by Philip Pullman
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Following the “His Dark Materials” trilogy, Phillip Pullman returns to his magical Oxford and Lyra Silvertongue for the novella "Lyra and the Birds." This short piece is the main contents of the book Lyra's Oxford, which includes not only the story, but a map of the Oxford featured in the trilogy and an assortment of miscellaneous materials which are not of direct relationship to the story.
While a reader who has already read The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass will get the most out of the short story, previous acquaintance with Lyra and her familiar Pantalaimon is not entirely essential for enjoyment of the story. "Lyra and the Birds" opens with the title character witnessing a flock of birds moving in a strange (and evocative) manner. Upon investigating, she discovers a witch's daemon who has a message for her about a strange hermit living in Oxford.
As Lyra works to help the dæmon, she uncovers mysteries in Oxford which tell her about herself, the city and her relationship to it. at the same time, the reader gets a better feel for the world Lyra inhabits, although this really only is clear to someone who has read about Lyra's previous adventures. Pullman makes it clear that what has gone before is still affecting Lyra and her associates and will continue to do so as her life (and books about her) continue.
While the story of "His Dark Materials" took Pullman three books to provide Lyra's background and the story of her world, in "Lyra and the Birds," Pullman is limited to only 45 pages. His scope, therefore, is of necessity limited, but he still manages to create a world into which the reader can immerse himself for the length of the story. Lyra's intentions and willingness to help a stranger, as well as her ability to change her mind when confronted with new evidence, makes her as instantly sympathetic as she was at the beginning of The Golden Compass, although she is clearly more sure of herself and her place in the world in "Lyra and the Birds."
Although "Lyra and the Birds" can stand on its own, a reader will only get the full impact, and import, of the story if there is already knowledge of Lyra's previous adventures. Nevertheless, it serves as a good introduction to Lyra and Oxford, if not to her world at large and her place in the greater scheme of things.
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