His Dark Materials
His Dark Materials

Dame Hannah Relf was the head of St Sophia's College. Her dæmon, Jesper, had the form of a marmoset.[1]


Oakley Street[]

Hannah Relf was a member of a research group consisting of seven scholars studying the layers of meaning to the symbols of the alethiometer in Oxford. Two years before the floods of 1986, she was recruited by George Papadimitriou to work for the agency of Oakley Street, taking some of her time with the Bodleian alethiometer to answer questions for the secret service.[2] Carved acorns left at and collected from certain drop-off points were used for this communication.[3] Although this covert work made the progress of her researches slow, Professor Papadimitriou noted that Dr Relf was easily the best of the seven Oxford scholars.[4]

Malcolm Polstead[]

The Trout Inn

In early 1986, Hannah wondered where the acorn she used to send messages had gone. Robert Luckhurst, who received the message, had been taken by the Consistorial Court of Discipline and killed, but Hannah didn't know who the person who received her messages was and so couldn't have seen the report in the Oxford Times.

Hannah working in Duke Humfrey

Hannah instead took the time to ask the alethiometer. After a week of work, she decoded three things: boy, inn and fish. Hannah was reminded of a time a few years previously where she had eaten at an inn. After asking the assistant, Annie, at the library, she remembered it was the Trout Inn. She paid the inn a visit and found Malcolm Polstead, she asked him if he'd seen an acorn and, after seeing his face turn pale, told him to visit her. She left her book behind so Malcolm could have an excuse to visit her.[2]

She informally recruited Malcolm to report on anything unusual he observed during the changes in Oxford at the time. Malcolm reported news of the baby Lyra Belacqua, the League of St Alexander and even news of the flood he'd heard about from the gyptian Coram van Texel. Malcolm would go to her house, normally on the weekend, where they would talk about what was happening that might be of interest to Oakley Street. In return, Hannah would lend Malcolm a few books from her bookshelf which they would also discuss the following meeting.

On their second meeting, Malcolm helped fix the glass pane in the back door of Hannah's house after someone tried to break in. He then talked to her about Robert, and that they'd found his body in the canal and that Eric said his father, who was a judge, had found out that he had been strangled before being dropped in the canal. Thinking about this, Malcolm began to cry, and Hannah started to apologise for bringing him into spying.

Not too long later, Hannah consulted George Papadimitriou to ask for a new insulator, after Robert died, and to talk about her recruitment of Malcolm. George thought it was a good idea to have the boy on their side. He also gave her information on how to contact him in case they ever needed to urgently talk.[5]

Environmental Protection[]

On a Sunday, Hannah was visited by two men from Environmental Protection who talked to her about the upcoming floods. At first, Hannah thought they were the enemy, possibly the CCD, trying to talk to her and arrest her. After building up her confidence, she walked over to them, thinking they were going to question her about Oakley Street. However, they said that they were warning all the houses in her street about the floods and that she should prepare more sandbags.[6]

New alethiometer[]

The alethiometer Hannah was given

The alethiometer in its box

When Oakley Street recovered the alethiometer stolen by Gerard Bonneville from an alethiometrist at the University of Bologna, Thomas Nugent asked at a meeting that Dr Relf publicly abandon her membership of the research group, pretending she found it too hard, and read the Naples device for them full-time. After consulting the althetiometer on her answer, Hannah Relf agreed. Before the meeting ended, Thomas told Hannah to keep in touch with the boy for he could be useful, the room fell quiet at that, but Hannah didn't know why.[4]

On the next Saturday, she was visited by Marisa Coulter who suspected (correctly) that Hannah had information regarding the whereabouts of her infant daughter, Lyra. Malcolm arrived whilst Marisa was there and, offended after she made a comment about him learning the history of ideas and his preferred job choices, he told her that Gerard knew her. Marisa soon left, though Hannah cautioned Malcolm about not being careless.

The next chance she could, she asked George why that was. He explained that there was an agent they were targeting at present who was sexually interested in boys. Hannah realised her mistake and was mad that they could think of using Malcolm to attract the attention of the agent and catch him red-handed, blackmailing him into joining Oakley Street.[7]

Pilgrims' Tower[]

Hannah's salmon-fishing waders

Once the floods had broken out, Hannah had no idea what had happened to Malcolm, and was instantly worried. He was no longer at the inn and the only thing comforting his parents was that Alice and the baby and her blankets had gone too. She assumed he had made his way down the river on his canoe, La Belle Sauvage.

Soon, she made her way to Pilgrim's Tower at Jordan College where Thomas and George were waiting to hold a meeting with Bud Schlesinger. She arrived before George did, after wading through Oxford in her brother's salmon-fishing waders. Hannah told them that she expected that Malcolm would go to London in his canoe and look for Lord Asriel.[8]

Lyra Belacqua[]

Hannah first met Lyra before dinner in the Master's Lodging at Jordan College, which she attended with Marisa, a member of St Sophia's.[9]

Some time later they met again in the same dining room, and Hannah proposed that Lyra become a pupil at St Sophia's School.[10]

Physical appearance[]

Hannah Relf was an elderly lady who had grey hair.[1]

Abilities and skills[]

  • Alethiometrist: Hannah was considered to be one of the best scholars in the field of alethiometry.[10]

Behind the scenes[]

  • The character of Hannah Relf was inspired by an elderly lady in the village where Philip Pullman grew up, who let him borrow books from her library as a child.[11]


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HDM Wiki has 2 images of Hannah Relf.


  1. 1.0 1.1 Northern Lights, Chapter 3
  2. 2.0 2.1 La Belle Sauvage, Chapter 5
  3. La Belle Sauvage, Chapter 7
  4. 4.0 4.1 La Belle Sauvage, Chapter 13
  5. La Belle Sauvage, Chapter 6
  6. La Belle Sauvage, Chapter 11
  7. La Belle Sauvage, Chapter 14
  8. La Belle Sauvage, Chapter 17
  9. Northern Lights, Chapter 4
  10. 10.0 10.1 The Amber Spyglass, Chapter 38
  11. El Templo de las Mil Puertas - Entrevista a Philip Pullman (in Spanish)