|First appearance||Northern Lights/The Golden Compass|
|Last appearance||The Amber Spyglass|
|Created by||Philip Pullman|
|Portrayed by||Daniel Craig|
|Occupation||Experimental theologian and Explorer|
|Family||Count Belacqua (brother; deceased)|
|Children||Lyra Belacqua (daughter)|
|Age||late-40s to mid-50s through the main trilogy|
|Date of death||1960|
- "Asriel" redirects here. For other uses, see Azriel.
Asriel is a member of the English aristocracy in a parallel universe dominated by the Church. He is described as being "a tall man with powerful shoulders, a fierce dark face, and eyes that seem to flash and glitter with savage laughter." Possessed of enormous determination and willpower, he is fierce in nature and commands great respect in both the political and academic spheres, being a military leader and a fellow of Jordan College in his world's version of the University of Oxford.
The name Asriel could be derived from the Hebraic name Asriel/Azrael, who, in the Jewish and Muslim tradition is the family of Asriel and is mentioned in the counting of the tribes. If one looks in the Bible in the Book of Numbers chapter 26 verse 31, you will see the source of the name. "Azrael" is believed to be the name of the Angel of Death in some religions. Alternatively Asriel, being an anagram for Israel, could refer to the English translation of the name Israel, given to Jacob in the Hebrew Bible - namely; "He who has struggled with God". His dæmon is Stelmaria, a Snow Leopard. Her name is possibly a variant of Stella Maria, a pseudo-Latin phrase that approximates "star of the sea" (see also Stella Maris). It could also derive from Italian, in which case it would apparently mean "Star Mary", which raises associations with the Star of Bethlehem and the Nativity. The name Lord Asriel also bears sonic and spelling-related similarities to the name Lord Aslan, the Lion/Leader/Guardian and allegorically-Jesus-like figure in C.S. Lewis's The Chronicles of Narnia. His Dark Materials is often seen as an ideological rejection of and response to Lewis's work, so it would make sense that Pullman would present the morally ambiguous protagonist/antagonist Asriel as a parallel to the "clearly" "Good" and noble Aslan, a character within a series with which he, Pullman, disagrees and about which he has frequently written.
History within the novel
Lord Asriel was a highly respected member of the British (Brytish) aristocracy. He was an explorer and did work in experimental theology, through which he acquired much power, land, and money. But after having an affair with another politician's wife (Marisa Coulter), that resulted in a child, his life changed. Mrs Coulter's husband, Edward Coulter, went after Lyra and her foster mother with clear intent to harm and possibly murder her. Lord Asriel killed him in a duel. When the church found out, Asriel was tried in court and lost all his money and property. Lyra was sent to a convent. Lord Asriel, who hated the church, arrived one day and took Lyra to his alma mater, Jordan College, where she was placed in the care of the Master.
After travelling to the South, Lord Asriel visited Jordan College where he was almost poisoned by the Master, who read his alethiometer and saw that Lord Asriel's actions would be dangerous. Asriel was saved by Lyra, who secretly watched the Master pour the poison into Lord Asriel's wine glass. Asriel raised money for an expedition using photograms of Dust and a city in the sky, as well as the extra shock value of a decapitated head that he said was Stanislaus Grumman's. He travelled to Svalbard but was imprisoned and guarded by the bear warriors known as the panserbjørne led by Iofur Raknison. This action was ordered by the General Oblation Board, one of Asriel's enemies and headed by his ex-lover, Marisa Coulter. He received hospitable treatment, and waited for a child on whom to perform intercision (a process to detach a child's dæmon that, without the proper equipment, results in the murder of the child in the process), to open a window in the aurora with the help of witches. Eventually a child arrived: Roger Parslow, unwittingly brought by Lyra.
Asriel entered Cittàgazze and, after a battle, allied himself with the rebel angels under Xaphania. He travelled to an empty world and built an enormous basalt fortress, gathering armies from many different worlds to start his rebellion against the Kingdom of Heaven (making him a symbolic Lucifer/Satan). Ruta Skadi found him, and he told her his plan, also getting her clan's support in the war.
Later, he had his allies, King Ogunwe and Lord Roke, find and retrieve Lyra, the second Eve, from Mrs Coulter. They captured Mrs Coulter, but Lyra and Will escaped with two of Lord Roke's agents. Lord Asriel then attended to Mrs Coulter and tried to influence Lyra and Will, as they held the key to renewing the Dust flow. Lord Asriel let Mrs Coulter escape in an Intention Craft and had Lord Roke follow her to gain information from the Consistorial Court of Discipline. They learned that the Church made a bomb to kill Lyra, and Lord Asriel rescued Mrs Coulter just in time, as well as destroying Saint-Jean Les Eaux (the location of the bomb) a moment too late with his Intention Craft.
Lyra survived, and Lord Asriel had his army search for her and Will's dæmons so the Authority's armies would be unable to control them. When Lord Asriel found that the bomb had blown a hole under all the worlds into the Abyss, he devised a plan to defeat the Authority's powerful Regent, Metatron. As his forces fought the armies of the Authority and the Church, Mrs Coulter tricked Metatron into trying to kill Lord Asriel and take Lyra's dæmon. As they were standing on the Abyss' edge, Lord Asriel and Marisa Coulter sacrificed themselves, falling into the abyss and taking Metatron with them. They become ghosts for eternity.
Lyra and Marisa Coulter
Marisa Coulter was Edward Coulter's young wife. Lyra, the product of an affair with Lord Asriel, was born when Marisa was just 21. Lyra resembled Asriel rather than Edward Coulter, so Mrs. Coulter gave her to Asriel, who placed their daughter with a gyptian woman, later revealed to be Ma Costa. When Mrs. Coulter's husband found out about the affair, he went in a rage to kill the baby Lyra. Lord Asriel fought a duel with him, and ended up the victor. Asriel had his wealth and status taken away in disgrace, and Lyra was placed at a convent. Asriel, outraged, took Lyra from the convent, and placed her at Jordan College, and ordered the Master to never allow Mrs Coulter to see or speak to Lyra in any way. However, Marisa eventually turns up, intending to take Lyra north. Lyra agrees, but escapes when she discovers Mrs Coulter's intentions for the stolen children, as the head of the Oblation Board. When Lyra is kidnapped and taken to Bolvangar, Marisa races in to rescue her right as Lyra and Pantalaimon are about to be severed. In the film adaptation, she comforts Lyra and tells her she is her mother. Horrified, Lyra escapes once again, and this time she seeks out Lord Asriel to deliver the alethiometer. Unknowingly, Lyra leads her friend, Roger, to his death, which also lead to the reuniting of Mrs Coulter and Lord Asriel.
Lord Asriel and Mrs Coulter meet once again in the Amber Spyglass, when Mrs Coulter is captured by Asriel's men. She and Asriel join forces to defeat Metatron, the powerful regent of the Authority, simply to give Lyra, their child, a chance to live. They die together in a chasm between worlds.
Personality and appearance
Lord Asriel is perhaps one of the best examples of men who believe that the end justifies the means. Though he willingly sacrifices people, even children, to achieve his goal, he does not hesitate to give his own life in the course of achieving it. He acts not for selfish gain but to achieve a world which, in his eyes, is the best possible world for humanity.
He appears at first as a cold-hearted and seemingly unapproachable person, domineering to his servants and stern to his peers and niece. He shows little emotion, though several times throughout the story he displays sadness and regret for what is necessary, and in the end he shows his love for his child and his old flame, Marisa Coulter, appearing particularly angry when he thinks that fate has brought him Lyra to use as his 'sacrifice' to bridge worlds (Although he calms down when Roger is revealed to also be available).
Asriel is an intimidating presence, both physically and intellectually; he appears equally adept at outmanoeuvring his adversaries using his considerable wits and academic knowledge as he is at achieving his objectives through brute strength. He is a tall, broad and powerful man, with Lyra noting that in rooms he has the air of a "wild animal held in a cage too small for it". In the film adaption he has a beard, though no mention is made of it in the books. He is also mentioned to have lively, "black" eyes, glittering with "savage laughter", indicating that beneath his cold and harsh appearance he is really a man with powerful emotions. His characterizing traits are his commanding nature and immense willpower - he is a man who literally shifts worlds. As one of the characters remarks, he accomplishes things in his relatively short lifetime that some would not be able to do in hundreds of years.
From December 2003 to March 2004, London's Royal National Theatre staged an adaptation of His Dark Materials. The role of Lord Asriel was played by Timothy Dalton (Dalton played James Bond, whom Daniel Craig, who stars as Lord Asriel in the film, also plays).
Daniel Craig plays the role of Lord Asriel in the film adaptation The Golden Compass. Previously, on July 14, 2006, it was reported that actor Paul Bettany was in final negotiations to play the role of Lord Asriel in the forthcoming film adaptation, with Nicole Kidman joining him as Coulter. Author Philip Pullman had once indicated that he would like to see actor Jason Isaacs play the role, but the author has no role in the casting procedure.
References and notes