One thing that I found particularly odd in the "His Dark Materials" trilogy is why none of the demons, while they're still capable of changing forms, never assume a useful form like a lion (which does happen for some people in the books), a snow Leopard (like Lord Asriel's dæmon), a bear, etc.

It seems there are multiple instances where the cruel golden monkey dæmon of Marissa Coulter either apprehends Lyra or her demon, and torments them via physical torture. In the third book, Pantalaimon even turns into a porcupine briefly to prick the monkey with quills, and in the first book he turns into a crow and convinces other children's dæmons to do the same to help their humans. So, it's apparent he has a considerable degree of control over the form he assumes.

It is made obvious by the second book that Lyra hates Marissa, and has already uttered death threats to people she hates. I've always wondered why Pantalaimon didn't just change into a jaguar and tear open the golden monkey. It would save him, kill Marissa, and simplify their entire mission. The same applies to when the Tartar pulled Lyra from the vents in the first book. He even broke the taboo of not touching other people's dæmons.

What would best explain this? It just feels like an oversight of the author more than anything else.

  • 1
    Do children's daemons ever assume forms as large as leopards or bears? I can't remember...
    – Hypnosifl
    Commented Oct 17, 2014 at 23:43
  • 5
    I think it has to do with the personality of the human the dæmons belongs to... I just don't think Pantalaimon would change into a jaguar and tear open the golden monkey because of who Lyra is at heart. Commented Oct 18, 2014 at 4:32
  • 3
    @Dogbert - Yes, but the reason the dæmons can change shape until puberty is because the person's 'nature' is still fluid. Demonstrated at the end of the trilogy with Pantalaimon. Still I don't believe a part of Lyra's true nature would be a savage jaguar. Commented Oct 19, 2014 at 3:26
  • 5
    @LewDelport: I've not read HDM in a while but I think daemons touching each other was something that happened often; it's a person touching another's daemon that's not done.
    – George T
    Commented Oct 20, 2014 at 7:41
  • 2
    Lyra isn't a killer so Pan isn't either. If I remember Pan does turn into a Snow Leopard to fight Lord Asriel in an attempt to rescue Roger. If Will's Daemon appeared earlier it might have attacked an enemy and tried to kill them but by the time his daemon appears they don't fight many people anymore. Commented Feb 14, 2016 at 21:14

2 Answers 2


After reviewing the books, it seems there are three key things I've overlooked:

  1. The comments above note the "true nature" of the child, and how a child likely wouldn't have the drive to maul another person.
  2. In book 2, The Subtle Knife, there is an instance where Pantalaimon turns into a snow leopard, the same type of dæmon as Lord Azriel's, to scare off the threatening and violent children of Cittàgazze. Lyra even remarks to herself that it was a bluff, as Pantalaimon would not be able to actually attack the children, as physical contact with them would cause physical agony and emotional distress to himself and Lyra.
  3. Dæmons can interact with each other, but not with other humans under most circumstances.

This suggests that, at most, dæmons could attack other daemons, but only if the individual has the intent and fortitude to cause the other harm. We see instances of this in the prequel book, Once Upon a Time in the North, where the gun-for-hire's dæmon, a snake, attacks Hester.

  • 1
    1. There is a flashback in the first book where Pantalaimon turns into a dragon. It's said there that he pitied the lack of fantasy of the other daemons. 2. In the main series of books there are plenty of examples of daemons fighting, with each other, with animals, with non-human intelligent creatures and in rare extreme cases even with humans. Commented Apr 23, 2019 at 10:09

It is apparent that dæmons are able to choose their form, before puberty. However they are not completely free to choose any form. In La Belle Sauvage, Malcom's dæmon, Asta, is able to combine the charateristics of one animal with another - so she is able to have the form of an owl, but with waterproof duck feathers. But this skill is acquirred, and Asta is not able to take any form at will. She cannot yet become a mythical creature, for example.

It is perhaps impossible for a child's dæmon to be particularly large. However it noted in Northern Lights that during fights between the Oxford children and the Gyptian children their dæmons became creatures with fangs and claws.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.