The Golden Compass

by

Philip Pullman

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The Golden Compass: Chapter Five Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Over the next few weeks, Lyra goes everywhere with Mrs. Coulter. She learns how to eat asparagus, gets to wear beautiful clothes, and attends the theater. When they're not out and about, Mrs. Coulter does her best to fill in the many gaps in Lyra's education. Despite these gaps, Lyra yearns to show Mrs. Coulter that she does know things, so when Mrs. Coulter tells Lyra about electrons, Lyra says that they're particles like Dust, but they're negatively charged. At the mention of Dust the golden monkey snaps to attention, and Mrs. Coulter asks Lyra what she knows about Dust. Lyra says that it lights up adults but not children, and fibs about where she learned this. Later, Pan tells Lyra that when Lyra mentioned Dust, Mrs. Coulter grabbed her dæmon, who seemed ready to jump at Lyra.
The way that Mrs. Coulter and the golden monkey react to Lyra's mention of Dust makes it very clear that whatever Dust is, it's a sensitive subject and not something that Mrs. Coulter believes that children should know about. This knowledge that adults are keeping things from her helps Lyra develop her distrust of Mrs. Coulter and learn that as she moves on and grows up, she needs to place her trust in people who are open and trusting with her in return.
Themes
Childhood, Innocence, and Maturation Theme Icon
Humanity, Identity, and the Soul Theme Icon
Religion, Politics, and Control Theme Icon
Truth, Lies, and Morality Theme Icon
Lyra sometimes thinks of Roger, but she soon forgets him in favor of whatever wonderful thing that Mrs. Coulter does next. After six weeks, Mrs. Coulter decides to throw a cocktail party and involves Lyra in the planning. In bed that night, Pan whispers that they're never going to the North, but Lyra insists that Mrs. Coulter will keep her word. Pan says that Mrs. Coulter is tutoring Lyra to keep her occupied and points out that Mrs. Coulter is turning Lyra into a pet. Lyra turns away, but she knows that Pan is right.
That Pan figures out what Mrs. Coulter is doing before Lyra does solidifies his role as a conscience or instinct of sorts; for Lyra, it's necessary to have him around so that he can continually point her in the right direction and help her make sense of her world.
Themes
Humanity, Identity, and the Soul Theme Icon
On the day of the party, Lyra has her hair done at a hairdresser's. After Lyra emerges from her bedroom, dressed in her new dress and wearing a small shoulder bag with the alethiometer hidden in it, Mrs. Coulter tells Lyra to leave the bag in her room. Lyra resists, but the golden monkey pins Pan down roughly and begins to pull on one of his ears as though to tear it off. Lyra sobs, terrified, and promises to put the bag away. Pan leaps into Lyra's arms and Lyra slams the door to her bedroom. A moment later, Mrs. Coulter opens it, tells Lyra to never slam doors, and to behave herself for the party. She asks for a kiss, and Lyra finds Mrs. Coulter's smell odd. In the drawing room, Mrs. Coulter asks Lyra about the flowers as though nothing happened.
The way that the golden monkey treats Pan in this situation betrays Mrs. Coulter's cruel and unfeeling nature: she's not above causing others pain to make a point or to gain control. In this sense, Mrs. Coulter more broadly represents the Magisterium, which on a much grander scale does exactly the same thing. Mrs. Coulter's behavior shows Lyra that she's not trustworthy and will attack Lyra's very soul in order to get her way, something that, in the long run, pushes Lyra toward greater independence.
Themes
Humanity, Identity, and the Soul Theme Icon
Religion, Politics, and Control Theme Icon
Truth, Lies, and Morality Theme Icon
Lyra has no trouble pretending to be charming, but Pan remains disgusted with Mrs. Coulter and the golden monkey. As the room fills with guests, Lyra feels more and more like a pet. One woman mistakes Lyra for Mrs. Coulter's daughter and seems curious when Lyra says that her parents died in an aeronautical accident in the North. As she wanders away, Lyra hears a man mention Dust to a young woman. The man says that a scientist called Rusakov discovered Dust and that it's attracted to adults and adolescents, but not children. He drops his voice and notes that Mrs. Coulter and the Oblation Board know all about it. He notices Lyra watching and asks if she's safe from the Oblation Board.
Lyra's ability to be charming and conduct herself to Mrs. Coulter's standards at the party speaks, in part, to Lyra's skill at lying and acting. She certainly feels vulnerable and disgusted, just like Pan, but she also understands that her safety and happiness depends on getting through this without making Mrs. Coulter angry. This man's information about Dust makes it possible that children are being targeted because they don't have Dust, while not knowing what Dust is in Lyra's case makes it clear that she's still a child.
Themes
Childhood, Innocence, and Maturation Theme Icon
Religion, Politics, and Control Theme Icon
Truth, Lies, and Morality Theme Icon
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Lyra says that she's safe and mentions the dangers that plague children in Oxford, including a werewolf and the Gobblers. At this, the man interrupts and says that that's what they call the Oblation Board. The woman asks why they have the name, and before Lyra can tell one of her scary stories, the man says that it's from the initials of the General Oblation Board. He explains that in the middle ages, parents gave their children to the church to be monks or nuns. The children were known as oblates, which means "sacrifice." The General Oblation Board is drawing on those ideas with Dust. The man suggests that Lyra speak to Lord Boreal and points out an older man across the room.
As in the Retiring Room, the bigger picture that this man is gesturing at doesn't make sense to Lyra or the reader, given that Lyra is a child and doesn't understand what Dust is or what the Oblation Board does. The revelation that the kidnapped children are sacrifices of some sort, and specifically that they're connected to the Church, suggests that this is about control and guiding the population in a particular direction.
Themes
Childhood, Innocence, and Maturation Theme Icon
Religion, Politics, and Control Theme Icon
The young woman, however, introduces herself as Adèle Starminster, a journalist, and asks to speak with Lyra. Adèle wants to know if Mrs. Coulter is nice and what Lyra does for her, but Lyra keeps her answers short. Mrs. Coulter appears in the doorway and quietly says that Adèle wasn't invited and won't be working as a journalist for long. She sends the young woman away. Mrs. Coulter smells metallic again, and Lyra realizes that the golden monkey is gone. The monkey appears, and Mrs. Coulter asks Lyra to let her know if anyone else shows up uninvited.
Dæmons cannot move far from their humans in normal circumstances, so the golden monkey's absence makes Mrs. Coulter seem even scarier and as though she is, to some degree, less human. Her threat to end Adèle's career reminds the reader and Lyra of how powerful Mrs. Coulter is in both government and society. This suggests that Lyra’s adversary is the overall concentration of power, not just Mrs. Coulter herself.
Themes
Humanity, Identity, and the Soul Theme Icon
Religion, Politics, and Control Theme Icon
Pan whispers in Lyra's ear and says that the golden monkey was just in their bedroom and must know about the alethiometer. Lyra looks around for the professor who knew about the Gobblers, but she sees the man leave. She feels anxious and exposed, so she wanders around the party until someone sends her to Lord Boreal. The older man asks what Mrs. Coulter is teaching Lyra. Feeling rebellious, Lyra says that she's learning about the Oblation Board and Rusakov Particles. Uncomfortable under Lord Boreal's stare, Lyra admits that Lord Asriel showed her a photo of Dust and that the Oblation Board took Roger. She says that she hasn't "taken part" yet when Lord Boreal asks, but neither she nor Pan know what he's talking about.
In this situation, Lyra demonstrates that lying or embellishing can be an effective way to obtain important and necessary information. The fact that learning these things helps propel Lyra toward maturity and adulthood also suggests that learning to read situations and employ lying as needed is one of the ways that children learn to grow up, and that adulthood itself is marked by these morally ambiguous spaces.
Themes
Childhood, Innocence, and Maturation Theme Icon
Truth, Lies, and Morality Theme Icon
Lord Boreal asks if Lyra knows what happens to the children. Lyra says that she only knows that it's about Dust and that the children are a sacrifice. Lord Boreal deems this dramatic; he says that what happens is for the children's own good and they come of their own accord. He smiles at Lyra and both Lyra and Pan feel horrified. She wanders around until she hears a bishop say that Lord Asriel is currently imprisoned at Svalbard by the panserbjørne—the armored bears—because of his heretical experiments. Lyra and Pan lock themselves in their room and decide to run away. Lyra grabs her warmest clothes, money, and the alethiometer and when Pan says it's safe, they race outside.
Discovering that the panserbjørne are bears, and that they have imprisoned Lord Asriel, makes Lyra feel as though her world has been turned upside-down. This shift represents an uncomfortable step into adulthood and indicates that part of growing up is coming to terms with the myriad ways in which a person must navigate difficult emotional and moral waters throughout one's life. Lord Boreal's insistence that what happens is for the children's own good is questionable, given that they're experimenting only on vulnerable children—clearly, it's not “good” enough to try on someone like Lyra.
Themes
Childhood, Innocence, and Maturation Theme Icon
Humanity, Identity, and the Soul Theme Icon
Religion, Politics, and Control Theme Icon
Truth, Lies, and Morality Theme Icon