The Ruby in the Smoke Topics for Discussion
by Philip Pullman

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Topics for Discussion

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

1. Folklore often gives symbolic meanings to gem stones. For example, a red stone worn by a man is said to indicate nobility and leadership and also to signify vengeance. On a woman, a red stone is said to indicate pride, obstinacy, and haughtiness. Identify the people in the book who possessed the Ruby of Agrapur. Did they possess any of these characteristics?

2. Throughout the novel, Pullman provides excellent descriptions of the London of 1872. Using passages from several parts of the book, describe the area around the East India Docks and Wapping where Mrs. Holland lives.

3. Although Sally seems independent, she sometimes uses her female charms to help her in situations. Locate and describe examples of her independence and of her use of female charms. What do they tell us about her intelligence and personality?

4. After meeting Mrs. Holland on the bridge and learning about her past, Sally throws the gemstone off London Bridge. Why does she do that? Knowing that the ruby was valuable, why did she not keep it?

5. Throughout the book are terms for items which were common during Sally Lockhart's time such as box lock pistols, mudlarks, hansom cabs, and penny dreadfuls. First use the novel to identify and define these and other Victorian terms. Then, for terms which are still unclear, find their meaning in a dictionary or encyclopedia.

6. Define foreshadowing and find examples of its use throughout the novel.

7. Explain the difference in the use that Matthew Bedwell and Sally Lockhart made of the drug opium.

8. Discuss the title of the book. What does it mean? Refer to Mr. Marchbanks' diary to learn the connection between the Ruby of Agrapur and opium. Did the Ruby of Agrapur live up to the legends surrounding it?

9. Prepare a web of the characters in the novel. Draw lines to show connections and use adjectives to describe relationships.

10. Locate examples of Pullman's use of descriptions to create mystery and suspense in the novel.