The Golden Compass Page by Page
Chapter 15 - The D
æmon Cages

I remember having hiding places and escape paths lined planned each and every school I went to should I need to “escape” for whatever reason. I even went as far as to draw up maps of the buildings with all the hidden hallways and rooms of the school when I was in fifth grade.

I also remember the excitement of fire drills. Fire drills are in theory supposed to be practice for how to leave the building in an orderly manner if there was a fire, but actually what it does is to condition you into thinking “sigh, another fire drill” as soon as the bell rings to keep you calm, whether or not there’s an actual emergency, which is actually even more effective than the concept of “practicing for a fire”.

The kids whispering during lunch about what was happening to the kids who were being taken away reminds me of being in school on September 11th, 2001, when kids were mysteriously being plucked out of classes for dismissal and rumors were being whispered and passed in notes about what was going on because nearly all the teachers and lunch aides were obeying instructions to keep the unfolding terrorist attack a secret and to forbid discussion of it.

The man in the canteen calls the exercise a “practice fire drill”, so does that mean to say they’re practicing for an ACTUAL fire drill to be held at a later date? How inefficient.

Lyra’s being tested for Dust by the "doctor" reminds me of how I’d feel as a small child whenever I’d be taken to a preternaturally sterile hospital where I could expect to get a painful shot or have my ears looked at with an otoscope (which was worse than the shot) or fed bad tasting medicine, all while clutching my worn out teddy bear (that I’m using as a pillow a I type this) much like a kid in Lyra’s world would be cuddling their dæmon.

Luckily that phase didn’t last long for me, I could take shots well by the time I was six and I realized out that doctors (at least the ones my parents brought me to) were there to make me healthy and not just poke and prod at me.

I’d never in a million years have the guts to asking an outrageously risky question like “why do you cut kids dæmons away?”, I’d be frightened enough as it was NOT knowing what was going on, let alone being the only kid in the station to know how bad it was.

The fire drill in Bolvangar becoming an impromptu outdoor recess session is also similar to my memories of school. Especially on warm sunny days, and if the “emergency” lasted a while we could all be out there on the grass for an hour or more sneaking away from our assigned groups to meet up with other friends and sneaking back before the teachers noticed.

For some reason my image of the building with the dæmon cages directly contradicts what’s described in the text. Something made me want to imagine rows upon rows of cages stacked high like those private libraries where there’s a ladder on a rail that slides around so you can reach the higher books, which is even worse than what’s in the book since that means a lot more severed dæmons, and totally impractical since Lyra is said to unlock all the cages in under a minute.

I listened to the audiobook version of this chapter with my Mom, and she actually had to have me pause the recording for a while because the description of the severed dæmons was so upsetting that she needed a minute to gather herself before she could listen any more.

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