Simple alethiometer used as birthday invitation

Measuring the Truth with an Alethiometer

My daughter enjoyed reading Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass (also known as Northern Lights) from the His Dark Materials trilogy.  For her birthday party, she wanted to give each guest an alethiometer, the compass mentioned in the book’s North American title.  The main female character, Lyra, uses it to determine the truth of a situation.

There are a number of examples of making an alethiometer but most were of a higher quality than the one we wanted to make – or had the time and expertise to make!  We decided to use foam core and cut out 4 circles.  Two circles would have an internal circle cut out of them.  The four circles would then be stacked, with the two empty ones in the middle.  The top circle is the lid, the bottom is the bottom.  To make the inside of the alethiometer more interesting, we bought matching cheap brooches from a craft store.  The glass covering the compass is a transparency sheet cut and glued into place.

Simple alethiometer used as birthday invitation, from side angle
Simple alethiometer used as birthday invitation, from side angle

We created a circle in Microsoft Word with suitable icons to recall the alethiometer from the Golden Compass film.  My daughter – who has a wicked maker bent herself – really wanted the compass needle to do something!  We ended up with a design that used a straight pin from the glass into the base.  Onto that we attached a second straight pin wrapped tightly in aluminum foil.  The foil made it look like a compass pointer, but the pin meant that it could be affected by a magnet.  My daughter put a magnet in her hand as she imagined what the compass might do, and guided the arrow to the necessary icons!

David Whelan

I improve information access and lead information teams. My books on finding information and managing it and practicing law using cloud computing reflect my interest in information management, technology, law practice, and legal research. I've been a library director in Canada and the US, as well as directing the American Bar Association's Legal Technology Resource Center. I speak and write frequently on information, technology, law library, and law practice issues.