The Golden Compass Page by Page
Chapter 16 - The Silver Guillotine

As I’ve mentioned before, the “Sonic the Hedgehog” cartoon that came on Saturday mornings on ABC in the early 90’s instilled me and lots of other kids with an early appreciation for those who had the courage to stand up against tyranny, and to echo myself from earlier, Dr. Robotnik’s robiticisor, a machine that turns people into robot slaves, is very symbolic of the effects authoritarianism has on people.

Pullman does something similar with Bolvangar and the intercision machine in The Golden Compass, but in a way that hits the reader much closer to home. Bolvangar is not only its own little totalitarian state, but serves as an analog for concentration and internment camps, with intercision being a perfect horrific blend of mind control, slavery, forced ritual mutilation, and human experimentation, all of which are very real and feared things in our own world.

This is why the silver guillotine is frightening to readers despite the experience of having a dæmon being completely alien to them aside from that little voice in their head that supplies their internal dialog.

Lyra’s experiences in Bolvangar culminating in her brush with intercision would never work as a moving, heartrending moment of peril if we couldn’t somehow relate to the experience of having something in our nature like a companion that gives us the ability to experience humanity and never be “truly” alone.

I really would have loved to see how things would have played out if Lyra hadn’t gotten caught at that moment and the next day carried on as Mrs. Coulter had planned with her “inspecting” all the children to find who let the severed dæmons free. Would Lyra would have hidden in the ceiling to avoid being seen? Would she have blamed it on some random kid and performed an intercision on him or her just to feel avenged?

I understand that Lyra is totally out of her mind with fear while the men are shoving her and Pantalaimon into the intercision machine, but for all her quick thinking and elaborate lies she has told throughout the story, would would have happened if Lyra for once told the truth and shouted that she was Lyra Belaqua, and additionally that she was Mrs. Coulter’s daughter?

It seems that there would have been some chance of that making the men at least pause to consider “holy crap what if she’s telling the truth and we sever her anyway?”, and then if that worked Lyra could tell Mrs. Coulter that she had made up being her daughter to save herself and go on acting like she was glad to be her assistant or whatever.

Of course that wouldn’t have been dramatic enough for the reader, so Lyra just keeps on shouting and screaming until the last possible second when Mrs. Coulter wanders in to save the day.

Knowing how the book ends, it seems in hindsight that alarms should have started going off the moment it was mentioned that they were using discoveries made by Lord Asriel to improve their intercision technology. It’s like HELLO THIS GUY IS NO KIND OF A NICE PERSON WAKE UP IT’S RIGHT IN YOUR FACE THE WHOLE TIME.

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