Review: Philip Pullman, Serpentine – ‘A crucial, brief part of Lyra’s narrative, but oh so lovely’


Philip Pullman has added to the Universe of Lyra in this capturing and delightful tale with no more than 70 pages.

  • 7.5

Lyra is back, and this time her tale is from a corner of the Arctic, although the tale may be brief and minor at just under 70 pages it’s another chance to immerse yourself into Lyra’s journey. Set sometime between La Belle Sauvage and The Secret Commonwealth, Serpentine, whilst it may be an uneventful encounter, uncovers the cracks in the foundations of Lyra and Pan’s relationship which sets up some of the most wrenching aspects for the Book of Dust. Originally handwritten in 2004 for a charity auction and sold for an astonishing amount of money, as Pullman writes in ‘A Note from the Author’, over a decade later the tale has been bound and covered formally introducing it to Lyra’s narrative.

In this story, Lyra and Pantalaimon revisit the Arctic village Trollesund thats prominently featured in Northern Lights, where Lyra’s first encounter with Lee Scoresbey and the armoured bear Iorek Byrnison take place. This time round the duo seek the knowledge of Witch-Consul Doctor Lanselius on their ability to separate, something only a few can do, an individual and their deamon cannot separate. Ever. The mystery of what happened between her and Pan when they separated is something that seems to eat away at Lyra, which spurs her enthusiam and determination to find out what happened to her deamon. Of course one may think; ‘Why doesn’t she just ask him?’. But Lyra expresses certain anxieties around the subject for the fear she may push Pan to talk about it before he’s ready adding extra strain to their relationship and altering the bond between them. What Lyra ultimately wants to know is how witches, who all acquire this ‘super power’ of separation, approach the subject.

Even though Serpentine provides glimpses of the adventures Pan and Will Parry’s daemon got up to in the absence of Lyra and Will, the concept at the centre of this tale is how aware Lyra is at the price they’ll have to pay for the inflicted trauma of their separation. For the first time both have had experiences that the other knows little or nothing about, which for Lyra is an extremely foreign concept which is where the anxiety and desperation comes from. The duo are seen bickering throughout the novella with a seriousness that is never seen in the past novels which depicts the inevitable personal growth of Lyra as a adult and the widening of the division between Lyra and Pan hinting at the possibility of them having adventures that do not include the other.

Pullman, in ‘A Note from the Author’ writes how Lyra’s world would not leave him alone despite him working on other projects. And when this tale minor but oh so lovely story came to him, there was very little prompting required for him to write it down. Despite it being a minor story in the narrative it is by no means insignificant, it is almost crucial to the understanding of Lyra and Pantalaimon’s relationship and foreshadows many events for upcoming tales.

Serpentine written by Philip Pullman and illustrated by Tom Duxbury is available to purchase from October 15, courtesy of Penguin Publishing.


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