Silver Tongues and Straw Hats: Lyra and Huck

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Silver Tongues and Straw Hats: Lyra and Huck

Alice Bryson

"What you're most like is marsh fire, that's the place you have in the gyptian scheme; you got witch oil in your soul. Deceptive, that's what you are, child."

Lyra was hurt.

"I en't never decieved anyone! You ask..."

Ma Costa and Lyra, page 100

The Golden Compass

"Set down, my boy, I wouldn't strain myself, if I was you. I reckon you ain't used to lying, it don't seem to come handy; what you want is practice. You do it pretty awkward."

The Doctor, to Huck, page 210

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Lyra Belacqua, the protagonist of Philip Pullman's fantasy trilogy His Dark Materials, liar and runaway child, has her roots in Huck Finn--the character of the child who moves through the world of adults by deception (sometimes succeeding, sometimes failing); the child who is wiser than the rest of the world in many ways, but still stuck in childhood.

One of the easiest comparisons to make between Lyra and Huck is their dishonesty; Lyra's first response to almost anything is to lie about it (in the first book alone she makes up several differnent personas to fit the situations she finds herself in; Alice, whose father is a murderer is the girl she becomes when she wants to avoid unsavory attention from adults (Pullman Compass 88-89); Lizzie is the dim-witted girl she beccomes when captured by the Gobblers (209).) Huck's knee-jerk response also seems to be lying; most of the times he's confronted he invents a child with a sob-story. On the large raft,when confronted by the raftsmen, he makes up several lies in quick succession to try and get out of trouble (Twain 108-109). Both Lyra and Huck are considered uncivilized; Huck was raised on the margins of society by his drunkard father, and Lyra was raised as an orphan by scholars of Jordan College in Oxford (Pullman Compass 30-33). They were both raised by societies that marginalized them, that let them run wild.

At the beginning of The Golden Compass, when living at Oxford, Lyra is quite Tom Sawyer-like in her play; she leads the other children of 'her' college in warfare against neighboring groups (Pullman Compass 31-33), making up complex battle plans which are about as realistic as the raid on the A-rabs (Twain 24-25). But unlike Tom, when Lyra is confronted with the reality of the world, she quickly transforms into a much more Huck-like person, able to deal with reality and not wanting to make everything a game.

I spent some time pondering whether Lyra had a Jim figure in her life; she does attract the attention, help, and love of several adults during her journey (as well as another child, Will, who often ends up playing the more sensible Huck to her Tom moments) but one of them didn't stand out as her Jim. (Iorek Byrnison, the bear, is the closest to a father-figure she has, but he's not actually present for most of her journey. Other characters come and go.) I wondered if the comparison ended here, and then it hit me. Her Jim is actually her daemon, Pantalaimon.

This may require a bit of explaination; in the universe (actually, it's a 'multi-verse', a multiple-universe reality) of His Dark Materials, in Lyra's world, each person's soul is independent of their body. The soul takes on animal form and is called a daemon. Daemons speak to and interact with their humans (and other people's, as well); Pan is Lyra's daemon, and he plays the role of a conscience to her, as well as friend, confidante, and constant companion. (Daemons actually cannot be separated from their humans without horrible pain, and the possibility of death.) Like Jim to Huck, Pan advises Lyra (and she then often doesn't take his advice). In the third book of the trilogy, Lyra finally betrays Pan by abandoning him (but ultimately reconcicles with him, wiser and better for the ordeal); it's something to be compared to Huck and Tom's mistreatment of Jim at the end of Huck Finn. One thing that strikes me is that, if Pan is in fact the Jim figure for Lyra, it casts the Huck and Jim relationship in a very new light: Pan is an inseparable piece of Lyra, her soul. Even if Huck and Jim aren't that close, they do become interdependent and incredibly close while on the raft (they're naked together (Twain 136), accepting each other on a deeper level than clothing or skin color).

Both Huck and Lyra fit into the image of a child on a journey through an adult world; without the power of adulthood (and the power of established place and position) the child is at a constant disadvantage. Specters of adults rise constantly to threaten both Huck and Lyra--Huck's father, Lyra's mother Mrs. Coulter, Huck's slave-holding society which would fault him for helping Jim escape, the forces of the Church which hunt for Lyra in the second and third books of His Dark Materials--and the children have to escape through their wits. (Or through the aid of helpful adults, but ultimately it's down to Huck and Lyra to do it for themselves.)

In His Dark Materials, there's a clear moment where Lyra leaves the world of childhood and enters adulthood. (Unlike Edna St. Vincent Millay's interpretation, Childhood Is The Kingdom Where Nobody Dies (ll. 1-3), Lyra's childhood ends not with death but with love and sacrifice.) In Lyra's world, the daemons of children are able to change shape; once someome reaches adulthood, their daemon settles into only one form. It is when Lyra realizes that she's in love with Will, but sacrifices that love for the good of the universe that her daemon settles on his adult shape (Pullman Spyglass 446-447). If Huck had a daemon, would there be a moment in his journey where he actually reached maturity? Even though he's experienced pain and death in his life, at the beginning of the book Huck is too changeable to have a 'fixed daemon'. By the end, I think he might well have become an adult--again, not because somebody died, nor because he found love, but because he was able to define himself against Tom, and go against Tom in the end (Twain 279-281). It'd also be an interesting undertaking to find out what kind of daemon Huck might have. A daemon's settled form is supposed to tell you what kind of person you are (Pullman Compass 147); Huck's daemon would have to be a wild sort of animal, and a tricky one.

What if Lyra had undertaken Huck's journey? As a girl, in that same environment (in the environment without female characters who actually take action? We have Aunts Polly and Sally, largely acted upon instead of acting; the Widow, whose sole actions of consequence are to talk about selling Jim and to die, and bit players who last for a few chapters at best. Would that world have room for a female Huck? As a girl with few marked differences between herself and the actual Huck Finn (Lyra, raised by college professors, has a sort of patchy general knowledge of academia (Pullman Compass 60)) would she have been able to exist in the same way that Huck did? I'd like to think so -- I'd like to think that with enough cleverness (and enough good lies) a girl would have been able to make that journey as well. Huck was already traveling with someone who shouldn't have been, namely Jim; but Huck acted in social situations that Jim, as a runaway slave, couldn't have. Would the Widow Douglas have let a girl of Huck's age escape being 'sivilized'? She would have been a lot less willing to give a girl the leeway that she gave Huck, and so would other people that Huck came into contact with over the course of his adventure. If Huck had been female (and thus even less sanctioned to act independently than a child is) he might have been unable to succeed because of the society. Lyra succeeds in her own journey perhaps because she's in a world where strong women are more plentiful, but more likely because she has the ability to succeed within herself.

The other question I have to ask about a female Huck Finn/Lyra as Huck is, would a female protagonist have been accepted in the novel? For this answer I look back on the books we studied this semester and the female protagonists we've dealt with: the Governess, Eliza, and Hester. (Moby Dick lacking in any female characters who last for more than twenty pages.) The Governess, as a protangonist, acted only when she was acted upon (even if acted upon by her own insanity) where Huck Finn was, at least occassionally, pro-active; Eliza acted in defense of her son, in defense of the family, where Huck had to act against it, fleeing his father and 'civilization'; Hester, while acting against society, was still acting for family. None of them tried, as Huck did, to escape civilization and social order altogether -- does it suggest that women can't do that? (It's not only Huck in our class reading that does this. Ishmael flees to the ocean, for instance.) And all three of these women were adults. But while Huck encounters trouble galore as a child in the text, outside the text it seems that as a child narrator he's well accepted. If that's true, then couldn't a female version of Huck have been accepted out of the text as well? Right now, after a hundred-odd years, I'd say absolutely yes. Philip Pullman and Lyra Belacqua have proved that a female child can escape her society and journey, via deception, to great success. But in the 1880's, I'm not sure that it would have worked.

Works Cited
Twain, Mark. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. W. W. Norton and Company, New York: 1985.
Millay, Edna St. Vincent. "Childhood Is The Kingdom Where Nobody Dies."
Pulllman, Philip. The Golden Compass. Laurel Leaf Books, New York: 1995.
.... The Amber Spyglass. Laurel Leaf Books, New York: 2000.

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