- Iorek: "You tricked Iofur Raknison?"
- Lyra: "Yes. I made him agree that he'd fight you instead of just killing you straight off like an outcast, and the winner would be king of the bears. I had to do that, because—"
- Iorek: "Belacqua? No. You are Lyra Silvertongue."
- — Iorek Byrnison awarding Lyra the surname Silvertongue[src]
Lyra was born around August 1985 of an out-of-wedlock affair between Lord Asriel and Marisa Coulter. When she was born, her parents took her away to Oxfordshire, but Edward Coulter caught up with them. After Asriel shot Edward, Asriel lost all his wealth to fines. Marisa wanted nothing more to do with her daughter and the girl was put in the care of Godstow Priory in Wolvercote.
During the flooding in 1986, Lyra was rescued by Malcolm Polstead and Alice Parslow. They took the infant Lyra on a long and dangerous journey along the flooded Thames to reach Lord Asriel in London. Lord Asriel brought the three back to Oxford in his gyrocopter, and Lyra was given scholastic sanctuary at Jordan College.
Life at Jordan College
Lyra was brought up at Jordan College, with the scholars, the professors, and the servants all acting as a sort of collective family. She was raised believing that her father was a Count and that both her parents had died in an airship crash, and that Lord Asriel was her uncle. She later learned the truth about her parentage from John Faa, leader of the Gyptians.
Lyra lived a generally undisciplined life in Oxford. She was clever and curious, but extremely independent; as a result, her education was patchy because she applied herself only to subjects that caught her interest. A natural leader, she spent much of her time adventuring in and around the college with her friend Roger Parslow.
One evening, Lyra and Pantalaimon went into to the Retiring Room, which is forbidden to women, to spy on what happens there. From her hiding place in a wardrobe, she saw the Master of Jordan College poison a bottle of Tokay and was therefore able to save Asriel's life. Returning to her hiding place, she listened to Asriel talk to the scholars about Dust.
On the day of the Horse Fair, Lyra went to play with the Gyptians, but she found that one of the Gyptian children had been kidnapped by General Oblation Board. When she returned to the College in the evening, her friend Roger had also been kidnapped.
Living with Marisa Coulter
After having only recently met her at dinner, Lyra went to live with Marisa Coulter, unaware that the woman was her mother. Before she left, the Master gave the girl an alethiometer, letting her know it was extremely important that Mrs Coulter never saw it.
Lyra lived with Coulter for six weeks before she ran away during a cocktail party when she found out that her new guardian was the leader of the General Oblation Board. Luckily, Lyra was found by Tony Costa who took her back to his mother's boat.
The voyage to the North
Lyra and the Costa family went to the Fens to attend the Byanroping. The Gyptians decided to travel to the North to rescue the children who had been kidnapped and when Lyra showed she was able to read the alethiometer, she was permitted to join them.
During the journey, Lyra was kidnapped by Samoyeds who took her to Bolvangar, the experimental station of the General Oblation Board. Finally reunited with her friend Roger, Lyra created an escape plan. When she went to eavesdrop on a staff meeting, she was discovered. In order to silence her, the staff decided to use intercision on the girl, but she was rescued at the last minute by Mrs Coulter. Lyra tricked her mother, who only wanted the alethiometer from her, and set off the fire alarms to allow the children to escape.
Lyra and Roger were rescued by Lee Scoresby in his balloon, but Lyra fell out over Svalbard. When imprisoned by the Panserbjørne, she met Jotham Santelia who told her what she needed to know to successfully trick Iofur Raknison. Lyra was able to convince the bear king that she was the dæmon of Iorek Byrnison and that she could be transferred to the king if he defeated Byrnison in single combat. Byrnison defeated Raknison and became the new king, bestowing the surname Silvertongue on Lyra, for her skill at lying.
Lyra and Roger travelled onwards to find Lord Asriel and give him the alethiometer. Asriel, however, was uninterested in the device, leaving Lyra puzzled. His true aim was to use the intercision of a child, Roger, to create a window into another world. Lyra stepped through into the world of Cittàgazze.
Travelling between worlds
In the world of Cittàgazze, Lyra met William Parry. Will took her through a window into his world where she met Mary Malone, following the instructions of the alethiometer. After visiting Malone a second time, Lyra accepted a ride from Carlo Boreal who stole her alethiometer. After Will became the bearer of the subtle knife, he used it to help her steal the alethiometer back.
Lyra was kidnapped by her mother and taken to the Valley of the Rainbows where she was kept in a drugged sleep. Lyra was rescued by Will, who uses the knife to cut into another world. Because he was distracted by thoughts of his mother while cutting, Will broke the knife, but the children were still able to escape.
Land of the Dead
After Iorek Byrnison reluctantly repaired the knife, Will used it create a window into the World of the Dead. In order to cross the river into the Land of the Dead, Lyra, Will, Lady Salmakia and Chevalier Tialys were forced to leave their dæmons behind.
In the Land of the Dead, Lyra bargained with the harpies; their new job would be to guide souls through the land of the dead in exchange for hearing stories about their lives. The harpies helped Lyra and her companions to reach the highest point in the Land and Will cut a window allowing souls to leave into the mulefa world, becoming one with the multiverse.
Lyra and Will began to search for their dæmons in the world where Lord Asriel's battle is taking place. They released The Authority from his prison, who died because he was so frail. The adolescents found their dæmons and travelled to the Mulefa world where they met Mary Malone who told them the story of why she stopped being a nun. This placed the seed in Lyra's mind which led her to later kiss Will. The two realised they were in love and touched each other's dæmons, each one settling into their permanent forms.
After being told that all the windows to other worlds, except the one leading from the Land of the Dead to the Mulefa World, must be closed, Lyra and Will had to say goodbye to one another and return to their own worlds. They promised to meet every 24 June at the Botanic Garden in Oxford to sit on the bench and feel close to one another.
Return to Oxford
After the war, Lyra returned to Oxford. She attended St Sophia's School, a boarding school for girls. Later, she went on to study for a master's degree in economic history at St Sophia's College. She wrote a dissertation entitled 'Developments in patterns of trade in the European Arctic region with particular reference to independent cargo balloon carriage (1950-1970)'.
Lyra was a thin girl who was short for her age. Her hair was dark-blonde and she had pale blue eyes.
Lyra was a rebellious and unruly child, and often exasperated those who tried to care for her, such as the Jordan housekeeper and her tutors. Though she received little formal education, she was quick-witted and canny.
Abilities and skills
- Alethiometrist: When she was a child, Lyra was able to read an alethiometer without being given formal training. After she reached puberty, she lost this ability and had to learn again. By the time she was considering her dissertation, she had surpassed the knowledge of her teacher, Hannah Relf.
- Compulsive liar: Lyra constantly lied, introduced in her telling extravagant stories about her parents to Oxford and Gyptian children. This was developed in her sparring with Iorek Byrnison when he told her that bears cannot be tricked by human concepts such as lying. This compulsion found its resolution during Lyra's travels in the Land of the Dead when she tried lying to the Harpy No-Name, and attacked for it - resolving that when future generations reach the Land of the Dead, they must only tell true stories.
Lyra's dæmon was Pantalaimon, sometimes called Pan, whose final form took the shape of a male pine marten.
Pantalaimon was born alongside Lyra and was as dependent as she was whilst a baby and an infant. He shared many of her childhood adventures and often acted as the voice of reason when Lyra would follow her immediate emotions. Their bond was immensely strong, as is between most humans and dæmons, however risked at Lyra's arrival to Bolvangar, where the two were nearly severed by the Silver Guillotine of the General Oblation Board. Pan shared in the many adventures that Lyra embarked on however could not join her at her entrance to the Land of the Dead and was left in the suburbs, along with Will Parry's hitherto unknown and unnamed dæmon, Kirjava. The separation in this manner caused a great deal of trauma to both Lyra and Pan however granted them the witch-like ability to separate from each other at will later on and travel further than the standard distance. During the time in which Lyra travelled through the Land of the Dead, Pan spent time travelling with Kirjava across many different worlds of the multiverse. At their reunion during Asriel's war, Lyra and Will accidentally grabbed one another's dæmons before escaping into the world of the mulefa, and later touch one another again, leading to intimate feelings of exhilaration and joy and the final settling of both dæmons, Pantalaimon taking the form of a pine marten.
Unlike Lyra, Pantalaimon often expressed a cautious outlook on life, even calling himself a coward. He acted very much as Lyra's conscience, often attempting to keep her safe in frightening situations, such as when Lyra first entered the Retiring Room at Jordan College.
Prior to settling, Pan could like a diverse array of forms, of which he favourite was an ermine. He often took this form whilst sleeping, curling up around Lyra's neck.
Sometimes the forms that Pantalaimon took would be for practical reasons so as to make use of the distinctive abilities that the animal possessed, for example becoming an owl in order to see better in darkness, a mouse to slip through small openings, or a firefly to produce light so that Lyra could read the Alethiometer.
Often Pan's form was represent his mood. When frightened, he would become smaller, such as a mouse to hide in Lyra's pocket. When Lyra left him on the jetty in the suburbs of the Land of the Dead, Pan became a sad puppy.
During her quest, Pan would often try out new forms so as to explore new environments, for example when sailing north with the Gyptians, Pan became a dolphin and swam in the sea. Once they arrived in Norroway he played in the snow as an Arctic fox. When meeting new dæmons, out of courtesy Pan would imitate their forms, for example becoming a cat when meeting Farder Coram and Sophonax.
Pan was quite skilled at changing form, exemplifying the creative and intellectual limitations of Lyra herself. He would often flicker through a number of forms, sometimes to show off, such as when he became a dragon to intimidate fellow Oxford children, and sometimes in panic such as when Lyra was mastering her fear at the village where she discovered Tony Makarios.
Lyra and Will first met in the world of Cittàgazze. The children soon became fast friends as they travelled between worlds together, eventually falling in love.
Lyra had a rather patchy relationship with her father. She was raised believing he was her uncle, and was frightened of him. Lord Asriel was harsh and domineering, and when he murdered Lyra's friend Roger Parslow, she estranged herself from him forever.
Lyra also had a rather strained relationship with her mother, Mrs Coulter. When she went to her apartment the first time she thought it was a dream come true, but after she learned the truth about Coulter being the head of the Gobblers, Lyra left, disgusted by her. Pantalaimon in particular held a revulsion for the abusive dæmon of Mrs Coulter.
Behind the scenes
- In the film The Golden Compass, Lyra is portrayed by Dakota Blue Richards and Pantalaimon by Freddie Highmore.
- In the theatre adaptation at the National Theatre in London, Lyra was played by Anna Maxwell Martin in 2003 and Elaine Symons in 2004.
- Scottish Youth Theatre in July-August 2007 put on the Scottish premiere of the production with Kirstie Steele and Sarah Ord playing Lyra in part one and two respectively.
- Our first introduction to the dæmon as a concept appears in Northern Lights with the introduction of 'Lyra and her dæmon moved through the darkening Hall...' Such a concept appears to echo traits found in the idea of one's conscience, guardian angel, witches' familiar or the Freudian ideas of superego (or indeed id), but has its roots in the Aristotelian notion of De Anima: the animating principle of life, that is, the soul.
- Northern Lights
- The Golden Compass (film)
- The Golden Compass (video game)
- The Subtle Knife
- The Amber Spyglass
- Once Upon a Time in the North (Mentioned only)
- Lyra's Oxford
- La Belle Sauvage