The Golden Compass

by

Philip Pullman

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The Alethiometer Symbol Analysis

The Alethiometer Symbol Icon

The alethiometer—the titular golden compass—represents children’s unique ability to discern truth. The Alethiometer is a gold instrument with pictures and three needles that, if one knows how to read it, will answer any question truthfully. The fact that Lyra can read the alethiometer without study (Farder Coram notes that it takes adults years and a specific reference guide to learn to read it) suggests that given the way the novel conceptualizes childhood and innocence, the ability to ascertain the truth like this is something unique to children. In this way, the alethiometer more broadly makes the point that because of their innocent nature, children can, when given the correct tools, be the least biased and most effective judges of morality or truth. 

The Alethiometer Quotes in The Golden Compass

The The Golden Compass quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Alethiometer. 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 Two Quotes

"Yes. Lyra has a part to play in all this, and a major one. The irony is that she must do it all without realizing what she's doing. She can be helped, though, and if my plan with the Tokay had succeeded, she would have been safe for a little longer."

Related Characters: The Master (speaker), Lord Asriel, The Librarian
Related Symbols: The Alethiometer
Page Number: 31
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

"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:
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The Alethiometer Symbol Timeline in The Golden Compass

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Alethiometer appears in The Golden Compass. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter Two
Religion, Politics, and Control Theme Icon
...They discuss that Lord Asriel thwarted the assassination attempt, and the Master says that the alethiometer is showing that there will be awful consequences of Lord Asriel's research, and "the child"—Lyra—will... (full context)
Chapter Four
Childhood, Innocence, and Maturation Theme Icon
Religion, Politics, and Control Theme Icon
Truth, Lies, and Morality Theme Icon
Destiny vs. Free Will Theme Icon
...in a velvet case and says she needs to keep it private. It's called an alethiometer, he says, and it tells the truth. The Master begins to say something about Lord... (full context)
Childhood, Innocence, and Maturation Theme Icon
Religion, Politics, and Control Theme Icon
Truth, Lies, and Morality Theme Icon
...bathroom with pink soap and Lyra and Pan play in the bubbles. Lyra remembers the alethiometer in her coat pocket and feels confused, as she promised to keep it secret, but... (full context)
Childhood, Innocence, and Maturation Theme Icon
Truth, Lies, and Morality Theme Icon
Once Mrs. Coulter is gone, Pan pulls at Lyra's hair and they take out the alethiometer. It has needles pointing in different directions, small painted pictures, and three wheels. Lyra makes... (full context)
Chapter Five
Humanity, Identity, and the Soul Theme Icon
Religion, Politics, and Control Theme Icon
Truth, Lies, and Morality Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Childhood, Innocence, and Maturation Theme Icon
Truth, Lies, and Morality Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
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
...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. (full context)
Chapter Six
Childhood, Innocence, and Maturation Theme Icon
Truth, Lies, and Morality Theme Icon
Lyra wakes up in the morning, checks that she still has the alethiometer, and enters the kitchen. Ma Costa enters from the deck and starts to make Lyra... (full context)
Chapter Seven
Religion, Politics, and Control Theme Icon
Truth, Lies, and Morality Theme Icon
...the Master try to poison Lord Asriel, and says that the Master gave her the alethiometer. She pulls out the instrument and says she doesn't know how to read it. (full context)
Religion, Politics, and Control Theme Icon
Truth, Lies, and Morality Theme Icon
Destiny vs. Free Will Theme Icon
...book with all the meanings in a library somewhere. Lyra says that she kept the alethiometer secret, but the golden monkey found it. John Faa states what they know: the Master... (full context)
Truth, Lies, and Morality Theme Icon
They discuss what the Master intended in giving Lyra the alethiometer. Lyra thinks that the Master wanted her to keep it from Lord Asriel, but Farder... (full context)
Chapter Eight
Childhood, Innocence, and Maturation Theme Icon
Humanity, Identity, and the Soul Theme Icon
Truth, Lies, and Morality Theme Icon
...what happened when Lord Asriel killed Mr. Coulter. When she's alone, Lyra pores over the alethiometer and tries to figure out how to read it. She discovers how to hold her... (full context)
Childhood, Innocence, and Maturation Theme Icon
Religion, Politics, and Control Theme Icon
...her into danger and refuses, even when Lyra says that she's learning to read the alethiometer. He sends her away, and Lyra declares to Pan that they will go. (full context)
Chapter Nine
Truth, Lies, and Morality Theme Icon
Destiny vs. Free Will Theme Icon
Lyra begins to ask Farder Coram for help interpreting the symbols on the alethiometer. She explains how she asked the alethiometer a question about how Benjamin de Ruyter's mission... (full context)
Religion, Politics, and Control Theme Icon
...He tells her to occupy herself until later, when they need to talk about the alethiometer. She and Pan sit on a bank and Lyra thinks that she's afraid of her... (full context)
Childhood, Innocence, and Maturation Theme Icon
Destiny vs. Free Will Theme Icon
...were back at Jordan College with Roger. She spends much of her time studying the alethiometer and finds that if she concentrates, she can read and interpret it. She tells Farder... (full context)
Truth, Lies, and Morality Theme Icon
Destiny vs. Free Will Theme Icon
...Coram stare at each other in awe, and Lyra says they should've listened to the alethiometer. They decide to shut the "spy-fly" in a tin. (full context)
Chapter Ten
Childhood, Innocence, and Maturation Theme Icon
Truth, Lies, and Morality Theme Icon
Destiny vs. Free Will Theme Icon
Then, Dr. Lanselius turns to Lyra and asks her about the alethiometer. She allows him to see it, but Farder Coram interrupts and says that Lyra can't... (full context)
Religion, Politics, and Control Theme Icon
Truth, Lies, and Morality Theme Icon
As Lyra and Farder Coram walk, Lyra says that the alethiometer told her that Dr. Lanselius knew the answer to his question already. They head to... (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.... (full context)
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
...that this isn't true; Iorek is an indentured laborer and dangerous. Lyra says that the alethiometer told her something different. Farder Coram says that the townspeople only haven't killed Iorek as... (full context)
Childhood, Innocence, and Maturation Theme Icon
Religion, Politics, and Control Theme Icon
...Kaisa, who says that the witches are interested in Lyra in part because of the alethiometer. Farder Coram suggests that they trust Lyra and Iorek, and they ask Kaisa for his... (full context)
Chapter Twelve
Humanity, Identity, and the Soul Theme Icon
Truth, Lies, and Morality Theme Icon
Destiny vs. Free Will Theme Icon
...stops after several hours to eat and rest. John Faa asks Lyra to ask the alethiometer about how Bolvanger is protected. She says that it's just like Kaisa said, but the... (full context)
Chapter Thirteen
Humanity, Identity, and the Soul Theme Icon
Truth, Lies, and Morality Theme Icon
...Lyra wakes up, Farder Coram approaches. Lyra begins to tell him how she misinterpreted the alethiometer's reading about Tony, but Farder Coram says that Tony died an hour ago. The ground... (full context)
Childhood, Innocence, and Maturation Theme Icon
Humanity, Identity, and the Soul Theme Icon
Truth, Lies, and Morality Theme Icon
...bears can see through tricks. He says it's similar to how Lyra can interpret the alethiometer as a child, while adults can't. Puzzled, Lyra wonders if she'll stop being able to... (full context)
Chapter Fourteen
Humanity, Identity, and the Soul Theme Icon
Religion, Politics, and Control Theme Icon
Truth, Lies, and Morality Theme Icon
...she hides the spy-fly tin in her boot and checks that she still has the alethiometer. Lyra falls asleep and wakes up when she realizes that there are bright lights above... (full context)
Humanity, Identity, and the Soul Theme Icon
...small room where Lyra nervously undresses and Sister Clara herself unties the belt containing the alethiometer. She thinks it's a toy and assures Lyra that they won't take it away. Lyra... (full context)
Chapter Sixteen
Childhood, Innocence, and Maturation Theme Icon
Religion, Politics, and Control Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Chapter Seventeen
Truth, Lies, and Morality Theme Icon
Destiny vs. Free Will Theme Icon
...betraying Mrs. Coulter's impatience. Finally, Mrs. Coulter asks Lyra if the Master gave her an alethiometer. She says that it wasn't his to give, and that it shouldn't go to Lord... (full context)
Truth, Lies, and Morality Theme Icon
Destiny vs. Free Will Theme Icon
Serafina Pekkala confirms that Lyra still has the alethiometer. Kaisa flies up and Serafina passes on that Bolvanger is in ruins, the children are... (full context)
Chapter Eighteen
Childhood, Innocence, and Maturation Theme Icon
Humanity, Identity, and the Soul Theme Icon
...to another world and needs something to help him. Lyra is certain he needs the alethiometer and suggests that she can help him, but Serafina cannot confirm this. After a few... (full context)
Childhood, Innocence, and Maturation Theme Icon
Lyra calls for Iorek and Roger, but no one answers. Pan checks the alethiometer and after a minute, they get up to try to find the balloon. They find... (full context)
Chapter Nineteen
Humanity, Identity, and the Soul Theme Icon
...in. Pan becomes a firefly so 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... (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... (full context)
Chapter Twenty
Humanity, Identity, and the Soul Theme Icon
Religion, Politics, and Control Theme Icon
...Iofur test his claws' sharpness and excuses herself to go cry. When she consults the alethiometer, it again tells her to trust Iorek and reprimands her for asking again. Bears begin... (full context)
Truth, Lies, and Morality Theme Icon
Destiny vs. Free Will Theme Icon
...place worse than Bolvanger and do things that would be illegal elsewhere. Lyra consults the alethiometer and discovers that Lee Scoresby is airborne somewhere far away. She ascertains that Mrs. Coulter... (full context)
Chapter Twenty-One
Humanity, Identity, and the Soul Theme Icon
Religion, Politics, and Control Theme Icon
Truth, Lies, and Morality Theme Icon
...forward and Lord Asriel's color starts to return. Lyra says that she brought him the alethiometer and introduces Roger. Lord Asriel goes outside to talk to Iorek and orders Thorold to... (full context)
Destiny vs. Free Will Theme Icon
...he's more afraid of Lord Asriel than of Mrs. Coulter. Lyra offers to consult the alethiometer, but Roger says he'd rather not know the future after his horrible experience with the... (full context)
Childhood, Innocence, and Maturation Theme Icon
Humanity, Identity, and the Soul Theme Icon
Truth, Lies, and Morality Theme Icon
...this off, but Lyra bursts out that she doesn't know why she even brought the alethiometer to Lord Asriel and put herself through so much danger only to be received like... (full context)
Childhood, Innocence, and Maturation Theme Icon
Humanity, Identity, and the Soul Theme Icon
Religion, Politics, and Control Theme Icon
Destiny vs. Free Will Theme Icon
...going to destroy death itself. Then he dismisses Lyra, insisting that he doesn't need the alethiometer. Lyra wonders what the Master really wanted her to do. (full context)
Chapter Twenty-Three
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
...go it alone, even though they're never really alone. Lyra says they still have the alethiometer. She puts Roger's body down and she and Pan step into the sky. (full context)