The Golden Compass

by

Philip Pullman

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The Golden Compass: Chapter Sixteen Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Lyra focuses her attention on hiding her furs. Fortunately, getting the kids into the building is chaotic, so she's able to slip out of her furs and hide them in the ceiling of her dormitory. She hides the alethiometer with them. She and Pan decide to say that they were kidnapped, and Lyra realizes that she's afraid of Mrs. Coulter more than anything else. She focuses on the fact that the gyptians and Iorek are coming to save her. In the cafeteria, Lyra discovers that the other children are just as afraid of Mrs. Coulter as she is. Quietly, Lyra tells the children to be ready when the fire alarm goes off next.
Lyra's fear of Mrs. Coulter is, more broadly, representative of a fear of the establishment and its unchecked power. That all the children share this fear suggests that they all recognize how vulnerable they are to a system that doesn't care about them as people, and instead thinks of them only as disposable test subjects.
Themes
Childhood, Innocence, and Maturation Theme Icon
Religion, Politics, and Control Theme Icon
Mrs. Coulter passes by the door of the cafeteria and as she does, the children fearfully stop talking. A girl named Annie tells Lyra that Mrs. Coulter usually goes to the conference room. Later in the evening, Lyra realizes that the adults are acting like there's an emergency, and she figures that they discovered the escaped dæmons. In the dormitory before bed, Lyra tells her roommates that she's going into the ceiling to listen in on the conversation in the conference room. Annie insists on going too, but Pan overpowers her dæmon. The girls stuff clothes into Lyra's bed in case someone checks on them. Lyra and Pan make their way slowly around ducts and pipes, listening as they go. Finally, they reach the conference room.
That Lyra can pick up on the emergency that's bothering the adults suggests that though the adults here are trying to keep things secret from their captives, they're not very good at doing that either. This again gives Lyra an edge and suggests that there are a variety of ways that children can put the fact that they're children to good use—for instance, sneaking into the ceiling where an adult might not fit, or causing mayhem and testing the adults' ability to control a crowd.
Themes
Childhood, Innocence, and Maturation Theme Icon
Lyra listens to Mrs. Coulter interrogate three men about the dæmons' escape. A man explains that the alarm on the exterior building was linked to the fire alarm, so they missed it. They discuss that the dæmons escaped during the fire drill, which means that any adult or child could've done it. A doctor assures Mrs. Coulter that this is impossible. The conversation then turns to "the new separator." A doctor says that it's a real advancement and means that patients are less likely to die of shock. The “Maystadt anbaric scalpel” and Lord Asriel's discovery of an alloy that insulates the body from a dæmon make the procedure much better. Pan and Lyra tremble in fear.
Again, Lyra and the reader aren't supposed to fully understand what Mrs. Coulter and the doctors are talking about when it comes to the "separator," but the lack of information makes what Lyra does hear even more terrifying than it might be otherwise. Mentioning Lord Asriel opens up the possibility that he's somehow involved in this, which again should make Lyra question her father’s goodness.
Themes
Childhood, Innocence, and Maturation Theme Icon
Religion, Politics, and Control Theme Icon
Truth, Lies, and Morality Theme Icon
The doctor asks about Lord Asriel, and Mrs. Coulter says that since he continued his "heretical" work in Svalbard, he's too dangerous and has been sentenced to death. She asks again about the new scalpel. The doctor says that it's a guillotine of sorts, and they place a child and their dæmon in two compartments and sever the connection with the guillotine. Mrs. Coulter, pleased, excuses herself. The doctors talk quietly about Lord Asriel, what he's doing with his experiments on Dust, and Mrs. Coulter's cruel interest in seeing children and dæmons being ripped apart. Lyra involuntarily cries out and twitches, kicking a pipe. Before she can crawl away, a man pushes up the ceiling tile and wrestles her down. She struggles until she suddenly loses strength and sees that a man is holding Pan. Pan shakes in horror.
When the doctors confirm what the children already said about Mrs. Coulter's cruel interest in watching others experience pain, it makes it clear that this quality isn't something that's only apparent to Mrs. Coulter's victims; it's just the way she is. The fact that this doctor is willing to touch Pan shows that the cruelty of Bolvanger isn't unique to intercision; the children here are so unimportant to the doctors as people that it's somehow acceptable to treat them as less than human by handling their souls roughly and without respect.
Themes
Humanity, Identity, and the Soul Theme Icon
Religion, Politics, and Control Theme Icon
Truth, Lies, and Morality Theme Icon
Related Quotes
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The doctors deliberate and then decide to secretly perform intercision on Lyra and Pan to keep Lyra from talking. They carry her and Pan to a brightly lit room. Lyra screams and Pan escapes. He changes rapidly, fights the men and their dæmons, and leaps toward Lyra. The three men grab them and toss Lyra in one mesh cage and Pan in the other. The guillotine hangs between and above them. As it rises, Lyra hears Mrs. Coulter enter. When Mrs. Coulter sees Lyra, the golden monkey frees Pan from the cage. Pan clings to Lyra and Mrs. Coulter takes them to a bedroom.
The fact that Mrs. Coulter frees Lyra makes it very clear that even if she thinks that intercision is a good thing, it's still not ready to be used on children she actually cares about. This suggests to Lyra that she shouldn't take Mrs. Coulter at her word about anything, and only highlights Mrs. Coulter's cruelty.
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