They are governed by a king who is usually determined by bloodline, but can be elected by unarmed combat. They are the protectors of Svalbard, the centre of their civilization. However, in The Amber Spyglass, they voyage down to the Himalayas when Lord Asriel's inter-dimensional rift causes the climate to become inhospitable. They soon realise that they cannot live in the Himalayas as its ecosystem is unable to support them. Iorek Byrnison is the main Panserbjørn in the trilogy.
A panserbjørn fashions his own armour using 'sky-iron', rare iron collected from meteorites which the bears discover on or buried in the ice. Panserbjørne have a strong spiritual connection with their armour (much as humans do with their dæmons). 'Sky Iron' itself as described in Pullman's works is fictional, but the native peoples of the Arctic do value meteorites (particularly the Cape York meteorite) as an invaluable source of iron for toolmaking (although iron from meteorites is actually weaker than terrestrial iron, not having impurities like carbon which contribute to its strength).
The armoured bears are often in a struggle between keeping their animal customs separate from human interaction.(unclear — see talk page) When Iofur Raknison, the king of Svalbard before Iorek, tried to change their society by attempting to make palaces and acquire dæmons, he removed the foundations of panserbjørn tradition. In doing so, a wave of doubt and uncertainy overtook the panserbjørne and they thus became even more vulnerable as a society. Iofur unknowingly made himself victim to Lyra's lies when he craved human possessions. Because of this critical error, Iorek eventually defeated Iofur to bring the bears back to a more primitive state; however, later in the series he began to feel human feelings such as doubt, and was asked if creating armour was a human action itself. Iorek, however, decided that there is a line between bear custom and human behaviour.
Early UK editions of the novels had Panserbørne instead of Panserbjørne. This was clearly a mistake as "panserbjørn" translated easily into Norwegian and Danish as "armoured bear" while "panzerbørne" is a grammatically incorrect way of saying "armoured children" in Danish.
Some of the important Panserbjørne featuring in the trilogy are:
|Races and Species|
|Humans • Dæmons • Witches • Panserbjørne • Angels • Spectres • Gallivespians • Mulefa • Harpies •|