Dr Malcolm Polstead was a scholar at Jordan College at the University of Oxford in Brytain who watched over Lyra Silvertongue from the time she was a baby. When he was 11, Malcolm took care of the baby Lyra and, along with Alice Parslow, took her in his canoe on a long and dangerous journey to London whilst being pursued by Gerard Bonneville, a man who wanted to capture Lyra. During his childhood, Malcolm made friends with Hannah Relf and the nuns at Godstow Priory whom he would visit regularly. His dæmon was named Asta, and she settled as a ginger cat.
Childhood at The Trout Inn
As a child, Malcolm lived with his parents at The Trout Inn near Oxford, and helped at the tavern to serve customers there. He went to Ulvercote Elementary School, in addition to working as a jack-of-all-trades for the nuns at Godstow Priory across the River Thames. In his spare time, he enjoyed playing with his dæmon in his canoe, La Belle Sauvage. He also frequented a chandlery run by Mrs Carpenter.
The visitors at the inn were interesting to Malcolm and he loved the conversations he would have with them and the discussions he enjoyed with the nuns at the priory, Malcolm grew up aspiring to be a scholar, astronomer or an experimental theologian.
Meeting Hannah Relf
When he was 11, Malcolm befriended the alethiometrist Hannah Relf after recovering one of the carved acorns used by the organisation she worked for. Hannah, who worked for Oakley Street, was worried about the acorn going missing, and so consulted the Bodleian alethiometer about where it was. It pointed her to Malcolm, who had retrieved it from under a bush where Robert Luckhurst had left it. Robert had then been taken away and strangled by the Consistorial Court of Discipline.
She recruited him as a casual informant on all the unusual goings-on happening in Oxford, privy to a wealth of information as a result of his time in the crowded inn and his relationship with the nuns. Given the lack of free libraries in Oxford and Ulvercote's status as a trade school, she let him borrow books from her own collection, including The Body in the Library, The Strange Story of the Quantum, The Silk Road and A Brief History of Time. They normally met up on a Saturday afternoon.
Malcolm started to watch over Lyra when she was first brought to the priory as an infant, to be taken care of by the nuns at Lord Asriel's request. Enchanted with her, he grew to be very protective and wary at any hint of a threat. When Asriel visited The Trout, Malcolm led him over to the priory and watched while he took the baby in his arms and showed her the moon. He watched Asriel closely in case he tried to take Lyra with him. Malcolm then let him flee from the CCD by his canoe which Asriel later hired the best boatmaker in England to redecorate and got Coram van Texel to bring it back.
Malcolm became aware of a man, Gerard Bonneville, who had a hyena-dæmon with only three legs. Bonneville was a criminal who was trying to capture Lyra and take her to the Holy Church in exchange for restoring all his privileges. Bonneville entranced both Sister Katarina, a nun at the priory, to leave a shutter at the priory unopen so he could sneak in and capture Lyra, and also Alice Parslow, a fifteen-year-old girl who worked in The Trout's kitchens and didn't speak with Malcolm. He claimed to Alice that he was the girl's father, trying to get Alice, who also worked in the priory's kitchens, to give him the child.
Coram had warned Malcolm about a flood when he returned the canoe and so Malcolm had prepared, just in case. Malcolm had come to the priory, as Alice had told him to, and had seen Gerard enticing Katarina in one of the potting sheds. As Malcolm was going back to the kitchens, he saw that the river had burst its banks. The priory gatehouse was destroyed and the water was making its way into the priory itself. Malcolm rushed into the kitchens and took Alice, who was buried under a collapse in the roof, and Lyra, who was lying on her cradle that was floating on the water, and ran over the bridge towards La Belle Sauvage. They managed to avoid Bonneville, who was following close behind, and got carried by the water out of Oxfordshire.
Malcolm discovered an address inside the canoe, that of Lord Asriel's house, and decided (without telling Alice) that, because they couldn't get back the way they came due to the water, they should get to Lord Asriel. The canoe first got carried towards the heart of Oxford, after spending the night tied up to a tree and waiting for Gerard in his dinghy to pass, where Malcolm tried to get into Jordan College and be offered, despite not knowing how to get it, scholastic sanctuary. However, many of the roads were blocked with turned over stalls or semi-collapsed buildings, so Malcolm decided to get supplies at a pharmacy. Here, Alice found out about the plan to make their way to Lord Asriel, by seizing the piece of paper with the address from him.
Lord Murdstone's house
They then set off down the river towards London, which Malcolm guessed would only be a day away. They first docked at a white house to feed and change Lyra. Malcolm managed to talk to the temporary owner, a man with a mastiff dæmon, to get him to defend his house against Gerard, whom they had seen following them. Malcolm, Alice and Lyra set to work with Lyra before Malcolm found that the man, who was to protect them, had been shot with his own shotgun by Gerard.
They took shelter in the cellar, waiting for the chance to run. It was in the cellar, on the other side of a locked door, that Gerard told Malcolm of the story of the man who lived there, Lord Murdstone, called Lord Murderer for bringing children down to the cellar and dismembering them. Leaving Gerard talking to himself through the door, the three left the cellar and sprinted to La Belle Sauvage. They were just getting ready to push the canoe into the water, when Gerard came running down the lawn to meet them. Malcolm, pretending to offer him the baby, stabbed Gerard with a knife he had taken from the room they had been in when when Gerard got too close. Alice then shot with the gun the only remaining foreleg of his dæmon so it was smashed beyond repair. They preceded along the water, now carrying Gerard's rucksack which Malcolm had taken from his dinghy in order to bargain with him for Lyra before the stabbing. They believed Gerard dead.
When a CCD engine-launch was approaching, they stopped amid a clump of trees and came across George Boatwright, who was hiding from the CCD after pulling down one of their posters for Adnan Al-Kaisy at The Trout. George took them to a cave nearby where they ate and rested for the night. There were other survivors of the flood here, both adults and children, who were keeping away from either the flood or the CCD. On the night they first arrived, Malcolm met a boy called Andrew Whicher, whom he talked briefly to. The following morning, Andrew had gone, returning with a group of armed men. He was a member of the League of St Alexander and had told the Office of Child Protection about the baby in the cave thinking it might be important. The men took Lyra off Audrey Boatwright, who was holding her at the time, knocked out George and pushed to the floor Malcolm and Alice who were trying to defend the baby.
Malcolm and Alice, after interrogating and punishing Andrew about where the men had gone, which turned out to be Wallingford Priory as the Office of Child Protection had an office there, and talking to Mrs Simkin, who used to work at the priory, they set off for the large building. Once they arrived, they sailed around the building, looking for any way in. They found a drain tunnel and Malcolm crawled through and up into the kitchen scullery whilst Alice waited in the canoe.
Malcolm found a box he could use to take Lyra back down the drain without getting wet. He then made his way into a corridor just as a group of nuns were coming down. When the lead one saw him, he said he'd wet the bed, to which she smacked him on the cheek and told him to get some fresh sheets from the airing cupboard and that they'd punish him in the morning.
Malcolm made his way up the back staircase used by the servants and found the children's nursery. He crept inside and started to look for Lyra amongst the cots when two people entered the nursery. Malcolm, who had thrown himself under the bed, heard the two of them talking. The man, Father Joseph, said to a nun that the baby they were looking at was Lyra. Joseph said he'd take the baby away in the morning and the two had an argument over it.
Once the two had left, Malcolm went over to the cot they had been looking at, finding it not to contain Lyra but another child, the nun had tricked Joseph. He found Lyra, drugged by sleeping pills, in the next cot and so took her, went downstairs into the scullery, put her in the box and then went back to the canoe.
The Enchanted Island
They quickly left and made their way to an Enchanted Island. Whilst Malcolm rested in the canoe, Alice and Lyra got out and found a fairy, Diania there. When Malcolm woke, he found the woman to be really kind. She then started to do Alice's hair, Malcolm thought Alice looked almost pretty by the end of it. He searched the canoe, checking everything was alright, and then decided to open up Gerard's rucksack. He found five folders of maths and science in there (one in French, one in English and the others in code) and also an alethiometer.
Alice soon awoke Malcolm from his slumber after searching the rucksack and told him that they had to go. The Queen of the Fairies was feeding Lyra milk from her breast. When they approached her, she said that Lyra was now her child as she had fed her milk. Malcolm decided to bargain with her, thinking of the fairytale Rumpelstiltskin and remembering that names might be important. He said he had a gift fit for a queen, which was a stone in the box the alethiometer came in. The box opened by a special mechanism that Malcolm doubted she'd be able to operate. The deal was that if the fairy could say how the three had come to be on the island in three guesses, she could keep Lyra and the treasure. If not, they would take Lyra but she would still get the treasure as a gift.
On her third try, the fairy guessed correctly how they'd come to be on the island, including the details about Gerard Bonneville. However, because they had given the fairy fake names (Sandra, Richard and Ellie instead of Alice, Malcolm, and Lyra), Malcolm was able to tell the fairy that her overwise-accurate final guess about how the children had arrived was incorrect, as she had referred to them by the wrong names. They left the island with the distraught fairy trying to open the puzzle box.
The canoe was swept into a current heading towards a waterfall that sent them down underneath an island. Lyra, who enjoyed the ride, was laughing however Alice was knocked out after bashing her head against the gunwale. Malcolm saw two islands either side of the river, one was a large lawn leading up to a big house, the other was blocked from view by a column of fog.
They landed on the lawn and saw a large party going on. They got off the canoe and went up the lawn, heading towards the main house, but found that however much they moved, they couldn't get any closer. Instead, they stopped in one of the gardens by three fountains and gathered their supplies. None of the people they approached noticed their existence, and would walk around them, even the birds wouldn't notice Asta, Malcolm's dæmon.
While Alice and Lyra rested, Malcolm retreated to the canoe, where he found a hole had been made in the hull as they came down the waterfall. He fixed it with a bit of canvas from Gerard's rucksack and some resin from a tree nearby. The island seemed to provide them with whatever they needed but didn't allow them to reach the house. As he was collecting the resin, he saw Gerard, in a carriage/wheelchair with flocks of the guests gathered around him.
Malcolm fixed the canoe and rushed to get Alice and Lyra. They made off down the river in the canoe. When they looked by, they saw the guests carrying Gerard down the path, pointing at the canoe.
At the end of the river, there were two large gates leading to the outside, and they couldn't see how to open them. Soon, the River Giant approached them, saying he was instructed by Old Father Thames not to open the gates unless he had permission (if the humans were suffering a drought, for example).
Malcolm and Alice told the giant about how Lyra was actually the Princess of Brytain/Albion and he should let them through. Malcolm held up one of Gerard's documents as false written permission to get through. The river carried them through a tunnel and out into the open again.
After spotting a CCD craft behind them, they hid on an island that wouldn't offer them much protection from being spotted. However, they saw a witch, Tilda Vasara, who talked to Malcolm and cast a spell of invisibility around the canoe so the people on the boat couldn't see them. All the while, Alice and Lyra were asleep in the canoe. The witch soon flew off back to the North saying she had completed her business away from the North.
Some time later, fleeing yet another CCD boat, they stopped at a small island. Alice felt fearful about the place, it was a mausoleum and a graveyard. They had to feed and change Lyra there, as there was nowhere else near, so Malcolm made his way up the slope on the island to the building where he collected a few fence posts (with dry insides for burning) and took the lid off a coffin inside the building.
As he was coming down the slope, he was convinced he saw Gerard's shadow. He quickly lit the fire and cleaned and fed Lyra before getting under the safety of the canoe tarpaulin. Gerard had snuck up on the boat and soon whispered Alice's name, at which point she started to panic. When the CCD boat came round again, she thought she was going to faint and so handed Lyra to Malcolm. Gerard then cut a slit in the coal-silk and reached inside to grab hold of Alice's throat. The hand then moved down and felt her lap for Lyra. Ben, Alice's dæmon bit down on Gerard's wrist but Gerard grabbed Ben and pulled him out of the canoe.
Because of the bond between dæmon and human, Alice jumped out after him and ran out. Malcolm decided to go after her. He left Asta inside the canoe to guard Lyra, despite the pain the separation would cause them, and tracked up the slope with the canoe paddle.
Malcolm found Ben being squeezed by the hyena-dæmon's jaws and saw Gerard pinning Alice down on the steps to the mausoleum. He brought the paddle down feebly on Gerard's head to which Gerard laughed. He then allowed strength to flow inside him and hit his dæmon on the head until she dropped Ben and tumbled down the slope. He then approached Gerard and brought the paddle down on him. Before he killed Gerard, he asked him what the Rusakov field was and why it was important to which Gerard replied with the word 'Dust'.
They lit a fire again on the island the next day, with another coffin lid, as Lyra had possibly caught a cold. Malcolm then found out that the paddle had been broken, being held together by only a small piece of wood. He managed to find a bit of rusty wire from the fence posts.
They then continued down to London where they found a man who supplied them with what they needed for Lyra. However, his wife had gone round the back of the shop to phone someone, possibly the CCD. They fled quickly and managed to find Lord Asriel on his ship after being pursued by a CCD boat. After an exchange of bullets between Asriel and the CCD, in which Malcolm got shot, all three children got up onto the ship.
On Malcolm's advice, Lord Asriel took all three children, by gyrocopter, back to Oxford, to invoke the right of scholastic sanctuary from the Master of Jordan College. Malcolm placed the alethiometer in Lyra's blankets for its protection and as a gift.
Malcolm went on to obtain a doctorate in the next decade and worked out of Jordan College as an unusually young scholar. Malcolm taught Lyra when she was younger for a brief six weeks, and later became someone she was comfortable enough with to approach with questions in a letter about her dissertation..
Malcolm was stout and ginger-haired.
Personality and traits
Malcolm was notably affable, and particularly friendly to Lyra during her time at St Sophia's. He was also quite sensitive. Malcolm was intellectual, he loved finding out about new things and discovering new words. During Lyra's infancy, he was extremely loving and caring.
Abilities and skills
- Crafstmanship: Malcolm was an extremely good crafstman. He helped Mr Taphouse, the carpenter for Godstow Priory, a lot even helping him make the shutters to keep the priory safe.
- Rower: Malcolm took his canoe out a lot and so was an extremely good rower.
Malcolm's dæmon settled as a large female ginger cat.
Personality and appearance
Asta was sensitive, patient and calm, much like Malcolm himself, though was often much more observant. Whilst watching over the baby Lyra during the Oxford floods not long after her birth, Asta specifically watched over Pantalaimon, amusing and consoling him. When seeing Gerard Bonneville beat his dæmon, Asta was visibly horrified, as was Malcolm.
Asta appears to have favoured birds prior to settling, and during this time she changed form with ease, and usually for practical reasons. She was adept at controlling her form, as well as concealing the true emotions she and her human felt. Asta demonstrated the rarely mentioned ability to take the form of non-existent animals, and sometimes combined different elements of particular animals. For example, when looking after the baby Lyra, Asta became an owl with duck's feathers so as to both see well and protect from the rain. She only seemed to do this when she and her human were alone.
Although not starting off as friends, even refusing to talk to each other, Malcolm and Alice bonded over Lyra. Malcolm even started to take a liking to Alice, thinking she was quite pretty.
Ever since Lord Asriel was kind to Lyra, Malcolm looked up to him. He seemed to know what he was doing and Malcolm admired him for the stories he heard about him being an adventurer. Malcolm deeply respected Asriel especially after he returned and upgraded Malcolm's canoe.
Malcolm loved Lyra ever since he laid eyes on her. She was sweet and cute, Malcolm did whatever he could to save Lyra from Gerard.
- Lyra's Oxford
- La Belle Sauvage
- The Secret Commonwealth
- Once Upon a Time in the North (Mentioned only)
Notes and references
- ↑ As per The Secret Commonwealth
- ↑ 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Lyra's Oxford
- ↑ 3.0 3.1 La Belle Sauvage, Chapter 1
- ↑ La Belle Sauvage, Chapter 3
- ↑ 5.0 5.1 La Belle Sauvage, Chapter 5
- ↑ La Belle Sauvage, Chapter 6
- ↑ La Belle Sauvage, Chapter 10
- ↑ 8.0 8.1 La Belle Sauvage, Chapter 12
- ↑ La Belle Sauvage, Chapter 15
- ↑ La Belle Sauvage, Chapter 16
- ↑ 11.0 11.1 La Belle Sauvage, Chapter 18
- ↑ 12.0 12.1 La Belle Sauvage, Chapter 20
- ↑ La Belle Sauvage, Chapter 21
- ↑ La Belle Sauvage, Chapter 22
- ↑ 15.0 15.1 La Belle Sauvage, Chapter 23
- ↑ 16.0 16.1 La Belle Sauvage, Chapter 24
- ↑ La Belle Sauvage, Chapter 25
- ↑ Once Upon a Time in the North
- ↑ Penguin
- ↑ NewStatesman