On the His Dark Materials series

O, To Be in Oxford

By Richard Harland

I want to ride through the night on an armored polar bear! I want to cut holes in the air and step through into other worlds! I want to fly in an airship over the Arctic snow! But most of all, I want to live like Lyra as a kid in her alternative Oxford!

What a life! Running on the rooftops, spitting plumstones onto the heads of passersby, engaging in alliances and wars, pelting the enemy with clods of earth! Or exploring underground cellars, drinking forbidden wine! Best of all–no parents!

Let’s face it. What’s the worst thing about being a kid in this non-alternative present-day reality of ours? It’s the way parents and adults want to involve themselves in your life, right? It’s the surveillance. Loving surveillance, caring surveillance–but still surveillance. Someone is always worrying themselves sick over you. If it’s not parents, it’s all the other adults. Medical specialists worry about your weight and diet, educators worry about your behavior and brain and TV chat shows worry that you’re taking drugs. For anything you do, there’s always someone checking up on whether it’s harmful or beneficial to your future development. In every moment of your life, you’re the center of attention. The curse of perpetual importance!

Lucky, lucky Lyra! You aren’t important at all. In place of biological parents, you have the scholars of Jordan College as your stand-in fathers, and they wouldn’t know a childhood game if it whacked them on the head. They’re well-intentioned and kindly enough,  …

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