Page 30. " to take a glass of brantwijn and console each other "
Brandy glass
Public DomainBrandy glass - Credit: ChickenFalls

This is the word used in Lyra's world for brandy.

Brandy is short for "brandywine", which comes from the Middle Dutch "brantwijn" meaning distilled wine.

Could this be a nod to that other great Oxford fantasy author, J.R.R. Tolkien, whose Middle-earth included a "Brandywine" river?

Page 31. " Ever since Pope John Calvin had moved the seat of the Papacy to Geneva "
John Calvin
Public DomainJohn Calvin

John Calvin (1509-1564) was one of the leaders (along with Martin Luther) of the Protestant Reformation, the movement that established Protestantism as a constituent branch of Christianity, in opposition to the doctrine and rituals of Catholicism.

In Lyra's universe John Calvin is Pope, suggesting that Calvinism has combined with, or even replaced, Catholicism to create the Magisterium. 

Geneva was the unofficial capital of the Protestant Revolution.  Calvin left his native France after a backlash against Protestants, fleeing to Basel in Switzerland.  He eventually settled in Geneva, where he led the church and took control of the city council.

Page 34. " and order a pair of swans for the Feast. "
Public DomainSwan - Credit: Ltshears

It is illegal to kill swans in the UK, except by royal permission. They are the property of the ruling monarch and are protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act.


Page 35. " Experimental theology "

This is how particle physics is referred to in Lyra's world.

Lyra's world often seems backward in comparison to our own, with its reliance on steam power, patriarchal society and limited air travel, and yet they have a modern understanding of a complicated branch of science.

Page 36. " The gyptian families, who lived in canal-boats, came and went with the spring and autumn fairs, "

A canal boat
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeA canal boat - Credit: Dr Neil Clifton
This is the first mention of the gyptians, who will become vital to Lyra as the story progresses.

While most of the Irish and Gypsy travellers of our world live in caravans or trailers, there are some who still live in house boats. As John Faa will later hint, they still battle with local government over their use of the waterways.

The website Gypsy Traveller provides a lot of information, including details of local horse fairs such as the one where we are first introduced to Ma Costa and the gyptian people in the novel. 

Page 36. " a flock of shrieking golems "
Illustration of a golem
Creative Commons AttributionIllustration of a golem - Credit: Philippe Semeria

In Jewish folklore, a golem is an anthropomorphic creature made entirely from an inanimate substance – clay in this case.

Page 36. " in that part of the city known as Jericho "

Alchemy Boatyard in Jericho
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeAlchemy Boatyard in Jericho - Credit: Rosalind Mitchell

Jericho lies on the northwest edge of Oxford, adjoining Port Meadow, and is today a pleasant residential area.

Originally it was an area just outside the city walls where travellers could find accommodation if they reached Oxford after the gates were closed.

Page 36. " the brick-burners' children, who lived by the Claybeds "
Bradley Fen clay pit
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeBradley Fen clay pit - Credit: Keith Duff
Page 39. " You can't get on to the Sheldon Building because you have to jump up from Pilgrim's Tower across a gap. "

Sheldonian Theatre
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeSheldonian Theatre - Credit: Mark Burnett
Lyra is likely referring to her equivalent of the Sheldonian Theatre, a university building designed by Christopher Wren and named for Gilbert Sheldon, who was chancellor of the university at the time of building (1664-1668).

Page 40. " East along the great highway of the River Isis "

River Thames
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeRiver Thames - Credit: Tom Pennington

The Isis is the name by which the section of the River Thames that runs through Oxford is known.

In Victorian times, it was held that Isis was the correct name for the river as far downstream as Dorchester, where it meets the River Thame and becomes the "Thame-isis" (abbreviated to Thames).

Ordnance survey maps still label the Thames as the "Thames or Isis" down to Dorchester, but this has lost common usage outside of Oxford.

Page 49. " and the last bit's Roman "

Presumably Lyra means Latin.

Page 49. " this a fair woman "

This is the only mention in the entire His Dark Materials trilogy of a person having a human-formed dæmon. Dæmons are otherwise exclusively animal-formed.