Study Guide

The Golden Compass Identity

By Philip Pullman


She was a coarse and greedy little savage, for the most part. But she always had a dim sense that it wasn't her whole world; that part of her also belonged in the grandeur of Jordan College; and that somewhere in her life there was a connection with the high world of politics represented by Lord Asriel. All she did with that knowledge was to give herself airs and lord it over the other urchins. It had never occurred to her to find out more. (3.9)

From the outset of the novel, Lyra's identity is presented as something of a contradiction. She is a savage in some respects, but she is also of noble birth. She's uneducated, but she's also tied to the academic world of Oxford.

"No," she said, "no, I don't want to leave Jordan. I like it here. I want to stay here forever."

"When you're young, you do think that things last forever. Unfortunately, they don't. Lyra, it won't be long – a couple of years at most – before you will be a young woman, and not a child anymore. A young lady. And believe me, you'll find Jordan College a far from easy place to live in then." (4.28-29)

Lyra is resistant to change and growing up, a feeling many readers can relate to. Why does the Master think Lyra won't like the world of Jordan College once she becomes a "young lady"?

"You en't gyptian, Lyra. You might pass for gyptian with practice, but there's more to us than gyptian language. There's deeps in us and strong currents. We're water people all through, and you en't, you're a fire person. What you're most like is marsh fire, that's the place you have in the gyptian scheme. You got witch oil in your soul. Deceptive, that's what you are child." (7.9)

Ma Costa reminds Lyra that even though she <em>acts </em>like a gyptian, she's not actually one. Why not? Also, when Ma Costa calls Lyra "deceptive," she doesn't mean it as an insult. How does she mean it?

Lyra had to adjust to her new sense of her own story, and that couldn't be done in a day. To see Lord Asriel as her father was one thing, but to accept Mrs. Coulter as her mother was nowhere near so easy. A couple of months ago she would have rejoiced, of course, and she knew that too, and felt confused. (8.1)

The revelation that Lyra's father is Lord Asriel and her mother is Mrs. Coulter takes some getting used to. Lyra's family becomes part of the way she sees herself.

After two days at sea, Lyra decided that this was the life for her. She had the run of the ship, from the engine room to the bridge, and she was soon on first-name terms with all the crew. Captain Rokeby let her signal to a Hollands frigate by pulling the handle of the steam whistle; the cook suffered her help in mixing plum duff; and only a stern word from John Faa prevented her from climbing the foremast to inspect the horizon from the crow's nest. (10.18)

Just as in her time with the gyptians, Lyra finds herself easily adapting to life on a ship.

"Anyway, there's compensations for a settled form."

"What are they?"

"Knowing what kind of person you are. Take old Belisaria. She's a seagull, and that means I'm a kind of seagull too. I'm not grand and splendid nor beautiful, but I'm a tough old thing and I can survive anywhere and always find a bit of food and company. That's worth knowing, that is. And when your daemon settles, you'll know the sort of person you are."

"But suppose your daemon settles in a shape you don't like?"

"Well, then, you're disconnected, en't you?" (10.25-29)

We learn that daemons are a reflection of characters' selves and souls. Once daemons settle into their permanent state, characters learn something about who they are. What would your daemon be?

She felt angry and miserable. His badger claws dug into the earth and he walked forward. It was such a strange tormenting feeling when your daemon was pulling at the link between you; part physical pain deep in the chest, part intense sadness and love. And she knew it was the same for him. Everyone tested it when they were growing up: seeing how far they could pull apart, coming back with intense relief. (11.116)

Part of growing up is testing boundaries. Lyra and Pan pull apart here but soon realize that they are one and the same.

"My armor is made of sky iron, made for me. A bear's armor is his soul, just as your daemon is your soul. You might as well take <em>him </em>away" – indicating Pantalaimon – "and replace him with a doll full of sawdust. That is the difference. Now where is my armor?" (11.136)

Though bears don't have daemons, they <em>do </em>have armor. Iorek's armor is part of his core identity; without it he feels incomplete.

So as he loped along, his great legs swinging tirelessly, she sat with the movement and said nothing. Perhaps he preferred that anyway, she thought; she must seem a little prattling cub, only just past babyhood, in the eyes of an armored bear.

She had seldom considered herself before, and found the experience interesting but uncomfortable, very like riding the bear, in fact. (12.56-57)

Lyra sees herself here through someone else's eyes (Iorek's), and in doing so she gains a new, not entirely comfortable perspective on herself.

"We don't feel cold, so we need no warm clothes. We have no means of exchange apart from mutual aid. If a witch needs something, another witch will give it to her. If there is a war to be fought, we don't consider cost one of the factors in deciding whether or not it is right to fight. Nor do we have any notion of honor, as bears do, for instance. An insult to a bear is a deadly thing. To us... inconceivable. How could you insult a witch? What would it matter if you did?" (18.13)

Unlike humans, witches don't feel the cold, and their long lifespans also give them a different perspective on the world.

"Flying is just a job to me, and I'm just a technician. I might as well be adjusting valves in a gas engine or wiring up anbaric circuits. But I chose it, you see. It was my own free choice. Which is why I find this notion of a war I ain't been told nothing about kind of troubling." (18.16)

Lee Scoresby doesn't see his job as an aeronaut as part of who he is – it's just what he does. Do you agree with him? Is being an aeronaut part of his identity or not?

But she moved a little closer, because she had to, and then saw Iofur was holding something on his knee, as a human might have let a cat sit there – or a daemon.

It was a big stuffed doll, a manikin with a vacant stupid human face. It was dressed as Mrs. Coulter would dress, and it had a sort of rough resemblance to her. He was pretending he had a daemon. (19.114-115)

Iofur is king of the bears, but he doesn't see himself as a bear; he wants to be human. Maybe he's meant to show us what happens when we're not satisfied with the parts of our identity that cannot change.

"Belacqua? No. You are Lyra Silvertongue," he said. (20.25)

After Lyra helps restore Iorek to the throne, he dubs her "Silvertongue." What do you think this name says about her? Does it suit her?