The Golden Compass
How we cite our quotes:
"She just said, it's something to make you more grown up. She said everyone had to have it, that's why grownups' daemons don't change like ours do. So they have a cut to make them one shape forever, and that's how you get grown up." (15.29)
Mrs. Coulter and the General Oblation Board have begun to separate children from their daemons, which they think will save them from the Dust that accumulates around them once they stop shifting. In essence, the children aren't really going to grow up; they'll stay innocent and Dust-free forever. Does Mrs. Coulter really believe this operation is a good thing, though? Why won't she let Lyra be cut from Pan?
"Anyway, it's what the Church has taught for thousands of years. And when Rusakov discovered Dust, at last there was a physical proof that something happened when innocence changed into experience." (21.120)
Dust is the physical proof that the Church has sought to prove the physical change that happens when a person transitions from childhood to adulthood, from innocence to experience. Just because there's physical proof, though, does it mean growing up and becoming experienced is such a bad thing?
"Do you know what the word castration means? It means removing the sexual organs of a boy so that he never develops the characteristics of a man. A castrato keeps his high treble voice all his life, which is why the Church allowed it: so useful in Church music. Some castrati became great singers, wonderful artists. Many just became fat spoiled half-men. Some died from the effects of the operation. But the Church wouldn't flinch at the idea of a little cut, you see. There was a precedent. And this would be so much more hygienic than the old methods, when they didn't have anesthetics or sterile bandages or proper nursing care. It would be gentle by comparison." (21.129)
The novel draws an important analogy between the procedure performed by the General Oblation Board and castration. Both prevent a child from growing into adulthood and maturity. The reference also links the Magisterium in the novel to organizations, like the Catholic Church, that have practiced castration in our own world. It's a way for Pullman to offer commentary on our own society.