The protagonists of fantasy novels are often orphans or children who are left without much supervision by absentee families. In The Golden Compass, Lyra Belacqua is not, in fact, an orphan, but she believes herself to be one. Her true family is Jordan College, Oxford, of which she is a proud, though rebellious, member. It is no accident that an academic institution to which one belongs is often called an alma mater, a "kindly mother" or "nursing mother." Jordan College provides Lyra with a sense of community and stability during the long absences of her father (whom she initially believes to be her uncle), Lord Asriel.
Lord Asriel is a heroic figure, but is too preoccupied with concerns of cosmic importance to be a good father. Mrs. Coulter initially fascinates Lyra, but could scarcely be less maternal, and her life's work involves separating children from their families and their daemons. Many of these are children of the Gyptians, and it is with them that Lyra finds another surrogate family after leaving Jordan College. Although the Gyptians are fiercely protective of their children, journeying to the Arctic in search of them, they extend the same protection to Lyra. The relationships which Lyra forms with various groups and characters, therefore, contrast with her dysfunctional family ties to show that personal loyalty is more important than any blood relationships.