One of the most original elements of Pullman’s trilogy is the daemons. In Lyra’s world, every human has a daemon—a visible version of the soul that takes on an animal form. In creating the daemon, Pullman draws on medieval traditions in which witches and wizards have animal “familiars,” creatures animated with some unearthly spirit who can carry messages from the witch or wizard to the world beyond.

In Pullman’s fiction, not only does everyone in Lyra’s world have a daemon, but also everyone has a ghost that emerges when he or she dies. The existence of these three parts of one being mirrors Catholic theology, which posits that people consist of a body, a soul, and a spirit, all of which are linked but distinct from one another. The relationship between humans, daemons, and ghosts is similar. A person dies when his or her daemon dies, and a daemon dies when its person dies, but the third part of the person continues to exist and becomes a ghost.

One’s daemon reflects one’s lot in life. Servants have daemons that take the form of dogs, which are willing, friendly, and obedient animals, just as servants are expected to be. Sailors’ daemons are often seabirds. A daemon can also reveal something about the state of one’s soul. Mrs. Coulter, for all her outward charms, can’t hide her essential nastiness and thus her daemon is a cruel golden monkey.

Daemons don’t take their final shape when their owners are still children. With this conceit, Pullman points out the malleability of childhood. At the age of eleven, Lyra’s character is not yet fixed. She can try out different personalities and ways of being, all of which are reflected in the different shapes of her daemon. When a person’s daemon settles, it means that the person’s character has formed. Lord Asriel gets at this idea when he shows his slides of the aurora borealis and the special projections of Dust. These slides reveal that Dust is more attracted to adults than to children. We don’t yet know what Dust is, but we know that it has something to do with the difference between innocence and experience, the difference between age and youth, and the process by which a person’s daemon becomes fixed in one shape.

Summary: Chapter 6–Chapter 17

After escaping from Mrs. Coulter’s house, Lyra and Pantalaimon wander through London. By the wharves, they are almost caught by a band of slavers, but Tony Costa, a Gyptian, rescues them. Tony brings Lyra with him to the houseboat on which he lives with his mother, Ma Costa. The Gobblers have stolen Tony’s brother, Billy. The Costas bring Lyra with them to a meeting of all the Gyptians, who are under the control of Lord John Faa. As they travel, Lyra and Tony discuss what the General Oblation Board is doing with the kids they steal. Though they know where the kids are taken, nobody can figure out what happens to them.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Coulter and the General Oblation Board have police scouring England for Lyra, but the Gyptians keep her hidden. At the meeting of Gyptians, which is called a Roping, Lord Faa rallies his people to send a band of men north to rescue the kidnapped children. After the meeting, Lyra goes to meet with John Faa. She also meets Farder Coram, a wise and kindly old Gyptian man. John Faa tells Lyra that she is really the illegitimate daughter of Lord Asriel and Mrs. Coulter and that Ma Costa nursed her as a baby.