Lyra Belacqua: A Practical Heroine

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Character: Lyra Belacqua (also known as Silvertongue)

Text: His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman.

 

 

 

In many ways Lyra was a barbarian. What she liked best was clambering over the College roofs with Roger, the kitchen boy who was her particular friend, to spit plum stones on the heads of passing Scholars or to hoot like owls outside a window where a tutorial was going on, or racing through the narrow streets, or stealing apples from the market, or waging war.

When the series begins Lyra Belacqua is a precocious and mischievous twelve-year-old girl, unconcerned with appearances or doing what is “proper”.

Orphaned when she was young, Lyra has been raised by the Scholars of Jordan College and as such has had a rather scattered upbringing. She is well versed in a range of subject areas, yet exhibits no real desire to apply any of this knowledge to anything productive. She has no formal schooling as such and instead spends most of her time roaming around the College and the surrounding grounds causing mischief.

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Lyra and Roger on the roofs of Jordan College

Lyra’s carefree existence is shattered when her friend Roger is taken by the “Gobblers” and Lyra finds herself catapulted into a world of mystery and danger.

Part of Lyra’s appeal is that she is such a refreshingly normal protagonist. As a twelve-year-old she is occasionally bratty, quick tempered and sneaky; she doesn’t like acting like a young lady and is a bit rough around the edges. She gets her clothes dirty, she slouches and grumbles, talks back to her elders and speaks like a gypsy child. She is curious about events around her, but doesn’t give much though to them until they have some direct impact on her life.

What Lyra does not know, is that she in fact the prophecised saviour of mankind. This knowledge is hidden from her as in order for her to fulfil this destiny she must do so in ignorance of what she is doing. This makes Lyra’s determination and bravery even more significant as she acts purely based upon what she believes is right.

When faced with danger, Lyra is without fail, completely practical. She is not by any means immune to feelings of fear, but she is, however equipped with a sharp and rationale mind that allows her to quickly deduce the best possible scenario.

It wasn’t Lyra’s way to brood; she was a sanguine and practical child, and besides, she wasn’t imaginative. No one with much imagination would have thought seriously that it was possible to come all this way and rescue her friend Roger; or, having thought it, an imaginative child would immediately have come up with several ways in which iy was impossible.

As the series progresses and we see Lyra grow, those qualities that made her so unique remain. She is still unflinchingly brave, loyal to her friends and determined to do the right thing. Even if she is occasionally prone to displays of childish selfishness, she will always apologise and always endeavour to do better, next time.

 

 

 

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Esther Lanark: Prophesy Girl

Character: Esther Lanark

Text: The Witch of Glenaster (The Lanark Chronicles #1) by Jonathan Mills

*SPOILERS AHEAD* 

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Lyra Belacqua from Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series : another little girl who puts her strong will and intellect to good use.

After her village is razed to the ground by huge beasts called fire-drakes, Esther finds herself alone and stranded with her younger brother, Magnus, and nowhere to go. That is until she learns the fire-drakes are evil entities controlled by the Witch of Glenaster. Having previously made a pact to herself to destroy the witch when she was older and stronger, this catalyst causes her to instead embark upon the journey well before her intended time. And in her beautifully realised story, this is what makes her interesting and important.

“‘A couple of years and you’ll be wrestling the boys, I shouldn’t wonder…’

‘I can wrestle them now!’ I replied, and the men laughed again, though my father frowned, and I knew some joke had been made at my expense.”

She’s not taken particularly seriously by the people around her initially, but what I love about this character is that no matter the amount of people who tell her the intentions she bears cannot be done she does not bow to it. Nor does she expect anyone to follow her and bear the burden. Esther is fully prepared to take the journey alone, one of my absolute favourite traits in characters, and the key one in Esther whose own stubbornness raises the stakes in her journey, but also keeps you pumped up to the fact she might actually do it.

‘You did not bring us this way. We would have come anyway. If it is me the Witch wants, then I will continue my journey alone, and you will all be safer without me.”

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In Narnia, as the youngest Pevensie sibling, Lucy is usually underestimated due to her age.

Esther’s story wouldn’t be complete if she didn’t have obstacles in her way. Apart from the witch’s servants, strange ghoulish men of the woods, the fire-drakes and fiery apparitions that manage to find her on the way, she has her younger brother, runny-nosed and heavily distraught, to take care of. Their relationship tumbles through sweetness, and bitterness, broken promises and rare delight. She can’t abandon him, they have no family, it’s up to her to be sure he is taken to safety. She manages to maintain a level head and doting perseverance through his mood swings which would have already gotten the better of me as a grown adult…

Then there is Thomas Taper – a mysterious traveller who offers to accompany the children on their mission to the Citadel. Where many characters could have been ruined by the adult coming to the rescue in a sticky situation, and allowed them to take the lead, Esther never loses her drive, ensuring him she will carry out her intentions when she has delivered her brother to safety. Her pure spirit and honest intentions claim Thomas’ respect and also his loyalty.

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Enid Blyton’s Naughtiest Girl, Elizabeth Allen, was always headstrong, wilful and up for adventure.

But Esther’s obsession with the witch explodes when she discovers she might actually be the the key to defeating her, to the point she puts herself and her brother in danger, and pushes Thomas to fury. Every time she insists she must carry out her duty she stands corrected, but fate ties Esther’s future inexplicably with the witch, and her journey continues. Esther’s growth from carefree, ridiculed nobody in the middle of nowhere to strong, independent and respected freedom fighter, who never believes what she intends to do is impossible, is an inspiring journey worth following.

“There is fear where we are going, and horror. I know you would not flinch from it, for you are stronger in heart and mind than most grown men…”

Esther Lanark encompasses the most innocent kind of bravery. She knows right and wrong, but she is too young to fully comprehend the dangers and complexities of the path she chooses, and how it will affect everyone around her. She sees the bigger picture only, the singular problem in her life that has caused so much grief – removing it will fix everything. And this is why her journey is important; through the eyes of this twelve-year-old girl there is only one true determination, and it is little tarnished by the thoughts and will of the adults around her – instead it is her own will that changes their perspectives.