Serpentine (2020) is a tiny tale set in between the two trilogies that have defined Philip Pullman‘s writing career. Whilst at a mere seventy pages it may seem, by Pullman’s standards, brief, it plays a vital function in understanding the adventures the future Lyra will embark upon in the THE BOOK OF DUST.
A note from the author explains that the story was originally written 2004, before Pullman had any idea that he would return to Lyra and her world.
Yet the story marks a pivotal point in Lyra’s understanding of herself and her relationship with her daemon, Pantalaimon; this very understanding will, in fact, dictate the entire course of the subsequent trilogy.
Serpentine centres around a teenage Lyra, a few years after the events in The Amber Spyglass that saw her abandon Pan on the shores of the world of the dead.
Jordan College has sponsored an archaeological dig in Trollesund, which Lyra demands to be taken on. This is, of course, the place where she first met the bear Iorek Byrnison and the aeronaut Lee Scoresby, and also where she’d visited the house of the Witch-Consul, Dr Lanselius. It is here to which she returns.
Lyra is preoccupied with the relationship between herself and her daemon. Since she and Pantalaimon parted and she journeyed into the world of the dead, she has wanted to know what happened to him whilst they were apart.
But Pan is not forthcoming. When she visits the house of Dr Lanselius, the Witch-Consul, it is this she asks him about. Her understanding of the changing relationship between her and her daemon is pivotal in mapping Lyra’s course from adolescence to maturity.
The book is beautifully illustrated with Tom Duxbury’s linocuts; they are the perfect companion in envisioning Lyra’s brief foray back into the north. In fact, the slim book feels like a piece of artwork in itself: one can imagine the hardback cover sitting on one of the bookshelves in Lyra’s world.
Whilst the story itself cannot quite stand alone — it is a snapshot into a world you have to be familiar with to understand its significance — Serpentine will no doubt be a much-loved addition to Pullman’s ongoing series, and fans with no doubt be delighted by the tale.