Philip Pullman’s The Secret Commonwealth is the second volume of the Book of Dust. Lyra Silvertongue has grown up and lost her sense of adventure and imagination, attributes that once defined her.
La Belle Sauvage, the first volume of the Book of Dust, followed baby Lyra and young Malcolm. His Dark Materials – the original trilogy comprising Northern Lights, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass – explored the coming of age of Lyra Belacqua and Will Parry. I can’t be sure, but I’d say it’s been at least 15 years since I left Lyra and Will on a park bench in Oxford’s Botanic Gardens. I dragged my partner to the very spot on a visit to Oxford a couple of years ago.
We’d gone to hear V E Schwab (author of the Shades of Magic and Villains series) speak at Pembroke College about her search for doors. The recording of her Pembroke Tolkien Lecture 2018 is recommended viewing.
The Secret Commonwealth picks up seven years after The Amber Spyglass. Lyra is twenty years old, struggling in her relationship with her dæmon Pantalaimon, and once again drawn into the path of the ever-powerful Magisterium. And Malcolm is now Dr Polstead, Professor of History at Durham College, Oxford University.
This book was a real tome, but I couldn’t help but be drawn back into Lyra’s world. I hardly recognised her – often frustrating and self-sabotaging – but I was there for every step of her journey, this time to the south through Europe and Asia.
There was one passage in particular that really hit me in the strange and anxious times of the Covid-19 lockdown. Last Saturday it was warm and sunny and I was out the back reading The Secret Commonwealth. I’m so grateful for having this outdoor space in London during these challenging times. I came across this passage and felt a weight lift off my chest:
I cannot wait to find out how it ends in the final volume of the Book of Dust.