‘But all the roads in Albion are drowned now.’ And so it proves to be, under the rain-sodden skies in La Belle Sauvage, the majestic first volume in a new series by Philip Pullman. Decades after its initial publication, we return to the dazzling multiverse of His Dark Materials, to uncover the early childhood of beloved heroine Lyra Belacqua. Prepare to be entranced by a book of big ideas, that demands of its readers, curious and open minds.
Fans of the original trilogy will know of the witches’ prophecy, that Lyra is a girl who is ‘destined to bring about the end of destiny.’ Embroiled in a cosmic battle, her epic story has become a children’s classic. In this instalment, we learn about her babyhood in Oxford. Even in infancy, Lyra’s very life is in peril, her destiny threatening to be no more than an early grave.
But witchy voices in the aurora whisper a second prophecy, of a boy who has to carry a treasure to a place of safety. That boy is Malcolm Polstead, an innkeeper’s son, and the proud owner of La Belle Sauvage, a wooden canoe that he roams the Thames in. Seemingly endless days of rain have engorged the rivers, and a biblical flood is set to sweep across England. Fittingly, La Belle Sauvage becomes an ark, as Malcolm endeavours to navigate the floods and deliver baby Lyra to the arms of her father, Lord Asriel.
Philip Pullman continues the bold themes of His Dark Materials. Lyra has been born into a society under tyranny from institutional power, where the masses practise ‘obsequious submissiveness’, because to do otherwise is to endanger their existence. A world of governmental surveillance and intellectual compliance from officialdom.
The fire in the author’s belly compels the reader to draw their own contemporary parallels. Under omnipresent grey skies, the torrent of ideas delivers scientific, philosophical, and political conundrums. We even get a bonus copulating nun. Keep your kids thinking. And read it yourself.
La Belle Sauvage – The Book of Dust – Volume One is published by Penguin Random House Children’s and David Fickling Books.