I've been watching His Dark Materials on HBO and was particularly disturbed by last night's episode, "The Daemon-Cages." It showed a number of the daemons in cages, which had been cut away from their humans, by process of intercision, with a rabbit repeatedly and slowly bashing its own head against the cage wall. Later, after being rescued, the daemons are left in the cages (at least for the short term) and Farder Coram remarks, "Poor little things. Can't even speak anymore."

I thought it a bit odd that they wouldn't have immediately tried to let each child hold their respective daemon in their hands, rather than leaving them caged up as common animals. But again, perhaps this was just a short-term condition to facilitate easier travel.

Clearly the children are still linked to the daemons even if the normal connection has been severed, as evidenced by the fact that Billy Costa's daemon, Ratter, disappeared into nothingness after Billy died. So there is still some level of connection, however thin. Do the novels indicate whether that connection can be rehabilitated in any capacity? Or if the powers of speech could ever theoretically return to the severed daemons?

I realize that at the end of the day, it's all fiction, but for some reason seeing the mistreatment of animals - even fictional, CGI animals - comes off as particularly disturbing to me. Moreso, I think, than the portrayed mistreatment of fictional humans. I'm just hoping there's some redemption for the daemons.

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    For what it's worth, the daemons aren't really animals in any sense except appearance. They're conscious manifestations of the subconscious or souls of the human characters, and they're more human in personality than anything else. At least in the books.
    – Adamant
    Dec 10, 2019 at 20:00
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    @Valorum - isn't what you quoted just Lyra deliberately lying to Iofur Raknison, in order to stay alive?
    – soapergem
    Dec 10, 2019 at 20:49
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    @Valorum Lyra is the primary protagonist of the series and is entirely human, not an artificial daemon. She is, however, notable for being a very skilled liar, a fact which is a significant plot point and persists throughout the series. The quote was a clever lie rather than a statement of fact. Dec 10, 2019 at 21:57
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    @Naib as implied in the question, yes, there were clearly many survivors portrayed in the most recent episode. Since the author, Philip Pullman is a producer of the show, I'd assume it's consistent with the novels.
    – soapergem
    Dec 11, 2019 at 1:23
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    @Adamant the daemon is the soul. The series takes the traditional Mind+Body+Spirit and readjusts it to Ghost+Body+Daemon. This probably won't be fully apparent in the TV series until they get to The Amber Spyglass.
    – OrangeDog
    Dec 11, 2019 at 12:15

2 Answers 2


Disclaimer: I have not read any of the new Book of Dust series.

Nowhere in the books is there any suggestion that incised daemons can be "re-attached". The human remains permanently without a soul (and thus true sentience/consciousness).

Note in that episode it is confirmed that the nursing staff have also been incised. It's unclear whether their ability to speak compared to the children is a result of being incised as adults, post-incision rehabilitation, or simply a less traumatic incision.

However, there are alternative methods whereby the physical separation limit can be permanently removed without any apparent permanent metaphysical effects. The effects of this have been seen so far on TV in Mrs. Coulter and Serafina Pekkala.

  • It's been about a year since I read the first Book of Dust novel, but it doesn't show up there. Thanks for prompting me to check out the second! Dec 11, 2019 at 18:25
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    "It's unclear whether their ability to speak compared to the children is a result of being incised as adults, post-incision rehabilitation, or simply a less traumatic incision" In the books this is attributed to them being severed as adults. Also the methods become less traumatic on each interaction, so the adults faced "worse", more shocking severing methods.
    – Marvel Boy
    Dec 11, 2019 at 19:22
  • @Renan I'm not sure how being killed is less traumatic than not.
    – OrangeDog
    Dec 13, 2019 at 0:11
  • @StopHarmingMonica at some point someone says that a handful kids survived, which is an improvement. This implies death rated were higher before. They also note to Mrs. Coulter that the children are more responsive and can be incised while awake. I get from this that past iterations were more brutal and had less survivors.
    – Marvel Boy
    Dec 13, 2019 at 0:31
  • @Renan incisions of children yes, but not necessarily of adults
    – OrangeDog
    Dec 13, 2019 at 0:32

Yes, apparently

Massive spoilers ahead though, so proceed with caution.

In the last book of the trilogy, The Amber Spyglass, Lyra goes to the World of the Dead while still being alive. In this world there is a place called The Land of the Dead. To differentiate - the World of the Dead is close to that of the living and is like a purgatory where souls await their turn to go to their final resting place. The Land of the Dead is more distant from the world of the living and is like a kind of hell.

To reach the Land of the Dead from the World of the Dead's main entrance, living beings have to both die and leave their daemons behind (all souls have it, even if they don't manifest them physically like people from Lyra's world). Lyra goes on and is thus severed from Pan, in a way.

Later in the book, Lyra escapes the Land of the Dead and is eventually rejoined to Pan. With the new connection they make, they are able to become separated by large distances just like witches can be far from their daemons. A witch later explains that as children, witches undergo a similar process (though theirs doesn't involve actual death).

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    That was not intercision. Lyra and Will never lose their conscience or show any other signs of soullessness.
    – OrangeDog
    Dec 11, 2019 at 19:35
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    @StopHarmingMonica as Lyra's personal death told her, she was actually dead and permanently separated from her daemon.
    – Marvel Boy
    Dec 11, 2019 at 19:56
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    Even so, it is NOT intercision. Nor did Lyra die in any normal sense - or Pan would have turned to dust, Dec 12, 2019 at 10:18
  • Humans can be trained to move a nearly infinite distance away from their daemons, without being torn apart. This training is a common rite for witches, who walk into a special, remote region where daemons can't enter. Lyra and Will went through the same process in the World of the Dead, when they had to leave their daemons, before the Boatman would let them cross the water into the actual Land of the Dead.
    – Erik Hart
    Jan 28, 2022 at 13:28

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