Oxford, where the real and the unreal jostle in the streets;
where the North Parade is in the south and South Parade is in the north,
where Paradise is lost under a pumping station;
where the river mists have a solvent and vivifying effect on the stone of the ancient buildings,
so that the gargoyles of Magdalen College climb down at night and fight with those from Wykeham,
or fish under the bridges, or simply change their expressions overnight;
Oxford, where windows open into other worlds…”~Oscar Baedecker, The Coasts of Bohemia
How uncanny it is sometimes that a whole world can emerge from literary musings like the one above.
|Book Title||:||Lyra’s Oxford|
|Publishers||:||Partridge India; Published: (10 January 2017)|
|# of Pages||:||80 (Paperback / Hardcover)|
|# of Chapters||:||21|
This passage describes the world created by Philip Pullman in his fantastic trilogy “His Dark materials” so succinctly, it makes a perfect opening for this short story set in the magical Oxford where Lyra has come back to live after the war ended at end of “The Amber Spyglass”.
Published as a beautiful cloth covered collector’s edition book by Random House, Lyra’s Oxford contains a short story called ‘Lyra and the Birds’, a pull-out map and a few other things like advertisements for books and travel catalogs, a postcard written by Dr Mary Malone, a brochure for cruise ship Zenobia, etc. Now as the author says:
This book contains a story and several other things. The other things might be connected with the story, or they might not; they might be connected to stories that haven’t appeared yet. It’s hard to tell.
Just to re-capture the background, Lyra Belaqua was a bright twelve-year-old child living at Jordan college, Oxford from where her destiny took her to travel to North Pole of her world, making friends with Polar bears, Witches and Gyptians on the way, until she stepped through to other worlds. She met Will and they went through the land of the dead together, until at the end of ‘His Dark Materials’, they returned to their own worlds with a promise to meet each other in spirit at least once a year.
In Lyra‘s world, she always has her demon, Pentalimon, and we meet them again sitting on the roof of the Jordan College. It has been two years since the war and Lyra is now fifteen years old. She is studying at St Sophia’s School. On this evening though, they see the flock of Starlings chasing what appears to be a lone bird. However, it turns out to be a witch’s demon called Ragi who has come looking for Lyra from a faraway land.
Ragi asks for Lyra’s help to save his witch Yelena Pazhets who has fallen sick to a new kind of illness which kills the witches but leaves their demons behind. Ragi claims that there is an alchemist called Sebastian Makepeace who lives in Jericho, Oxford. He can provide a cure for this illness and Lyra must take Ragi to his house.
Lyra agrees to help and finds Sebastian Makepeace’s address from the dictionary. She and Pentalaimon escape from the school at night and start the journey towards Juxon Street in Jericho with Ragi. On the way Ragi is attacked by pigeons. In spite of their willingness to help Ragi, both Lyra and Pen are filling anxious.
As they reach Mr Makepeace’s house, Pen takes a quick look through the window to discover that the alchemist is lying unconscious on the floor and there is a very real witch in there with her cauldron.
It’s a trap…
What happens next and why?
As Lyra says: “Everything means something….”
And where does it all fit in the bigger story?
As we have written before, “His Dark Materials” is unparalleled in terms of the canvas, the storytelling and the characters that Philip Pullman brings to life and the praise and popularity it has received is no surprise. He is continuing to tell the stories of this world with a few more books including the Book of Dust series, the first volume of which is already published as La Belle Sauvage. We are reading this and look forward to write about it soon.
But meanwhile, we also enjoyed this little story that forms a part of the same world. Usually, most stories featuring children and young adults end with a happily-ever-after and we keep wondering what happened to those children as they grew up and faced the world as adults. Although Lyra’s Oxford is only a short story, it also contains a few pieces that will form a part of the stories yet to be published thus providing the links and clues that link the stories together.
Lyra’s Oxford has all the elements from His Dark Materials including witches that take sides in the war and win or lose, humans who try to make the best of what life gives them, children who try to make the sense of the way adults behave and how the world around them is shaped. And its all happening in Oxford, the magical place that is so full of possibilities.
Lyra’s Oxford has also been published as an audio book by Random House Children’s Book Audio. The book is read by Philip Pullman himself and a full cast, making it a really enjoyable experience.
A definite worth read for all the Philip Pullman fans…
8 out of 10
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