Character Feature: Lyra Belacqua

Lyra with Iorek Byrnisom (New Line Cinema: The Golden Compass)

Appeared in: Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy and spin off book Lyra’s Oxford. New Line Cinema filmed a movie version of the first book Northern Lights under its US title The Golden Compass. Lyra portrayed by then debut actress Dakota Blue Richards.

General character: Sugar and spice and all things nice, that’s what little girls are made of, right? Nope, not Lyra ‘Silvertongue’ Belacqua! This 11 year old girl is brash, argumentative, confrontational, dishonest when it suits and doesn’t respect her elders. She is all too willing to point out the failings and hypocrisies of the adults around her and does so publicly. She goes where she shouldn’t (and early on saves the life of Lord Asriel). Does this make her a bad person? No despite attempts to villify her and author Pullman by the right wing media on both sides of the Atlantic, and the paranoia of political Christianity smearing the books, Lyra is an admirable character so long as she identifies you as a generally smart and honourable person. Yes, her character traits conflict with authoritarian, hierarchical society and if she lived in our world she would either be fodder for young offenders institutes or she would be labelled a problem child and pushed from school to school. She is an incredibly gifted young girl and within the confines of Jordan College, she is in her element.

Lyra sighed; she had forgotten how roundabout Scholars could be. It was difficult to tell them the truth when a lie would have been so much easier for them to understand.

The Subtle Knife

Complexities of character: She is incredibly brave. Watch in amazement as she faces down a powerful polar bear (Iorek Byrnison), berating him for being full of self-pity and allowing his kingdom to be taken by his devious cousin (Iofer Raknasson or in the film version, Ragnar Sturlusson). She is devious but she uses that deviousness mostly for good. After telling Iorek where his armour was hidden, she enlists his help and then aids him in taking back his kingdom by posing as his daemon. This scene is excellently played out in the film.

Lyra is loyal to her friends and it is this bravery that spurns her on to head north in the first place. Her friend Roger is taken by the “Gobblers” and, hearing that so many of her friends and acquaintances have gone missing, taken by these mysterious “Gobblers” she steps into the unknown with a group of Gyptian travellers. Of course, she uncovers the plot and rescues them. She vows to join the fight against the Magisterium.

We’ll set things right. We will. You, and me, and Iorek, and Serafina Pekkala, and Mr. Scoresby. And my father. We’ll set it right, Pan. Just let them try to stop us.

The Golden Compass (Movie)

She is secretly the daughter we would all love to have but we know she will be a bit of a handful. It would take extraordinary parents to keep her on the straight and narrow and Lord Asriel and Mrs Coulter are nothing if not extraordinary. But then, she never had a normal upbringing so her lack of social etiquette in the high society can be excused.

Yet, she is a normal girl in so many ways. When she meets Will (who comes from our world), she immediately starts treating him like she would any stranger: with distrust and as though he is stupid. Will is intrigued and bemused at this lone girl who is rude and argumentative yet feels drawn to her. Because of the delicate age that she is at with hormones about to start raging, their relationship moves from this through to a friendship and then onward to a pure kind of love. They do fall in love and we can argue for years over the end of The Amber Spyglass, whether they have sex or merely share a first clumsy yet passionate kiss (personally I do not care but it is clear that some kind of innocence has been lost).

Why I love the character: Lyra is the person we would all have wanted to be at that age. Bravado in abundance, never lacking for confidence at an age where typically we start to lose that. She is not afraid to point out the failings of the adults and she is loyal to her friends. Who wouldn’t like either to be that person or to have had a friend like that when we were 11?

Some of her words and actions make me laugh. Toward the end of The Amber Spyglass when summoned to Lord Asriel by a group of the angels in his alliance, Lyra boldly proclaims “we ain’t going!” and marches onward with Will in tow.

Yet her obvious love for Will in the final chapters when she realises that they have to part, perhaps forever, evokes memories for all of young and innocent love. She is a child after all and her hormones are raging just like any other girl or boy on the edge of being a teenager. She is larger than life yet she is very real. Her pains are our pains, her faults are our faults ans like any hero her qualities that we often wish we had.

When I first saw this image my first though was “yup, that’s Lyra”

Dakota Blue Richards: It would be unfortunate if no film or TV version is ever again recorded because it would be an interesting character study to compare various portrayals of Lyra. Dakota Blue Richards is only the quintissential Lyra because she is (so far) the only actress to have played the role on screen. That’s not to take anything away from her performance – which was impressive. She had her sarcasm and “don’t give a sh*t” attitude to a T. She told it like it is in a very Lyra forthright sort of a way. She had to work as the main character and I was pleased to see that she carried it off wonderfully.

No wonder Pullman was determined to find an unknown and to personally oversee the auditions. The actress is now 18 years old and unfortunately too old to play Lyra. Even if a script for a film adaptation of The Subtle Knife was approved tomorrow, she would most likely be past 20 when the film made it to our screens. It would have been good to see her develop into the role and it is a shame for her and for us that chance will never come.

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