S1: The world’s changing. They’ve all sensed in. The prophecy is clear. Duty is to protect the girl and boy wherever they are. Something happening as well as people are going to be left to.
S2: And I’m looking for a girl named Lyra. Welcome to the authority Slate’s His Dark Materials podcast, it’s season two, Episode two, The Cave. We are Slate’s resident scholars of experimental theology. I’m Dan Kois. I’m a writer at Slate. And my Deman is a Prairie Vole named Gilda. And I’m Laura Miller, books and culture columnist at Slate.
S3: And my Deman is the sea otter named Sukie in episode two of Season two, Lyra and will leave Chattooga and head to our world, our Oxford. That means that they’ve got to look the part. So that means, hey, no capes, Lyra. Let’s listen.
S4: I repeat, are going to be looking for me by people, the police. You most definitely will draw attention to us. There’s some questions. I find this window and everything. This is a good hiding place, I’m safe here, so let’s keep it that way.
S3: So this episode covers chapters three through five of the subtle knife. Basically Will learns a little bit more about his missing father in this episode of the show. He meets his grandparents. Something that doesn’t happen in the book from McPhail establishes his hold on the Magisterium by naphtha bombing the witch’s lake. And Lyra meets a scholar of dark matter named Mary Malone and blows her mind by teaching her about dust. Today, we’re going to take a closer look at dust. The foundational mysterious substance that drives so much of the action of his dark materials represents knowledge, human craft, maybe original sin.
S5: We’ll see on the authority. We’re going to do our best to talk about the worlds of Pullmans 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 those of you who haven’t even read them at all. And then we’ll discuss things like demons and witches and dust and great detail. That’s what we call our deep dive. But we won’t give away what’s in store for Lyra or Will or anyone else. Nevertheless, some of the stuff we talk about might be considered spoiler adjacent by people with a serious allergy to knowing anything at all ahead of time.
S3: So keep that in mind and we’re here to answer your questions. As always, if you’ve got a burning question about his dark materials and you just haven’t gotten the knack of the Aletha Amateur, if you can’t put your brain in that perfect middle place. Email us and ask the authority at Slate Dotcom and we’ll address your questions on the air. So let’s start for this episode, episode two with intrigue at the Magisterium. The further we get into the series, the more it seems to me that these subplots about the battle for power inside the Magisterium, the great governing body of Lyras World, are the TV series sort of major realm of invention. Basically, none of this stuff appears in the books or is only very lightly hinted at in the books.
S5: Yeah, a lot of this Machiavellian intrigue with the different factions that the Magisterium, you know, jockeying for power. It replaces some of the more, you know, intimate or theological aspects of the books. It’s obviously more dramatic to have, like to like sort of sinister guys and Catholics, you know, trying to double-cross each other. But in a way, it’s also a little bit less intense. The late cardinal, the guy who was murdered by Rudy Scutti in the previous upset with a little help from Mrs. Coulter. Yes, he he seems to be one of the few leaders of the Magisterium who actually can’t accept the existence of other worlds for the reasons of faith. It’s like because he believes in the religion of the magisterium, which seems to be a form of Christianity. He therefore cannot believe that there are other universes. But most of the rest of these guys, they sort of like ready to roll with it. You know, like they’re like, OK, so this is real. So what are we going to do about it? You know, how are we going to control this information? And it’s not really shaking the foundations of their their own beliefs. You know, it’s not always totally clear what all of them actually believe. And we know that the church repudiates dust because they believe that it is the manifestation of sin, but. A few of the characters in the series seem to have internalized the really powerful emotional significance that sin carries for believers. There’s a bit more of that in the book. But, of course, the sin is a very you know, it’s a thing you feel within yourself and this kind of adventure and is not really set up to to portray that. So we do see a little bit of it, which we’ll talk about later with, again, from Phil Burns, his hand with the candle to sort of deal with the sin that he’s about to commit. But mostly, you know, the sin is mostly seen as a way of sort of controlling the people that the church controls. You know, the believers, the the the the congregations, the the underlings.
S3: Right. It’s used as a weapon more than it’s than it seems for many of them to be a belief system that, for example, makes them do good things. It’s not, for example, a very good thing to be throwing poor old Thorold in a cell as they apparently have. It’s not a particularly good thing to have your conscious Royal Court of discipline convict Dr. Glanzelius, the witches council that we met in season one for heresy, for having the nerve to say that witches who can literally fly through the air and control the wind have a greater understanding of the natural world than the rest of us. But that’s stuff that they’re doing.
S5: Yeah, the Magisterium, I think it’s important to realize that in a moment of expanding its power in Lyras world, I think it was doing that before Azriel came along with his crazy schemes. But in particular, the challenge that Azriel represents is triggering this reaction in the Magisterium to sort of lock things down. So while previously it might have been able to tolerate the witches, sort of like on the borders of of its territory with their, you know, whatever beliefs they have, and they’re completely different social order now. It’s sort of feeling like here is this sort of alternative. Just the way that the other worlds are are an alternative that we just don’t want people to find out about. You know, we got to we got to shut this down now, you know? And then, of course, the witches have this link to Azriel through Lyra, who clearly important to them. And that is also threatening. You know, he I mean, he I think we have to remember that the Magisterium right now thinks of Azriel as the biggest threat, but they are aware that Lyra has some kind of significance. We also see this guy named Frog Rave’s who sort of arrival to fails. And he is, you know, just having kind of a fit of like old school misogyny that we associate with patriarchal religious institutions, which is are intolerable to him, not only sort of strategically, but because there are women who are their own bosses, their girl bosses or whatever, and they and they just use men for reproduction, you know, instead of the other way around, which is how traditional patriarchal religions treat women, you know. So he’s just obsessed with the idea that these witches are stealing the vitality of men and they have to be stopped. And you just imagine that he lives on his cot at night, spending a lot of time thinking about having his seeds stolen by sexy witches.
S3: And at the point, the doctor says, like, witch, sexy witch stole my seed tonight. I can’t because he’s lying on his thin mat on a big concrete platform.
S5: Yeah, he’s thinking about it and he really doesn’t want to be thinking about it and he’s thinking about it and he just gets madder and madder. There is this point in Dr Lindsay Eleusis speech where he just says witches have this greater understanding where the camera cuts to Mrs Coulter’s face and she has this sort of puzzled look. And in and it’s an interesting choice that the director made to sort of suggest that the witches knows what Mrs Coulter might have done with her life if she hadn’t decided that the only way her only avenue to to power was, was through the Magisterium. But like, there’s just this glimmer there of an alternate kind of autonomy and self-determination that for women that comes with being a witch, that just seems like this thing that’s completely out of her grasp. But certainly she feels the appeal of it.
S3: I agree that I’m sure she would love to be a hashtag which bosket. And you’re right that it’s not available to. Ah, and in this universe, in this world, that this universe, but this world, this part of the universe and philippon is created, biology is destiny, right? If you’re born into the human ranks in the parts of the world that are that are ruled by the Magisterium and you’re a woman, that’s your root. If what you crave is some kind of power or agency over your own fate, whereas if you’re born a witch, you have this granted to you through great suffering. Yes. But you have this ability to control not only your own destiny, but the destinies of others and in fact, the nature itself. So we have the showdown between MacPhail and Graves or Graves yells about witches and their seed. And MacPhail is sort of more of a politician, it seems like. I think of him more like your classic neo liberal just making deals behind closed doors. Mrs. Coulter commences in the what he needs to do to get the other Farrar’s to vote for him, for cardinal is to take action. And so he orders just bombing the shit out of the witches. And all the other cardinals are like Yafran. Wicked, you’re in.
S5: Yeah, it’s the classic display of, quote, strength, unquote, simply for the sake of displaying strength and advancing his own position. I don’t think that he necessarily sees well, I don’t know. It’s hard to say what exactly McPhail thinks of the witches.
S3: He seems to, as he seems to have some regret or some acknowledgement that this was there was some immorality to this act.
S5: Yeah. Yeah. And so we see him in his quarters, which now then are is he a cardinal yet? Is he the cardinal now?
S3: He I believe when they cast those votes, he becomes the cardinal. He becomes the cardinal.
S5: OK, so he’s like he’s just a candidate. He’s he is the candidate for cardinal. And so we see him in his rooms, his quarters, which for some reason, like the leadership of the Magisterium, you know, they they have these rooms that look like the rooms of one of those minimalist hotels where you go in and you can’t find out, find the light switch or how to turn on the faucet. You know, it’s got these poured concrete walls and like everything is like super minimalist. And he’s got this one candle in this, like, thin fullard of daylight coming through. And so he sort of he has this moment.
S3: We see this moment of sort of self questioning and and through his demon who whispers in his ear, you know, we yes, this is a sin, but you will atone for it.
S5: Yeah. And so he holds his hand over the candle and burns himself like G. Gordon Liddy. And this is like a reference to Gordon Liddy was showing how tough he was. But in this case, MacPhail is engaging in a sort of fringe or extremist Catholic practice called self mortification. And we associate it with monks wearing hair shirts or people in parades lashing themselves with cat of nine tails, self flagellation. But in in Pullmans world, it’s you know, the people who do this sort of thing are in this sort of weird, masochistic ecstasy. I mean, there’s I’ve always thought that there was something about extreme religiosity that has a lot in common with them. But and from McVeigh’s case, he’s not. Self mortifying, he’s not mortifying, his flesh in order to attain some kind of state of spiritual elevation. He’s actually trading that suffering for a free pass to kill all these witches. So this is also similar to the idea of buying indulgences, which is part of the corruption of the Catholic Church. The people historically objected to where, you know, you would just pay money to the church to be excused for whatever adultery or whatever other sin you engaged in. It’s like suffering is like a kind of a commodity in the Magisterium.
S3: We saw that last episode where Mrs. Coulter offers to take on the sin of hastening the cardinal’s end. You know, in that case, that was a trip she could trade. In this case, it’s a it’s a like a chip that that from a failed trades with God and his own conscience. But it’s still a trade he’s willing to make to get what he wants, which is to become cardinal. And once he becomes cardinal and bombs the hell out of the witches, Mrs. Coulter drops a bomb of her own. Let’s listen.
S6: They voted unanimously in my favor.
S7: I owe you my thanks. You have nothing to thank me for. Did you see? This. A web of my design in which you are both the spider and the fly.
S6: I have had to bite my lip while all of you parade around concocting your fearful little schemes. Daring to judge me, and all the while there’s a myriad of universes out there that you could only hope to have, you forget yourself. I forget myself. No, God, no. I have a very, very good memory. And since you need the past to remain buried, you’ll turn the other cheek. I take what I want.
S3: So in this scene, Mrs. Coulters appears to be kissing off the Magisterium once and for all. Laura, what did you think about this?
S5: I got to admit, I was a little confused by it, to be honest. It was my understanding that she’s using the resources and the powers of the church to pursue whatever her own ends are. And she’s got to manipulate them and convince them that what she’s doing will help them to get what she wants. So I don’t know how she expects to operate and what exactly her goal is now beyond trying to find Lyra. And so she seems really confident. And she says to McPhail, I’m on the trail of something infinitely more valuable than finding Azriel. He just assumed she’s going to Azriel, you know, and and embracing that heresy or whatever. But she’s like, oh, no, I’m after something more. But it’s not really clear to me that she even knows what that more is at this point. And so I found the whole thing kind of weirdly confusing.
S3: Me too. I and I also feel like you’re in the perfect position now. The the Frare who was under your thumb is now leading the whole charge. You’re obviously, at this point can get as many Zeppelins and identically dressed soldiers as you could ever want. Yeah. So why not like use that. But yeah.
S5: Why did she go to all that trouble to sort of coach him into this position of power then to suddenly say, oh, you know how you can stop her.
S3: Yeah, I don’t know. I mean, it is in line a little bit with this show’s vision of Mrs. Coulter as being much less in league with the Magisterium early on and in the storytelling than she is in the books and always being a little bit more of a doubter and a little bit more of a private heretic. And, you know, it intrigues me as well as confusing me. It intrigues me as to where they will take this character, the character being, as we’ve discussed before, the most interesting and most obvious deviation in characterization of all the characters in in the book to series adaptation.
S5: Absolutely. I mean, I don’t know what that speech means, but I’m really hoping that the series will deliver on on on showing us what that means.
S3: And it got us a scene of Ruth Wilson striding down a hallway with sort of half smirk on her face while the music swelled, which whatever that was worth it in another smashing outfit, in another smashing outfit, yet another smashing outfits had someone who hasn’t started the Mrs. Coulter fascist fashion blog. I don’t know what they’re doing. So at the end of the episode, we see the witches looking on in horror as their beautiful lake and their cool ampitheater island just gets blown to hell. I hope Cardinal McPhail is ready to rip some witch vengeance because it is coming. Meanwhile, in, she’s a gutsy liar and will finally choose their outfits to go to our world. In the book, there’s a very funny bit with Laura just straight up refusing to wear pants because no idiot would ever think that she would wear pants here in the TV series to just wear pants. But they head off to our Oxford, where Laura just instantly, within seconds of arriving in our world, gets hit by a car. A very realistic moment, as anyone who’s ever gone to England looked the wrong way while trying to cross the street can attest these first scenes of the two of them sort of traipsing around Oxford while she just looks completely bewildered by this place that is sort of her home, but also very much isn’t our very endearing, I thought. And then the book Pullman describes being in this other Oxford is feeling like being in someone else’s dream. And I really got that from Laura and Whale and watching him sort of protect her also be a little bit exasperated from her was great.
S5: Yeah. There’s a passage in the subtle knife that captures Laura’s disorientation. So well, OK, this is told from Will’s perspective. He wasn’t prepared for Lyras wide eyed helplessness. He couldn’t know how much of her childhood had been spent running about streets almost identical with these and how proud she’d been of belonging to Jordan College, whose colors were the cleverest, whose coffers, the richest, whose beauty, the most splendid of all. And now it simply wasn’t there. She wasn’t Lyra of Jordan anymore. She was a lost little girl in a strange world belonging nowhere. And that that is so I just I just that is so great because this is a fast moving plot with a lot of action in it. But the care that he takes in that moment to sort of say what this this experience of being this incredibly uncanny experience of being in your city that is also not your city, and having the thing that is the center of your identity does not exist at all, is just so beautifully drawn right there.
S3: And it’s really important for us to see that happen to later, I think, because her sort of preternatural confidence has always been one of her primary character traits. And for us to see what happens when the things on which that confidence were based are taken away from her before she can turn into some new person seems really important from a character standpoint as well. Will sneaks into the backyard of his boxing coach to see his mom. He sends her a quick text on his phone, which is now working again because he plugged it in to charge it. Then he visits the lawyer who maintains his father’s trust, who tells him much to his surprise and also to ours, people who’ve read the book that he has grandparents he’s never met. And I was like, oh, my God, that’s incredible. It’s definitely going to be Helen Mirren and Ian McKellen. But it was not it was just two British actors I didn’t recognize with sort of McKellen Mirren vibes. He visits them. His grandmother seems sweet and kind, if a little bit misguided. His grandfather mistrusts him. There’s this sense that they have fallen out long ago with his mother, obviously, because he didn’t even know they existed. The grandfather becomes convinced he’s just there because he wants the money and he narks on him immediately to this sort of spooky cop like guy who we first saw last season in the credits. He’s called The Pale Faced Man Will senses that something is off at his grandparents house. He takes off running, although not before he ruins his grandma’s nice carpet by spilling tea all over it.
S5: Yeah, this is Will’s sort of moment of total disillusionment with the adult world. I mean, he definitely was less of a hero worshipper than Lyra was. But family, you know, his bond with his mother is really sort of the center of his emotional life and the discovery. Well, and now he’s looking for his father. But the discovery that he you know, that his father’s parents are out there and then he might have more family, you know, really plays on that sort of emotional center, and then they just portray him like instantly. They’re really kind of awful. And so I feel like that’s a parallel to Lyras moment of disillusionment with Lord Azriel. It’s like at that point, they just really don’t have anything but each other.
S3: And it’s I’m sure will noticed because I sure noticed how nice his grandparents flat is. Yeah. And how little they have bothered to give any money to his mom to help out after his father disappeared. Yeah. All right. Let’s go into our deep dive for today. We are talking about dust and we’re going to talk about it in the context of the other subplot in this episode, which is like revisiting Mary Malone, a theoretical physicist in Oxford. I guess she’s not even a theoretical physicist. She has a down and dirty research physicist getting her hands dusty, as it were. So what do we know about dust so far? And what are Lyra and Mary Millo discovering about it in this episode? Well, first of all, we know that dust is a new kind of elementary particle that exists in all the various worlds of his dark materials. Its name comes from a Bible verse in Genesis. It’s that the Bible’s in Lyras world and in our world differ in different ways. But this versus the same in both its Genesis three ten and the sweat of their face shout thou eat bread till they return to the ground from out of it. Was thou taken for dust thou art and unto dust shall return. That’s God speaking to Adam and Eve in the garden.
S5: Yeah. And the twist that that Pullman makes here is that in that biblical passage passage dust does nothing. It’s just dirt. Right. But it becomes everything in in this trilogy. So Dust in Lyras world is also known as Rutha Cough Particles after Borith Mikhailovich Isakoff, a Muscovite scientist who who discovered it. And Azriel tells Lyra about this at the end of the Golden Compass, he he informs her about it and to sort of understand. You have to think of him as being like a Galileo figure instead of discovering various things like, you know, the reality of the movement of the planets, he’s discovered these particles and this is a challenge to the authority of the church. And so they persecute him and then they ultimately decide that, you know, they observe that children don’t attract a lot of the particles, but adults do, and that they start to, you know, congregate around a person around the time of puberty.
S3: And it’s and the Magisterium is response at first isn’t even about what the particles might represent. It’s simply that he has introduced a quote unquote, philosophical concept that they previously had no understanding of. And just that is threatening to them.
S5: That is what they persecute for just the fact that it’s new, it hasn’t been accounted for in doctrine or I mean, this was the sort of a way that, you know, medieval science operated. You had to make everything compatible with Aristotle. So there’s there’s just a closed version of the world, like a closed, contained version of the world where everything is accounted for and that the religion is founded on that. And so to have this wild card come in, not to even mention the existence of other worlds, completely undermines the authority of of the Magisterium. So what they decide is what they have to do with the particles is fit them into their existing understanding of the world and of human beings. And so they decide that rather than being evidence of a completely new thing, the particles are are the you know, they actually are physical evidence of original sin and therefore are very evil and bad. And, you know, any further investigation into them or exploration of them is just to is the pursuit of sin.
S3: So Mary Malone in her world thinks of dust as dark matter. She works at a dark matter research facility. And dark matter is a real thing in contemporary physics, although no one, not even a plucky physicist in Oxford has been able to observe it in a lab, basically, as Mary sort of alludes to with Lyra and has a very quick tossed off line, the mathematical models on which the universe is built tell us that there’s a whole bunch of matter that we simply can’t see or observe, but that must be there. For example, if it wasn’t there, the math wouldn’t be able to account for gravity or why, you know, galaxies don’t just fly apart into space instead of spiraling around themselves the way that they do. So the fill in that physicists came up with a way that’s sort of not not unlike the Magisterium, just sort of fitting just into their cosmology in order to fit this matter into their cosmology. Physicists came up with with an unobservable material called Dark Matter, Mary Malone and her lab, they call shadows. But, you know, physicists believe it makes up basically. Yeah, just 80 percent of the matter of the universe. No big deal, just 80 percent of the entire matter. The universe is completely observable and we don’t understand anything about it at all. The conceit of his dark materials is that the real dark materials, dark matter particles not only exist, but are conscious in a way and they reflect and encourage human consciousness.
S5: Yes. So that is why when we see Mary hooking up those, you know, electrode things to different objects, just like real scientists do. Yeah. To like a Chessman or etching set, she gets a, you know, bigger readings off of objects that have been created by human beings and that. The more investment of human intelligence and artfulness there is in these objects, the bigger the reading that she gets. And the Aletha ometer tells Lyra that the skulls that she sees in the Pit River Museum, which is the Natural History Museum in Oxford, the one that we see in the series, is the actual real Natural History Museum in Oxford, that these schools that have these holes drilled in the the sand skulls also have a lot of dust swirling around them.
S3: It’s a great moment in the books because it’s it’s presented, as you know, Lyra Wassily phenomena. Well, whose skulls were these? She just wants to know the story that the Aletha ometer just also happens to tell her. Oh, by the way, the skulls have a lot of dust around them, but the ones with the holes drilled in them have a lot more dust than the one that has a hole in it because someone just shot him in the head with an arrow Lethe. I would just like to tell her stuff sometimes. Another thing that we learn in the books about those skulls is that the Aletha Avatar tells Lyra that they’re from thirty three thousand years ago. And that fact is mirrored in a bunch of different ways in the books, in ways that I would be very surprised, honestly, if they get into in the series, but which I find totally fascinating, because Mary Malone tells Lyra in the books that her research showed just through them basically plugging random shit that they borrowed from friends at the museum into their computer. They found out that basically the the collection of particles of dust around objects, around human objects didn’t really start until about between 30 and 40 thousand years ago, that there were some events at which time just started accumulating around things. And then right around this time in the book as well, Lee Scoresby hears from someone from a native guide that there are legends in his culture that thousands and thousands of generations ago the skies opened just like they have today. And we could see other worlds. And there was a sudden influx of of a kind of magic or otherworldliness into his life. And all these hints are dropped about some kind of cataclysmic event of thousands, tens of thousands of years ago that seems to in some ways match what is happening now in the worlds of these books. And it had something to do with the transformation of humans into creatures that attracted this kind of dust by practicing human ingenuity and craft, by making tools, which is one of the things that we associate with the birth of human culture. Right. There’s also, as we said, the fact that dust is attracted to adults more than children. And those photographs that Azrael showed to the faculty at Jordan College, the adult was just surrounded by dust. The child only had a little bit of it around around them.
S5: And this is in line with Pullmans overarching philosophy. That experience is more. Worthwhile or, you know, has a greater value in a way than in a sense that that adulthood knowledge and that includes sexuality are good things, not bad things, that that the reason why the church. Sort of valorizing innocence and celibacy is because it wants its members to to remain children. And he believes that adulthood is not like a fall from grace, but in attainment of a different kind of grace.
S3: Right. Is his response in some ways, not only to organized religion, but to sort of the organizing principle of a lot of children’s literature? Exactly. Yeah. Yeah. So if just as dark matter as we understand through this episode is responsible for that invisible bond of gravity between, you know, inside of galaxies and between the humans and the Earth, but it’s also responsible for another invisible bond, which is the connection between humans and demons. It’s just, we understand, is the bond that is cut during intercession.
S5: Yeah, yeah. And and to a certain degree, demons are almost made of dust. You know, we see them dissolve into these clouds of dust when when a character dies in the series. Obviously, they’re not just made of dust or they they wouldn’t be visible without instruments. But but they’re but they’re clearly linked to it in a in a way. And with puberty, the demon settles into a specific form, animal form and no longer changes the way the pan is constantly transforming. You know, the adult becomes fixed in a way at puberty that the that the child isn’t the child is still a sort of protean being. And again, this isn’t a loss.
S3: It is, you know, just another stage it’s meant to represent that you truly understand who you are, like you finally, as your demon settles, you realize the kind of adult you are going to be. Yeah. And the series just makes a lot out of this moment of transition. I mean, I think about Toga’s where that moment of transition is a moment of danger all of a sudden because of the arrival of the Spectre’s, as people keep telling, well, he’s almost old enough to be eaten by the Spectre’s. And and it almost seems to me that the way they prey on adults must also have something to do with dust because it turns them into kind of Schell’s who seem to lack that animating human energy. So finally, I want to talk about Mary Malone’s computer in Lyras, interactions with it. So all of these scenes set in the Dark Matter lab, Mary talking to her colleagues and Liara dealing with a computer. They are all like the most DaVinci Code that these books ever get. And I just absolutely love it. I love all these scenes of of Philip Pullman. And it’s just showing off that he read like five books about quantum physics and making these fun connections. It’s so much fun. And this is like a great example of a Philip Hammond having fun with academics, with scholars, as Lyra calls them, and the way that they interact with each other, the way that they sort of both valorise and also poke fun at their own work. She calls her computer The Cave. She says that in the book she says that a colleague of hers named it that after Plato, they call it dark matter particles, shadows. So Laurer the allegory of the cave, Plato’s allegory of the cave is the thing that obviously, of course, everyone with a good liberal arts education knows all about. But actually I basically know nothing at all about it. So please explain it to me and how it relates to dust.
S5: Well, it’s not actually that clear how it relates to dust, but I will explain the allegory of the cave. And Plato believed that everything that we see in the world was an imperfect representation of some perfect ideal original that he called the forms when he described the experience of being a human being as like a group of people who are sitting in a cave all facing the cave wall. And there’s a a light source and the forms are moving between the light source and the wall so that the people facing the wall see the shadow of the forms, but they don’t see the forms themselves. So there’s an ideal tree or I don’t know, chair is a little tricky to imagine this. I think it’s a little bit easier if you think of it in mathematical terms, but there’s an ideal form and what we see are just shadows of those forms. And we can we can draw conclusions about what the ultimate reality is, the essential reality of these things. But we can’t actually observe them in the same way that the dark. All that scientists conclude is there. They don’t actually see it, they just see the indications that it’s there in mathematical evidence of its existence. Yeah, so I don’t really think that Philip Pullman is a Platonist because that comes with all sorts of weird other stuff that I don’t think we see in these stories. These stories are really embrace the real and the immediate and the concrete and the observable. But at least in Mary Malone’s lab, there is the sense of this, you know, approaching a great mystery, a mystery that can never be directly seen. And there is something weirdly almost religious about that. It’s just that her lab is such a different place from from a church, you know, is the place of discovery and curiosity and admitting that you don’t have all the answers. And and that is just obviously so much more appealing than the Magisterium.
S3: And we know that Mary Malone has a bit of a religious bent, the way that Lyra proves to her that she can do, you know, quote unquote, magical things with the Aletha Amateur, as she tells Mary to to ask her a question that she would know the answer to. And Mary says, well, what was I before I was a scientist and Meira the alluvium or her that she was a nun. And there’s a great little interchange between them where, you know, Lyra mentions that in her world, the church thinks that dust is original sin. And Mary Malone says, God, you know, I stopped being a nun so I could stop thinking about things like that original sin. And so this like interface of Mary Malone’s world of discovery and the religious world of repression, because it’s very clear what side Philip Pullman is on. But there is a bit of the magic of both of them tied up in this in this place, in this cave that Mary Malone takes Lyra, she attaches electrodes to her head. And we see in that lab that the dust is communicating with Lyra just as it does through the Ilithyia. It or it even displays Aletha ometer symbols to her on the computer screen, much to Mary Malone’s amazement.
S8: Let’s listen to what that sounds like, spitters. Your particles are still coming in the lithium slanguage now, you could get fix into us very quickly. So that says your important. I have something important to do. But you have to make the connection yourself. Chinese boxes upstairs. We’ll need a we’ll go in Beijing.
S3: So this is just the scene where Lara tells Mary, you know, you could make it newsletter’s if you wanted to, but right now it’s just using the science from the examiner.
S5: We also see that Mary Malone has hooked up her etchings set to these electrodes connected to the to the cave, and that this sets off like a whole bunch of dust, you know, sets of all the readings. And we’re supposed to understand from this that that dust communicates with human beings in a variety of ways and they’re not necessarily that direct. You know, Lyra has to look at these symbols and figure out what they mean. And this the same thing with the etching. You know, there are these different arrangements of these these stocks. And depending on how they’re arranged there, there’s a key that you read that may seem very sort of cryptic and poetic. And you have to figure out how that answers your question in very much the same way that the Aletha ometer is read by someone like Libro who knows how to do it.
S3: And you have to hold your mind in a very particular way in all these cases. And Mary Malone describes it to Lyra. She’s describing how it is that they in the lab see just the faintest traces of dust. And I love the way she describes it. I want to listen to that clip.
S4: I don’t know how else to put this. You can’t see them unless you expect to, unless you put your mind in a certain space. To the point, young kids, he has a phrase for a negative capability. You have to hold your mind in a state of expectation without impatience. And they flock to your thoughts like birds.
S3: That’s just this moment where they sort of both realize that they have this way of communicating with this thing. And whereas Lyra says she never knew there were other ways to communicate with dust, that’s very exciting to her. But the image that I am left with from the scene is of Mary Malone. You know, her face sort of bathed in green as the dust activates when Lyra is speaking to it and Lyra speaking to the dust with the electrodes taped to her to her temples because she is in our world using our science, such as it is. But she’s also you see her fingers twitching as if she’s moving the Lethe ometer, because that’s her way of envisioning how you communicate with this particle, this entity. And as time goes on in this series, we’re going to learn even more about dust. And I’m sure we will revisit it over the course of this podcast. But this is the episode where the the secrets of dust begin to be unlocked, not only to Lyra, but to others. And where Mary alone first understands that, that the mysteries of this elementary particle are far greater than she ever anticipated. And I’m eager to see where it goes from here.
S5: Oh, me too. I mean, I think it’s really important that things start to be unlocked when Lyra meets the Scientist is a great fictional depiction of a scientist.
S3: Yeah, we both really love Mary Ellen. We were talking about this before. I have this firm belief. I have always envisioned her as Cherry Jones being played by Cherry Jones. I just always thought of her that way. I will grudgingly admit that this Irish actress they have playing her is very good to. Yes, she is so vanilla Lyra. This episode ends with them at the end of their Oxford adventure. They both have the day in Oxford well has been frightened off by his grandparents. Lyra is excited about these discoveries with Mary Malone and they come at each other from those different angles. Well, as angry at what he views as a sort of, you know, flippant chasing of these phantoms that he doesn’t even understand. And Lyra’s trying to help him understand how important she truly believes this is. And to do this, she uses the Aletha ometer. She shows him the Leaf Yamana she has never done before, and she uses it to tell him that his dad is still alive in the scene, happens with them set in together on a bench in the place where they had agreed to meet at the beginning of the episode, which was the Botanical Garden. Those of us who’ve read the books might find this a bit hard piercing for reasons that I won’t describe. But our official Oxford Botanical Garden expert, Laura Miller, has something to say about that.
S5: That’s not the Oxford Botanical Garden that they couldn’t get a permit to shoot. There at least is not the garden where these scenes and certain crucial later scenes in the novels are set. Because I have been there with Philip Pullman myself, and we stood there looking at two benches and I said, which bench is it? And he refused to tell me, Oh, my God. But it’s a it’s a much less. I mean, this garden is very sort of beautiful and secluded and the much sort of older and more. Oxford Botanical Garden is really almost more like a you know, it’s less sort of overgrown and lush and it’s more like here’s an example of this plant. And here’s an example of that plant. I mean, it is it is beautiful in its way, but it’s not this kind of jungle like place that they’re in. And it is is it is. I don’t think it’s to spoil to say it is important that one of the most important locations in the story for Will and Lyra is a garden.
S3: And again, not to spoil anything but one thing the series does. One very smart decision the series makes is to set this important conversation between them in this place that will matter later. That’s something the books don’t do. And and I think that’s very, very clever on the part of Jack Thorne and the people who made this series. So Will asks if the Aletha ometer always tells the truth and Lyra says yes, whether it’s good or bad, it always tells the truth. It’s not quite as simple as that, I think. And the show and the books take great pains to make that clear. The Aletha ometer has an agenda of sorts, and that agenda might be on the side of truth with a capital T.. But that doesn’t mean the Lethe amateur always tells you everything. It tells Liara what it thinks she should do next. Like what? I told her that she should go to that village in the north where she found the severed child. Or now when it’s telling her that what they need to do next is find Will’s father. And this leads later to pledge her loyalty to Will while also talking about the time she was loyal to someone and felt she betrayed him. She talks about, Roger, the grief that she feels over that sin of a sort. It’s interesting to think about the way the way Lyra about her sin of a sort. Let’s listen to that clip. You can trust me.
S9: I won’t give you to anyone. I promise. I’ve done that before. Someone.
S3: I hate myself, but it’s interesting to hear Laura talk about this failure of hers, this sin of a sort as she views it and contrast it with, as we talked about before, the transactional way that the Magisterium thinks about things you’ve done wrong. For Laura, it’s a spur to make sure that she’ll never do that again. The way she feels about what happened to Roger is how she thinks she knows she would never again do something like that to. Well, it builds their relationship. It’s not like Father McPhail just burning himself on the hand so that he can be forgiven for the the bad thing he’s about to do.
S5: Exactly. And again, this is the moment when both Laura and will turn to each other. Both have been forsaken in one way or another by their family. And this is an important step toward adulthood, is not leaving your family behind necessarily, although these two young people kind of have to do that. But forming a really primary bond with a person of your own age, you know, who’s not a relative. You know, it’s just a it’s a big step. And that’s what’s happening when they’re sitting on this bench.
S2: It’s a lovely scene and I’m eager to see what happens next. All right. We will be back next week to discuss episode three. It’s called Theft. Join us then. In the meantime, talk to us, send us questions and his comments on Twitter. I’m at Dan and Laura is at Magician’s Book. Or email us the question at Ask the Authority. All one word at Slate dot com. Thanks for listening. Our producers Phil Cercas, Slate’s editorial director for Audio is Gabriel Roth. I’m Dan. And I’m Laura Miller. And remember, without stories, we wouldn’t be human beings at all.