33. ‘Lyra’s Oxford’ by Philip Pullman

As you know, I have been rereading Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy in preparation for The Book of Dust coming out in October. So imagine my delight and surprise when Penguin Random House gave out free audiobook copies of Lyra’s Oxford yesterday, in exchange for signing up to a newsletter. Naturally, I listened to mine immediately.

[This review will contain plot spoilers for His Dark Materials.]

Lyra’s Oxford is a small companion novella/short story to the world of His Dark Materials, and it is set two years after the events of those books. Lyra is living in her Oxford, studying at St. Sophia’s and still getting up to mischief on the rooftops of Jordan College. In fact, that is where this story opens, with Lyra and Pan (settled as a pine marten) standing on a rooftop, watching a strange bird being attacked by a murmuration of starlings. It’s a very short story – the audiobook is under an hour long – but it cleverly ties into the events from His Dark Materials and shows how Lord Asriel’s great war against the Authority is still having repercussions in Lyra’s world.

Of course, in this story, Lyra is still suffering from her separation from Will, but it is not holding her back from living her life and being Lyra. I think that’s a really important part of what this story does: it’s easy to imagine Lyra and Will pining for each other forever, but Lyra’s Oxford shows that they both still have lives to lead – rich, full, purposeful lives – and if they have to do that apart from each other then so be it. That doesn’t mean they don’t miss each other – there is still space for beautiful lines like “It felt as if her heart were bruised forever” – but this missing is something that Lyra can live with.

The story itself is quite action-packed for something so short. Pullman is as excellent at ever at describing places and evoking an atmosphere. There’s intrigue, plotting and fighting, and a nice introductory section that explains how fragments from larger stories spill out into other lives, possibly even into other worlds. I thought the ending of the story was a little bit exposition-heavy (a character explains the background behind what has just happened), but overall it has a nice message about finding meaning in the world, in the same way that Lyra used to read the alethiometer.

As for the audiobook production, I wasn’t a particular fan. This story is narrated by Pullman (which I loved), with a full cast of voice actors playing the characters, but I thought the music at the beginning was a little too sickly sweet, and the woman voicing Lyra sounded too much like an adult pretending to be a child. I think it would have been much better if they’d got an actress Lyra’s age to voice her.

Still, this is a fun story that harks back to the world of His Dark Materials – perfect if you’ve read those books and you’re not quite ready to let Lyra go.

“Everything has a meaning, if only we could read it.”

Have you read this book or are you planning to? I’d love to know your thoughts!

Want to read this? You can buy the book here.

What do you think?

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