When it comes to human affairs, a billion invisible filaments connect us to our own pasts, as well as to the most remote things we can imagine; and I hope that, above all, these books are about being alive and being human.⠀
— Philip Pullman⠀
I began this year by reading Philip Pullman’s The Secret Commonwealth, so I only thought it fitting that I would end it by reading yet another of his fantastic expeditions into human nature. Serpentine is a brief excursion into Lyra’s world, and actually acts as a sort of thematic prequel to Commonwealth, the second entry in The Book of Dust series. ⠀
Serpentine tells a small, intimate story in which Lyra Belacqua joins some colleagues at an archaeological site that happens to be near the home of a past acquaintance — someone who just might be able to answer some of the many burning questions Lyra has been carrying ever since the events related in His Dark Materials. She and her dæmon, Pan, have been growing apart in the aftermath of these earlier exploits, a predicament they can’t seem to be able to solve, causing them both great emotional turmoil. Lyra, true to her curious nature, is determined to decipher this dilemma. She gets some clarification by the end of this novella, but the relationship between humans and their inner-selves is something that will preoccupy Lyra well into her adulthood. Indeed this concern forms the central theme in The Secret Commonwealth (and, I suspect, The Book of Dust as a whole).⠀
I was well into my twenties when I first read His Dark Materials, but the series still ended up being acutely formative. It’s a story that spoke to me on a host of different levels (not least of which a spiritual one) and even though I’ve never sat down and revisited the novels, they still, to this day, live rent-free in my head and heart.⠀
This makes every subsequent glimpse into this world feel like a privilege and a homecoming. There’s something intensely warm and comforting about these novels — probably due to the fact that despite them being mostly dark, serious tomes of the fantastic, they are also some of the most human books out there.⠀⠀
Which is a roundabout way of saying that each return visit to Pullman’s world has felt like coming home. Like visiting old friends. Like gaining some fresh, new insight— however small — into what it means to be human and alive. And the experience of reading Serpentine was no different.