Warning: This post contains major spoilers from episode three of His Dark Materials.
“She’s better than you think she is! She’s special!”
Young Roger is far from the only one who thinks so highly of Lyra Belacqua. Her teachers at Jordan College, the Gyptians, and Ma Costa all do, too. Who is she and where did she come from? His Dark Materials‘ third episode revealed the sad truth behind her birth. But her new skill points to why she’ll be so important in the future.
Mrs. Coulter’s desperate search for Lyra led her to use Spy Flies. Even the all-powerful Magisterium is afraid of those magical creatures and their use is highly illegal. Mrs. Coulter risked a lot by employing them to find Lyra, but now we know why. Lyra isn’t just any girl, she’s her daughter. Ma Costa revealed that unthinkable truth to Lyra about her parents’ history and how she ended up an “orphan” at Jordan College.
“As a young man, Asriel, your father, went exploring all over the North. He was high-spirited, quick to anger. Your ma, she was already married. As soon as they met they fell in love. When she was pregnant with you they thought they could get away with it, but soon as you was born there was no hiding the Asriel in you. Your father had estates, so he put you in the care of a Gyptian nurse. But Edward Coulter, your mother’s husband, followed determined to kill you.”
Edward Coulter would have killed Lyra if Asriel hadn’t killed him first. The Magisterium didn’t let Lord Asriel and Mrs. Coulter raise their daughter just because her husband was dead though.
“The law didn’t know how to respond. Asriel killed defending his home, but the law also allows a man to avenge the violation of his wife. Your ma was broken with the shame of it all. It’s why she’s like she is. She was a pariah for years. And they stripped all money, land, and property from Asriel. You the law placed in a nunnery. Then the Great Flood, Asriel stole you away, and took you to Jordan College.”
Asriel wasn’t punished for killing Edward Coulter, but he was for his crime of adultery. He was left homeless and penniless. We saw in the show’s opening scene Asriel did care enough about his daughter to invoke Scholastic Sanctuary when an opportunity arose to bring Lyra to Jordan College. He hasn’t exactly been a loving “uncle” since then though.
Mrs. Coulter wasn’t formally punished for her sins, but she was a social outcast for years. She seems to have only taken Lyra into her home once her status and power as an ally of the Magisterium was re-established. Being a powerful woman in a male-dominated world was more important to her than being a mother.
A sad story about star-crossed lovers, an uncaring church, and a young girl raised by strangers is heartbreaking, but it doesn’t make Lyra “special.” Her ability to read the alethiometer does though.
That illegal, magical device requires years of study and high-level scholarship to use. Lyra was able to get an answer from it despite barely understanding what it is or how it works. No one should be able to do that, yet Lyra can learn things from it no one else could possibly know. As Farder Coram said, that makes Lyra “more valuable” to the Gyptians than any soldier they have as they head North to fight the Gobblers.
The North is also where the Witches live. There they “whisper of a prophecy, a prophecy of a child with a great destiny.” Is Lyra that child? Is that why she can read the alethiometer? And if so what exactly is her destiny? The only thing we know for certain about her future is the ominous warning Jordan College’s Master gave about her the night before Lyra left.
“There’s a great change coming that will threaten us all, and the alethetiometer warns of appalling consequences should Asriel should continue his research. Apart from anything else, the child will be drawn in. She has a part to play in all this, and a major one. The irony is she has to do it all without realizing what she’s doing.”
The alethiometer also says that Lyra “has to make a journey,” a journey that involves “a great betrayal.” And the saddest thing is “she will be the betrayer, and the experience will be terrible.”
We know Lyra’s sad past, but like everyone in her life, the real danger seems to lie in her future.
Featured Image: HBO/BBC