Study Guide

The Golden Compass Sacrifice

By Philip Pullman

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"No, no, that's the saddest thing: <em>she </em>will be the betrayer, and the experience will be terrible. She mustn't know that, of course, but there's no reason for her not to know about the problem of Dust. And you might be wrong, Charles; she might well take an interest in it, if it were explained in a simple way. And it might help her later on. It would certainly help me to be less anxious about her." (2.147)

Lyra will be the cause of the one of the book's largest sacrifices: the death of her best friend Roger. As we discuss under the theme "Fate and Free Will," she is destined to play an important role in saving humanity, but she isn't allowed to know this.

"In the Middle Ages, parents would give their children to the church to be monks or nuns. And the unfortunate brats were known as oblates. Means a sacrifice, an offering, something of that sort. So the same idea was taken up when they were looking into the Dust business... " (5.76)

The Church has long asked its parishioners to sacrifice. Notice again how the sacrifice focuses on children.

"And has she told you what happens to the children?"

"No, she hasn't told me that. I only just know that it's about Dust, and they're like a kind of sacrifice."

Again, that wasn't exactly a lie, she thought; she had never said that Mrs. Coulter herself has told her.

<em>"Sacrifice </em>is a rather dramatic way of putting it. What's done is for their good as well as ours." (5.142-145)

Schmoozing at Mrs. Coulter's dinner party, Lyra gathers information about the cutting procedure done in the North. Why does Lord Boreal say that "sacrifice" is a "dramatic" way of describing cutting? What are his motives?

She lifted the lantern high and took a step into the shed, and then she saw what it was that the Oblation Board was doing, and what was the nature of the sacrifice the children were having to make. (12.104)

What does Lyra find in the shed, and why is it so horrible?

The little boy was huddled against the wood drying rack where hung row upon row of gutted fish, all as stiff as boards. He was clutching a piece of fish to him as Lyra was clutching Pantalaimon, with her left hand, hard, against her heart; but that was all he had, a piece of dried fish; because he had no daemon at all. The Gobblers had cut it away. That was <em>intercision, </em>and this was a severed child. […]

Her first impulse was to turn and run, or to be sick. A human being with no daemon was like someone without a face, or with their ribs laid open and their heart torn out: something unnatural and uncanny that belonged to the world of night-ghasts, not the waking world of sense. (12.105-13.1)

Lyra finds little Tony in a village in the North. Note the way Pullman tries to get through to his human readers by comparing a daemonless child to a person without a face. Pretty horrifying stuff. On a separate note, can Tony's separation from his daemon be considered a sacrifice if the procedure was done against his will?

Above the panting of the men, above her own sobs, above the high wild howl of her daemon, Lyra heard a humming sound, and saw one man (bleeding from the nose) operate a bank of switches. The other two looked up, and her eyes followed theirs. The great pale silver blade was rising slowly, catching the brilliant light. The last moment in her complete life was going to be the worst by far. (16.132)

What does the imagery – the silver guillotine – suggest about the sacrifice being forced upon Lyra? Is "cutting" the same thing as an execution?

Lyra's father stood there, his powerful dark-eyed face at first fierce, triumphant, and eager, and then the color faded from it; his eyes widened in horror, as he recognized his own daughter.

"No! No!"

He staggered back and clutched at the mantelpiece. Lyra couldn't move.

"Get out!" Lord Asriel cried. "Turn around, get out, go! <em>I did not send for you!"</em> (21.24-27)

Lord Asriel can't face the sacrifice of his own child. Does he love Lyra? How does his attitude change once he sees Roger?

"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)

The enormity of what the Church and Mrs. Coulter are doing to the children hits Lyra hard here. She sees their actions not as sacrifices, but as indefensible cruelty and barbarism.

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