Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Book Review - Philip Pullman's Lyra's Oxford

Lyra's Oxford by Philip Pullman
Published by: Alfred A. Knopf
Publication Date: October 28th, 2003
Format: Hardcover, 64 Pages
Rating: ★★★★
To Buy

Lyra is in her favorite place in the world, high on the rooftops of Jordan College. It's been a few years since her journey with Will and she's settled into the academic life at St. Sophia's College and she's diligently studying when there's a ruckus among the birds. Pantalaimon and her quickly see the cause, the birds are attacking a witch's daemon. They rescue the daemon and sneak him back to their room to find out what's going on. The daemon, Ragi, was sent to Lyra to ask for help. His witch, Yelena Pazhets, has a wasting disease that is ravaging the witches and is rare in that it doesn't effect their daemons. There is a cure available from an alchemist in Jericho and Ragi needs Lyra's help to find this Sebastian Makepeace. Lyra agrees to help him later after her school commitments are done. That night as they sneak through the streets of Oxford her and Pan start to question Ragi's story. There's something about it that seems off. Yet Lyra isn't faint of heart. If they ARE walking into a trap then at least they will soon know the whole story. That story is dark and involves the love of a witch and the death of a son in the cause that Lord Asriel championed. Will Lyra have to pay for the sins of the father or will she be able to pull off an improbable victory once again?

Lyra's Oxford wasn't written just to wallow in the nostalgia of seeing a beloved character again. This isn't like every returning television series out there that is more of the same, it's like the uniqueness of the return of Twin Peaks. Yes, there's nostalgia, but this is an entirely new story, a new chapter, and while Lyra isn't dealing with tulpas she has dark forces to face and daemons to overcome. There are repercussions from what she and Will did, but more so just from the fact that her father wagged a war and people died because of his beliefs and not everyone is happy about that. Lord Asriel is dead and so can not face justice, therefore Lyra must pay. I think this book is what sparked the hope in Philip Pullman's readers that Lyra's story wasn't over because here, with this vengeful witch, we see that the fallout from the war against the Authority is still just beginning. As a reader my appetite was whetted for more. This taste just wasn't enough! What else happened? What else came after? I don't just want to see this more confident Lyra with this more settled Pan, I want to see the Magisterium fall, I want to see what happened to everyone. And like David Lynch, Pullman is a genius in that here he gives us just a little taste and then, with La Belle Sauvage, he goes back, further than his previous start and shows us the story we knew in an entirely new light. We don't necessarily get what we want or what we expected but what we needed.

And the one thing we needed to see here was a bit of Lyra not only coming into her own but coming home. Oxford and Jordan College have always been where Lyra belonged, yet when she takes off with Mrs. Coulter and later embarks on her epic journey with Will she doesn't look back. Yet it's the stories of her life in Oxford that pacify the harpies. It's her stories that give the ghosts in the land of the dead hope again. Therefore Lyra being in Oxford was a must. Yet there's all these questions, foremost of which is, after all her adventures would Oxford still feel like home? At the end of The Amber Spyglass we get a little hint that Lyra's going to settle back into life and find a purpose with Hannah Relf of St. Sophia's College who is an expect in the alethiometer but it's so much better to see that firsthand. And here we see a confident and studious Lyra, and that makes my heart glad. But what I really love about this little book is that it's not just that Lyra belongs in Oxford it's that Oxford knows this and protects and takes care of her. Those birds that were attacking the witch's daemon? They were trying to protect Lyra! Again and again this book gives us big and small signs that not only did the city of Oxford welcome Lyra back with open arms but that their number one goal is to protect her. Oxford really is Lyra's and I hope that with the coming books I get to visit it again and again in the years to come.


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