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Credit: Penguin Random House

First look: Lyra treks back to Trollesund in Philip Pullman’s illustrated novella, Serpentine

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Oct 15, 2020, 2:18 PM EDT (Updated)

With anticipation mounting for the Season 2 debut of HBO’s His Dark Materials this November and another immersion into bestselling author Philip Pullman’s enchanted multiverse, a never-before-seen young-adult novella from Pullman arrives on Thursday, Oct. 15, to help fill the void — and SYFY WIRE has an exclusive preview of its striking old-fashioned illustrations by Tom Duxbury.

Serpentine is a touching standalone tale set between the events of The Amber Spyglass and The Secret Commonwealth. Its plotline presents a teenage Lyra Silvertongue and recounts her return visit along with Pantalaimon to the northern village of Trollesund and the witch-consul, Dr. Lanselius.  

Credit: Penguin Random House

What transpires as the narrative unfolds is a gentle, revelatory event that foreshadows Lyra's future struggles as a young woman, and illuminates Pullman's own past exploration of a previously unthinkable plot development that would be revealed in his The Book of Dust sequence: the notion that a human's intimate bond with their daemon can be irreparably broken.

This deluxe hardback release of Serpentine coincides with the 25th anniversary of the publication of Northern Lights, the first volume of Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy. The in-universe short story was first written in 2004 for a charity auction for Sir Nicholas Hytner, the then-director of the National theatre, during the stage production of His Dark Materials, but has never been published until now.

Credit: Penguin Random House

A talented woodcut and block-print artist represented by Artist Partners, Duxbury was tasked with conjuring up the arresting black-and-white illustrations for the project.

Duxbury's simple but elegant work is influenced by Lino Printing, which he employs to demonstrate feeling, movement, and nostalgia. The Leeds Arts University Foundation Diploma alumnus was inspired by the eternal spirit of nature and the evocative narrative of a landscape, shown here in this exclusive trio of Serpentine chapter illustrations.

Credit: Penguin Random House

His printmaking medium is a variant of woodcut techniques in which a sheet of linoleum or wood block is used for a relief surface. Designs are cut into the linoleum surface with a sharp knife, chisel, or gouge, with the raised uncarved areas representing a mirror image of the region to show printed. The linoleum sheet is then inked with a brayer (or roller) and impressed onto paper or fabric.

"In Serpentine, Lyra questions the connection she has with her soul – or rather her daemon," Duxbury tells SYFY WIRE. "This inner journey is both loving and fraught. I knew the cover artwork must attempt to capture this emotional conflict – the unseen forces of feeling. Think of paintings by Edvard Munch or illustrations by Rockwell Kent, and you’ll realise that the figure in a landscape can describe these invisible forces brilliantly."

Credit: Penguin Random House

"Shifting clouds of ice and jagged, rocky peaks hint at the unrest living within Lyra’s hurried form," Duxbury notes. "A strange, snake-like light hangs in a dark, starry sky. These are all representations of the unknown; the sublime. Everything that lives within us that we are yet to fully understand, if we can even achieve such clarity."

Credit: Penguin Random House

"Serpentine’s 30 black-and-white interior illustrations are a nod to Philip Pullman’s own wonderful artwork," he adds. "I was around 10 when I first read Northern Lights. Although the narrative alone was enough to set my imagination on fire, it was his artwork for each chapter heading that held me under a captive spell."

Serpentine arrives in bookstores and online outlets on Oct. 15.

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