The Golden Compass Page by Page
Chapter 3 - Lyra's Jordan
in the beginning of Chapter 3, Pullman mentions Jordan College being
paid rent by “atomcraft works” that were built on their
It may seem odd to think of a society so old fashioned and
“Victorian” feeling with it’s airships, oil lamps,
and steam trains to have harnessed atomic power, but I then considered
that in our world, if not for World War II and the Hindenberg disaster,
rigid airship technology may have continued to develop, thus retarding
the development of the air liner, and that steam locomotive technology
itself was not obsolete in the 1960’s when it was culled from
Britain's railways, but the technology was allowed to stagnate once
effort went into developing diesel locomotives. There was even a period
during the oil crisis of the 70’s in which auto manufacturers
were experimenting with modernized steam engines to power fuel
Heck, I've even read accounts of steam powered milling equipment being used to make nuclear reactor components in the UK during the 1970s.
It’s interesting that airships and steam trains alone, in
addition to strong class prejudice, are enough to give this world such
a Victorian vibe. I think a lot of the detail of Lyra’s universe
is not in what Pullman describes as being in the world, but rather than
what he leaves out. He doesn't mention television, radio, digital
electronics, or extensive use of automobiles so we naturally paint a
mental picture of a world without them.
This chapter is awesome and one of my favorites. It was very immersive,
and it left me with the feeling of having been by Lyra’s side
living the adventures of her and the other Oxford children. The culture
of the children felt very authentic. I remember when I was twelve, when my dawn to dusk was all about going on little adventures
around the neighborhood with my friends and having rock throwing wars
with other groups of kids and “borrowing” tools from our
parents gardens to build makeshift fortresses in the woods, and how
each day was the same as the next and they would all just blend into
How we thought we could control the world around us by banding
together, that we could dig an underground fallout shelter to hide in
when World War III broke out, how we would spy on the quiet old man and
his dog who roamed the neighborhood who we imagined to be a kidnapper
and that we were the only ones who knew the truth, and how we would go
on expeditions into the town landfill in the forest behind our
neighborhood and behind trees whenever a truck would drive by.
The descriptions of Lyra’s visits from Lord Asriel felt very
realistic. It was telling to see Lord Asriel indirectly, though
seemingly deliberately encourage Lyra to explore the forbidden
underground passages of the college after knowing she already gets into
trouble on the roof.
Lyra’s story about the rook is entertaining enough here, but
it’s really a great seed to plant for the following chapter when
we find out that the story about feeding the rook and healing it so it
could fly away was a lie and that Lyra and Roger killed and ate the
Asriel’s gift of “five gold dollars” to Lyra also
enhances the old fashioned feel of this world since the use of gold
“dollars” as currency makes me imagine a world which never
hit upon the “progressive” ideas of Federal Reserves and
fiat paper money that dominate our universe. I also wondered if these
dollars are the national currency of Lyra’s Britain, foreign
coins from another country, or if the word “dollar” is just
being used as a description for a large coin. Since the word dollar
isn’t capitalized in the text, I’m just going to presume it
means a large coin similar to an American silver dollar.
Following Asriel and Lyra’s meeting, we are introduced to the
rumors of the disappearing children and are told the story of Tony
Makarios’ kidnapping by Mrs. Coulter and the Gobblers. This
kid’s whole life is heartbreaking, a drunk mom who doesn't know
how old her son is, forced to steal to eat and his low status causing
him to be targeted to be kidnapped and experimented on.
Everything about the way the as of yet unnamed Mrs. Coulter seduces the
children is creepy and unnerving, the way her dæmon is described
as stroking all the captured children’s dæmons in the
warehouse by the shipyard, how they all seem entranced with here and
are described as feeling hope and love from touching her coat and long
just to be in her presence.
Lyra’s lurid tale about Lord Asriel routinely and casually
murdering people just by looking at them made me laugh out loud,
especially once Lyra and Roger took to re-enacting the scene using
It was also funny watching Lyra and Roger get drunk and seeing their
intoxicated dæmons stumbling around having contests to see who
could take the ugliest form.
It is a bit after this than in the crypt that Pullman provides a brief,
almost parenthetical explanation about how children’s
dæmons can change shape but adult’s dæmons keep only
one form. This is probably of the most important technical details we
learn about dæmons as it drives the motivations of both Lord
Asriel and the Oblation Board, but it’s presented in a little
spot where it fits in well so it’s remembered by the reader, but
doesn't distract from the action at all.
The image and description of the dæmon coins in the skulls of the
dead scholars in the catacombs gave me a warm and fuzzy feeling when I
read it and it illustrates how precious and loved people’s
dæmons are without spelling it out. The nightmare inducing guilt
Lyra feels after switching of the dæmon coins also helps express
Lyra and Roger’s encounter with Jordan's Intercessor, Father
Heyst, it the first of several unpleasant encounters children have with
religious authorities in the His Dark Materials
trilogy. Father Heyst essentially discounts Roger as being a legitimate
companion for Lyra due to him not being nobly born and sends him off to
work in the kitchens. He asks Lyra if she misses the friendship of
children “like her” and laments that she is missing out on
the “pleasures and pastimes” (HDM 1, ch 3, pg. 47, para. 4)
enjoyed by the children of nobility.
While Father Heyst’s classist attitude may be a realistic
depiction of a priest belonging to a Catholic Church whose power,
authority, and hierarchal culture seized total control of society, the
fact that there is no warm or loving religious figure to counter Heyst
anywhere in His Dark Materials
is a serious flaw that drains credibility from the story’s
message and helps the arguments of those claiming that His Dark
Materials serves no purpose other than to defame religion.
I’ve watched interviews in which Pullman talks about his
childhood church experience and how he had positive authority figures
in his life who belonged to churches and were religious, yet religious
figures in His Dark Materials
such as Father Heyst are universally designed to be disliked.
However, since this is the first such encounter in the series thus far,
this problem is not a problem quite yet, and in fact this encounter
establishes the fact that amongst the adults of status and power in
Lyra’s world, Roger’s value as a human being seems to lie
only in his utility as a servant, and that despite Lyra and
Roger’s close and rewarding friendship, the upper class,
religious and secular alike treat Lyra as being entitled to a better
life than Roger’s by reason of her parentage alone.
I don’t find this mentioned very often in discussions about The Golden Compass
but I find this book to be, among other things, a tragedy about class
prejudice leading to the mutilation and murder of many innocent
children including Roger.
Well, the Gobblers show up and seem to have nabbed Billy Costa, and a
bunch of gyptian kids confront Lyra about his whereabouts and a brawl
nearly breaks out, and as the children prepare to fight there is a
description of Pantalaimon becoming a dragon that I somehow totally
overlooked on my first reading.
...Pantalaimon, contemptuous of the limited imaginations of these gyptian dæmons,
became a dragon the size of a deer hound. (HDM 1, ch 3, pg. 49, para. 4)
So is that to say that dæmons can take the form of mythical
creatures, or that in Lyra’s world dragons, though exotic,
actually exist? This is the only moment when we see any mythically
formed dæmon in the series, so whatever the answer, I suppose it
can’t be too important.
The rest of the chapter from here gave me a very real feeling that I
was watching Lyra and all the children of Oxford’s world crumble
around them while no one else seems to notice or care, with children
being kidnapped and Lyra leading an adventurous child expedition to
hunt down the Gobblers and find Billy.
Eventually, with no success, and the shadow of Billy's real disappearance hanging over them all, the fun faded away.
(HDM 1, ch 3, pg. 51, para. 5)
The feelings this invoked reminded me of the time when I was perhaps
eleven to twelve years old and someone had stolen my bike from the
front yard while we were inside my house, and me and nearly all the
kids in the neighborhood were searching around our little two block
development until dusk looking for the bike and the thief, though
realistically we knew the thief had surely ridden beyond the limits of
where our parents would allow us to search, and even if we did find
him, he would probably have been a bigger kid or even an adult we
couldn’t have dealt with at our age anyway.
The mix of excitement and melancholy as Lyra wanders around the
indifferent, twilit streets of Oxford trying to make sense of this
assault on her little world reminds me of a scene towards the end of
Chapter 3 of the video game MOTHER 3
which the player assumes the role of a helpless little monkey who is
forced to deliver propaganda-broadcasting “happy boxes” to
a peaceful, selfless rural community, leading to it’s descent
into a corporate dictatorship.
Once Lyra returns to Jordan and after searching in vein for Roger, sits
on the roof with Pantalaimon as the sun sets, which Pullman describes
so beautifully that I could almost see it as a painting, a painting
which I wouldn’t mind hanging in my room as a matter of fact.
With the zeppelin vanishing in the distance and the sky darkening as
the sun set I understood right away that I was to feel that the sun was
setting on the world of Lyra’s childhood. Actually, this reminds me of the scene in Star Wars when Luke is watching the suns set over the horizon. I could just hear the "Binary Sunset" theme being played as Lyra and Pan look out over Oxford.
For some reason in the film adaptation they turned this into a scene
between Lyra and Roger (who won’t be kidnapped until later that
night in that version) rather than Lyra and Pantalaimon, which is a
real shame because generally the film version reduced Pan’s role
to that of a constantly nagging, complaining, and often unseen animal
sidekick rather than Lyra’s heart-mate, but this is about the
book so moving on;
This was her world. She wanted it to stay the same forever and ever, but it was changing around her,
for someone out there was stealing children. (HDM 1, ch 3, pg. 55, para. 3)
As touching as this is, I found the last part of this quote redundant
and clunky, since its obvious that someone is stealing children, and
thanks to the earlier parts of this chapter we understand that for
Lyra’s world to change for any reason would have been tragic for
her, let alone that her best friend had been kidnapped.
Regarding the audio book version of The Golden Compass
that I’m listening to as I’m writing this, I should comment
here that Rupert Degas, the actor who voices Pantalaimon, does a
convincing job of having the same character’s voice come out
fittingly depending on what form Pan is in when he is speaking, yet not
diverge to the point where it’s distracting or gimmicky. This is
only my first time listening to this book in audio form and I can
totally recommend it to anyone who cares enough about this book to be
reading my commentary on it.
The chapter ends with Lyra sitting down for dinner with the Master,
some miscellaneous male and female scholars, and a young woman called
Mrs. Coulter who just happens to have a golden monkey dæmon.
I honestly can’t understand how anyone smart enough to read
through the end of Chapter 3 could not instantly figure out that Mrs.
Coulter was running the Gobblers, but then again I’ve met people
who have played Metroid Fusion from beginning to end and still
didn’t realize that Samus was a woman.
I would like to close this chapter commentary by saying that I find it
sort of difficult to believe that the Oblation Board would literally go
from town to town plucking large numbers of children from each city
like a touring rock band. Way to be subtle.
I also would rather not believe that someone as attractive and
distinctive as Mrs. Coulter could single handedly seduce tens of dozens
of children who passively follow her like lemmings onto a ship and all
the way to the Arctic Circle because she seems “nice”, and
all the while not getting busted the parents, especially with the
rumors going around about so called “Gobblers”.
I’d much rather imagine that Mrs. Coulter captures some of the
children in her seductive “nice” way while most of the
Oblation Board agents are just thugs who grab kids out of playgrounds
and off streets or wherever.
And finally, I’d also like to believe that my twelve year old
self would have been more than smart enough not to let a lady seduce me
into being whisked away from home to a cold laboratory in the Arctic
Circle to have my soul cut away in exchange for a cup of hot chocolate.
To submit feedback, please use the site guestbook
or email the author at,
This work is the intellectual property of Super Train Station H and is protected under US Copyright.
Works discussed by other authors are the property of their respective copyright holders.
Back to STSH - The Golden Compass Page by Page