Lyra Belacqua from Philip Pullman’s ‘His Dark Materials’ trilogy is my favourite fictional feminist. She brings something different than all the other female characters I had previously come across in my childhood reading; she’s not a princess in a tower, a damsel in distress or a supporting character. She is stubborn, loyal, clever, great at lying and just a little bit rude. Her sense of curiosity and adventure sends her and her daemon hurtling through the rich and vivid worlds created by Phillip Pullman. As well as being brave, however, she is not afraid to be afraid. Just to give one example of how awesome she is; her other name is Lyra Silvertongue, given to her after she outwits the King of the Polar Bears, Iofur Raknison. OUTWITS THE KING OF THE POLAR BEARS. How could she not be awesome?
She quickly discovers how society expects women to act when she stays with her mother, Mrs Coulter, and it is a total affront to her. So she escapes. She escapes and runs away from a restrictive lifestyle of dresses, parties, and more parties. In doing so, she also escapes from society’s expectations of femininity. In any case, she’s far too busy saving her best friend Roger to care about getting a manicure.
When Lyra meets Will, her male counterpart, they are meeting as equals. They learn and grow with each other and become a team. You feel they would do anything for each other; Will even follows her into the Underworld. In the moments when Lyra is absent in the third book, you feel her missing presence as Will must feel it. When they fall in love, it is again as equals; beautiful, tender and bittersweet. Lyra and Will sacrifice their love for the sake of the universe, and they don’t complain about it either.
Lyra saves the world, sacrificing her own happiness along the way. The trilogy highlights how organized religion blames female sex for all sin. Women are distrusted because they brought on Original Sin through their ancestor Eve. To Pullman though, the Eve depicted in Genesis was not the cause of all sin, but the source of all knowledge and awareness. In the universe of the novels, when Eve ate from the tree of knowledge she became the mother of humanity and introduced Dust into the worlds. Dust, which links all living things, is pure energy, pure knowledge. If Eve hadn’t eaten the fruit, humans would have remained forever in a state of childlike ignorance in the Garden of Eden. This is a book that advocates choices for women, and Lyra makes the bravest choice of all. When it is Lyra’s turn to make a choice in the Garden of Eden, she chooses knowledge and saves humanity from decay.
Lyra stands out among a host of strong female characters in the series. Any of Lady Salmakia, the witch queen Serafina Pekkala, Mrs.Coulter (at least at the very end) and Dr. Mary Malone could all have had an article written about them. But Lyra’s spirit trumps them all.
Just in case it isn’t clear enough quite how important she is, Pullman honours Lyra in a very touching way. The first word of book one, Northern Lights, is ‘Lyra’ and the last word book three, The Amber Spyglass, is ‘Lyra’. I have chosen to honour her in this way too.
The thing that I like most about Lyra is that if you called her a feminist she would probably argue with you for labeling her. Nobody tells Lyra what she can or can’t do. And nobody defines her, except for Lyra herself. This story is belongs to Lyra.