In His Dark Materials, Lyra comes from a world where Catholicism and Protestantism apparently merged into one mega church that continues to exert great control over all aspects of life even into the modern era (e.g. the observatory that Lee Scoresby visits in The Subtle Knife has a church representative present to make sure no heretical discoveries get out). Will comes from our world, circa 1997.

Is Lyra's world also circa 1997, in whatever calendar they used? The social and technological level in her world seems to be at the World War I level; they have zeppelins but apparently no airplanes, naphtha gaslights are still widespread despite the existence of anbaric (electric) lighting, there are no refrigerators (Lyra is shocked to see the one in Cittagazze at the start of The Subtle Knife), there don't seem to be any automobiles, and most of the world seems to still be ruled by large Western empires. Will's world, on the other hand, is our familiar world of blue jeans, feminism, physics, and Windows 95. Is Lyra's world actually at an earlier time than Will's world, or do they both exist circa 1997, with Lyra's world being less advanced because of the influence of the church? More broadly, is every world in the multiverse also circa 1997?

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    they do have some kind of gyrocopter in Lyra's world - and I think the implication is that all worlds are the same time, just different paths of evolution and society/civilisation, but I don't think there's anything explicit in the books either way
    – HorusKol
    Apr 2, 2015 at 1:25
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    @HorusKol That's kind of what I thought too, but people on this site frequently come up with evidence that I didn't think existed, so I figured I would ask.
    – Torisuda
    Apr 4, 2015 at 6:39

4 Answers 4


Pullman himself said that yes, it's the same time period, in this interview:

TB: I’m very interested in Lyra’s world. Is it an alternate?

PP: Yes.

TB: It’s very difficult to place exactly what year it is there. Most critics seem to think it’s late 19th century, and I can make a good case for it being mid-20th. What are the major differences?

PP: The notion is that it’s the present day, because when she comes through into our world, or when Will goes into the world where they meet, it’s the present day for Will: it’s our …you know, 2000. So it’s the same date in Lyra’s world. I purposely didn’t give a date. But it is the same date.


Tldr: Yes

Thinking logically, if there wasn't a split between Catholicism and Protestantism (for whatever reason, perhaps because people get along better by being better acquainted with their daemons) then Europe wouldn't have been at war with itself, first in the 17th Century and then probably onwards, as many future wars are partially caused by previous grievances. If the Magesterium went on to spread globally, then the lack of religious difference would again reduce war and conflict.

As well as lack of war removing one great pressure for innovation, there's the authors probable bias that organised religion is opposed to science (as we see from it's control over various researches).

This all adds up to a society that's behind ours technologically even though the same amount of time has passed.

More evidence for less conflict/innovation in Lyra's world: Oxford scholars never rebelled, so Cambridge University was never founded, and the fens were never drained.

  • Good point about the reduced amount of war causing a reduction in innovative pressure in Europe.
    – Torisuda
    Apr 4, 2015 at 6:37

The dates mentioned regarding the invention of the alethiometer confirm that the Lyra's world is in a similar year to Will's.

In The Golden Compass

she said. "Dr. Lanselius, do you know who made them?"

"They are said to originate in the city of Prague," said the consul. ...

"And where did they get the symbols from?"

"Oh, this was in the seventeenth century. ..."

and then in The Amber Spyglass

Three hundred years ago in Lyra's world, someone invented the alethiometer.

The result is the 20th century

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    Lyra's world is plausible as an alt-1914 (for instance) with no further qualification, so just "the 20th Century" isn't quite enough—I wanted to know if it was also the late 1990s in Lyra's world. Still, +1 for good evidence-gathering.
    – Torisuda
    Jun 15, 2016 at 17:23
  • In regard to that, I think that is still too early based on the fact that the Royal Society and Newton are cited as the equivalent to the alethiometer. The Royal Society was founded in 1660 and Newtons discoveries where post that time as well. Doesn't exactly get us to the 90s but close
    – Btuman
    Jun 15, 2016 at 18:11

This is not based on canonical evidence, as I don't think that there is any, but I will give my answer based on what I remember of the books.

I would assume that they are at the same point in the history of their world, i.e. the same amount of time has passed since the creation of the universe, but that doesn't mean that they would necessarily recognize it as circa 1997 AD.

The entire premise of the book is based on alternate parallel universes living alongside each other, and being able to travel from one to the other.

As for the similarities between Will's world and Lyra's, that would likely be because of the possibility of passing between universes. Whilst there is no evidence that Lyra's world had connections to other worlds

until her father opens one at the end of the first book

that doesn't mean that there never was. It's possible the wielder of the Subtle Knife visited her world and closed the portals after themselves, but several people managed to make it through before it was closed.

This would lead to how there are many similarities between the two worlds. Maybe in these books Jesus was simply another ordinary person in Lyra's world where there was a single religion, and he passed into Will's world 2000 years ago and became a missionary preaching the only religion that he knew.

It might also explain how there are some inventions that have gone between worlds, whilst others haven't made it. Like you say there are gaslights and zeppelins, but no cars or computers. Perhaps the last person to travel from Will's world to Lyra's did so in the early 20th century.

You also have to consider that there are Witches and Daemons in Lyra's world. This perhaps meant that some inventions didn't need to be made, as they had alternative solutions.

In addition, if there were no World Wars in Lyra's world, a lot of modern day inventions would not exist that started out from those periods (Alan Turing developing the foundations of the first computer, for example).

So each world will have developed differently, hence the difference in the evolution of technology/religion etc. but there are certain similarities because of the ability to cross between universes and carry inventions/ideas along with them.

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    Been a while since I read it, but didn't Will's dad end up in Lyra's world quite some time before the events of the books? If so, that would be a pretty clear evidence of her world having connections to other worlds.
    – Jaciq
    Apr 2, 2015 at 12:35
  • @Jaciq Yes, he was even trapped in Lyra's world and ended up dieing because of it.
    – Virusboy
    Apr 2, 2015 at 20:08
  • People from other worlds definitely made it to Lyra's world, but I don't know if I buy that the similarities are due to that. Mary Malone and Lord Asriel both express the idea (the former in The Amber Spyglass when she first sees the mulefa, the latter at the end of The Golden Compass) that new worlds are created due to some event going differently and causing a branch. The books also imply that Calvin becoming pope and the Protestant Reformation never happening was the branch point between Lyra's world and Will's world.
    – Torisuda
    Apr 4, 2015 at 6:36

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