Study Guide

The Golden Compass Morality and Ethics

By Philip Pullman

Morality and Ethics

"I didn't have anything in mind, and well you know it," she snapped quietly. "But now I've seen what the Master did, I haven't got any choice. You're supposed to know about conscience, aren't you? How can I just go and sit in the library or somewhere and twiddle my thumbs, knowing what's going to happen? I don't intend to do <em>that</em>, I promise you." (1.59)

From the get-go Lyra displays a strong sense of moral duty. She can't just leave the study once she realizes that Lord Asriel's life is in danger.

First thing in the morning she hastened down to the catacombs and restored the daemon-coins to their rightful places, and whispered "Sorry! Sorry!" to the skulls. (3.136)

When Lyra rearranges the daemon coins, she is haunted by a night-ghast (nightmare). We see that she apologizes immediately and is sorry for meddling.

Lyra sobbed in terror.

"Don't! Please! Stop hurting us!"

Mrs. Coulter looked up from her flowers.

"Do as I tell you, then," she said.

"I promise!"

The golden monkey stepped away from Pantalaimon as if he were suddenly bored. Pantalaimon fled to Lyra at once, and she scooped him up to her face to kiss and gentle. (5.37-42)

Mrs. Coulter is a foil to Lyra in that she has absolutely no moral compass. Here she remorselessly inflicts cruel pain on her daughter.

"The consequence was a great lawsuit. Your father en't the kind of man to deny or conceal the truth, and it left the judge with a problem. He'd killed all right, he'd shed blood, but he was defending his home and his child against an intruder. On t'other hand, the law allows any man to avenge the violation of his wife, and the dead man's lawyers argued that he were doing just that." (7.98)

Lord Asriel's actions are morally questionable: he kills a man, though it is permitted by the law. Are his actions right or wrong?

"Don't you <em>dare </em>laugh! I'll tear your lungs out if you laugh at him! That's all he had to cling onto, just an old dried fish, that's all he had for a daemon to love and be kind to! Who's took it from him? Where's it gone?"

Pantalaimon was a snarling snow leopard, just like Lord Asriel's daemon, but she didn't see that; all she saw was right and wrong. (11.56-57)

Lyra has a bit of a freakout when Tony's fish is taken from him. Why? How does she know the difference between right and wrong?

One of the men was <em>holding </em>Pantalaimon.

He had seized Lyra's daemon in his human hands, and poor Pan was shaking, nearly out of his mind with horror and disgust. His wildcat shape, his fur now dull with weakness, now sparking glints of anbaric alarm.... He curved toward his Lyra as she reached with both hands for him. . .

They fell still. They were captured.

She <em>felt </em>those hands.... It wasn't <em>allowed.... </em>Not <em>supposed </em>to touch.... Wrong.... (16.99-102)

Lyra instinctively knows that it's wrong for another person to touch her daemon; it's not something she had to be taught.

"Whatever they were doing at Bolvangar, we felt it was wrong with all our hearts. Lyra is their enemy; so we are her friends. We don't see more clearly than that." (18.27)

The witches, too, show morality – they realize that severing a daemon from its child is wrong.

Lyra couldn't sit still. She got up and walked to the window, and stared over the wide bleak darkness with unseeing eyes. They were too cruel. No matter how important it was to find out about original sin, it was too cruel to do what they'd done to Tony Makarios and all the others. Nothing justified that. (21.140)

Lyra's understands that cutting is wrong, that there's no good reason to inflict that kind of pain and suffering on another human being.

"And even if – if Mrs. Coulter got to Roger first, there'd be no saving him, because she'd take him back to Bolvangar, or worse, and they'd kill me out of vengeance.... Why do they <em>do </em>these things to children, Pan? Do they all hate children so much, that they want to tear them apart like this? Why <em>do </em>they do it?" (23.6)

Lyra has a difficult time understanding the immoral actions of the General Oblation Board.

"We've heard them all talk about Dust, and they're so afraid of it, and you know what? We <em>believed </em>them, even though we could see that what they were doing was wicked and evil and wrong.... We thought Dust must be bad too, because they were grown up and they said so. But what if it isn't? What if it's – "

She said breathlessly, "Yeah! What if it's really <em>good</em>. . . " (23.100-101)

Lyra comes to the conclusion that Dust must be good if so many evil people are trying to get rid of it.