The Golden Compass

by

Philip Pullman

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The Golden Compass: Chapter One Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Lyra and her dæmon, Pan, sneak through the dark dining hall. Lyra flicks a glass and Pan reprimands her for not taking this seriously. Pan, as a moth, flutters into the Retiring Room and then calls for Lyra to follow. Lyra has never been in the Retiring Room; it's for Scholars and guests, and never for women. She begins to look around at the armchairs, the portraits of scholars, and the chafing dish prepped and ready to fry poppy heads. Pan hisses for Lyra to hide. From behind an armchair, they watch as the Master and the Butler enter and discuss that Lord Asriel hasn't arrived yet. The Butler points out the Tokay wine that he decanted for Lord Asriel and leaves, and the Master take a gown from a wardrobe and puts it on.
This introduction to Lyra and Pan shows the reader how dæmons (which Pan is) function: on one level, they represent an opposing piece of their person's personality. While Lyra is carefree and mischievous, Pan is thoughtful, guilty, and worried about getting in trouble. Because the novel sets people up to have this kind of a dual personality, it makes the case that people are multifaceted, and while their souls may be an intrinsic part of themselves, they still represent a different aspect.
Themes
Humanity, Identity, and the Soul Theme Icon
Truth, Lies, and Morality Theme Icon
Lyra is excited: Lord Asriel is her uncle, and she both admires him and is afraid of him. The Master pulls out a folded piece of paper, takes the stopper out of the decanted wine, and then pours white powder from the paper into it. His raven dæmon squawks and then she and the Master leave. Alone in the room again, Pan hisses that they need to leave, but then they hear the Steward's bell from the dining hall. Lyra and Pan are trapped; the only other door out leads into a busy hallway. Confused by what she saw, Lyra hesitates. She hears the Steward coming and hides inside the wardrobe. When he leaves again, Pan laments that Lyra never listens to him, but Lyra insists that they can stop the Master from murdering Lord Asriel.
For Lyra, what she sees is confusing but it's also a clear-cut case of right and wrong: she loves and admires Lord Asriel, so murdering him is inarguably wrong. In her understanding, it's her duty to stop the Master from poisoning him. While this may be a reasonable conclusion with the information she has, it's also important to keep in mind that the Master isn't an evil mastermind. Instead, he believes that doing this one bad thing will help Lyra in the long run. In short, this is much muddier than it appears to Lyra in this moment.
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
Related Quotes
Pan tries to convince Lyra to sneak out of the Retiring Room, but Lyra refuses. She says that she's heard servants whispering about something political and she needs to know what's going on. Lyra admits that she doesn't have a plan for how she's going to save Lord Asriel, but she chastises Pan for not using his conscience for good. The two sit in silence and, being proud, Lyra tries to sort through her thoughts without Pan's help. She's anxious about Lord Asriel and knows that he's important in politics. The servants have been talking about a possible war breaking out with the Tartars in northeastern Europe, where Lord Asriel has been. Lyra and Pan deduce that the war probably won't begin soon if Lord Asriel is here.
That Lyra chastises Pan for not supporting her in doing the right thing and saving Lord Asriel suggests that at this point, Lyra is set in one way of thinking about right and wrong, while Pan recognizes that there may be more to this that they simply don’t understand yet . To support this, it's telling that Lyra has no idea what's going on in the wider world—so she has no perspective to help her better understand why the Master tried to poison Lord Asriel.
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
The Butler reenters, stokes the fire, and grabs a handful of tobacco leaves from the smoking stand. The door starts to open and the Butler stuffs the leaves into his pocket. Lord Asriel enters with his snow leopard dæmon, Stelmaria, and the two men greet each other stiffly. The Butler runs to fetch coffee. Lyra remembers how afraid she is of Lord Asriel and realizes that she's stuck in the wardrobe now. Lord Asriel and Stelmaria discuss that he's going to show his projections and the specimens in the Retiring Room. The Butler returns with coffee, points out the Tokay, and is surprised when Lord Asriel asks for his cases and a projector. Lyra watches, wondering what urgent thing Lord Asriel has to show the Scholars.
It's important to keep in mind that despite Lyra's admiration of Lord Asriel, she's also terrified of him. Her admiration, however, causes Lyra to do her best to subsume her fear and advocate for him, believing that he can do no wrong. This will turn out to be one of the most important ways in which Lyra demonstrates that she's still a naïve child: she believes that the adults in her life overwhelmingly want to look out for her and has no room in her worldview to account for the fact that this isn't true.
Themes
Childhood, Innocence, and Maturation Theme Icon
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Lord Asriel drinks two cups of coffee and then stands. He's tall, and seems like a wild animal as he pours himself a glass of the Tokay. Lyra shrieks, tumbles out of the wardrobe, and throws his glass to the ground. Lord Asriel grips Lyra's wrist and twists them, but lets go when Lyra spits out that she saw the Master poison the wine. Lyra explains to her furious uncle that she came in to look around and then got trapped. Someone knocks on the door and Lord Asriel orders Lyra back into the wardrobe. The Porter lets himself in with two large boxes. Lyra hears a crash and Lord Asriel curses at the Porter for spilling the Tokay. As the Porter runs off to fetch cleaning supplies, Lord Asriel murmurs to Lyra to watch the Master for anything suspicious.
That Lord Asriel first hurts Lyra like this and then decides to weaponize her to spy on the Master suggests that he's not as good and pure as Lyra might like to believe. While his desire to know what's up with the Master makes perfect sense given the circumstances, it's also possible that he has an ulterior motive in letting Lyra stay in the wardrobe at all. The wardrobe in particular can be read as a nod to C.S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia, which allows Pullman to situate his novel as a member of the same genre, though he picks at Christianity rather than supporting it (as Lewis did).
Themes
Humanity, Identity, and the Soul Theme Icon
Religion, Politics, and Control Theme Icon
Truth, Lies, and Morality Theme Icon
The Butler and Lord Asriel's manservant, Thorold, arrive with another case and stop short when they see the Porter cleaning up the Tokay. They begin to set up the projector and Lyra realizes that she'll be able to see it from her hiding spot. Pan remains unconvinced that sneaking in was a good idea. The servants leave, Lord Asriel shoots a searing glare at Lyra, and moments later, the Master enters.
Again, Pan's reticence and the fact that as a dæmon, he's an intrinsic part of Lyra suggests that some part of Lyra knows that she shouldn't be here. To Pan’s credit, seeing Lord Asriel's presentation sets Lyra on a journey that ends in tragedy and entirely upends her life.
Themes
Humanity, Identity, and the Soul Theme Icon
Destiny vs. Free Will Theme Icon