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Chapter 4 - The Alethiometer

So Lyra begins Chapter 4 by spilling her guts to Mrs. Coulter, and we find out in narration that the story Lyra told Lord Asriel in Chapter 3 about nursing a rook back to health was a complete lie.

“No, I found a rook in the library roof though… ...It had a hurt foot.
I was going to kill it and roast it but Roger said we should help it get better.
So we gave it scraps of food and some wine and then it got better and flew away.”

(HDM 1, ch. 3, pg. 34, para. 20)

When retold to Mrs. Coulter becomes,

Within five minutes Lyra told her everything about her half-wild life… ...the time she had caught and roasted a rook…”
(HDM 1, ch. 4, pg. 59, para. 4)

This made me chuckle the first time I read it and is part of what makes this book an example of good storytelling and good writing.

I found Lyra’s dislike for female scholars slightly puzzling at the first moment since I’d imagine her as the female leader of a large group of kids as being naturally attracted to educated women as authority figures, but the narration makes it clear that Lyra’s views are based on her emulating those of the Jordan scholars she had been exposed to all her life, which makes perfect sense.
Pullman drops a mention of Mrs. Coulter negotiating with the “Lapland witches” on Page 60, which I believe is the first mention in the book of witches, and like the first mention of a daemon in the opening sentence of the story, is done as to almost be overlooked entirely.

The scene where Lyra is instructed to sneak across the Jordan campus in the pre-dawn twilight to meet secretly with the Master in order to receive the alethiometer is one I loved from my first reading. That pre-dawn hour where the sky is rapidly growing lighter and the stars begin to vanish one at a time is a really magical time for me, and scenes set at this time of day seem to sneak into nearly every piece of original fiction I’ve written. I also find this time special because its not one I see often as I usually wake up some time after the sun has risen, and when I do wake up early enough to see it, it’s often due to me preparing for some sort of special journey or trip I’m about to make.

Pullman uses this time setting especially well because not only does he describe it beautifully, but it contrasts the end of the previous chapter in which the sun was setting on Lyra’s childhood, and now the sun is rising on the adventures that will lead to her adulthood. This is also an awesome scene because as the sun is rising, the Master is presenting her with the alethiometer, an instrument which Lyra will be utilizing and studying for the rest of her life.

The alethiometer itself is perfect because everything about it i s so mysterious and secret right down to the way in which she receives it. It reminds me of the GS Ball in the Pokemon anime, which was a mysterious, inoperable golden PokeBall which the hero Ash had to deliver to a PokeBall expert to be examined. The mystery of the GS Ball kept me watching for nearly two entire seasons to find out what it was, but ultimately the GS Ball was nothing but a plot ticket used to advance the story and was never mentioned again.

Until my most recent reading (the one I’m doing right now in fact) I forgot that Pullman actually described the alethiometer as being made of gold and looking like a compass. I think I’ve said numerous times in my reviews of the Noble Collection replica alethiometer that the device was neither gold nor a compass, but I suppose I stand corrected. Given the history Pullman gives for the alethiometer, I find it sort of unbelievable that such a device would have actually been crafted out of solid gold. I think brass would have been a much more “realistic” metal in my opinion, but whatever.

Pullman goes through the Zeppelin traveling scene in less than a half a page and with not much detail, though I got a clear picture from it what the experience was like. I probably would have spent at least a page or two writing a similar scene since I have a huge gimmick for vehicles and the experience of traveling in them.

The word Zeppelin is used consistently to describe the rigid airships which carry people and freight in Lyra’s world. Zeppelin airships are named after Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin who pioneered the design. Does the use of this word suggest that a Ferdinant von Zeppelin also lived in Lyra’s universe as well as our own? Or is it just Pullman’s chosen term for “airship”?

I really don’t understand why Mrs. Coulter would forbid Pantalaimon from watching as she washed Lyra’s hair in the bath tub. I can’t imagine that Pan’s never seen Lyra naked before, and seeing as the two are quite connected I can’t see what kind of “secrets” Mrs. Coulter could be trying to conceal from him. On my first reading of this scene I was under the impression that Mrs. Coulter was molesting Lyra or something.

At the end we get a nice little scene with Lyra and Pan in bed examining out the alethiometer for the first time, and they play around aimlessly pointing to symbols and watching the long needle spin around as they tried to figure out what the device is and how to use it.

The alethiometer is one of the coolest artifacts from any video game or book I’ve encountered. It I could have three wishes an actual working alethiometer would probably be one of them. That’s why I spent $150.00 for the Noble Collection replica.

So then Mrs. Coulter knocks on the door and very politely tells Lyra that she is tired and wants to put the light and go to sleep.

End of chapter.

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