Chapters 4-6 Summary
Lyra is immediately impressed with Mrs. Coulter, who seems worldly and powerful, especially for a female scholar (female scholars are looked down upon by the scholars of Jordan College). The Master of the college summons Lyra in private and, though he seems uneasy, offers to send her with Mrs. Coulter. He explains that she can offer a young girl a more comprehensive education. Lyra immediately agrees. Before she leaves, he gives her a strange device called an “alethiometer.” It looks like a golden compass, with many strange symbols. The Master explains that it will tell Lyra the truth, though she will have to figure out for herself how to read it. The Master cautions Lyra against letting Mrs. Coulter see the alethiometer.
Mrs. Coulter promises to train Lyra so that she can be her personal assistant during her explorations in the North. Lyra cannot wait to learn and to impress her new guardian. However, when they arrive in Mrs. Coulter’s home, Pan quickly warns Lyra that Mrs. Coulter is trying to tame them. It seems to be true: Mrs. Coulter has Lyra washing regularly, studying diligently, and dressing prettily. Lyra realizes that she misses running outdoors with her friends. When Lyra attempts to defy Mrs. Coulter’s authority, the latter’s golden monkey attacks and subdues Pan, hurting him (and by extension, Lyra) until Lyra promises to obey. Fortunately, Lyra is well practiced at lying.
Still, Mrs. Coulter needs Lyra to be on her best behavior since she is throwing a party. During her conversations with Mrs. Coulter’s many political acquaintances, Lyra begins to learn many things. It seems that Lord Asriel is at odds with Mrs. Coulter and her allies, and he is being held prisoner by the panserbjørne, or armored bears, of the North. Mrs. Coulter, meanwhile, is in charge of the Oblation Board, which is responsible for kidnapping children. It turns out that the official name of the board is the General Oblation Board, hence the nickname, “Gobblers.” However, Mrs. Coulter’s allies are confident that the Gobblers are actually a benign, helpful force that fights for good. Everyone is curious about Mrs. Coulter, especially about her personal life. However, Lyra simply lies at will whenever asked about her life and her relationship with Mrs. Coulter.
Before she can find out any more, Pan and Lyra realize that the golden monkey is not watching, so they have an opportunity to escape. They immediately take flight. Before Lyra can get far, she is captured by men with throwing nets. They are Turks, who kidnap children like the Gobblers do, but not for the Oblation Board. Just as she realizes she is caught, Lyra is rescued by gyptians, sea travelers that explain that the Gobblers have taken many of their own children. They offer to take care of Lyra while she makes her escape from Mrs. Coulter’s care.