Lyra Belacqua is the main protagonist in Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials fantasy novels. She is portrayed as a feisty, adventurous young British girl, who is the subject of a mighty prophecy and upon whose shoulders the future of the many universes lays.
Lyra lives in a universe similar to our own, but with important differences. The totalitarian Magisterium rules over everything, witches and zombies exist, as do armored bears. The technology level overall is more on a par with the Victorian era in our own history, although in some areas, such as theoretical physics, technology seems to have progressed to nearly our own level.
Lyra was raised on the grounds of the fictional Jordan College, in Oxford. Her father is the mighty Lord Asriel, and her mother is the calculating Mrs. Coulter. She is the subject of a prophecy the witches have, which states that she is the girl “destined to bring about the end of destiny.” As the story progresses, we learn that in fact Lyra is a sort of second Eve, who will be tempted by a new serpent.
Rather than being portrayed as a bad thing, however, Lyra’s Fall is seen as positive. It allows the Dust which appears to have a relationship to consciousness, and which the Magisterium views as the incarnation of sin, to remain in the world. It also allows the universes to once more exist in an equilibrium state with each other, rather than siphoning off into the Abyss.
Over the course of her adventures away from Jordan College, Lyra changes the fates of many people throughout the world drastically. She helps to put an end to the work of the General Oblation Board in severing children from their daemons, and releases the children who were held prisoners. She helps the armored bear prince Iofur Byrnison reclaim his rightful throne as king of the panserbjørne. She assists Will in claiming the subtle knife that allows him to cut portals in to other universes, and ultimately to seal each of the holes.
By bringing Will into the land of the dead to help rescue a friend of hers, Roger, she begins a journey that ultimately results in the liberation of billions of tortured souls. When she discovers that the Authority has in essence been locking away the souls of the dead, she and Will endeavor to find a solution. Ultimately they discover that by cutting a hole into the outside world, the souls can escape and find their liberation by dissolving and becoming one with the greater universe.
Lyra’s relationship with her daemon, Pantalaimon, is an important theme throughout the book. Pantalaimon is portrayed as both her soul, and as her best friend, and she must wrestle with the issue of betraying Pantalaimon by separating from him in order to fulfill her earlier promise to Roger to rescue him. Pantalaimon is able to take many forms at the beginning of the book, when Lyra still retains her innocence. Ultimately, Pantalaimon settles into the shape of a pine martin, a creature in the weasel family. As daemons settle in a shape that reflects their human counterpart, this helps flesh out Lyra a bit as well. Pine martins are sleek and somewhat tricky, they are fierce fighters, and climb and bound around trees freely. This seems to reflect Lyra’s free spirit and spunk.