The Golden Compass

by

Philip Pullman

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Iorek Byrnison Character Analysis

A panserbjørne (armored bear) from Svalbard who was once a prince. Years before the start of the novel, Iorek wrongfully killed another bear in a suspicious incident, and as punishment was banished and had his armor taken away. When Lyra and Farder Coram find him, he's working in Trollesund as a metalworker in exchange for alcohol and meat, and the townsfolk have the armor he made himself in hiding. In this state without his armor, Iorek is a terrifying and uncanny sight. He's clearly not human, but he's also deeply unhappy and his unhappiness makes him even scarier. Lyra believes that he's so scary because he doesn't have a dæmon, but Iorek explains that bears' souls are contained in their armor rather than in a dæmon. With this information, Lyra helps Iorek get his armor back. This turns Iorek into Lyra's fiercest protector and a loyal, driven, and compassionate member of the gyptian rescue mission. Iorek is instrumental in teaching Lyra about how souls function for different races in their world, and specifically about how the bears' culture functions. He makes it clear that bears can't be tricked, and also offers insight into human evolution when he notes that human beings used to share this quality but have since lost it. Iorek is thrilled when he discovers that Lyra managed to trick Iofur Raknison, the king of the bears who desperately wants to be human, into agreeing to fight him in one-on-one combat. Because Iorek is comfortable in his armor and in his identity while Iofur isn't, Iorek wins the battle and assumes his rightful place as king of the bears. His loyalty to Lyra means that he continues to help her pursue her goals until he physically can't anymore.

Iorek Byrnison Quotes in The Golden Compass

The The Golden Compass quotes below are all either spoken by Iorek Byrnison or refer to Iorek Byrnison. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Childhood, Innocence, and Maturation Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Random House edition of The Golden Compass published in 1995.
Chapter Ten Quotes

Lyra's heart was thumping hard, because something in the bear's presence made her feel close to coldness, danger, brutal power, but a power controlled by intelligence; and not a human intelligence, nothing like a human, because of course bears had no dæmons. The strange hulking presence gnawing its meat was like nothing she had ever imagined, and she felt a profound admiration and pity for the lonely creature.

Related Characters: Lyra, Iorek Byrnison, Pan
Page Number: 179-80
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter Eleven Quotes

She felt angry and miserable. His badger claws dug into the earth and he walked forward. It was such a strange tormenting feeling when your dæmon was pulling at the link between you; part physical pain deep in the chest, part intense sadness and love. And she knew it was the same for him. Everyone tested it when they were growing up: Seeing how far they could pull apart, coming back with intense relief.

Related Characters: Lyra, Iorek Byrnison, Pan
Page Number: 195
Explanation and Analysis:

"My armor is made of sky iron, made for me. A bear's armor is his soul, just as your dæmon is your soul. You might as well take him away"—indicating Pantalaimon—"and replace him with a doll full of sawdust. That is the difference."

Related Characters: Iorek Byrnison (speaker), Lyra, Pan
Page Number: 196-97
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter Twelve Quotes

"Because, Iorek, listen: I got this symbol reader that tells me things, you see, and it's told me that there's something important I got to do over in that village, and Lord Faa won't let me go there. He just wants to get on quick, and I know that's important too. But unless I go and find out what it is, we might not know what the Gobblers are really doing."

Related Characters: Lyra (speaker), Iorek Byrnison, Tony Makarios, The Gobblers
Related Symbols: The Alethiometer
Page Number: 206
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter Thirteen Quotes

Her first impulse was to turn and run, or to be sick. A human being with no dæmon was like someone without a face, or with their ribs laid open and their heart torn out: something unnatural and uncanny that belonged to the world of night-ghasts, not the waking world of sense.

Related Characters: Lyra, Iorek Byrnison, Pan, Tony Makarios, Ratter
Page Number: 214
Explanation and Analysis:

"How do you do that?"

"By not being human," he said. "That's why you could never trick a bear. We see tricks and deceit as plain as arms and legs. We can see in a way humans have forgotten. But you know about this; you can understand the symbol reader."

"That en't the same, is it?" [...]

"It is the same," he said. "Adults can't read it, as I understand. As I am to human fighters, so you are to adults with the symbol reader."

"Yes, I suppose," she said, puzzled and unwilling. "Does that mean I'll forget how to do it when I grow up?"

Related Characters: Lyra (speaker), Iorek Byrnison (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Alethiometer
Page Number: 226
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter Eighteen Quotes

"When bears act like people, perhaps they can be tricked," said Serafina Pekkala. "When bears act like bears, perhaps they can't. No bear would normally drink spirits. Iorek Byrnison drank to forget the shame of exile, and it was only that which let the Trollesund people trick him."

Related Characters: Serafina Pekkala (speaker), Lyra, Iorek Byrnison, Iofur Raknison
Page Number: 317
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter Twenty Quotes

But his armor was his soul. He had made it and it fitted him. They were one. Iofur was not content with his armor; he wanted another soul as well. He was restless while Iorek was still.

Related Characters: Lyra, Iorek Byrnison, Iofur Raknison
Page Number: 349
Explanation and Analysis:

Because Iorek was moving backward only to find clean dry footing and a firm rock to leap up from, and the useless left arm was really fresh and strong. You could not trick a bear, but, as Lyra had shown him, Iofur did not want to be a bear. He wanted to be a man; and Iorek was tricking him.

Related Characters: Lyra, Iorek Byrnison, Iofur Raknison
Page Number: 353
Explanation and Analysis:
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Iorek Byrnison Character Timeline in The Golden Compass

The timeline below shows where the character Iorek Byrnison appears in The Golden Compass. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter Ten
Religion, Politics, and Control Theme Icon
Truth, Lies, and Morality Theme Icon
...about engaging the services of an armored bear. He explains that there's one in town, Iorek Byrnison, who isn't employed by the Oblation Board. He advises that getting Iorek’s help is... (full context)
Religion, Politics, and Control Theme Icon
Truth, Lies, and Morality Theme Icon
...knew the answer to his question already. They head to the depot to track down Iorek Byrnison and when they learn that he'll be off duty at six p.m., they purchase... (full context)
Childhood, Innocence, and Maturation Theme Icon
Humanity, Identity, and the Soul Theme Icon
Truth, Lies, and Morality Theme Icon
...and Farder Coram walk to the local bar. In the yard behind it, they find Iorek Byrnison drinking from a massive tankard and gnawing on a haunch of bloody meat. Farder... (full context)
Humanity, Identity, and the Soul Theme Icon
Iorek comes close to the gate and says that he knows the gyptians are looking for... (full context)
Chapter Eleven
Religion, Politics, and Control Theme Icon
Back at the ship, Lyra consults the alethiometer and figures out where Iorek's armor is and why it will be difficult to retrieve. She decides to let John... (full context)
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Humanity, Identity, and the Soul Theme Icon
Religion, Politics, and Control Theme Icon
Truth, Lies, and Morality Theme Icon
...bears will hold Lord Asriel until they all die. At this, Lyra cries out that Iorek isn't like that and is going to help them. Farder Coram uncomfortably tells Lyra that... (full context)
Childhood, Innocence, and Maturation Theme Icon
Religion, Politics, and Control Theme Icon
...Lyra in part because of the alethiometer. Farder Coram suggests that they trust Lyra and Iorek, and they ask Kaisa for his opinion. Kaisa says that they'll need to make their... (full context)
Childhood, Innocence, and Maturation Theme Icon
Humanity, Identity, and the Soul Theme Icon
Truth, Lies, and Morality Theme Icon
...She joins Tony Costa and his friends in a cafe and tells him all about Iorek. A tall lean man with a hare dæmon sits down, introduces himself as Lee Scoresby,... (full context)
Childhood, Innocence, and Maturation Theme Icon
Humanity, Identity, and the Soul Theme Icon
Truth, Lies, and Morality Theme Icon
Pan, however, says that he'll talk to Iorek. He flies as a bird over the chain link fence, but Lyra doesn't follow. He... (full context)
Childhood, Innocence, and Maturation Theme Icon
Humanity, Identity, and the Soul Theme Icon
Lyra asks why Iorek doesn't make more armor. He shows her how weak normal metal is. He explains that... (full context)
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Truth, Lies, and Morality Theme Icon
The policemen and the sentry shoot at Iorek, but he brushes off the bullets and grabs the sentry's head in his jaws. Lyra... (full context)
Humanity, Identity, and the Soul Theme Icon
...along with the town's “sysselman” (the head of the local government), arrive. The sysselman warns Iorek that if he returns they'll be merciless, but Iorek ignores him. The townsfolk wander away... (full context)
Chapter Twelve
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Religion, Politics, and Control Theme Icon
Truth, Lies, and Morality Theme Icon
Lyra asks John Faa if she and Iorek can go. She reminds him and Farder Coram about what happened when she couldn't interpret... (full context)
Childhood, Innocence, and Maturation Theme Icon
Humanity, Identity, and the Soul Theme Icon
Lyra and Iorek stop when they can see the village. Lyra says that there's something uncanny about the... (full context)
Humanity, Identity, and the Soul Theme Icon
...her and tells her to leave. An old man appears with a lantern and tells Iorek that he's seen children like this in the forest. Most die, and it's a mercy... (full context)
Chapter Thirteen
Humanity, Identity, and the Soul Theme Icon
Religion, Politics, and Control Theme Icon
Truth, Lies, and Morality Theme Icon
...to come out. He follows Lyra and shows no fear or emotion when he sees Iorek. He continues to ask for Ratter. The villager asks Iorek to pay for Tony's fish,... (full context)
Humanity, Identity, and the Soul Theme Icon
Truth, Lies, and Morality Theme Icon
...at the sight of Tony Makarios. Lyra explains that the Gobblers cut children's dæmons away. Iorek reprimands the men for shying away from Tony. The men build up the fire and... (full context)
Humanity, Identity, and the Soul Theme Icon
...is. When he's not looking, she snatches the tin out of his bag and asks Iorek to help her create a decoy tin to leave with Farder Coram, as well as... (full context)
Humanity, Identity, and the Soul Theme Icon
Lyra asks about the Svalbard bears, which live together. Iorek doesn't respond, and Lyra apologizes for offending him. She explains that Lord Asriel is a... (full context)
Childhood, Innocence, and Maturation Theme Icon
Humanity, Identity, and the Soul Theme Icon
Truth, Lies, and Morality Theme Icon
They discuss the king of the bears and Iorek says that the king's name is Iofur Raknison. Lyra remembers that she heard the name... (full context)
Childhood, Innocence, and Maturation Theme Icon
Truth, Lies, and Morality Theme Icon
...from joining him, but she pesters him with questions about Svalbard, what would happen if Iorek wanted to go back, and how to inflate a balloon. Lyra also asks about the... (full context)
Chapter Fourteen
Humanity, Identity, and the Soul Theme Icon
...men start to fall as arrows strike them. Pan knocks Lyra to the ground and Iorek leaps at their attackers. A man hauls Lyra to her feet, ties her up, and... (full context)
Chapter Fifteen
Childhood, Innocence, and Maturation Theme Icon
Humanity, Identity, and the Soul Theme Icon
...rather unimaginative, doesn't worry too much about the gyptians, and instead believes that they and Iorek will save her. At breakfast, she finds Roger. Pan provokes a scuffle with Roger's dæmon... (full context)
Chapter Sixteen
Childhood, Innocence, and Maturation Theme Icon
Religion, Politics, and Control Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Chapter Seventeen
Childhood, Innocence, and Maturation Theme Icon
...do, however; arrows come from witches above. Children begin screaming as they catch sight of Iorek charging past them to crash into the Tartars. (full context)
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...begin to shiver, so Pan bullies their dæmons into warming them. They trudge on, following Iorek's tracks. Lyra begins to hear and see strange things, and finally falls into John Faa's... (full context)
Childhood, Innocence, and Maturation Theme Icon
Destiny vs. Free Will Theme Icon
...a group of Tartars on the gyptians and Lyra watches her wrestle with Roger. Suddenly, Iorek leaps into the fray and Lyra feels something pull her up. She grabs Roger and... (full context)
Truth, Lies, and Morality Theme Icon
Destiny vs. Free Will Theme Icon
...balloon, throws it to the witches, and six witches pull the balloon north. Roger and Iorek fall asleep. Serafina asks Lyra why she's going to Lord Asriel. Lyra incredulously says that... (full context)
Chapter Eighteen
Destiny vs. Free Will Theme Icon
Serafina Pekkala says that this whole thing also has to do with Iorek's argument with the king of the bears, which also involves Lyra. Scoresby suggests that this... (full context)
Childhood, Innocence, and Maturation Theme Icon
Humanity, Identity, and the Soul Theme Icon
Destiny vs. Free Will Theme Icon
...says that she has no idea what they'll find on Svalbard or what Lyra and Iorek will do. Scoresby asks which side of the war he's on, and they agree that... (full context)
Humanity, Identity, and the Soul Theme Icon
Religion, Politics, and Control Theme Icon
...that nobody knows. Dæmons make them different from animals, and Lyra talks about how strange Iorek is but how amazing it is that he can create his soul. Serafina reveals that... (full context)
Religion, Politics, and Control Theme Icon
...as the basket drops through fog. Suddenly, a leathery, winged creature crawls over the basket. Iorek knocks it off and says that it's a cliff-ghast. The balloon tips sideways and something... (full context)
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Lyra calls for Iorek and Roger, but no one answers. Pan checks the alethiometer and after a minute, they... (full context)
Chapter Nineteen
Humanity, Identity, and the Soul Theme Icon
...that Lyra can see. She sits and pulls the alethiometer out. It tells her that Iorek and Roger are a day away and that Iorek plans to break in and rescue... (full context)
Humanity, Identity, and the Soul Theme Icon
Religion, Politics, and Control Theme Icon
Lyra suggests that Iorek will believe Santelia and free him when he arrives, but Santelia says that Iorek can't... (full context)
Humanity, Identity, and the Soul Theme Icon
...bear and says that she needs to see Iofur to tell him something important about Iorek. She refuses to let the guard pass on her message and points out that it's... (full context)
Humanity, Identity, and the Soul Theme Icon
...instead of armor. Birds swoop above and Iofur sits on a throne. He's huger than Iorek and looks somehow human. Lyra feels afraid until she sees that Iofur has a stuffed... (full context)
Humanity, Identity, and the Soul Theme Icon
Lyra tells Iofur that Iorek is on his way to steal her back, but she wants to be Iofur's dæmon... (full context)
Humanity, Identity, and the Soul Theme Icon
Religion, Politics, and Control Theme Icon
The alethiometer tells Lyra that Iorek is four hours away and that she must trust him. It then says that Iofur... (full context)
Chapter Twenty
Humanity, Identity, and the Soul Theme Icon
Religion, Politics, and Control Theme Icon
As soon as Iofur announces that he's going to fight Iorek, the ceremonial preparations begin. Armorers check Iofur's armor and file his claws to points. Lyra... (full context)
Childhood, Innocence, and Maturation Theme Icon
Truth, Lies, and Morality Theme Icon
...time. Lyra feels as though she has betrayed her friend: while Iofur's armor covers everything, Iorek's armor leaves much of his body exposed. As they hear a roar from a bear... (full context)
Childhood, Innocence, and Maturation Theme Icon
Humanity, Identity, and the Soul Theme Icon
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Iorek roars the terms of the fight: if Iofur wins, he'll be the king of the... (full context)
Humanity, Identity, and the Soul Theme Icon
Religion, Politics, and Control Theme Icon
Truth, Lies, and Morality Theme Icon
Iofur taunts Iorek and backs him up across the ground. Lyra cries and knows that Iorek is going... (full context)
Humanity, Identity, and the Soul Theme Icon
Religion, Politics, and Control Theme Icon
A bear wakes Lyra up and tells her to come to Iorek. When they get to an assembly of bears, she sees that Roger is there too.... (full context)
Chapter Twenty-One
Humanity, Identity, and the Soul Theme Icon
Religion, Politics, and Control Theme Icon
Lyra and Roger each ride a young bear while Iorek runs ahead of them. Lyra thinks of the bear Søren Eisarson telling her about the... (full context)
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Iorek stops the march and points up a ridge to a huge building with large lit... (full context)
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Humanity, Identity, and the Soul Theme Icon
Truth, Lies, and Morality Theme Icon
Lyra sits across from Lord Asriel. They discuss that Iorek is now king and Lord Asriel wants to know why Iorek and John Faa are... (full context)
Chapter Twenty-Two
Humanity, Identity, and the Soul Theme Icon
Truth, Lies, and Morality Theme Icon
Destiny vs. Free Will Theme Icon
...Roger, whom he needs for an experiment. Thorold helps Lyra dress in her furs and Iorek leaps up when Lyra calls for him. She jumps onto Iorek's back and they race... (full context)
Childhood, Innocence, and Maturation Theme Icon
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...soldiers on board to get off safely, and with the battle now on the ground, Iorek grabs Lyra and they race after Lord Asriel. Iorek promises to find Lee Scoresby and... (full context)