This week on the blog
★ ★ ★ ★ ★ – 5 Stars
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26 Jul 2015 Leave a comment
★ ★ ★ ★ ★ – 5 Stars
24 Jul 2015 Leave a comment
Once Upon A Time in the North is a prequel of sorts to His Dark Materials, another companion piece that provides more information about certain characters who appear in the trilogy and their lives before the events in Northern Lights. Despite being set before the series, Pullman references a few things that happen in the future, clues and great titbits if you understand the references, but nothing too substantial if you haven’t read the series.
Published in 2008 the narrative focuses on a young Lee Scoresby, specifically an adventure where he lands on a small island and gets involved with a few local dramas and mishaps. It also provides an insight into his aeronautical beginnings, plus the origin of friendship with the armoured bear, Iorek Byrnison. At 104 pages it is short but long enough and offers wonderful insight into the lives of two beloved characters.
This book is wonderful because it satisfies anyone who read His Dark Materials longing to know more about Lee Scoresby, Hester, and his past with Iorek Byrnison; Pullman having tempted numerous times with references to past events and the long and solid friendship. Before this book existed I would read the trilogy wanting to know more about Lee, wanting another book dedicated just to Lee’s adventures and his friendship with Iorek. With Once Upon A Time in the North these needs have been satisfied.
An exclusive extract was printed by The Guardian under the heading Winds of Chance in March 2008 before publication with the official launch taking place on 31 March 2008 at the Oxford Literary Festival where over 700 fans gathered to hear Pullman speak about his new novella.
Like Lyra’s Oxford, there are a few bits and pieces included with the book. Some of the things included are letters from Lyra, newspaper articles, plus a playable board game that is the same as the one mentioned in the story.
While it has yet to receive any awards, reception of the book was positive with the first reviews appearing less than two weeks before publication. It was described as “a joy” by The Times, while Ian Giles from BridgetotheStars.net dubbed it “an absolute triumph”. An audiobook has also been produced which was released the same day as the novella. Once again Philip Pullman and a full cast perform, with Garrick Hagan as producer.
23 Jul 2015 Leave a comment
Lyra’s Oxford begins with Lyra and Pantalaimon spotting a witch’s daemon. Lyra shelters the daemon from the pursuit of a frenzied pack of birds, and then attempts to help by guiding the daemon to the home of an alchemist living in a part of Oxford known as Jericho. The journey through Oxford reveals more dangers than Lyra had anticipated.
This is a great little story and reads just as if it had been plucked from the trilogy itself, Pullman falls back into Lyra’s world wonderfully and from the beginning it’s easy to lose yourself in the world and the characters that are so familiar.
In true Pullman style he holds nothing back and keeps the story as honest and realistic as need be. While it may be a quick story, it is one that is filled with important detail, information, and insight. Lyra is two years older and settling into her life back at Oxford, but Pullman demonstrates that Lyra is still Lyra, while more mature and grown up, wiser and respectful, she is just as curious and just as willing to help.
It’s hard to imagine anything substantial could happen in such a brief snippet of Lyra’s life and yet in a small number of pages, Pullman adds another layer of complexity and mystery to Lyra’s world and her place within it, raising many more questions than answers, making it much more than a short story.
There is a feeling as you read that it’s acting as an introduction into something bigger, whether this will be seen in The Book of Dust is uncertain, but even if it isn’t, the things implied is enough to surprise and mull over, pique interests, and realise that Lyra’s importance and the layers of meaning in the world did not end at the conclusion of The Amber Spyglass.
Pullman manages to provide intrigue and mystery, as well as depth, understanding, and information from the first page to the last. It is a joy to have further closure and new details, no matter how small, and it once again a delight to lose yourself in the world of daemons and Oxford, even if it’s only for 64 pages.
You can purchase Lyra’s Oxford via the following
22 Jul 2015 Leave a comment
Being such a short and isolated story, there are only two key characters in Lyra’s Oxford, this being Lyra herself, and of course Pantalaimon. Both characters have changed a lot since being introduced in Northern Lights, Pan has settled on his form and Lyra has wisdom and strength from her time away and it’s great to see she hasn’t forgotten what she went through.
Lyra is such a complex character, she is filled with contradictions but there is no denying what a wonderful character she is. Seeing her grow up as you read is delightful, she begins as curious and indignant, mischievous and wild, but as she experiences new things and is exposed to new people and situations there is a gradual change evident in her behaviour that she herself reflects on which is touching to see. By the time we revisit Lyra when she is 15 it is clear how much she has grown up from the child in Northern Lights, but there are still signs of the old Lyra there as well, a part of her never changing, maintaining the sense of doing what’s right and following that spark of curiosity.
Pan’s name comes from the saint in the Orthodox churches, St Pantalaimon, which means “all-compassionate” in Greek. He has a wide range of changes through the entire series, introduced to readers as a dark brown moth, changing into numerous forms such as an eagle, an owl, and a seagull, to a tiger, leopard, and a cheetah, even at one point a dolphin. His favourite forms however are a snow-white ermine, a mouse, and a wild cat.
Pan is a great companion to Lyra, he balances her perfectly; his cautious and level-headed nature balancing her impulsive, curious, and sometimes reckless behaviour.
21 Jul 2015 Leave a comment
Lyra’s Oxford was published in 2003 and is a short book set two years after the trilogy when Lyra is 15 years old. While being an extension to the trilogy and expanding on the themes, it was also released to sate fans while they waited for the then unspecified release of The Book of Dust which Pullman said will be published “when it’s finished, and not a day sooner” (now finally given an expected release date of 2016).
This book is technically #3.5 in the His Dark Materials series, in Pullman’s words “a stepping stone to the book that’s coming next”. This refers to not just the short story, but also the many fun bits and pieces Pullman has included from and about Lyra’s world. He also teases on his website that “if you look very closely, you may find some clues about the future course of Lyra’s story.”
This secretive nature is reflected in the preface as well. Cryptically he writes: “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.”
One of the “other things” Pullman has included is a fold-out map, bound to the book that depicts the Oxford of Lyra’s world, entitled ‘Oxford by Train, River, and Zeppelin’. There are also little titbits such as advertisers for books and catalogues, brochures, a postcard from Mary Malone, and even pages from a Baedeker published in Lyra’s world. It is in these that you can find clues about Lyra, as well as gain more information about events in the trilogy, such as seeing Mary’s office, and a detailed look at the Oxford Lyra knows and loves.
This book is short, a mere 64 pages, but for those who need to know what happened to Lyra after The Amber Spyglass, this is a great thing to hold on to. After the emotional experience of reading His Dark Materials, it is comforting to know Lyra is ok and it provides enough interest and new information to be a great additional story.