Launched Into Worlds Beyond Imagination in “The Subtle Knife” – His Dark Materials Part II

Discover New Realms of Imagination In 3 Volumes of "His Dark Materials" - Part II

by Emmie Finch
his dark materials

Enter Unknown Worlds Through A Twist of The Subtle Knife

While our heads are still spinning from the conclusion of The Golden Compass (see part one), the second book, The Subtle Knife, launches the story, like a shooting star, in a whole new direction.

His Dark Materials The Subtle Knife

Will Parry

Having opened a passageway to a new world with bold and ruthless determination at the end of The Golden Compass, Lord Asriel continues to draw powerful beings from different worlds, beings who have chosen to align themselves with his cause. As these world-altering matters unfurl elsewhere, enter Will Parry.

         Will is twelve years old and burdened with responsibilities far beyond those of a typical boy his age. A fey mother who must be looked after. Strange men who visit to plague his mother with questions about his father who vanished “long before Will was able to remember him.” Men who eventually break into their home while Will is alone to try and steal a leather writing case. And finally, the overwhelming soulful burden that he (and his cat) unintentionally killed one of those men and he must leave his home because, to his youthful reasoning, the police will now be after him for murder.

         Fleeing, Will goes to the Oxford of his world to seek answers about his father. After traversing the long distance to Oxford and back again, he stops to rest beneath some trees, wondering where he can safely go since he cannot go home, and promptly sees a cat vanish into thin air.

. . . when he came to the place and cast about to look closely, he saw it . . . It looked as if someone had cut a patch out of the air . . . a patch roughly square in shape and less than a yard across . . . all you could see through it was exactly the same kind of thing that lay in front of it on this side . . . But Will knew without the slightest doubt that that patch of grass on the other side was in a different world . . . but he didn’t hesitate: he pushed his tote bag through, and then scrambled through himself, through the hole in the fabric of this world and into another . . .

And just like that, with the unflinching practicality of a beleaguered twelve-year-old, Will has found the perfect place to hide. And who is the first person he meets in this different world? Lyra.

How’s that for an opening?

Different Worlds

While Serrafina Pekkala, Mrs. Coulter, Lord Asriel, Lee Scoresby, Iorek Byrnison and others probe the matters of Dust, pursue each other, endeavor to right the various wrongs they perceive, and search for Lyra, Will and Lyra gradually learn to trust each other. Will adapts to Lyra’s dæmon (they can talk!) and Lyra adapts to Will’s lack of a dæmon, which she concludes is inside him. Will shows Lyra the opening he climbed through to reach the world they are in and he takes her through to his world where they go to his Oxford. Will, to continue searching for information about his father, and Lyra to search for information about Dust.

         Following the guidance provided by the alethiometer, which advises Lyra: Do not lie to the Scholar, Lyra meets Dr. Mary Malone, who recognizes what Lyra refers to as Dust as the same dark matter, or shadow particles, her research team is looking for. Lyra shows Dr. Malone the alethiometer and Dr. Malone hooks Lyra up to the computer where she provides a display reading Dr. Malone has never seen the likes of before.

         From there, Lyra and Will return to the world where they met. A world populated only by children who tell them about Specters. Specters that do not harm children but who consume the souls of adults.

Well, when a Specter catch a grownup, that’s bad to see. They eat the life out of them there and then, all right . . . they get pale and they stop moving. They still alive, but it’s like they been eaten from inside. You look in they eyes, you see the back of they heads. Ain’ nothing there.

His Dark Materials The Subtle Knife

The Knife

By herself this time, Lyra revisits Will’s world where calamity strikes when Sir Charles Latrom steals the alethiometer from her. When she and Will go to Sir Latrom’s home to confront him, he tells them flatly that if Lyra wants the alethiometer back they must get him something he wants even more. He then tells them he is aware of the “doorway” to another world and that in that world is the man who made the doorway and this man has a knife. If Lyra and Will bring that knife to him he will return the alethiometer.

Having no choice, Lyra and Will return to the world filled with children and Specters and meet up with the man wielding the knife only to discover that he has stolen it from the actual bearer, Giacomo Paradisi, who lives in The Tower of Angels and who tells them he “holds the subtle knife on behalf of the Guild.” During the struggle to recover the knife from the thief, Will is injured.

While his wound is being dressed, Giacomo Paradisi informs Will that he is now the bearer and gives him the knife, thus guiding Will onto his equally important and equally predestined path. Before departing, he instructs Will on how to use the subtle knife, for one edge of the blade “can cut an opening out of this world altogether.”

It was an ordinary looking dagger, with a double-sided blade of dull metal about eight inches long, a short crosspiece of the same metal, and a handle of rosewood . . . the rosewood was inlaid with golden wires, forming a design he didn’t recognize till he turned the knife around and saw an angel, with wings folded. On the other side was a different angel, with wings upraised . . .

With this extraordinary knife in hand, Will and Lyra return to Will’s world and stage their first collaboration: how to use the knife to steal back Lyra’s alethiometer—which they must do under the very noses of Sir Latrom, and to Lyra’s great dismay, Mrs. Coulter.

Sweeping Adventure

Simultaneous to the adventures of Lyra and Will, Lee Scoresby, following his instincts and a strong sense of curiosity, searches for a man he eventually finds. A man who claims to be a Shaman. Disbelieving at first, Lee Scoresby is eventually convinced.

“And as for what brought you here, I think you’ll find it was this.”

And he opened his hand. In the palm lay something Lee could see but not understand. He saw a ring of silver and turquoise, a Navajo design; he saw it clearly and he recognized it as his own mother’s . . . He felt undone; he felt like a child again, and his voice was tight and shaky as he said, “Where did you get that?”

“Take it, . . . Its work is done. It summoned you. Now I don’t need it.”

“ . . . I don’t understand how you can have—did you—how did you get this? I ain’t seen this thing for forty years . . .”

From there they set off to search for Lyra and to find the knife bearer, whose duty the Shaman must clarify. Pursued every step of the way, they sweep across windswept skies and plunge into dark forests until finally, on the rocks of a barren mountain, they part ways and their journey together ends.

His Dark Materials The Subtle Knife

A Narrow Escape

         When Will and Lyra return to the world of children and Specters, almost immediately they discover that the sister of the young man who stole the knife from the former bearer is enraged and wants revenge. Chanting “Thief!” and “Kill! Kill! Kill!” she and the rest of the children chase Will and Lyra with bloodlust intent until they are trapped inside a small portico where the children attack. Lyra can scarcely believe that these children really want to kill them and she expresses as much to Serafina Pekkala when she and her dæmon Kaisa arrive in the nick of time.

The Unknown

       Meanwhile, after her meeting with Lyra, Dr. Malone follows her own promptings and makes discoveries and connections that leave her breathless and shivering with wonder. Defying protocol, she hooks herself up to the computer and using a program she wrote herself, she bypasses much of the operating system and reaches out to the unknown . . . and to her utter amazement, receives a response.


It was almost instantaneous.

She felt as if she had stepped on a space that wasn’t there. Her whole being lurched with shock. It took several moments for her to calm down enough to try again. When she did, the answers lashed themselves across the right of the screen almost before she had finished.

From there, Dr. Malone is guided onto a quest she can scarcely believe.

Scattered to the Four Winds

         Like a brisk wind scatters dry leaves, events in part two whisk the characters in unexpected directions. Some to new beginnings, some to unforeseen ends. And always, the story compels us to read on. To grasp the threads that will lead us to the closing chapters in part three, The Amber Spyglass.

~ Emmie Finch

Titles by Philip Pullman

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