We Settle into a Comfortable Identity as Adults

She still felt seasick occasionally, especially when the wind got up and the ship plunged heavily over the crests of the graygreen waves, and then it was Pantalaimon’s job to distract her from it by skimming the waves as a stormy petrel; because she could feel his boundless glee in the dash of wind and water, and forget her nausea. From time to time he even tried being a fish, and once joined a school of dolphins, to their surprise and pleasure. Lyra stood shivering in the fo’c’sle and laughed with delight as her beloved Pantalaimon, sleek and powerful, leaped from the water with half a dozen other swift gray shapes. He had to stay close to the ship, of course, for he could never go far from her; but she sensed his desire to speed as far and as fast as he could, for pure exhilaration. She shared his pleasure, but for her it wasn’t simple pleasure, for there was pain and fear in it too. Suppose he loved being a dolphin more than he loved being with her on land? What would she do then?

Her friend the able seaman was nearby, and he paused as he adjusted the canvas cover of the forward hatch to look out at the little girl’s daemon skimming and leaping with the dolphins. His own daemon, a seagull, had her head tucked under her wing on the capstan. He knew what Lyra was feeling.

“I remember when I first went to sea, my Belisaria hadn’t settled on one form, I was that young, and she loved being a porpoise. I was afraid she’d settle like that. There was one old sailorman on my first vessel who could never go ashore at all, because his daemon had settled as a dolphin, and he could never leave the water. He was a wonderful sailor, best navigator you ever knew; could have made a fortune at the fishing, but he wasn’t happy at it. He was never quite happy till he died and he could be buried at sea.”

“Why do daemons have to settle?” Lyra said. “I want Pantalaimon to be able to change forever. So does he.”

“Ah, they always have settled, and they always will. That’s part of growing up. There’ll come a time when you’ll be tired of his changing about, and you’ll want a settled kind of form for him.”

“I never will!”

“Oh, you will. You’ll want to grow up like all the other girls. Anyway, there’s compensations for a settled form.”

“What are they?”

“Knowing what kind of person you are. Take old Belisaria. She’s a seagull, and that means I’m a kind of seagull too. I’m not grand and splendid nor beautiful, but I’m a tough old thing and I can survive anywhere and always find a bit of food and company. That’s worth knowing, that is. And when your daemon settles, you’ll know the sort of person you are.”

“But suppose your daemon settles in a shape you don’t like?”

“Well, then, you’re discontented, en’t you? There’s plenty of folk as’d like to have a lion as a daemon and they end up with a poodle. And till they learn to be satisfied with what they are, they’re going to be fretful about it. Waste of feeling, that is.”

But it didn’t seem to Lyra that she would ever grow up.


The idea of the daemon, which changes shape, trying on different forms as a child, is a great metaphor for the masks and roles we wear growing up until we settle into who we are.

Folksonomies: metaphor maturity adulthood

swift gray shapes (0.948544 (neutral:0.000000)), daemon (0.889619 (positive:0.201689)), tough old thing (0.846805 (positive:0.278283)), Lyra (0.776314 (positive:0.188016)), stormy petrel (0.737689 (negative:-0.336406)), boundless glee (0.734086 (positive:0.277761)), Comfortable Identity (0.722227 (positive:0.613076)), great metaphor (0.721698 (positive:0.626353)), different forms (0.719354 (positive:0.209065)), graygreen waves (0.709637 (negative:-0.415867)), pure exhilaration (0.701294 (positive:0.491827)), Pantalaimon’s job (0.698681 (negative:-0.336406)), beloved Pantalaimon (0.694787 (positive:0.703048)), little girl (0.685393 (negative:-0.527757)), forward hatch (0.684223 (negative:-0.527757)), able seaman (0.683794 (neutral:0.000000)), canvas cover (0.680553 (negative:-0.527757)), old sailorman (0.678788 (neutral:0.000000)), best navigator (0.675838 (positive:0.601265)), wonderful sailor (0.667186 (positive:0.643503)), old Belisaria (0.645824 (neutral:0.000000)), seagull (0.603851 (positive:0.455860)), water (0.591429 (positive:0.277761)), time (0.571028 (neutral:0.000000)), kind (0.569924 (positive:0.508689)), dolphins (0.527217 (negative:-0.527757)), dolphin (0.523028 (positive:0.448551)), ship (0.521622 (negative:-0.415867)), pleasure (0.516626 (positive:0.459327)), wind (0.510509 (negative:-0.138106))

Lyra:Person (0.858109 (positive:0.217944)), Pantalaimon:Person (0.540371 (negative:-0.525052))

Dolphin (0.942916): dbpedia | freebase | opencyc
Burial at sea (0.767607): dbpedia | freebase | yago
Seabird (0.741581): website | dbpedia | freebase

 Golden Compass
Books, Brochures, and Chapters>Book:  Pullman , Philip (2002-09-01), Golden Compass, Random House Childrens Books, Retrieved on 2011-08-10
Folksonomies: fiction atheism fantasy