When fans meet Lyra Belacqua at the beginning of His Dark Materials, she’s an orphan living in Jordan College at Oxford. She resides there at the request of her uncle, Lord Asriel, who brought her to Jordan as a baby. But unlike other orphans, like her friend Roger, she doesn’t spend her day earning her keep as a servant. She has lessons and studies and dreams of going North to explore. When she meets Mrs. Coulter, who says she’s heading North herself, Lyra’s is instantly fascinated. But who is Mrs. Coulter on His Dark Materials? Nothing about her story makes sense. Warning: Spoilers for His Dark Materials Season 1 follow.
Lyra’s original plan was to go North with her uncle the next time he came to visit. When Asriel arrives, she drops everything to see him, but in doing so accidentally witnesses something strange: The Master of Jordan and her professor poisoning Lord Asriel’s’ wine before leaving. When Asriel walks in and pours himself a glass, she bursts in and stops him.
Asriel thanks her by letting her hideout and watch his presentation on a mysterious substance he’s discovered, “Dust.” But saving his life apparently isn’t enough to prove herself. When Asriel takes off the next day, he insists she cannot come. She’s too young, and it’s too dangerous.
Lyra is still hurt when Mrs. Coulter shows up days later. When the glamorous woman sits down beside her at dinner and explains she too is an explorer preparing to go North, Lyra is hooked. She’s grown up in an all-male environment, meeting a woman who travels, explores, and commandeers the room like Coulter is an eye-opener. Coulter also seems taken with Lyra, listening to her stories of the college, and her dreams of traveling.
By the end of the evening, Coulter tells Lyra she has an offer for her. She is here to hire an assistant to go North with her. Would Lyra take the job? Lyra is so excited she practically says yes before Coulter is done asking.
There’s just one problem. None of this makes any sense.
Lyra is twelve, and an irresponsible, immature twelve at that. The idea anyone would hire her is laughable. Coulter also doesn’t give Lyra any assignments. And when Lyra is so excited to go she impulsively hugs her new boss, Coulter is oddly moved.
Moreover, Coulter isn’t telling Lyra the truth. She may be traveling North, but she’s not like Lyra’s uncle. He’s searching for scientific answers for Dust in defiance of the Magisterium, the repressive religious government. Meanwhile, the Magisterium seems to consider Coulter one of their own.
And then there are the disappearing children. Rumors of it happening in London have traveled to Oxford. But now it’s happening here as well, first with Billy from the Romany-like community, and then Lyra’s friend Roger. Moreover, he disappears before she can tell him about Coulter’s offer, after insisting to her new boss they take him along.
These disappearances oddly coincide with Coulter’s arrival as well. But it’s still a shock when Roger is revealed to be on board the same airship taking Lyra and Coulter to London, confined to a cage and crying for help.
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