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The Golden Compass


Read an Excerpt

Reader’s Guide

Teacher’s Guide

Cast of Characters



The Subtle Knife

The Amber Spyglass

Lyra’s Oxford

The Science of
Philip Pullman’s
His Dark Materials

The Golden Compass: Glossary

Alethiometer: A mysterious truth-seeking or future-telling device.

Anbaric Lights: Modern lights, or lamps, powered by anbaric energy, as opposed to older naphtha lamps, which provide light by burning a wick in oil.

The Aurora: Storms of charged particles and intense solar rays that cause a luminous radiation. A phenomenon of great beauty and mystery, the Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights, may contain a city from another universe.

Bristol, Henley, London, Norwich, Oxford, River Isis, White Hall Palace: Towns and cities and landmarks in Lyra's home country.

Chocolatl: A delicious warm drink enjoyed by children.

The Church: The major religious power of Lyra's world, administrated by the Consistorial Court of Discipline through a tangled framework of colleges, councils, and lesser courts.

Dæmon: Soul-like companion to each individual human being. Dæmons are generally of the opposite gender to their human counterparts. In childhood, a dæmon can alter its form to reflect the emotions and concerns of its human. However, in adulthood, a dæmon loses the power to change, and it assumes a permanent form that best reflects the inner nature of its human.

Dust: Mystical particles that appear to come from the sky and are attracted to human adults. Dust seems to reveal, or perhaps contain, the thing that makes human beings unique creatures. Although holding very different views about its essential nature, the Church, along with many powerful individuals and political groups, believes that mastery over Dust would be a source of great power.

Experimental Theology: A lofty yet critically relevant field of study in Lyra's world that includes the exploration of the concept of Dust.

Gabriel, St. Michael's: Other colleges in Oxford, which are inferior to Jordan College, at least in Lyra's opinion.

Gobblers: A slang term for the mysterious group that is stealing children throughout the land.

Gyptians: A nomadic group of waterfarers who live on canal boats and travel to Oxford for the spring and autumn fairs.

Jericho, Port Meadow: Rough parts of Oxford, frequented by gyptians, where Lyra and her friends often play and fight.

Jordan College: A prosperous Oxford college and a center of experimental theology.

North: A region of inter-universal exploration. A place of great beauty, diversity, and danger, it is home to armored bears, Tartars, witches, and innumerable ghostly and ghastly creatures. Lord Asriel has photographed Dust and a sort of other world in the Aurora from an outpost in the North.

Oblation Board: A semi-private organization run by an enemy of Lord Asriel's. The Oblation Board is not entirely answerable to the Church's Consistorial Court of Discipline, but instead appears to operate outside normal constraints, and now seems to be gaining power.

Panserbjørne: Armored bears who live in the northern region of Svalbard. While not possessed of dæmons, the panserbjorne make special armor that they liken to their own souls.

Photogram: A type of photographic image; a slide.

Projecting Lantern: An oil-powered slide projector.

Svalbard: A cold, rugged Northern region inhabited by armored bears.

Tartars: A warlike people who live to the north and are known to perform a hideous scalping operation called trepanning, which involves making a hole in the skull.

Tokay: A rich golden wine savored by the Scholars of Jordan, particularly on special occasions.