UPDATE, Episode 5: His Dark Materials heartbreaking fifth episode revealed the horrible truth of what the Oblation Board is doing in the North at Bolvangar—intercision. They are cutting children’s daemons away from them. The Gobblers are literally separating them from their souls. Those blueprints Lyra found in Mrs. Coulter’s desk were for a giant cutting machine, one that slices an otherwise unseen spiritual connection in half.
That’s what happened to young Billy Costa. His daemon was cut away, and what was left behind of him was akin to a ghost. He was (briefly) of this world, but not really alive anymore. A child whose daemon has been taken from them, a concept which is so heinous it defies description, can survive physically for a little while. Ultimately though they are essentially dead already.
Based on the nurse’s reaction to Lyra’s age, intercision is different for a child whose daemon has not yet settled. The result of adult intercision must be different.
Lee Scoresby said this is all about power. Remove someone’s soul and you can make them do anything. We don’t yet know why anyone would want to have that power over a child, but we know it’s beyond cruel.
The premiere of His Dark Materials shared a lot about daemons. In Lyra’s world they are the physical manifestation of souls. Each takes on the form of a different animal, one with real mass and weight that reflects the nature of their human counterpart. They can be as large as snow leopards and as small as bees. However, children’s daemons are not “settled,” and, like Pan, can instantaneously transform between different kinds of creatures, effortlessly going from a running cat to a soaring bird. Like Tony Costa’s daemon, they don’t take their final form until adulthood. But it was His Dark Material‘s second episode that showed how those magical beings are both vulnerable and dangerous, and why it’s especially terrifying when one woman’s daemon can do the seemingly impossible.
“The relationship between human and daemon is sacred,” but not just because of their spiritual connection. What happens to one can affects the other, like when Mrs. Coulter’s golden monkey attacked Pantalaimon. Lyra was in agony as the monkey assaulted Pan. It wasn’t sympathy pain she was feeling, though; grabbing Pan was no different than Coulter’s monkey grabbing Lyra herself. While torture via daemon is scary enough, the sad fate of the reporter at Mrs. Coulter’s party showed how inseparable that bond is between human and daemon. Lord Boreal took the young journalist’s butterfly daemon in his hand and crushed it, killing her instantly. In a world where someone can be harmed or murdered via their daemon, merely touching someone else’s is unthinkable.
But something that happened earlier in the episode seemingly defied the limits of that bond, something that would terrify adult and children alike to see. Since daemons can think for themselves – which is how they can give advice, disagree, and have independent thoughts from their human – Pan was able to identify something strange occurring in the walls of Mrs. Coulter’s apartment. That led Lyra to discover the golden monkey all alone in the study, very far away from Mrs. Coulter, who was at the far end of the hallway.
“How are you able to be so far away from your daemon? It’s too painful,” Lyra said, “It’s not natural.” Daemons and humans must be physically close to one another, otherwise they both start to feel physical pain. We have never seen Pan more than a couple of feet away from Lyra. But there was no question the golden monkey was far away from Mrs. Coulter, something she clearly didn’t want Lyra to know.
The monkey scampered back up into the walls when Lyra turned her back, walking behind Coulter as she got closer. “You’re mistaken,” Coulter said when Lyra asked how it was possible, “He was with me the entire time.” Being discovered away from her was a big enough mistake that after Mrs. Coulter put Lyra to bed she whacked her monkey in the head for screwing up. For most people that would be unthinkable, since they both love their daemons and hitting them is like hitting themselves. Mrs. Coulter clearly is not most people.
Does her ability to be physically removed from her daemon mean Mrs. Coulter doesn’t feel pain? Or is there something even more sinister going on with her and her monkey? Considering what Lyra found in her drawer – plans for a mysterious device that holds people and their daemons – it makes that trip North for those kidnapped kids even more worrisome.
Featured Image: HBO/BBC