First Lines: La Belle Sauvage

Years ago, I was quite impressed by Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, which is an uncompromising story about religion, authority, and individual freedom. Late last year, he published La Belle Sauvage, the first part of The Book of Dust trilogy, set in the same world.

Set ten years before the events in His Dark Materials, La Belle Sauvage is divided in two parts. In the first part, the scene is set, our heroes Malcolm and Alice are introduced, a flood of Biblical proportions might be coming soon, and we are reminded that there are dæmons and something called Dust, that the Church has its own agencies and is not always out for your best interest, and that world might be similar to ours, but is quite something else as well. Also, there is a little baby, called Lyra, and Malcolm adores here.

In this part, I had to do some digging through the back of my head, to see who was who and what was what again, and how all these things were supposed to fit together. I should perhaps have reread His Dark Materials first, but I am not saying that that is an absolute must. Pullman’s world is rich and complex, and that is just fine.

The second part is more of an adventure tale: Malcolm and Alice try to keep the baby Lyra away from the Church’s forces, are being chased by a deranged French scientists, and eventually set out in Malcolm’s canoe, La Belle Saugave, over the flooded landscape to London, to find Lyra’s father. On their way, they have encounters with faeries and Old Father Thames and people who try to double-cross them. But every time, they win through, and continue their quest. It gets a bit improbable at times, but as I said, Pullman’s world is rich and complex, so stuff like that apparently happens, and that is fine with me.

Book read
Philip Pullman — The Book of Dust, Volume One: La Belle Sauvage
First line
Three miles up the river Thames from the centre of Oxford, some distance from where the great colleges of Jordan, Gabriel, Balliol, and the two dozen others contended for mastery in the boat races, out where the city was only a collection of towers and spires in the distance over the misty levels of Port Meadow, there stood the priory of Godstow, where the gentle nuns went about their holy business; and on the opposite bank from the priory there was an inn called the Trout.