Lyra and her dæmon, Pantalaimon (Pan), live in Jordan College, the world’s preeminent college for practical theology, at Oxford. Although she is the niece of Lord Asriel, Lyra is described as a “barbarian” who spends her days clambering across the roofs of the college with street urchins, including her good friend Roger. She is a liar and is often caught up in mischief, but she is also brave. For example, when The Golden Compass begins, Lyra is snooping in a common room. She knows that Lord Asriel, whose dæmon is a snow leopard, is returning to the college after his latest trip to the North. However, after she sees the Master poison a decanter of wine, Lyra reveals herself to her uncle even though she knows that he may physically punish her.
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In return for her warning about the poison, Lord Asriel allows Lyra to hide in a wardrobe during his presentation, even though she has no interest in secret politics, let alone her studies. He explains to the scholars of Jordan College that he has seen a city in the sky. It appears to be another world, which is remarkable because the church has decreed that only two worlds exist: the earth and heaven. This city does not appear to be heaven or even hell. Lord Asriel has also found a way to photograph Dust, and he shows how it has collected around a man. However, Dust does not appear to collect around children, even if they have not been “severed.” Lord Asriel receives funding for further exploration and he leaves with little fanfare and little time for Lyra. Afterward, Lyra overhears two of the scholars talking about her, one of them the Master. The Master explains that his “alethiometer” has foreseen that Lyra will travel to the North. He goes on to explain that his attempt to poison Lord Asriel, if successful, would have saved Lyra a little more time, safe at Oxford.
Lyra is unconcerned with alethiometers or Dust. However, she is worried about Gobblers. Many children around Oxford have recently disappeared, and people have come to refer to the mysterious kidnappers as Gobblers. Pullman describes the kidnapping of Tony Makarios. Tony and his dæmon, Ratter, are abducted by a beautiful woman with a golden monkey dæmon. They promise Tony “chocolatl” before leading him and Ratter off. His mother never sees him again.
The kidnappings have become so common that kids now play games in which the Gobblers are villains. Returning home from her games with Roger and her other friends one day, Lyra is taken away by the scholars to wash up. An important visitor has arrived at the college, one Mrs. Coulter. Mrs. Coulter is beautiful, with dark hair. Her dæmon is a golden colored monkey.
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