Thursday, December 30, 2010


I'm reading a really good book right now. I know I'm late to the party with this one, but it really is a very good, engrossing book with several discussion points. And I'm not even through the entire trilogy yet. By the end, my book club is going to be BEGGING me to shut up, but it's totally their fault that I'm reading these books in the first place.

The Golden Compass has several areas that I would love to discuss in detail, but the one that strikes me the most is the idea of 'daemons.'

I'm torn on how to say the word to myself. Is it "daymon" or "deemon?" Since the idea isn't an evil one, I usually settle on "daymon."

In the book, everyone has a daemon. In a nutshell, daemons are an animal form that is sort of a physical manifestation of a person's soul. I would compare them to a witch's familiar, but that's not quite right. The way the link between the human and their daemon is described is deeper than that. It's described in such a way that the two can not live (sort of) if separated. The animal form that your daemon takes is a reflection of the sort of person you are. You feel each other's feelings and hear each other's thoughts.

I am fascinated by this idea. Fascinated. Think about how much easier life would be if there was no need to pretend? If who you are and, to some extent, how you feel were on display all the time? zlionsfan is much more cynical than I am and says that the world wouldn't change much if daemons really existed. People would still try to pretend to be something they're not. I choose to believe otherwise. Because so many people behave in a certain manner based on their insecurities. (I'm not excluding myself here.) And all that energy is just...wasted. There's a passage in the book between the main character and an advisor where main character asks what happens if a person doesn't like the shape their daemon takes. The response is:

"Well, then, you're discontented, en't you? There's plenty of folk as'd like to have a lion as a daemon and they end up with a poodle. And 'till they learn to be satisfied with what they are, they're going to be fretful about it. Waste of feeling, that is."

I LOVE this. I think it would be so much easier to accept who you are and how people see you if there was a physical manifestation that couldn't be hidden. Because you can always tell when someone is acting out of insecurity. When they're so sensitive to criticism or attention because they're so afraid of being seen as something other than what they want. And that makes me sad every time. It takes a long time to learn to love yourself. I know I'm still working on it. It would be so much easier with a daemon.

I mean, it would suck if your daemon were a... shrew, for instance. And you thought that you were a... Persian cat, maybe. But still, there are good points to being a shrew. I can't think of any right now, but EMBRACE your shrew-ness. It will make you happier in the long run*.

But enough of the serious stuff. The point here is that Candy, zlionsfan and I spent a better portion of Christmas return trip home discussing what our daemons would be. It was fun, and I won't reveal theirs, but I will say that I didn't get far from the bulldog that the boy already said I was. I was upgraded slightly to a pit bull, and I think I'm okay with that. I mean, can I choose which pit bull? Because Casey and Blue are like night and day. And realistically, I'm pretty sure my characteristics would mirror Casey, but boy, is Blue pretty.

Slightly related - the boy and I did our annual Christmas letters again this year, and in his letter, he rescinded the bulldog analogy and upgraded (??) me to a pit bull as well. And this was without knowing the conversation that had occurred on the drive home from Christmas.

Well, at least I don't have to worry about having an underbite anymore.

I'm curious to know what you would think YOUR daemon would be? I don't usually solicit comments, but if you read this and you know, tell me. I would love to hear.

*For any shrews who may be reading this and don't know me personally, this paragraph was written completely in jest. I am well aware that there are good characteristics to shrews and I mean no offense.


zlionsfan said...

A familiar is more of an employee or slave, depending on your source ... an animal the witch, mage, or whoever uses as a spy or an extension of herself/himself. Typically, there's no restriction on distance between mage and familiar, and while the death of the familiar can be painful for the mage , the familiar can be replaced. (In some mythoi - yes, I had to look that up - a mage can employ multiple familiars.)

ems said...

That's why I said, "But that's not quite right."

Candace said...

I know one thing for sure. I AM NOT A MONKEY!!!

Candace said...

A. It is pronounced Deemon. The author settles that in the second book.

B. I am with Z on the idea that people would still hide their true self's even if they had a deamon who expressed their feelings. People still tried to hide their feelings in the book and it was like a social norm to let them do so.

Jesse said...

Oh wow, I LOVE this trilogy. In fact, just thinking about it now, I might have to stop reading one of the books I'm in the middle of, to re-read these.

I know Candace already gave the correct pronunciation, but I also want to point out that demons in Greek mythology weren't necessary good or evil. In fact, some demons were considered guardians of people. I'm not sure how they came to be evil beings in Christian lore...

And, I've got to agree with Candace and Z about people still pretending to be what they're not. First, people are going to have preconceptions about what your daemon's appearance means about you, just as they have preconceptions based on your height, weight, skin color, eye shape, etc. For example, if you have a lion daemon, most people will probably see that as an indication that you're strong, powerful, a natural leader, and maybe a little cunning. They probably won't think about how insanely lazy lions are. For a canon example, look at Mrs. Coulter's golden monkey. Sleek, beautiful, and regal, just like you'd expect from her daemon. Maybe I just don't know my golden monkeys well enough, but just by seeing that as her daemon, it wouldn't have tipped me off that she was horribly evil. I still had to get to know her or her daemon, to make that determination. I'm assuming you're still reading Compass, but as you go through the books, this becomes proven even more, as you start to see different layers of people that you would never expect just from their daemon.

Secondly, even if someone is able to look past their preconceptions, not all members of an animal species are the same. As you pointed out, not even all BREEDS of dogs are the same. If your daemon would be a pit bull, would that indicate that you're a Casey-type pit bull, or a Blue-type pit bull? How is someone going to know, without getting to know you? How are YOU going to know, without really getting to know your daemon? And is getting to know your daemon that well really any different than serious introspection?

And, as far as people being able to accept who they are easier, I think they'd use the same 2 points to "trick" themselves. Rather than just becoming content with the fact that they're a poodle and not a lion, they would think about the hungry poodle they had seen in a fight with a bigger animal, that won because he was so desperate, and convince themselves that a poodle is just as powerful as a lion. Or think about a mama poodle keeping her pups inline, and convince themselves that a poodle is just as in control of his surroundings as a lion. Humans are experts at finding ways to convince ourselves that what we want to believe is true, especially when it comes to self-assessment.

All that being said, I did love that line that you quoted, and it was one of the major-takeaways that I remember from the book.

Wow, that... Was a lot of words. I'll be quick with my last 2 things.

To answer your question, I think mine would be a cougar. Although, really, I don't know much about cougars. I'm really just basing it on their tendency to be solitary, and what seems to be a calculating nature. My preconceptions there could be totally wrong (See how I tied it back to my previous point? :p)

Also, Candace, I think your comment about a monkey was an inside joke, but I did want to point something out. While being represented as a monkey might not be the best thing, I think that having a tame monkey to play with, help with chores, and throw poo at people that annoy me, that would be really friggin awesome!