What Year Is It in Lyra’s World?

Lyra’s world is like ours in many physical ways, and not. Its history is different than ours, but how about time?

To answer this, go to Once Upon a Time in the North, a novella about how Lee Scoresby and Iorek Byrnison met.

It is past 1911 (p. 54) when the two meet. I believe at one point in Once Upon a Time in the North, 1918 is mentioned.

Thirty-five years lapse between when Scoresby is given the rifle he uses in the final shoot-out in Cittàgazze. (In The Subtle Knife, he’ll tell Grumman he has not seen his mother’s Navajo ring in decades.)

Now look at the two found scraps that follow the story. We learn that:

  • Lyra continues at Oxford and has completed her thesis on Developments of Patterns of Trade int the European Arctic Region with Particular Reference to Independent Cargo Balloon Carriage 1950-1970).
  • One of her professors is Dr. Polstead (hero of La Belle Sauvage, I bet).
  • Her M Phil is in Economic History.

So do the math. Lyra was about 14, I’d guess, in His Dark Materials. Scoresby was probably around 55 at least when he died. So say 20 years has elapsed since Lyra was born and Scoresby died. It is past 1970 when Lyra completes her M Litt. So, very roughly:

  • Scoresby was born around 1900; dies in the mid-1950s.
  • Lyra was born in 1940; completes her degree post 1970, age 30.
  • So how did Lyra spend her teen years or 20s? Will The Secret Commonwealth cover this?
  • Or does time move differently in different worlds of the multiverse?

I’ll have more on Iorek and Lee later, when the subject of armored bears is raised at Jordan College.

Jesse James’s Winchester Rifle. https://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2005682813/

5 thoughts on “What Year Is It in Lyra’s World?

  1. Fascinating point! Confusingly, John Faa also refers to Lord Asriel saving two Gyptian children in the floods of “53”…I always thought these might correlate to the very bad floods which occured in our world in this year, but clearly that doesn’t map to the rest of the timeline!

    Not sure we’ll get a neat and clear timeline…but I remain hopeful!


    1. Laurie Frost

      Yes, I’ve wondered if the floods were those of La Belle Sauvage, but in Will’s world it seems that is too far back. His, based on the microfilm machines and Mary’s computer, things like that, could be 80s or even early 90s (I know there are more hints there), But if Lyra were born in 1953, then events of HDM would be roughly 1967, and that doesn’t feel right.


  2. David Arkin

    It could be that the aligning of the years is different between Lyra’s world & our own because the Julian calendar reform of 1582 never happened under the Magisterium? Maybe they don’t have leap years? Just a random thought.


    1. Laurie Frost

      I think the control by the Magisterium changed a lot in Lyra’s world. Its history diverged from ours — but when? The Magisterium seems to be a world empire. Maybe it began with the ascension of Pope John Calvin.


      1. David Arkin

        Maybe…Pullman’s worldbuilding seems to happen in fits & starts throughout the books, so its hard to say. Three things I’ve noticed though; one is that Christianity didn’t split in Lyra’s world the way it did in our own, ie. no Protestants or Eastern Orthodoxy, everything is still very much unified under the thumb of the Church/Magisterium (& you can still be arrested for heresy of course!). The other is that the Ottoman Empire still exists (don’t know if you’ve read Secret Commonwealth yet or not so I won’t say anymore). & third, Russia (Muscovy) is smaller & weaker than in our world, & the Tartars are still very much a threat (weren’t just used as guards at Bolvanga, they have their own nation & are regarded as a threat to western Europe). Plus north of Lapland (I think) is where Svalbard is located & some of the witch clans live, powers in their own right.

        Nothing about the US though, other than that Lee Scorsby is from Texas. Secret Commonwealth gives us a little insight into the Middle East/Central Asia…Would love to see an atlas of Lyra’s world someday! A nice illustrated one.


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