By the Book - Literary Life Lessons

By the Book #9 – Serpentine by Philip Pullman

Philip Pullman has written another Lyra story, and I for one could not be more excited. This book explores one of the most important life lessons: who are we, and why do we change when we grow older? Interested? Read on!

Sequels, prequels: usually I am not a big fan. I cringed at the retelling of Fifty Shades of Gray, I rolled my eyes when the “other side” books Twilight were announced, and I face-palmed when I heard about the latest instalment of The Hunger Games. But when Philip Pullman revealed he would publish the short story Serpentine, set in the His Dark Materials universe, I was over the moon – call me a hypocrite. I didn’t just buy the normal edition, but the special, limited, signed edition. Want to know why Pullman’s books are so special to me? Read on!

Serpentine is about Lyra Silvertongue, who made her debut in the His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman. They’re my favourite books in the world, and Lyra is my favourite fictional character. She’s fearless, she’s funny, she’s smart, and, above all else: she isn’t perfect. Perfect is boring. In Serpentine, Pullman describes exactly how imperfect she is, by describing a conversation between her and a character we know from Northern Lights, the first instalment of the trilogy.

Ever since Lyra and her dæmon Pantalaimon returned home from their adventures (during which she had to leave Pan for a while), they haven’t really seen eye to eye. They are secretive and don’t talk to each other. Seeing as dæmons are the physical manifestations of their owners’ souls, Pan’s apparent indifference towards her leaves Lyra devastated and insecure. In Serpentine she tries talking to Dr Lanselius, who, being a Witch Consul, is very knowledgeable about witches and their customs. He talks to her about how these women can separate from their dæmons, and how that leaves a mark on both of them. Thus, Lyra learns she’s not the only one who struggles with this.

What I love about Philip Pullman is how he explores deep, complex themes within a deceptively easy story. They’re all there: science, religion, oppression, abuse of power, fate, childhood and growing up, sex… I could go on. Serpentine deals with the notion of identity. What does it mean when someone’s dæmon does not like its owner anymore? I applied this question to my own life: while I don’t have a dæmon (a fact I have bitterly regretted ever since I first read these books), there have been times when I was insecure, or unhappy with myself. Would I have been fighting with my dæmon, if I’d had one, on those occasions? How would I have solved these issues? While I don’t have the answers, it’s so interesting to contemplate them. And that’s what Philip Pullman does: even when you’ve read his novels before, there’s always new questions that rise to the surface.

Last week, I told you that there’s one book that changed my life. I lied. Sorry. Pullman’s books literally transformed my world. His Dark Materials was a light that went on inside my mind, and grew brighter with each page. Years, and several rereads, later, it keeps shining. Thankfully, Pullman keeps writing.

What do you think of these books? What does your dæmon look like? Let me know in the comments! Also: don’t forget to follow my blog for more book musings!

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