Study Guide

The Golden Compass Chapter 1

By Philip Pullman

Chapter 1

The Decanter of Tokay

  • Lyra and her daemon sneak into the Master's Retiring Room, where they've never been and they're not supposed to go. (No girls allowed, literally.)
  • On the way Lyra stops in the hall to flick the Master's crystal glass, making it ring. Her daemon chides her. We can tell that her daemon, whose name is Pantalaimon, is a bit of a scaredy cat, and that Lyra is the one leading this expedition.
  • The Retiring Room is in Jordan College, part of Oxford University, where Lyra has lived most of her life.
  • Pan (Pantalaimon's nickname) wants to abort the mission, but Lyra decides to sit in one of the green leather armchairs. She stares at the portraits of scholars.
  • Suddenly there's a noise in the hall, and Pan directs Lyra to hide behind a chair.
  • The Master of Jordan College comes in with a servant, whose daemon is a dog. (Most servants have dog daemons.)
  • The Master asks if Lord Asriel has arrived yet. The servant says no.
  • The Master asks if the servant has decanted the Tokay (a type of liquor) for Lord Asriel. The servant says yes and leaves. Good man!
  • Lyra is excited by the mention of Lord Asriel, her uncle, a "man whom she admired and feared greatly" (1.29). He is involved in exploring and politics and all sorts of mysterious grownup things.
  • Then Lyra sees something that bothers her: the Master pours a folded paper of white powder into the decanter of Tokay. That can't be good.
  • The Master leaves, but before Lyra and Pan can get out of the room, the Steward's bell rings. Now they're trapped! Lyra and Pan hide in a large oak wardrobe. Pan is really worried about getting caught snooping.
  • They discuss the powder in the drink – poison! Lyra says she knows the Master is up to something. She's been hearing the servants talk about something going on – "something political" – for a while (1.48).
  • Pan still wants to try to leave, but Lyra insists they stay put. Pan admits to being a coward. Lyra says that now that she's seen the Master put poison in the decanter, they must stay. It's a matter of "conscience" (1.59).
  • Lyra also admits to wanting to see what goes on in this room. And now she finally gets to.
  • Hiding in the wardrobe, Lyra feels anxious about Lord Asriel. Why is he even here and meeting with the Master?
  • There's also been a rumor that war is coming, that a group called the Tartars is invading new areas and threatening to take over Europe. Lyra asks Pan if he thinks there'll be war.
  • Then someone comes in. It's the butler, who trims the candlewick and steals a little smoking leaf.
  • All of a sudden someone else comes in. It's Lyra's mysterious, powerful, and kind of scary uncle, Lord Asriel. The butler looks uncomfortable, as guests usually only enter with the Master. Lord Asriel is in charge, though. He tells the butler (Wren) to go get him some coffee.
  • Lord Asriel talks to his daemon, a snow leopard named Stelmaria. They chat about the projections Lord Asriel is there to show (they're going to give a presentation).
  • The butler comes back with the coffee and Lord Asriel asks about the Tokay. He sends the butler to go get two of his cases, a screen, and a projecting lantern. The man is surprised, but does as he's told. Chop, chop!
  • Lyra sees her uncle in the firelight: tall, powerful, dark, and with eyes that glint with "savage laughter" (1.101). Yikes.
  • Lord Asriel takes some of the Tokay and pours a glass. Lyra cries out "no" quietly, but he hears her. Lyra falls out of the wardrobe, busted. Lord Asriel scolds her for spying.
  • Lyra defends herself by saying she saved his life, that the decanter is poisoned.
  • The porter knocks on the door with the projection cases and Asriel tells her to get back in the wardrobe.
  • Suddenly there's a crash: Asriel has knocked over the decanter but made it look like it's the porter's fault. Looks like Lord Asriel is mysterious and clever. The porter goes out to get cleaning supplies.
  • Asriel whispers to Lyra in the wardrobe to be useful and keep her eyes on the Master when he enters. If she makes a noise and gets caught, though, he won't defend her.
  • The porter returns to clean, then the butler and Asriel's manservant Thorold show up with a big, heavy case. They set up the screen, which Lyra can see from her place in the wardrobe.
  • Thorold checks the lantern, which Asriel says he'll be running himself.
  • The butler takes the coffee tray, and the manservant leaves.
  • The Master enters and Lord Asriel greets him. Asriel says he has something to show him.