The Subtle Knife
- Note: This article describes the physical knife. The Subtle Knife is also the title of Book II of the trilogy His Dark Materials.
The Subtle-Knife, also known as Æsahættr, meaning "God-Destroyer", is the name given to the dagger created by the Guild of Torre degli Angeli. An ordinary looking dagger, it possesses extraordinary capabilities; able to cut through any substance - lead, flesh, Dust; even the membrane that separates one world from another.
|"It was an ordinary-looking dagger, with a double-sided blade of dull metal about eight inches long, a short crosspiece of the same metal, and a handle of rosewood. As he looked at it more closely, he saw that the rosewood was inlaid with golden wires, forming a design he didn't recognize till he turned the knife around and saw an angel, with wings folded. On the other side was a different angel, with wings upraised. The wires stood out a little from the surface, giving a firm grip, and as he picked it up he felt that it was light in his hand and strong and beautifully balanced, and that the blade was not dull after all. In fact, a swirl of cloudy colors seemed to live just under the surface of the metal: bruise purples, sea blues, earth browns, cloud grays, the deep green under heavy-foliaged trees, the clustering shades at the mount of a tomb as evening falls over a deserted graveyard...."|
|The Subtle Knife|
The two edges of the knife are very different. One is clear bright steel that is incredibly sharp and will cut through any material in the world. The other side is just as sharp but silvery, and Lyra notices that the color is the same as the blade they were going to use on she and Pan at Bolvangar. This is the side that cuts into different worlds.
The knife is carried in a leather sheath, backed with stiff horn. There are buckles to hold the knife firmly in place because any movement would cut through the leather.
The Subtle Knife has had many carriers since its creation.
It comes into the possession of Will in the book of the same name. Although unwilling, Will fights and defeats Tullio, the person that stole the knife from the knife-bearer Giacomo Paradisi. Æsahættr makes its mark on Will and he loses the ring and little fingers of his left hand. This wound is dealt to all knife bearers and is recognized by Giacomo Paradisi, the knife-bearer before Will. Giacomo teaches Will how to use the knife and how to close the windows that he creates. He cuts his first window back into his world, and he and Lyra can see they are high above Oxford and can see the hornbeam trees in the distance.
Will bears the wound whilst carrying the knife throughout the rest of the trilogy.
The Rules of the Knife
Paradisi tells Will the following rules:
- Never open without closing
- Never let anyone else use the knife
- Never use it for a base purpose
- Keep it secret
He states also that there are other rules but he has forgotten them, thus they can't really be important.
The Break and the Repair
Will and Ama are in the cave where they have gone to rescue Lyra from Mrs. Coulter. He prepares to cut a window so he can pull Lyra to safety when he looks at Mrs. Coulter and sees his mother's face
|"reproaching him, and his heart quailed from sorrow; and then as he thrust with the knife, his mind left the point, and with a wrench and a crack, the knife fell in pieces to the ground. It was broken."|
|The Amber Spyglass|
Will gathered the seven pieces of the knife from the floor of the cave and put them in his sheath. After they escape from the cave, Lyra uses the Alethiometer to find out that Iorek Byrnison can repair the knife. They set off, along with Chevalier Tialys and the Lady Salmakia, and find Iorek near his cave in the mountains. He tells him he doesn't like the knife -- the knife has intentions as does any tool. The intentions are what it does and they might not know the intentions of the knife. Iorek agrees to repair the knife if the Alethiometer tells Lyra he should. Iorek works on repairing the knife but tells Will that he must forge it also, in his mind. When the repairs were finished,
|"It did look different. It was shorter, and much less elegant, and there was a dull silver surface over each of the joins. It looked ugly now; it looked like what it was, wounded."|
|The Amber Spyglass|
The BBC Radio Adaptation pronounced Æsahættr as "as-hatter."
Æsahættr is the title of Chapter 18 of The Subtle Knife.