Lyra’s Oxford by Philip Pullman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
“This book contains a story and several other things.”
So opens this slim and quiet little volume of Lyra’s Oxford, a book that truly contains a story and several other things, but maybe Other Things is how we should think of these latter objects for: “They might have come from anywhere. They might have come from other worlds. That scribbled-on map, that publisher’s catalogue -they might have been put down absent-mindedly in another universe and been blown by a chance wind through an open window, to find themselves after many adventures on a a market-stall in our world.”
(This quote, these ideas, they are perfect to me for they talk of the split between our world and the world of the literature, the ephemeral nature of reading, identifying and *living* a text, the shift between fiction and fact, the blurred edge of books, the cliff-edge of reading…)
The central story of this rich volume concerns Lyra and Pantalaimon. It is set after the events of His Dark Materials and so certain things have occured. Certain shifts in the world have happened. And for every action there is a reaction. For every pebble dropped in the water, there is an echo upon the shore. This is that echo. This is that reaction.
The fascinating edge of this story, this collection of thoughts and ideas and of fragments, is the idea of literary space and place here. Pullman’s Oxford is a wild-edged space, shifting through identities with the effortless skill of something very old and wise and powerful. It is as much a character in the books as Lyra and Pan and Will and all.
And the thrilling and terrifying edge to this Oxford is that it is visitable. One can drive up the road and into this city full of story and richness and of the darkest edges. This is something acknowledged in Lyra’s Oxford as the book provides you with a map to the centre of the city. The tangible joy of folding out this map is not to be underestimated. And the conceptual groundbreaking of such a move! To unfold this map of Lyra’s Oxford is to lay this Oxford (accessible by Train and River and Zeppelin) against *our* Oxford – or is it our Oxford? Are the two not one and the same? Is our Oxford simply a face of the city; a reflection caught in glass, and is this its true face? A city full of museums and of zeppelins and colleges and Botanic Gardens with one lonely bench underneath a low-branched tree?
And even now as I write this, I am drawn back to my memories of Oxford and of walking those streets, and seeing a glint of something fly across the roof and of seeing a small girl in the doorway of one of the colleges. I am pulled back into this space of Other Things; this edge, this cliff-edge, and I am lifting my arms and I am flying, I am gone.
(I write further on the map in Lyra’s Oxford here)
3 thoughts on “Lyra’s Oxford : Philip Pullman”
I love this book (and all the HDM books). I also love your thoughts about Oxford – it is similar to me – a place in between the worlds of fantasy and reality. I only lived there for a year (as a library trainee) and I still miss it.
I remember the first time I visited Oxford. It was such a stunning – and breathtaking – place. I totally get what you mean about missing it. I only went a few times and I’m so very desperate to go back!