In The Golden Compass, Pullman describes Lyra’s childhood as a time of wild joy. Because Lyra has no parent figures in her life, she is allowed to roam the streets of Oxford and seek out adventure. She has very little education, no manners, and no sense of propriety. Until she hears Lord Asriel’s speech about Dust while she and Pan are hiding in the wardrobe, Lyra has no inkling that any world outside her own childhood paradise exists. Like Eve, Lyra lives in a state of savage innocence. It is Lyra’s passage from a state of ignorance to a state of knowing that drives the trilogy. Just as Adam and Eve must leave their garden paradise, Lyra must leave her childhood paradise and enter the real world, where terrible and frightening things happen all the time. Lyra’s friends die, people lie and cheat, and, worst of all, Lyra is parted from Will, the person she loves most. Despite these difficulties, Pullman suggests, adulthood is better than happy but ignorant innocence.
2. Why do they do these things to children, Pan? Do they all hate children so much that they want to tear them apart like this? Why do they do it?
In The Golden Compass, Lyra asks Pan this question at Bolvanger after meeting Tony Makarios, who has no daemon, and realizing that is the separation of a child from his daemon. The Church tears children away from their own souls not because it hates the children, but because it fears the potential for sin inherent in children. According to Church doctrine, the source of all sin in the world is the growing awareness of children as they approach adulthood. The Church and the scientists at Bolvanger believe that by cutting children’s daemons away, they will prevent children from gaining awareness of themselves, which in turn will prevent them from exercising free will and sinning. For Lyra, who dearly loves her daemon, Pan, this Church practice seems cruel. Her journey becomes a struggle against the Church’s misperception of the relationship between child and daemon. She has to prove that becoming an adult and gaining awareness is the right of all conscious beings, and that what the Church calls sin is in fact something necessary and important.
3. Tell them stories.
The ghost of a dead woman speaks these words to Mary Malone in The Amber Spyglass after Lyra and Will have cut a hole from the world of the dead into the world of the mulefa. In the world of the dead, Lyra made a deal: the harpies would escort the ghosts to the window if the ghosts would tell the harpies stories about their lives. Only those who had lived their lives fully and could tell stories about what it meant to be alive would be allowed to pass into the world of the mulefa. Those who had squandered their lives and had no stories to tell would wander forever in the world of the dead.
The ghost exhorts Mary to “tell them stories,” reminding her to live fully and to accumulate a rich assortment of stories with which to feed the harpies. The ghost’s words also reflect Pullman’s belief that stories and storytelling are an integral part of human existence. One of Lyra’s great powers is her ability to mesmerize audiences with invented stories. When she is in a tight spot, Lyra will distract her audience by making up some fantastical tale about robbers and barons. When Lyra is in the world of the dead, however, her storytelling abilities don’t work. In fact, the harpies respond to her lies by attacking her. Of course, Pullman does not mean for this scene as an attack on fiction—indeed, his own invented worlds rival Lyra’s. He simply means that the best stories contain nuggets of truth, and that the most successful writers are those who draw on their own life experiences to tell stories.
4. So the snake said, “Put your foot through the hole in the seedpod where I was playing, and you will become wise.” So she put a foot in where the snake had been. And the oil entered her blood and helped her see more clearly than before, and the first thing she saw was the sraf.
In this part of The Amber Spyglass, Atal tells Mary the legend of the mulefa’s origin. Once, the mulefa were no better than animals. They grazed and ate in ignorance and innocence. Then a snake spoke to a female mulefa (a zalif) and persuaded her to put her foot through a hole in the seedpod. When she did this, the mulefa became conscious and learned how to think. The sraf she saw was the free-floating consciousness that runs throughout all the universes. Sraf is what Lyra knows as Dust.
In this legend, which is a retelling of the story of Adam and Eve, the anonymous female zalif stands for Eve. But in the mulefa story, in contrast to the biblical story, the moment when the species gains wisdom is not a tragedy, but a moment to celebrate. After putting her foot through the hole, the zalif sees the ills of the world for the first time, but she also sees the wonders of the world. For Pullman, the moment when Lyra finally “falls,” or recognizes her love for Will, is a similarly happy moment. Her fall gives her clarity and frees her and every other intelligent being from the shackles of ignorance imposed by Metatron and the Church.
5. “And then what?” said her daemon sleepily. “Build what?”
“The Republic of Heaven,” said Lyra.
The trilogy ends with this exchange between Pantalaimon and Lyra. They have just been separated from Will and his demon, Kirjava, and have agreed to study with Dame Hannah, the scholar who has promised to help Lyra learn how to use the alethiometer. Lyra has fulfilled her destiny: she has grown up and redeemed the conscious world. The love that she and Will share stops Dust (consciousness) from flooding out of the universes. Their love has also played a key role in defeating the Church and Metatron, who wanted to subjugate all conscious beings and turn them into obedient servants of the Church. The Kingdom of Heaven, in which the Church ruled over people and forced them to obey its orders, is in shambles. Lyra has won the fight to allow all thinking beings to steer the course their lives and to grow up into complex adults. In place of a kingdom with one central ruler, Lyra, Pantalaimon, Will, Mary Malone, and everyone who has helped them are now responsible for building a Republic in which every citizen has the right and the duty to think independently.