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
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
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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