Once Upon A Time in the North (#0.5) by Philip Pullman

Published: 8th April 2008Goodreads badge
Knopf Books
Pages: 104
Format: Hardback
Genre: Fantasy
★   ★   ★   ★   ★  – 5 Stars

2225238In this prequel episode from Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials universe, Lee Scoresby — Texan aeronaut and future friend to Lyra Belacqua — is 24 years old. The story reveals the origins of Scoresby’s friendship with Iorek Byrnison as well as Scoresby’s aeronautical career.

After winning his hot-air balloon in a poker game, Scoresby finds himself floating north. On the Arctic island of Novy Odense, Scoresby and his dæmon Hester become involved in a deadly plot involving an oil magnate, a corrupt mayoral candidate, and a hired killer who is Lee’s longtime nemesis from the Dakota Country. Forming an alliance with one of the island’s reviled armored bears, Scoresby fights to break up the conspiracy.

This novella is a prequel of sorts to His Dark Materials; it is an episode in the past of characters Lee Scoresby and his dæmon Hester. It has little to do with the actual trilogy, it is more an expansion at the characters themselves.

The language is beautiful, it is simple, elegant, clever, humerous and sarcastic. Lee is a true gentleman and an honest fighter which adds a great deal of class to the story. The plot itself is one of corruption and scandal, with the right amount of wit and action to make it engaging.

Pullman hides many clues and hints through this story about the armoured bears, about Lee’s past and future, and those who know the references will delight in discovering them. But these clues are not spoilers, nor do they feel out of place in the story. Pullman connects everything remarkably well, but also makes sure the story stands on its own, a story about an adventure in Lee’s past and not a story that acts as an obvious prequel.

Lee’s character is explored in extra detail but he remains the same person we see later in his life. His sense of justice and doing the right thing, as well as the way he assesses people and discovers true intentions with charm and wit. His strong ethics are on show as well which makes the story even more wonderful to read. A lot of this is evident in the trilogy, Lee’s good character shines through remarkably well, but it is great to see it play out in numerous situations and to see it is just as refined when he is younger. In addition, the relationship between Lee and Hester is as always a delight to read about. Hester looks out for Lee and him her, and she is a great asset in everything he does.

The length may be short, but it has everything you need within it. It is complete, complicated, interesting and engaging. There are conflicts and friendship, and a whole world captured with detail and creativity. The design on the book makes it even more fun, not only the additional extras that come with it but the pocket-sized adventure makes it feel like the mini adventure it is supposed to be.

You can purchase Once Upon A Time in the North via the following

Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Book Depository | Booktopia

Bookworld | QBD



Characters in Once Upon A Time in the North

There are a variety of characters in Once Upon A Time in the North, each of varying roles and importance. Lee is the main focus naturally, but there a small handful of characters that have key roles as well, a few of which are mentioned below. Discussing each character would give away too much story so I’ve only selected a few key players.

Lee Scoresby

lee_scoresby_1_by_ryerdLee is only 24 years old and early into his career as an Aëronaut. He lands on Novy Odense in search of work where he meets Iorek Byrnison and gets caught up with local issues. Despite being caught in multiple fights in his time and an excellent shooter, Lee was typically non-violent and had strong ethics, always polite and civil even with those he was about to fight.

Iorek Byrnison

Lee_Scoresby_meets_Iorek_ByrnisonLiving on Novy Odense with other bears where there is a tense relationship with locals. He is a young bear during this story, with only a helmet for armour. He meets Lee and offers to help with the problems with some of the people in the town. His character is the same as when he is older, proud and selfless, and on occasion sentimental and piteous, and like all Panserbjørne he had a strict code of contract, keeping his promises no matter what.


Pierra McConville

Pierre_McConvilleMcConville is an assassin with at least 20 murders to his name. His dæmon is a rattlesnake and has a history with Lee. He is described as being a tall man, lean with a bony face, eyes set deep in his face and large hands. He is elegantly dressed and has guns on his hips.







Captain H. Van Breda

Lee_Scoresby_and_van_BredaVan Breda is a Dutchman who gains the help of Lee and Iorek. He is the captain of the Mary Alice and his dæmon is never named but she is described as being a mongrel.

Weekly Wrap Up

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This week on the blog

Special Editions of His Dark Materials


Fun Facts About Lyra’s Oxford


Characters in Lyra’s Oxford


Lyra’s Oxford (#3.5) by Philip Pullman

 ★   ★   ★   ★   ★  – 5 Stars


Fun facts About Once Upon A Time in the North

Fun Facts About Once Upon A Time in the North by Philip Pullman

2225238Once Upon A Time in the North is a prequel of sorts to His Dark Materials, another companion piece that provides more information about certain characters who appear in the trilogy and their lives before the events in Northern Lights. Despite being set before the series, Pullman references a few things that happen in the future, clues and great titbits if you understand the references, but nothing too substantial if you haven’t read the series.

Published in 2008 the narrative focuses on a young Lee Scoresby, specifically an adventure where he lands on a small island and gets involved with a few local dramas and mishaps. It also provides an insight into his aeronautical beginnings, plus the origin of friendship with the armoured bear, Iorek Byrnison. At 104 pages it is short but long enough and offers wonderful insight into the lives of two beloved characters.

This book is wonderful because it satisfies anyone who read His Dark Materials longing to know more about Lee Scoresby, Hester, and his past with Iorek Byrnison; Pullman having tempted numerous times with references to past events and the long and solid friendship. Before this book existed I would read the trilogy wanting to know more about Lee, wanting another book dedicated just to Lee’s adventures and his friendship with Iorek. With Once Upon A Time in the North these needs have been satisfied.

An exclusive extract was printed by The Guardian under the heading Winds of Chance in March 2008 before publication with the official launch taking place on 31 March 2008 at the Oxford Literary Festival where over 700 fans gathered to hear Pullman speak about his new novella.

Like Lyra’s Oxford, there are a few bits and pieces included with the book. Some of the things included are letters from Lyra, newspaper articles, plus a playable board game that is the same as the one mentioned in the story.

While it has yet to receive any awards, reception of the book was positive with the first reviews appearing less than two weeks before publication. It was described as “a joy” by The Times, while Ian Giles from BridgetotheStars.net dubbed it “an absolute triumph”. An audiobook has also been produced which was released the same day as the novella. Once again Philip Pullman and a full cast perform, with Garrick Hagan as producer.

Lyra’s Oxford (#3.5) by Philip Pullman

Published: 28th October 2003Goodreads badge
Knopf Books
Pages: 64
Format: Hardback
Genre: Fantasy
★   ★   ★   ★   ★  – 5 Stars

Lyra’s Oxford begins with Lyra and Pantalaimon spotting a witch’s daemon. Lyra shelters the daemon from the pursuit of a frenzied pack of birds, and then attempts to help by guiding the daemon to the home of an alchemist living in a part of Oxford known as Jericho. The journey through Oxford reveals more dangers than Lyra had anticipated.

This is a great little story and reads just as if it had been plucked from the trilogy itself, Pullman falls back into Lyra’s world wonderfully and from the beginning it’s easy to lose yourself in the world and the characters that are so familiar.

In true Pullman style he holds nothing back and keeps the story as honest and realistic as need be. While it may be a quick story, it is one that is filled with important detail, information, and insight. Lyra is two years older and settling into her life back at Oxford, but Pullman demonstrates that Lyra is still Lyra, while more mature and grown up, wiser and respectful, she is just as curious and just as willing to help.

It’s hard to imagine anything substantial could happen in such a brief snippet of Lyra’s life and yet in a small number of pages, Pullman adds another layer of complexity and mystery to Lyra’s world and her place within it, raising many more questions than answers, making it much more than a short story.

There is a feeling as you read that it’s acting as an introduction into something bigger, whether this will be seen in The Book of Dust is uncertain, but even if it isn’t, the things implied is enough to surprise and mull over, pique interests, and realise that Lyra’s importance and the layers of meaning in the world did not end at the conclusion of The Amber Spyglass.

Pullman manages to provide intrigue and mystery, as well as depth, understanding, and information from the first page to the last. It is a joy to have further closure and new details, no matter how small, and it once again a delight to lose yourself in the world of daemons and Oxford, even if it’s only for 64 pages.

You can purchase Lyra’s Oxford via the following

Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Book Depository | Booktopia

Bookworld | QBD

Dymocks | Kobo

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