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Nicole Kidman as Marisa Coulter in the film The Golden Compass.
|First appearance||Northern Lights/The Golden Compass|
|Last appearance||The Amber Spyglass|
|Created by||Philip Pullman|
|Portrayed by||Nicole Kidman|
|Spouse(s)||Mr Edward Coulter (husband; deceased)
Lord Asriel (lover; dies with her in The Amber Spyglass)
Lord Boreal (lover; killed by her with poison)
|Children||Lyra Belacqua (daughter)|
|Age||35 through the main trilogy|
|Date of death||1960|
Marisa Coulter is a fictional character in Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy and one of the main antagonists of Northern Lights. As with her lover, Lord Asriel, Mrs. Coulter (as she is usually called) undergoes several transformations during the series.
Mrs. Coulter is described as being 35 years old in the third novel, The Amber Spyglass. Physically, she is described as 'beautiful and young' with 'sleek black hair' that 'framed her cheeks' and slim. Given that the details of characters' physical appearances are not often given in His Dark Materials (for example, it is a long time before it is mentioned that the protagonist, Lyra, is blonde), this is an unusual attention to physical detail. (Philip Pullman did not disapprove of the physical change made in the film adaptation The Golden Compass, claiming to regret not making her blonde in the first place.) There is a reference in Lyra's Oxford to Mrs. Coulter having written an academic work called 'The Bronze Clocks of Benin'
In the books she is portrayed as an elegant and cool-minded sophisticated lady; her social savoir faire concealing the more selfish and manipulative aspects of her personality – she is also an extremely determined, very calculating and ruthless power-seeking character with wide political connections, who is highly placed and trusted in the Magisterium's hierarchy with a large degree of autonomy, which she uses for her own as well as the Church's purposes. She arranges for the heir to the throne of the Ice-Bears to be exiled, and plots to dominate the new king, turning the bears into her subordinates. When Lyra is in danger in Bolvangar, her instinct for motherhood overrides her other loyalties and she rescues Lyra, although in the second book of the trilogy she still expresses no qualms about killing her to prevent the Fall. However by the third book she finds herself torn, ultimately feigning loyalty to betray the Church and finally giving up her life for Lyra's sake. Metatron, the Regent of the Authority describes her character in "the most searching examination Marisa Coulter had ever undergone", stripping away "all shelter and deceit" and describing that he sees:
- "Corruption and envy and lust for power. Cruelty and coldness. A vicious probing curiosity. Pure, poisonous, toxic malice. You have never from your earliest years shown a shred of compassion or sympathy or kindness without calculating how it would return to your advantage. You have tortured and killed without regret or hesitation; you have betrayed and intrigued and gloried in your treachery. You are a cess-pit of moral filth."
Despite this searching insight, Metatron describes her as lovelier than any wife he had as Enoch, and appears agreeable to take her as a consort. She manages to conceal among her other deceptions, one final deception; by this point she has privately formed the intention to betray Metatron himself to safeguard her daughter. She in turn described her self-perception to Asriel just prior to their joint sacrifice:
- "I told him I was going to betray you, and betray Lyra, and he believed me because I was corrupt and full of wickedness.... I wanted him to find no good in me and he didn't. There is none. But I love Lyra. Where did this love come from? I don't know; it came to me like a thief in the night, and now I love her so much my heart is bursting with it. All I could hope was that my crimes were so monstrous that the love was no bigger than a mustard seed in the shadow of them, and I wished I'd committed even greater ones to hide it more deeply still..."
Mrs. Coulter's dæmon takes the form of a golden monkey with long fur, who is not named in the books, but was given the name "Ozymandias" in the radio adaptation. A few times throughout the books, the golden monkey is shown to be capable of going much further from Mrs. Coulter than other dæmons are able to separate from their humans. For instance, the golden monkey was snooping around in Lyra's room to look for the alethiometer, when Lyra lived with Mrs. Coulter in London. How the golden monkey can go far from Mrs. Coulter is never explained within the books; Mrs. Coulter has not undergone intercision (as evidenced when she struggles against members of the Church attempting to intercise her and her dæmon), and she never mentions forcible separation from her dæmon on earth or in the Land of the Dead, the means by which Lyra, Will and John Parry, and all witches are separated from their dæmon without severing the link between them. Her final act in the trilogy occurs when she is reconciled with Asriel, and they together drag Metatron into an endless abyss, the three thus ceasing to exist.
Relationships with Lyra and Lord Asriel
In the beginning of the book The Northern Lights Marisa Coulter seems to have a keen interest in Lyra. It is then revealed that Coulter is in fact Lyra's mother by her love affair with Lord Asriel (her title of "Mrs." comes from her widowed marriage to Edward Coulter, who died before the events in the book.) In the book Northern Lights it is stated by John Faa that she fell in love with Asriel as soon as they met. Although throughout most of the series Lyra hates and fears her mother, it is noted in the books that Mrs Coulter repeatedly saves Lyra.
At the beginning of The Northern Lights Mrs. Coulter saved Lyra from the Gobblers by taking her out of Oxford, and nearing the end of The Northern Lights, Mrs. Coulter yet again saves Lyra from having her daemon cut away (a process known as intercision.) A distraught Mrs. Coulter cries out for Lyra, and Lyra passes out. When Lyra suddenly opens her eyes again, she is lying in a soft, comfortable bed with a recovering Pan at her side. Mrs. Coulter immediately reassures Lyra she's safe and, on her daughter's instruction, explains to her gently why children have to be intercised at such a young age, commenting on their "unhappy thoughts and feelings". When Lyra asks why Mrs. Coulter herself saved her, Mrs. Coulter eventually reveals that she is, in fact, Lyra's mother. Mrs. Coulter also struggles with her identity of being Lyra's mother due to her attachment to the church. She is then forced to make choice between Lyra and the church when it is revealed that Lyra is the new "Eve" whose death will be sought by the Church to prevent original sin re-entering the world. Coulter then chooses to save Lyra from the Magisterium at the end of The Subtle Knife, taking her to a cave and keeping her drugged there at the beginning of The Amber Spyglass.
- Emma Fielding played Mrs Coulter in the BBC version of His Dark Materials.
- Alison Dowling plays her in the Chivers Children's Audio Books version. Author Philip Pullman narrates the latter with a full cast.
- Patricia Hodge played Marisa Coulter in the first run of the National Theatre play, and Lesley Manville played her in the second run.
- Nicole Kidman plays Mrs. Coulter in the film adaptation, The Golden Compass, with Daniel Craig joining her as Lord Asriel. Pullman had previously indicated that he would like to see Kidman play the role, although he had no role in the casting procedure.
References and notes
- Pullman, 1995, p.66
- Robert Butler (December 3, 2007). "An Interview with Philip Pullman". Intelligent Life. Retrieved March 5, 2008.
- The Subtle Knife p. 328:
"What will you do to her? What will you do?"
"Why, I shall have to destroy her," said Mrs Coulter, "to prevent another Fall... Why didn't I see this before? It was too large to see..."
- The Amber Spyglass, p.419.
- The Amber Spyglass, p. 426-7
- Marisa Coulter at Srafopedia hisdarkrmaterials.org (Accessed 13 November 2007)
- His Dark Materials: The Golden Compass (2007) IMDb (Accessed 18 July 2006)