrunner for this series. I actually think he’s very good on structure and I often think the structural decisions he makes and a lot of the different stuff of his that I’ve seen are great. That’s not his problem. His problem is something else which I’m not a about a lot later in this episode. Okay but let’s move on to what the primary focus of this episode is which is the relationship between Lyra and Mrs. Coulter. So Lara winds up at Mrs. Coulter’s apartment in London. She sort of becomes her plaything for a time she Miss Coulter dresses her up in fancy dresses and takes her to the to the Arctic Institute. And there Mrs. Coulter tells her in this very potent scene that she wants to teach Lara how to exercise power even in a world where men have most of the power. Lara. Look around this room.
S7: How many women do you see. In every room there are those that would belittle you. With my help. They won’t lay a scratch on you. You will have knowledge that they won’t. I can teach you to wield power from all of them. But you must let me march.
S4: Must trust me. I trust him. But we soon see that things begin to sour between these two women. Holder woman and the younger woman Lyra keeps pestering Mrs. Coulter about Roger. Mr. Coulter is not interested in that she keeps putting her off with you know how I’m working on it. Mrs. Coulter does not like it when Laura lies and tells stories and Laura and Pat discover that Mrs. Coulter’s Golden Monkey demon is roaming through the air ducts of this apartment spying on them.
S6: Yeah it’s pretty creepy and it’s especially creepy to them because the demon is able to go so far away from Mrs. Coulter which is considered unnatural in this world. This section is sort of bigger and smaller than this section in the book in the book Lyra is caught up in a whirlwind of meeting all kinds of interesting adults and being fussed over and getting to hear all kinds of great stories and is enjoying it a bit more than the Lyra in the TV series. Also and I think this is an important thing to note in the book. Lyra is not constantly asking Mrs. Coulter about Roger. In fact she doesn’t even really tell Mrs. Coulter about Roger. And you mentioned in our first episode that you thought that the series is toning down its depiction of astral and I also think it’s toning down its depiction of Lyra in the book. She just kind of forgets about Roger for a while because she’s so excited about her new life. And I think having her constantly asking about Roger in the series makes her seem less thoughtless and selfish than the character perhaps really is.
S5: Yeah and the book there’s these very potent moments where the only one who remembers about Roger is pan and he keeps trying to remind her and she just ignores him and it’s very painful.
S6: Yes I mean Pam really behaves as Laura’s conscience in this part of the book it’s very clear what his role is. She is taken with Mrs. Coulter and he keeps saying I don’t like her and we need to get out of here and she’s making you her pet. And there is this sense that his role is to be that little voice in the back of your head where you think things are really great. But you know something. There’s this kind of niggling itching feeling in the back of their mind that the things are really not great.
S4: So Mrs. Coulter we see her in her natural environment in a way. But we also much more than in the book you get a growing sense of her unease her overall frustration with Lyra and with this position that she’s in and there’s a lot going on in Ruth Wilson’s performance for all that. That this section shortchanges Lyra. I agree with you as a character. It’s a very rich set of scenes for Ruth Wilson and Mrs. Coulter and her performance gives us all kinds of layers of this character that are not necessarily there in the book where she is. Whereas often a little bit to note the sweet note of the sour note she toggles between those here there’s a lot going on under the surface.
S6: She’s very much a sort of fairy tale Snow Queen character in the book because she’s seen through Laura’s eyes as being as you said both incredibly sweet and charming and then icy and merciless the next minute and there isn’t a way that lyric can necessarily put those two behaviors together. This performance by Ruth Wilson is so magnetic and fascinating that instead of seeing Mrs. culture as this kind of splendid but not very deep antagonists I mean there are reasons later much later in the books and storylines where we see that she is kind of a royal of conflicting feelings. But here we see it very early on and there’s a scene where she’s just sitting by a bathtub and the look on her face is so desolate. And then her demon has his back turned towards her and their estrangement as is played up in an interesting way and in the book the monkey demon is mostly just terrifying and the television series we sometimes see that the demon seems bothered by what she’s doing when she’s lying to Lyra or in other ways being untrue.
S1: We see the demon seeming more estranged from her than at other times which gives us a sense that he is her conscience and she may be stifling that conscience or she may have twisted it into a kind of perverse form but he still does perform some of that function and at one point she slaps him for him for making too much noise when he’s climbing through the walls and giving away the fact that he’s spying on her.
S8: That was shock. That was a shocking moment.
S6: Yes especially if you’re aware that in the Pokemon universe to hurt your demon is considered to be a very disturbed thing to do.
S4: I was really taken with this. This episode’s presentation of business culture even as I had other problems with it and what it reminded me of is the difference between the Mrs. culture we see here in the Mrs. culture in the book who’s a compelling character but not a particularly three dimensional character.
S5: Reminds me of the way that in the first couple of seasons of Game of Thrones Jamie Lannister became a much richer and interesting character in the show that I felt he ever was in the books in part because of the richness of Nikolai Castro while Dow’s performance in part because of the choices that the writing team made about that character. But I’m very intrigued to see if this richer more complicated maybe more sympathetic in some ways version of business culture continues throughout the series because if so that’s a divergence from the books that I would really welcome and and maybe it’s just that if you put a two dimensional character in the hands of an extremely great actress she can’t help but make this character richer than she was on the page.
S6: But I also see some real choices here that the writing team and the production team made and the director you know you have to be willing to say in your sort of action adventure fantasy series that you’re going to take the time to just film someone’s face because there’s so much going on in that face. And I agree I feel that in a way this version is almost truer to Pullman’s idea that the adults are these figures of Shakespearean grandeur that you know we talked before about how much he values adulthood and how he makes the adults in Liar’s world seem enviable not because they have it easy but because their lives are just so much bigger than the lives of children. And and you really feel that here there’s just so much going on with this woman.
S4: I will say that I’m not in love with her interior design strategy. This is maybe I might want to explore this more as we see more of this world in the series. But I do think that the design of London this London that we see with its old timey cars instead of modern cars and its zeppelins set of airplanes and and everything is art deco and her her apartment just seemed like a very very nice air B and B.
S9: Right down to that lamp in Lara’s room which is with its little sort of spiky lighted portrait rinses which is at is literally a lamp I’ve seen three different urban bees I’ve stayed out of different places around the world and I’m not convinced that this is actually that this sort of not even steampunk but just kind of 1920s the London with everyone having nice flip haircuts and wearing sort of flapper dresses is truly another world in the way that I want this world to be another world. What the design of this world reminds me of more than anything else in a way that I find totally maddening is the design of the fantastic beasts movies they’ve been making over at Warner Brothers. It just looks like it just looks like the magic world of the thirties and it seems like a lazy shorthand for Oh there’s there’s like magic in this world that we don’t understand it it’s like ours but different.
S6: I’m finding your version to this amusing. It doesn’t bother me at all. I I it feels like all of it kind of devolves from Ruth Wilson’s choice to base this character on the actress heady Lamarr was a famous beauty and she does her hair like Hedy Lamarr and she dresses like Hedy Lamarr.
S1: And there’s a certain similarity in their mannerisms and what Hattie Lamar is known for besides being a famously beautiful actress of the 30s and 40s is that she is also a scientist and on the side worked on a technology that was later essential to the design of radar and packet switching which is a process involved and how the internet works. So maybe maybe it all comes from maybe it’s just comes from creating a world where Mrs. Coulter’s Heady Lamarr. Or maybe there’s just some reason why they wanted to be able to have cars but they didn’t want it to be as modern as as our world. I don’t say it is an interesting choice but I think what you’re saying is you want it to be maybe more sort of Edwardian looking. Is that it more.
S5: Maybe or it seemed like yeah maybe. Or adjust or not to default to what I think has become a sort of visual lingua franca of our world.
S9: But with magic which I which and maybe if the if those Harry Potter movies didn’t exist if that hadn’t already been taken up this sort of style had not already been taken up by those movies I would be less annoyed by it in this and I would just find it elegant. But what I mean you know for all the faults of the movie The Golden Compass movie it did do a very good job of creating a world a London in particular that had grandeur but it was a kind of alien grandeur to what we understand.
S4: And I really liked that about it. It did a bunch of other things wrong but it did that right. I want to talk about Lyra. I in this episode through no fault of the actors who I think is doing the best she can with the material that she’s given. I found Lyra deeply uninteresting in this episode in a way that I was shocked to find to be the case I’ve never found Byron interesting through all my reading experiences or even in that movie. She isn’t playful. She doesn’t seem instinctive. She doesn’t seem clever at all. I’m used to a lyra who carefully observes and hides her true responses. Who who hates her plans behind the kind of politeness of what adults think a kid ought to be presenting and and who hides her imaginations from adults because they always underestimate her. But this Lyra you know in the moments when she becomes disenchanted with Mrs Colter when for example there’s that scene where she thinks that Mrs culture’s lying to her Mrs culture is lying to her and her response is not to file that away and to use that for some later plan. It’s just say Oh you’re lying to me. And so the writing of Lyra in this just seems absolutely deathless in large part this seems due to screenwriter Jack Thorne. And I’m gonna throw this back to the Harry Potter universe again. As a certified Harry Potter expert but Jack Thorne is the guy who wrote the Harry Potter play that is currently up on Broadway Harry Potter and the curse child and that play and other work that Jack Thorne has done shares with this episode of his Dark Materials a real inability to keep its characters from just stating not not even the text but like the Super text there’s no subtext in these characters of all characters just say exactly what they are thinking at the end what is necessary in Jack Thorne’s opinion to move the scene forward and to tell us exactly what’s going on. And I think of this moment where Mrs Coulter is like Are you afraid of heights and Lyra says no and Mrs culture says I can never get away from the occasional urge to jump or when liar as I as I noted before says you’re lying or when Mrs culture says I don’t like it when you lie.
S9: I just never get the sense of these characters thinking things but not saying them. You just always have a moment of them thinking things and then instantly seeing them in ways that just seemed so to use a phrase that the great website Television Without Pity queen so many years ago and Vili they’re just a bunch of anvils being dropped on us. The audience’s heads over and over in this episode and that just drove me crazy and I just want a lyra who even when as in the books she’s been hoodwinked at the moment she comes to her senses she snaps into a character who is constantly making plans and constantly thinking one step ahead and I don’t get that at all from the Slattery yet.
S6: Yeah I mean I think this is the problem with just the sort of medium of commercial filmmaking as well. It’s it’s Lyra is deceitful she’s calculating and She’s sly and those are qualities that are considered unsympathetic in sort of your basic pop culture narratives the sympathetic characters are supposed to say what they mean and to be authentic and to be sincere and to find a way where the viewer recognises that Lyra is being deceptive. I mean that’s her name is it gives away a lot of what the character’s strength is you know she’s a good liar and and that’s almost her super power and that is just I think very hard for people who are used to the conventions of what a sympathetic character is in a just like a big Hollywood blockbuster for example. It’s very hard for people to get around that. I mean I can easily see how if we had a laborer who was I agree more interesting and more true to the character in the book people would say Oh I hate her she’s so unlikable. You know I can sort of see why they did it even though it is a bummer that they did it.
S9: And she is such a good liar in the service of this is what I find so endearing about Lyra is that she lies and is deceitful because she knows she’s good at it because she knows as you say it’s her superpower and she does it for the benefit of people who she knows can’t do it themselves who she knows need her help.
S4: For example we see I mean I’m not going to give examples because these these are spoilers but there are moments throughout the series in which she finds a character who is good takes that character under her wing she thinks and lies on their behalf to help them achieve the good things that she knows they can achieve. And like I find that so remarkable as a character trait and delightful that I I’m sad that doesn’t seem like that’s the character we’re getting here. But there’s still time there’s still time. The two of them have a big blow up and Mrs. Coulter slips and tells Laura The Lord has rules actually her father this information comes a little bit later in the book Laura finds a bunch of plans and Mrs. Coulter’s study something about a station in the far north and a blade. And meanwhile we see Mrs. Coulter preparing all the children of the gobblers of Stalin for a journey north. And then the episode ends with a big party at the apartment. A journalist reveals to Lara that Mrs. culture is the leader of the gobblers. The general population bored a horrified Lyra escapes the apartment with her leaf diameter Lord boreal who has attended the party after his trip to her world takes the journalist out to his car he catches her moth demon in his hand he crushes it and kills her.
S1: Yeah. So now it would be a great time to take a closer look at demons because I’m sure anyone not familiar with how they work would find that moment especially shocking. Hit it. What is a demon right. Well a demon is the self of a human soul. We could say it’s not really clear that it’s the soul in the sense that a soul continues existing after the body has died. As far as we can tell when a person dies their demon just goes up in a puff of mist and that is seen early on in the Golden Compass where two sort of henchman or bad guys are killed and their demons just sort of fade away your demon comes into existence. When you’re a child and Philip Pullman very famously resents being asked how demons are born because he never really considered that when he was writing the books we should talk a little bit about Philip’s worldbuilding which is almost like a Potemkin village kind of thing as he was very clear that he is not a j r talkin type. He does not invent a whole world with all its nooks and crannies and languages and cultures and histories and then that story in it. He has a story that he wants to tell and he just invents as much of the world as he needs to invent to tell the story. And because he never had to figure out how demons were born he was completely thrown for a loop when readers would write to him and say How are demons born.
S8: He’s very like liar in that way right. He’s a good liar but he’s a story Holman. Yeah he describes Lyra as a storyteller who just invents what she needs to along the way to make the lie work. Exactly. But she’s doesn’t actually have that much imagination in the sense of thinking of things that no one else could ever think of.
S6: Exactly. So he he also describes demons as an idea that he came across or at least in the in in an interview that I did with him he said I was lucky to come across that idea which suggests that it’s something that I think he would probably agree with. Which is that he sometimes feels that the stories that he comes up with are or the story elements that he comes up with preexisting him. They are not simply his creation they are an idea that was already a little bit out there that he hit upon. And definitely demon has been used in the past. Socrates refers to this as sort of the essence of someone’s self for their particular talent or their aptitude. It is a word that has existed since ancient Greece and has been used in a variety of ways so it’s not it’s like the soul but it’s not quite like the soul. The demon of a child can change forms up until the child reaches puberty and then it settles on a particular form and that form will tell you something about who that person is. In one of the more unfortunate passages he does it Phillip does say that the demons of servants are usually dark and that seems a bit on the classist side and it’s not like you know this particular journalist has a moth or a butterfly demon which suggests that she’s sort of fluttering all over the place sipping nectar here or there. And Lord boreal has a snake demon which suggests that he’s a sort of twisty character and Lord as real has a snow leopard demon which is a very grand creature.
S1: There are other ways that demons reflect the identity of a human or in the case of the witches which is a group of characters that we haven’t met yet and who are not quite human an entity the witches always have bird demons because they fly. The soldiers have these sort of German shepherd demons these sort of attack dog demons.
S5: There is a great moment in a later book in which in which know fishermen often have seabirds or dolphins but then there’s one character we meet who doesn’t actually like the ocean that much but his demons settled on like being a sea creature a dolphin I think. And so the got the poor asshole just so expect this whole life out on boats even though he gets seasick.
S1: Yeah yeah the latter is a great story. You get a sense that there’s a kind of lore about demons that he’s gesturing towards but that obviously he probably hasn’t created yet. And another thing about demons is that they can not go more than a few yards from their human without causing both parties a significant amount of pain. And to see a person without a demon is like seeing a zombie or someone without a head in Liar’s world it is the wrongness of it is almost impossible to overstate. He comes.
S10: From. Now do you see why I don’t trust them. This is how he moves around. You can listen to us the whole time. So let’s use it ourselves.
S4: That’s why it’s so disconcerting for Lyra that she sees the Golden Monkey when Mrs. culture all the way down at the other end of the hall. That’s very very that’s very odd and disconcerting for them. I wanted to read a little passage as maybe the most vivid writing in any of Holman’s books is certainly a passage that has stuck with me forever. It occurs in a later novel in this trilogy when a character is pulled away from his demon and Pullman is describing what that feels like to have her demon pulled away from you. Percy describes it as a physical pain as if an iron hand gripped his heart and was pulling it out between his ribs. But there’s also something about it. Pullman says that feels shameful and awful and the line as it was as if he had said no don’t kill me I’m frightened kill my mother instead she doesn’t matter. I don’t love her. And as if she’d heard him say it.
S1: Yes it’s a it’s a betrayal in a way. I mean it is the separation from your true self that Mrs. culture obviously has taken a few steps in that direction. You know her alienation from her demon her ability to be apart from it. The way the two of them seem at odds suggests that she has betrayed herself really and that is what that character is comparing it to there. What if he rejected the love of the person he loves most in the world and wished for her to be harmed and she knew it. What could be more of a destruction of your sense of yourself as having any worth or love. Really.
S4: It’s described as the worst breach of etiquette imaginable to touch another person’s demon and so that’s why it’s so shocking for the reporter. When Lord boreal lets her moth settle in his hand.
S1: Well I think he snatches it out of the air. I don’t think our life would would actually choose to would willing land on us.
S9: Yeah but demons touch each other. Often they fight. They engage in these little shows of submissiveness or dominance. There’s a great scene in the Golden Compass where Lyra is arguing with another kid about something or the other kid is stubborn and then pan just like snarls at the other demon and bats it with it is poor and the other kid is like okay it’s good. We can do what you want to do and they just let it completely. It’s not commented upon. That’s just like how these things are settled often in these kinds of interpersonal debates.
S1: It’s a great metaphor for the unseen or sort of undetectable dynamics that happen between people where they clash and there’s something that you add to it. It’s almost impossible to actually nail down that decides whose way is going to be taken you know who’s whose priorities are going to rise above the others who’s going to defer who’s going to be dominant.
S5: So you mentioned about how Pullman notes that many servants have dogs as demons which is of course objectionable but also makes it a very charged question when you figure out what your own demon is. I want to know why is your demon an otter.
S1: Well I have to admit I was not giving this the sort of level of soul searching that I think maybe the question warranted but I just really really like swimming in the ocean. And if I could do it all the time I would. And I do like shellfish as well so I just thought you know I would really have a great time as a sea otter.
S4: Love it. I chose a prairie vole because they’re very social animals. They enjoy being part of a group in a society in a way that I do. They’re also very loyal animals both to the society that they’re part of they’re they’re also one of the few mammals that are monogamous which you know is a sort of sign of overarching loyalty as interpreted through the human lens. And so I sort of think of them as as the helpful puff of demon animals. So that’s that’s why I chose a prairie vole. They’re always in. Thank you. They’re always almost always the opposite sex from the person Lord boreal corrects that guy he meets in the coffee shop that his demon is she.
S1: Yes then he is also is almost like come on you know like I can’t believe it even call my snake.
S9: He there is one character in the Golden Compass who is noted has the same sex demon as him. It’s someone who works in the kitchen. We never really get explained what that means Philip Pullman in his. And as you note his style has been like I also don’t know what that means. They get their names. This is something that I’ve been thinking about a lot recently. How do demons get their names. That’s also not discussed in the book. But Philip Pullman has said in interviews I assume in a very aggrieved tone when people kept bothering him about it they’re named by the parents demon. So lame layman Pat Lehmann was named by I guess by Lord Israel’s demon still Mario that the giant cat that that cat was like your panel Iman. What else what else do we wonder how big can they get. Laura how big what’s the biggest demon we know of.
S1: Yeah they’re okay so these are the questions that have completely gnawed away at the edge of my peace of mind. Can someone have a giant demon. Can someone have a demon that is bigger than they are like an elephant like an elephant demon or a rhino demon and what advantage does that give them in the world. Also whenever I see a crowd scene in in the show all I can think of. I mean most of the time the TV series does not show every single demon which would probably just cost a fortune. But if you’re in a really crowded room is everyone’s demon on their person. What if your demon is like still Mario and is really large you know. How do you avoid touching that demon if you’re in a crowded room with a lot of other you know a lot of people who have big demons or who is demons are flying around like a bad or a bird.
S8: What’s the rush hour like on the subway like that would be impossible to be jammed up on the Q train or whatever with everyone’s demons and you’re not you can’t touch anyone else’s demon you’re all on the train. Come on.
S1: Yeah makes it pretty clear that Philip Pullman did not spend a lot of time on the tube or at least he was not thinking that it existed in his in his books world and Larry’s world. Yeah. These are the these are the questions the sort of idiotic logistical questions that come into my head and won’t go away. And also just how easy it is it’s not easy to kill a person especially in a car and all Lord Borel has to do is crush that butterfly in his hand to kill the journalist and that makes me wonder how the increased vulnerability of people who have small or fragile demons plays out in Laura’s world. Like how has that changed the social order. If you could just step on Lord Boral’s snake’s head and break its skull it makes him a lot more vulnerable than if than just a regular human in our world would be.
S9: And it certainly makes you understand why he keeps his demon in his sleeve or in his pocket most of the time. But yes the idea of going through life with this say you have a moth or a beetle or something with this thing flying around that if a like a bird caught that moth and eat it that’s it you’re dead just like that. It seems very a very tenuous existence.
S1: It doesn’t seem that the animals of Laura’s world interact with demons as if they were other animals. It also seems to be true that people can instantly tell the difference between an animal that is a demon and an animal that is just an animal. It’s never explained how they can tell but they know immediately this is not a housecat. This is a demon. This is not a sparrow. This is a demon. There’s something completely unmistakable about them.
S9: I love that the various logistical problems with demons being representative of both the great and silly aspects of Philip Pullman storytelling. Right. That he came up with or he appropriated this wonderful idea that it already sort of been floating around there in the culture. He made it his own. He made it incredibly engaging so engaging you and I have spent cumulatively hours and hours and hours of our lives dwelling on demons and what our demons would be and and why. What’s the story with demons and how big can they get. But it just wasn’t that important to him to worry about all that shit and that logistical fright right. And so in the context of these books where you clearly get the sense that he was that he had a lot of the story planned out and thought of from the get go. I mean as evidenced by that preface and the Golden Compass where he clearly knew what was happening with these three volumes. But yet things spin out of control sometimes and story story. The story goes off the track or it gets bigger in many ways than it seems like even he could handle. I find that look somewhat admirable but that this is just the way he tells a story and he doesn’t really care that much of it if it doesn’t quite make sense in the ways that we all might want it to make sense.
S1: Yes and also we have to realize that those considerations while people kind of latch onto them and can be like a dog with a bone and wanting to get their questions answered are not really what demons are all about. I mean what’s powerful about this concept is the idea of being able to keep yourself company of always having a friend who’s like a pet who can talk to you. What child does not want that brand. Many adults as well.
S5: It just speaks to a deep yearning that I think almost anyone can identify with the idea of having a constant companion of your heart who not only can never leave you but never wants to leave you and who understands you so perfectly.
S9: Yeah that’s that’s a that’s a very remarkable idea. It makes me think a lot about as you know when I first read these books I was in the very early years of marriage. Now I am 20 some years into a marriage and it makes me so curious about what are the relationships like between the demands of married couples are they like a married pair of animals. Or is that where the sort of hidden conflicts at the marriage exhibit themselves in ways that are maybe troublesome but also solve some of those problems in an unspoken way. I like I am so curious about that and that’s not something that really gets addressed in these books. But as someone who has been lucky enough in his life to find some kind of constant companion though one who is often away from me for normal human reasons like the idea of of someone even closer than that I find both amazing and maybe even a little oppressive in ways that I can’t quite you know make clear to myself. But you’re right that the richness of demons does not have to do really with these like niggling logistical questions. It has to do with that connection the connection between a person and her demon. How strong that is and how a person feels it could never be sundered.
S1: Yes and also I think a longing for communion with animals which I think is something children experience so strongly and adults sometimes keep but often forget just how it’s both the loneliness of the individual and the loneliness of the species which is is being sort of soured by this by this metaphor.
S4: All right. So where does this episode leave us. Lyra escapes from Mrs. Coulter but then she seems to have been captured in the last shot of this episode by gamblers. Roger is headed north with all those other children. We don’t know what’s going to happen with Egyptians. We don’t know what’s happening with Lord boreal or Mrs. Coulter except for that we know that Mrs. culture is behind the disappearance of the gobblers.
S3: That’s her work. The work she’s doing for the Magisterium so we’ll find out in episode 3 of the spies and we’ll be back next week to discuss that. The authority as hosted by me Dan Coats and Laura Miller on Twitter. I’m out. Dan Kois Laura is at Magician’s Book. Or if you wanna reach out to us you can drop us a line email us at. Ask the authority at Slate dot com. Our producer is Phil circus engineering assistance for Melissa Kaplan Slate’s editorial director for audio has Gabriel Roth.
S11: And remember without stories we wouldn’t be human beings at all. Until next week. Thanks for listening.