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Chapter 4 - The Alethiometer

This forum is for all stuff related to the first book in the trilogy: The Golden Compass. This book is called Northern Lights in the UK.

Chapter 4 - The Alethiometer

Postby authority » Fri Feb 08, 2013 2:33 pm

In this chapter Lyra meets Mrs. Coulter for the first time and ends up leaving the familiar walls of Jordan College to go live with her in London. Before leaving she receives a mysterious artifact – an Alethiometer – from the Master of Jordan College and is urged by him to keep it secret, especially from Mrs. Coulter.

What is noteworthy about this chapter, I think, is mainly how sex and gender are viewed in Lyra's world. The first thing Lyra asks of Mrs. Coulter is, ”Are you a female Scholar?” Such a strange question. I think it's a nice touch by Pullman even without the subsequent exposition of Lyra's upbringing kindly provided by the Scholars of Jordan College. On the other hand I thought it curious that when the Master is bidding farewell to Lyra he says, “men and women are moved by tides much fiercer than you can imagine” etc.. If their society is so sexist so as to warrant the existence of the term 'female Scholar', it's interesting that he makes the effort to include women at all.

Another thing I found interesting was the scene where Lyra is bathing. Pantalaimon and Mrs. Coulter's Dæmon look away and apparently this was the first time Pantalaimon was compelled to do so. That is quite curious, that one should seek privacy from what is essentially part of oneself. I'm wondering whether this is supposed to be a feature of the prudish and repressive society the Church dictates or a genuine part of a person's identity growing up. It's not really clear at this point but with the foreknowledge of the rest of the series I think the former.

We also get a description of the Alethiometer in this chapter and here I again find myself wearing my nitpicking hat. Apparently there are three hands used to ask the question and a forth one which answers it. Pullman goes into some detail describing how the fourth one is different from the rest, what with being made from different metal and all. I presume that the idea is that it must be made from some particular material in order to interact with Dust the way a ferromagnetic material interacts with the magnetic field. While this already seems implausible due to concerns I raised in an earlier discussion, even ignoring those why aren't the other hands made of that material? You still need to communicate your question to Dust (or angels or whatever), if something special is required for receiving the signal why not for sending it? And why 36 pictures? Apparently the Alethiometer was designed to read the motions of the planets in an astrological context but neither the number not the nature of the pictures seem to have much to do with astrology. But perhaps I will postpone the discussion of this matter to the chapter where it is revealed (if I ever get there).
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Re: Chapter 4 - The Alethiometer

Postby Vinleg » Mon Feb 18, 2013 11:24 am

maybe the master IS referring to an upcoming issue that deals with the current society that includes sexism and so the fact that he mentioned females does proves this point, although it's too speculated to be discussed further :P

since it's pantalaimon's first time doing this (looking away from lyra bathing), it'sprobably because of lyra's emotions and not because of a different culture nor a repressed lifestyle caused by the church, it might just be lyra and mrs. coulter's feeling of intimacy which affects the Dæmon's action as shown later that they correlate

i have no say for alethiometer hehe :P
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