Study Guide

The Golden Compass Chapter 4

By Philip Pullman

Chapter 4

The Alethiometer

  • At dinner Lyra is entranced by Mrs. Coulter's glitz and glamour. Unlike other female scholars, she's beautiful and wears fancy clothes. Lyra tells her about the adventure with the skulls, and Mrs. Coulter asks if Lyra likes danger.
  • Mrs. Coulter mentions having met Lord Asriel, and it turns out that she's an explorer too. She has been in Greenland studying the Aurora. Lyra is rapt.
  • After dinner the Master asks to see Lyra in his study, where he gives her a speech about growing up and how it's time for her to learn things that Jordan College can't teach her. She needs female companionship and influence.
  • Lyra doesn't want to leave the college, but the Master tells her it will be Mrs. Coulter who takes her away. Lyra is psyched to get to hang out more with the fancy lady, as is Pantalaimon.
  • The Master smiles. Though it kind of looks like a "sad grimace" (4.43), Lyra doesn't notice.
  • Mrs. Coulter comes in and tells Lyra that she'll be leaving with her and working as her assistant. Lyra will have a lot to learn – about exploring, mathematics, and geography. Lyra is really excited.
  • After Lyra and Pan finally fall asleep, Mrs. Lonsdale wakes the girl up. It's still dark, but the Master wants to see Lyra. Lyra is to sneak to the window of the study and tap, and he'll let her in.
  • Lyra meets with the Master. We get the feeling that he doesn't think she should go with Mrs. Coulter, but that he "can't prevent it" (4.72). He gives her a beautiful golden compass called an alethiometer.
  • The Master tells Lyra that the compass "tells you the truth," and that she'll have to figure out for herself how to read it (4.78). He says Lord Asriel gave it to the College, and that she is to hide it from Mrs. Coulter.
  • The Master is about to say something else, but he's cut off by a knock at the door. Lyra hurries back to her room, where she is dressed and sent to leave with Mrs. Coulter.
  • As she's leaving, Lyra remembers Roger, her kidnapped best friend. (Oh yeah, Roger!) Lyra figures Mrs. Coulter can help her find him.
  • Lyra and Mrs. Coulter fly away in a posh Zeppelin. In London they go to Mrs. Coulter's apartment (called a "flat"), which is beautiful and frilly. Even the bathroom is amazing, with hot water and pink soap.
  • Lyra is careful about the alethiometer, but she feels torn. Should she tell Mrs. Coulter? The Master said no, but she's Mrs. Coulter seems so kind and wise.
  • Lyra goes to lunch with Mrs. Coulter at the Royal Arctic Institute, where she sees many elderly explorers. Mrs. Coulter shows her tons of cool artifacts from various expeditions.
  • Next up, shopping. Lyra has never had anything new before, and Mrs. Coulter pays for everything. It's pretty awesome.
  • When they get home Lyra takes a bath, and Mrs. Coulter gently washes her hair (unlike the harsh Mrs. Lonsdale). Pan looks away as she is bathed.
  • Lyra snuggles down in bed, but Pan asks where the "thing" is (4.115). Lyra pulls out the alethiometer.
  • It's like a clock with a face and three winding wheels that turn three short hands. Lyra can control them to arrange a series of pictures on the compass: like an angel, helmet, or a dolphin.
  • There is one needle, though, that's longer than the rest and swings around at random.
  • Lyra plays with the compass. She can't quite figure it out but still admires it. She and Pan discuss whether they should give the alethiometer to Asriel or not. They can't decide.
  • Mrs. Coulter comes by and asks Lyra to put the light out. Lyra does and tucks the alethiometer underneath her pillow.