Everything We Learned So Far from Philip Pullman’s The Secret Commonwealth Excerpts

With the second volume of The Book of Dust hitting shelves in October, and His Dark Materials season one landing on the small-screen sometime soon(ish), this year is shaping up to be full of content for the discerning Philip Pullman fan. But while the TV series follows the original story of a young Lyra Belacqua, the second Book of Dust novel, called The Secret Commonwealth, will pick up with Lyra at age 20. That’s seven years after the end of His Dark Materials, and 20 years after the events of La Belle Sauvage. So what can we actually expect in terms of storyline? We’ve combed through the available excerpts, and here’s everything we learned so far about what happens in The Secret Commonwealth.

The official publisher synopsis reads:

Lyra Silvertongue’s adventures in the North are long over–the windows between the many worlds have been sealed, and her beloved Will is lost to her. She does still have the alethiometer: the truth-telling device given to her by the master of Jordan College, which guided her journey.

Lyra doesn’t know the full story of the alethiometer, though. Or the role that young Malcolm Polstead played in bringing both the instrument and baby Lyra to Jordan. She’s now a twenty-year-old undergraduate at St. Sophia’s College. To her, Malcolm is Dr. Polstead, an overly solicitous professor she would prefer to avoid.

But intrigue is swirling around Lyra once more. Her daemon Pantalaimon is witness to a brutal murder, and the dying man entrusts them with secrets that carry echoes from their past. They learn of a city haunted by daemons, of a desert said to hold the secret of Dust.

Powerful forces are about to throw Lyra and Malcolm together once again. And the dangers they face will challenge everything they thought they knew about the world, and about themselves.

So Lyra still has the alethiometer, Pan witnesses a murder, Lyra and Malcolm (the protagonist of book one) reunite, Lyra and Pan learn an important secret (or secrets), and they may or may not head to the aforementioned “city haunted by daemons.” As if that’s not intriguing enough, Penguin Random House released two excerpts earlier this year. In the first one, which you can read here, Lyra and Pan are talking about said murder and trying to figure out what to do about it. Being only a few paragraphs long, it doesn’t reveal much besides:

  • They’ve made a choice that Lyra thinks is could be “helping the murderer get away with it” and “interfering with the investigation.”
  • They’re on a train, heading somewhere.
  • They’ve changed their life philosophies: Lyra is now an anxiety-ridden pessimist, while Pan’s the one making impulsive decisions.

The second excerpt, which went up earlier this month, is luckily much longer and appears to pick up a little ways after the first. It opens on Lyra traveling to the Fens with the gyptian Giorgio Brabandt as they flee from someone in a zeppelin. By the end (SPOILER ALERT), the zeppelin’s crashed, and the “will o’ the wykes,” or what appear to be sentient marsh lights, have defended Lyra and Brabandt against their attackers.

Here’s what we know:

  • Pan, at this point, is missing, or at the very least separated from Lyra. The few vague references she makes imply he may have betrayed and abandoned her.
  • Brabandt is taking Lyra to the titular “secret commonwealth,” which Pullman describes as “Brabandt’s.” Lyra also calls it “nonsense, superstition, nothing but meaningless fancy,” so could this be the daemon city mentioned in the synopsis?
  • Lyra still knows how to read the alethiometer.
  • Whoever was in the zeppelin was stalking them, possibly for murder-related reasons.
  • That threat has now been exterminated, thanks to the deceptively menacing “will o’ the wykes.”

The Secret Commonwealth publishes October 3rd, so we have about three months left before we’ll know any of this for sure. Are there any plot points or Easter eggs we missed in the excerpts? Got any other juicy details? Have burning questions about any unresolved storylines from book one? Let us know in the comments and don’t forget to mark your spoilers!



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