On Friday April 4th, 2003, many His Dark Materials fans around the world... well at least those who read the Times Online newspaper, were shocked to learn of another His Dark Material book: Lyra's Oxford. The Times article announced:
"Philip Pullman... has set the publishing world alight by announcing a surprise addition to his bestselling His Dark Materials trilogy. Lyra’s Oxford will take readers back to Pullman’s fantasy world, which focuses on two children in a parallel universe populated by shape-shifting creatures and armoured polar bears. The fourth book stands alone from Pullman’s trilogy and can be read as such or as a companion to the other titles."
Two days later, Sunday, April the 6th, the Guardian article said:
"The legions of children and adults who are impatient to return to the vivid, fictional world of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy have a lot to look forward to this autumn. Not only is a film version of the fantasy series under way at the same time as a stage adaptation is put together at the National Theatre, but Pullman is to publish a new companion piece to the trilogy in October. Called Lyra's Oxford, it will re-introduce readers to his heroine, Lyra, and celebrate the intricate and detailed fictional landscape that Pullman has created for her.
'At the heart of it is a new short story called 'Lyra and the Birds', explained Pullman this weekend. 'It's set a couple of years after the end of The Amber Spyglass, and refers both back and forward - so it's a sort of bridge between the trilogy and a longer book coming later, to be called The Book of Dust.'
Sitting on an Oxford rooftop, Lyra is drawn into a mystery when she sees a figure flying towards her, pursued by a flock of starlings.
The publishers, David Fickling Books, plan to give the work the appearance of an artefact or 'bundle' that has accidentally slipped between two worlds. It will contain a cloth map of Lyra's version of Oxford, complete with the topography of the fictional Jordan College, squashed between St Michael's College and Gabriel College, and will feature Bodley's Library along with the imaginatively-enhanced area of Jericho, the Pitt Rivers, and the mysterious hornbeam trees.
Pullman, who lives in Oxford, was an undergraduate at Exeter College, Oxford, between 1965 and 1968 and has based Jordan College, Lyra's home, upon his memories of Exeter. 'The book will consist of much more than just the story,' he explained. 'We wanted to create an object that was both intriguing and beautiful, and - like the story - was both self-contained and full of references elsewhere. There will be a map of Lyra's Oxford, like ours but different, and various other bits and pieces; and it will be illustrated by John Lawrence, the great master of the woodcut.'
Fickling has asked designers Trickett and Webb to help produce the book, while Lawrence has already done preliminary work on the illustrations. 'Readers of the trilogy will immediately know where they are,' said Fickling. 'I asked Philip if he could do some bits and pieces around the idea of a map and this book grew out of it. He always told me he couldn't write short stories, but it isn't true. Lyra is there right from the beginning with her daemon Pantalaimon and there will even be a postcard from this parallel Oxford. It will all go on sale in October for £9.99.'
Fickling, who has edited Pullman's work since 1982 during periods at Transworld and Scholastic, now has his own small imprint and will also be publishing the formal continuation of the series, The Book of Dust. 'In my view this new short story is one of the finest pieces of writing that Philip has ever produced,' he said.
Then, on Saturday June 21st, according to a Guardian article about John Lawrence, the illustrator of Lyra's Oxford:
His latest project is to illustrate Lyra's Oxford , a follow-up to Philip Pullman's phenomenally successful trilogy His Dark Materials . At the end of book three, the "subtle knife" which could cut windows into parallel worlds is broken, and the young lovers Will and Lyra must part and face the future in their respective worlds: Will in his Oxford, Lyra in hers. Set two years on from The Amber Spyglass , the new book began as a simple idea, with a map of Lyra's Oxford, as Lyra moves around the city "learning how to read the world". "But the story was bigger than I thought," says Pullman. "I realised it needed illustrations." The timeless quality of Lawrence's work made him the obvious choice.
For now, though, Lawrence is hard at work on Lyra's Oxford, engraving the illustrations on both wood and vinyl, exploiting the contrasting textures of the materials, and further extending his "ancient and modern" approach by using computer technology to bring the images together on the page. He talks with enthusiasm about the map of Lyra's Oxford. Apparently authentic, it's almost the same as the city we know, but - this being a parallel world - it's slightly skewed and many of the place names are different. He admits with an apologetic smile that when it is published in October, there may well be the odd tourist wandering round Oxford, map in hand, totally baffled.