Digging Into the Subtle Knife

His Dark Materials

I’ve been reading Philip Pullman’s The Subtle Knife for a bit, and enjoying it immensely (despite his growingly obvious axe to grind). The chemistry between Will and Lyra is there from the get-go, and though I miss exploring Lyra’s twisted world, Cittagazze intrigues me. I want to find out more.

But I’m confused about one thing: why is it so important that Will Parry be “a murderer”? It’s the answer the Aletheometer gives Lyra when she asks about him, and it’s the answer that gives her considerable comfort and enables her to trust him. But a murderer he isn’t. Not in the legal sense, as far as I can see, and certainly not in the moral sense, either.

For one thing, the person who died had no business being in Will’s house whatsoever and was clearly up to no good. Self defence could be reasonably argued. Will is willing to kill later in the book, but the people he’s fighting against certainly aren’t above trying to kill him. He’s spent years looking after his mentally incapacitated mother, and again I find his actions to be wholly justified.

Moreover, as Philip Pullman describes the first death scene, the man that Will fights only dies because he falls down a flight of stairs — after tripping over a cat that gets in the way while he struggles with Will. The man’s death is an accident. Again, Will should not consider himself a murderer.

I can accept the fact that Will’s guilty conscience could be telling him that he is a murderer, but the Alethiometer? It’s the first false thing it tells Lyra. Makes no sense to me. Now, if Philip Pullman had Will pick up the man’s fallen gun, and if that gun went off in such a way that you weren’t sure if it was an accident or in the heat of the moment, then I would be less certain of Will’s innocence. But I’m not sure what Philip Pullman is getting at, here.

Hurricane Lili weakened to a category 2 before making landfall on the central coast of Louisiana. It spared New Orleans a direct hit, but I bet things are a bit of a mess out there. I still haven’t heard from Pat Degan, but I’m hoping that he’s staying upstate with friends.

The remnants of Lili promise to make Friday night and Saturday morning very interesting, with a lot of rain and gusts up to 70 km/h. Truth is, Ontario needs this rain. I only wish the water didn’t have to crash into Louisiana in order to get here.

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