The Golden Compass Summary

Philip Pullman

The Golden Compass

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The Golden Compass Summary

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Philip Pullman’s young adult fantasy novel The Golden Compass was originally published in the United Kingdom in 1995 under the title Northern Lights. It takes place in a parallel universe where Lyra Belacqua is searching the Arctic for a friend, Roger Parslow, who has gone missing. She is also looking for her uncle, Lord Asriel, who is involved with experimentation with a substance called “dust.” In The Golden Compass, all human beings and all witches have what is known as a daemon, which represents a person’s spirit or inner being. It is most often in the form of a creature and is generally the opposite sex of the person to whom it is connected. The daemons can change form until settling into their permanent states at the end of puberty. The daemon dies when the person dies. Lyra’s daemon is Pantalaimon, or Pan, and can still shift forms at this point in Lyra’s life.In the novel, the world is controlled by an international theocracy known as the Magisterium, or the Church. This body fights heresy, and human souls exist outside of their human bodies as the daemons.

Lyra is twelve years old as the story begins and is living at Jordan College, Oxford. She runs wild along with Pantalaimon; her guardian is the master of the college. Lyra sees the master put poison in the wine belonging to Lord Asriel, Lyra’s rebellious uncle. She warns him and then secretly listens to a lecture he is giving about dust, which is some type of mysterious particles that are attracted to adults rather than children. Also involved are images of a parallel universe that can be viewed through the northern lights. The academics at Oxford are providing funding for Astiel’s research, although it is seen as heretical by the Church.

When Lyra’s friend, Roger, turns up missing, it is assumed he has been kidnapped by a group called the “Gobblers” that is known for taking children. Lyra is adopted by an upper class woman named Mrs. Coulter, but before Lyra leaves Jordan, the master gives her a device called an alethiometer, a truth-telling machine that Lyra instinctively knows how to use. As time goes on, Lyra learns that Mrs. Coulter is the head of the Gobblers and that the group is actually funded by the Church. Lyra leaves Mrs. Coulter and finds the Gyptians, a group of nomads who are the parents of children who have been taken. Here, Lyra learns that Asriel and Coulter are her parents. Believing that the Gobblers are keeping their children captive in the Arctic, the Gyptains begin a journey there. On the way, they arrive in Trollesund where Lyra encounters Iorek Byrnison who, though the king of the panserbjorne (armoured bears with the intelligence of humans), has been made a slave in Trollesund. Lyra helps him by using her alethiometer,and he joins the journey to find the missing children.

Lyra finds out that Lord Asriel is in exile and is being guarded by the panserbjorne. The Gyptians are told by the witch consul of Trollesund a prophecy about Lyra and that the clans of witches are beginning to make sides for a war. The travelers find the Gobblers’s research station in Bolvangar. Again using the alethiometer, Lyra makes a stop at a village and finds a child who has been cut from his daemon and who then dies. She knows now that the Gobblers are using the children for experimentation. Cutting the bond between daemon and human is a process known as intercision. Lyra and the others are attacked by bounty hunters, and Lyra is taken to Bolvangar. There she finds Roger. Just as Lyra and Pantalaimon are about to undergo the intercision process, Coulter arrives and stops it. She explains to Lyra that the process is designed to head off difficult adult emotions. Lyra finds and sets off Bolvangar’s emergency alarm system, which sets the station on fire. She then leads the children to the outside of the facility where they are taken to safety. Lyra, Roger, and Iorek are taken away in a hot air balloon as the battle below gets underway.

Ultimately, Lyra, Roger, and Iorek reach Asriel, who has continued his work with dust. He explains to Lyra that dust has created parallel universes and is in some way connected to death and sadness. The church, he explains, feels that it is sin in a physical form. He has reached the decision that he has to go to the universities that are experimenting with dust and destroy its source. He then quickly separates Roger from his daemon, releasing a vast amount of energy which kills Roger and cuts a hole in the northern lights. Asriel enters the hole and a parallel universe. Lyra, determined to stop Asriel and have dust become a tool of good rather than evil, crosses through the opening with Pantalaimon.