Everything you need to know about The Book Of Dust: La Belle Sauvage and The Secret Commonwealth by Philip Pullman

Published on: 16 October 2017 Author: Robbie Hunt

If you have any questions about Philip Pullman's new books in The Book of Dust trilogy, then we have the answers straight from the horse's mouth...

Philip Pullman ©Michael Leckie

This feature was updated in October 2019

1. Is this a sequel/prequel to His Dark Materials?

No, it is a companion work. Philip Pullman calls it an "equel" that sits alongside His Dark MaterialsThe Book of Dust is a work in three parts, like His Dark Materials. The work can be read on its own, without having to have read the original series. This volume and the next will cover two parts of Lyra's life: starting at the beginning of her story, ten years before Northern Lights, and returning to her 20 years later in The Secret Commonwealth. The scope of the third volume is still under wraps.

2. Why did Philip Pullman call the first book La Belle Sauvage?

La Belle Sauvage is the title of the first volume of The Book of Dust. It's the name of Malcolm's canoe, which is itself named after a famous inn. As Malcolm explains, the inn sign 'was a picture of a beautiful lady, and she'd done something brave, but I don't know what it was.' There was a real inn in London which had had that name since medieval times.

3. What is the translation of La Belle Sauvage?

"La Belle Sauvage" translates roughly from French to English as "the wild beauty" or "the beautiful savage".

4. What is Dust?

Dust is central to His Dark Materials. People discover it, study it or seek to destroy it. Philip Pullman calls it a metaphor. Some say it's dark matter; others – like the Magisterium – say it's evidence of original sin. In the books, it's often connected to the change from childhood to adulthood, through puberty – when people's daemons take on a fixed shape. 

5. What is the plot of the first book in The Book of Dust?

Eleven-year-old Malcolm Polstead and his dæmon, Asta, live with his parents at the Trout Inn on the bank of the Thames. It’s here that Malcolm discovers the nuns across the river are guarding a baby named Lyra.

Malcolm soon finds himself drawn into a dangerous world of secrets and intrigue – and a mission to protect Lyra, whatever the cost.

Read our full review of The Book of Dust 1: La Belle Sauvage

Read our full review of The Book of Dust 2: The Secret Commonwealth

6. Do any other characters from His Dark Materials – such as Will Parry or Mrs Coulter – appear in the new book?

You'll have to read it to find out more, but, yes, Lyra Belacqua is central to the story, and other familiar characters appear alongside a host of new ones... 

7. Where is La Belle Sauvage set?

The book is set between Oxford and London, in the same parallel Britain (or Brytain) that Lyra Belacqua inhabits.

8. Who is Malcolm Polstead?

Malcolm is a young boy who lives in Oxford alongside the river Thames. We are introduced to him and his dæmon, Asta, in La Belle Sauvage. He is the hero of this story! You'll have to read The Secret Commonwealth to see if he crops up there, too...

9. Where else does Malcolm appear?

Philip Pullman says: 'We see a lot more of Malcolm in the later volumes of The Book of Dust. He had a walk-on part in another book, but I'm not saying which, and in any case you have to look carefully.'

10. How much of the first book does Lord Asriel feature in?

Lord Asriel features in La Belle Sauvage, along with his snow leopard daemon, Stelmaria. However, to know much more, you'll just have to read the book. 

11. Why is Lord Asriel barred from seeing his child?

In Northern Lights, it's revealed that Lord Asriel killed a man and, as a result, the courts ruled he is barred from seeing his baby daughter, Lyra.

12. Who is Dr Relf?

Dr Relf is a mutual acquaintance of Malcolm and Lord Asriel. We're keeping further details of Dr Relf and other characters in La Belle Sauvage under wraps.

13. What is the priory?

The priory, also known as Godstow Priory, is an abbey situated across the river Thames from the Trout Inn where Malcolm lives. It is home to an order of nuns who have been entrusted to take care of baby Lyra.

14. What is a dæmon?

Pronounced "demon", a dæmon is the animal embodiment of a human's inner-life and thought. During the childhood of its associated human, a dæmon can change its shape at will, but with the onset of adolescence, it settles into a fixed, final form that reveals the person's true nature and personality.

15. Is The Book of Dust series for children or adults?

Philip Pullman has said previously that he doesn't set out to write for any particular audience – child or adult – but that he hopes that his work will appeal to a range of readers of all ages.

As with the original series, these are books that can be read by (older) children, teens and adults alike, but obviously at the discretion of parents or carers. 

It's worth noting that La Belle Sauvage is darker in tone and content than the His Dark Materials trilogy. For that reason, we've recommended it for ages 13+. Similarly, we've recommended The Secret Commonwealth for readers aged 14+. In this book, Lyra is an adult and, as such, the book touches on some grown-up and difficult issues, including those of a sexual nature. 

Both books have been published by Penguin Random House Children's in the UK and Random House Children's Books in the US but, as with Philip's works in general, the books are complex and multi-layered.

Read our full review of The Book of Dust 1: La Belle Sauvage

Read our full review of The Book of Dust 2: The Secret Commonwealth

16. Will Philip Pullman be creating any original artwork for the new book?

No, that's the fantastic work of British illustrator Chris Wormell.

17. Which books are available now?

La Belle Sauvage is available from bookshops in both hardback and paperback. Currently, The Secret Commonwealth is only out in hardback. No release date has been set for the third, and final, book in The Book of Dust trilogy. 

18. How much do the books cost?

La Belle Sauvage: The recommended retail price (RRP) of the hardback and ebook (released in 2017) is £20. The audiobook is available for RRP £13 and is narrated by actor Michael Sheen. The paperback version (published in 2018) is priced £7.99 by David Fickling Books in association with Penguin Random House in the UK.

The Secret Commonwealth: The recommended retail price (RRP) of the hardback and ebook (released 2019) is £20. The audiobook is available for RRP £20 and is still narrated by Michael Sheen.

19. What background reading is connected to the world of His Dark Materials?

There are six books. The three that form the His Dark Materials trilogy – Northern LightsThe Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass – and three companion stories, Lyra's OxfordOnce Upon a Time in the North and The Collectors.

However, for those new to the series, the first volume of The Book of Dust can be read as a brand-new novel and a story in its own right.

A full bibliography can be found on Philip Pullman's website. Laurie Frost's The Elements of His Dark Materials is a definitive encyclopaedia of all things His Dark Materials.

Want a refresher on His Dark Materials? Try our quiz

20.What adaptations have appeared / when does the TV programme air?

Jack Thorne – who worked with JK Rowling on the play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – has adapted the trilogy for BBC One with production company Bad Wolf, who worked on Doctor Who. The series starts on Sunday 3 November 2019. 

In 2007, Philip Pullman narrated an unabridged audiobook and in 2003 the BBC turned the books into a radio drama for BBC Radio 4. In 2004, Nicholas Hytner directed an acclaimed theatre adaptation by Nicholas Wright at the National Theatre and a film adaptation of Northern Lights, entitled The Golden Compass, directed by Chris Weitz, was released in 2007.

His Dark Materials

Northern Lights

Author: Philip Pullman

This extraordinary fantasy is the first book in Philip Pullman's multi-award-winning His Dark Materials trilogy

Read more about Northern Lights

The Subtle Knife

Author: Philip Pullman

On the run, 12-year-old Will stumbles upon a mysterious parallel world where he meets the savage young girl, Lyra. Their two seemingly separate missions lead them on a dangerous and compelling fantasy adventure.

Read more about The Subtle Knife

The Amber Spyglass

Author: Philip Pullman

Lyra and Will, the fiesty protagonists from the first two novels, are reunited to embark on their final, dangerous journey on which the future of all the worlds depend.

Read more about The Amber Spyglass


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