Summary

Two years after the events of Northern Lights, The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass , Lyra is once more on the roof of Jordan College with her daemon, Pantalaimon. They see a large flock of starlings attacking a bird, which turns out to be a witch’s daemon. They rescue him into the safety of Jordan Collge, only to discover that the daemon was coming to look for Lyra.

The daemon explains that he needs Lyra’s help to find a man called Sebastian Makepeace who lives in Jericho, Oxford. Only he could make the elixir that could cure the Daemon’s witch. When Lyra asks around, she discover that Makepeace is thought to be a mad alchemist. Lyra leads the daemon through Oxford to go to Makepeace but birds keep attacking the daemon. Lyra and Pantalaimon feel that something isn’t quite right but they can’t put their finger on it. What does it all mean?

Background

Lyra’s Oxford is Philip Pullman’s fourth book about Lyra, a brief sequel to the acclaimed His Dark Materials trilogy. It is very brief – just 64 pages – but it is beautifully produced in a cloth-bound hardback, illustrated with engravings by John Lawrence. It also includes various other things: a fold-out map of Lyra’s Oxford, a postcard written by Mary Malone when she first arrived in Oxford, and some publicity for cruises aboard the SS Zenobia. As Pullman says in the introduction (which is itself part of the book’s fiction), these things ‘might be connected with the story, or they might not.’

His Dark Materials  has been a huge publishing success, being read by adults and children alike. Interest is likely to grow even further with its popularity in the BBC Big Read poll of the UK’s favourite book, a stage adaptation at the National Theatre, and an upcoming film version.

Questions

  1. How did the presentation of Lyra’s Oxford make you feel about the books? Did it affect the way you read the story?
  2. Did this single short story work for you as a book on its own?
  3. How did you respond to the other things in the book, besides the story (the map of Oxford, page from a book, Mary Malone’s postcard and the material about the SS Zenobia cruises)? Which of them have a connection with this story? Why has Philip Pullman included them in the book?
  4. Do you think Lyra and Pantalaimon were right to feel uneasy about Ragi the witch’s daemon? Why?
  5. How did you feel about Sebastian Makepeace after Miss Greenwood’s comment to Lyra that his name is ironic? How do Lyra’s feelings about him change during the story?
  6. What do you think Lyra learned about people in this story? Are you surprised that she still needed to learn this after all her adventures in His Dark Materials?
  7. What might Lyra have learned about herself, or about life in general?
  8. Are Lyra and Makepeace right to say that ‘Everything means something’? What are the consequences of this view for how you live?
  9. What does Philip Pullman mean when he writes in the introduction that, ‘There are many things we haven’t yet learned how to read. The story in this book is partly about that very process’?
  10. Who do you trust? Why? What constitutes a good reason to trust someone?
  11. Makepeace says, ‘You’ll find the meaning if you search for it.’ How committed are you to discovering the meaning in life, or the meaning of life?