Children’s literature is full of orphans or near-orphans who go on adventures. Will Parry, who looks after himself and his ailing mother, follows in this tradition. Because he lacks true parent figures, Will is free to explore another world. Will does not enjoy everything about his parentless state. Like Lyra, Will is driven by his search for his father. Because he has acted like an adult for so long, Will longs to be a child and to be advised and parented by his long-absent father. Fittingly, it is in his search for childhood that Will matures and finds love with Lyra.

Pullman suggests free will is what separates adults from children. Adults are allowed to exercise free will, while children are not. To Pullman, the Church treats its parishioners like children, stifling their natural impulses and oppressing them with strict rules about what they can and cannot do. Will, who is closer to adulthood than Lyra is, represents the triumph of free will. He is strong-willed and stubborn. Instead of being coddled by a doting mother, he looks after adults. People constantly comment on how he seems to be more than a mere child. Will is a formidable opponent who acts when necessary and rarely dithers over what to do next.