|First appearance||La Belle Sauvage|
|Last appearance||The Amber Spyglass|
|Created by||Philip Pullman|
|Portrayed by||Daniel Craig, Timothy Dalton and Terence Stamp|
|Occupation||Experimental theologian and Explorer|
|Family||Count Belacqua (brother; deceased)|
|Children||Lyra Belacqua (daughter)|
|Age||late-40s to mid-50s through the main trilogy|
Lord Asriel is a major character in Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy. Asriel is a member of the 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.
Asriel is one variant spelling of the Hebraic name Azrael, who, in the Jewish and Muslim tradition is mentioned in the counting of the tribes. "Azrael" is also traditionally believed to be the name of the Angel of Death in some sects of Islam and Sikhism, as well as some Hebrew lore. His dæmon is called 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 mean "Star Mary", which would raise associations with the Star of Bethlehem and the Nativity. Whether these parallels have any significance is unknown.
Asriel's daughter Lyra is given the surname "Belacqua", which is also the name of a character in Dante's Purgatorio. As British naming convention for Lords suggests that Asriel is either his surname or the name of his territory, it is not explicit where this comes from.
History within the novel
Prior to the beginning of the trilogy, Lord Asriel had been a highly respected member of the 'Brytish' aristocracy. He had been an explorer and did work in 'experimental theology', through which he acquired much power, land, and money. After having an affair with another politician's wife, Marisa Coulter, that resulted in the birth of Lyra, his life changed. Mrs Coulter's husband, Edward Coulter, attacked Lyra and her foster mother intending to harm and possibly murder Lyra. Lord Asriel intervened and killed Coulter. When the church found out, Asriel was tried and lost all property. Six-month-old 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.
At the beginning of the trilogy, Lord Asriel visits Jordan College where he is almost poisoned by the Master. Asriel is saved by Lyra, who has secretly been watching the Master pour the poison into Lord Asriel's wine glass. Asriel is giving a Lecture to the Fellows of Jordan College hoping to raise money for an expedition. In the lecture he uses photograms of Dust and a city in the sky, as well as a severed head that he says is Stanislaus Grumman's. He travels to Svalbard but is imprisoned and guarded by the bear warriors known as the panserbjørne, led by Iofur Raknison. This action has been ordered by the General Oblation Board, which is headed by his ex-lover, Marisa Coulter. He receives hospitable treatment, and waits for a child on whom to perform intercision (a process to detach a child's dæmon that often results in the child's death). He is hoping to open a window in the aurora in order to travel into a different universe. Eventually a child arrives, Roger Parslow, unwittingly brought by Lyra.
Asriel enters Cittàgazze and, after a battle, allies himself with the rebel angels under Xaphania. He travels to an empty world and builds an enormous basalt fortress, gathering armies from many different worlds to start his rebellion against the Kingdom of Heaven. Ruta Skadi finds him, and he tells her his plan, and gets her clan's support in the war.
Later, he has his allies, King Ogunwe and Lord Roke, find and rescue Lyra from Mrs Coulter. They capture Mrs Coulter, but Lyra and Will escape with two of Lord Roke's agents. Lord Asriel then attends to Mrs Coulter and tries to influence Lyra and Will, as they hold the key to renewing the Dust flow. Lord Asriel lets Mrs Coulter escape in an 'Intention Craft' and has Lord Roke follow her to gain information from the Consistorial Court of Discipline. They learn that the Church has made a bomb to kill Lyra, and Lord Asriel rescues Mrs Coulter just in time. He destroys Saint-Jean Les Eaux (the location of the bomb) with his Intention Craft.
Lyra survives, and Lord Asriel has his army search for her and Will's dæmons so the Authority's armies will be unable to control them. When Lord Asriel finds that the bomb has blown a hole under all the worlds into the abyss, he devises a plan to defeat the Authority's powerful Regent, Metatron. As his forces fight the armies of the Authority and the Church, Mrs Coulter tricks Metatron into trying to kill Lord Asriel and to take Lyra's dæmon. As they are standing on the edge of the abyss, Lord Asriel and Mrs. Coulter sacrifice themselves, falling into the abyss and taking Metatron with them. All three are condemned to fall through the abyss 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 and killed him. Asriel had his wealth and status taken away, 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 just 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 at the hands of Asriel. At this time Mrs Coulter and Lord Asriel briefly meet.
Lord Asriel and Mrs Coulter meet once again in 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 a man who believes that the ends justify 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 former lover, 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). John Faa also refers to help that Asriel has given to the gyptians in the past, including defending the gyptian way of life in Parliament and diving into fierce waters to rescue drowning men. In La Belle Sauvage Asriel repays Malcolm Palstead for the loan of his canoe by arranging for it to receive a thorough make-over by gyptian boat-makers to make it a sturdier vessel.
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. 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.
Stage, film and television characterisations
References and notes
- Davidson, Gustav (1967), A Dictionary of Angels, Including The Fallen Angels, Entry: Azrael, pp. 64, 65, Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 66-19757, ISBN 9780029070505
- Shri Guru Granth Sahib, Section 07 - Raag Gauree - Part 165, "Azraa-eel, the Angel of Death, shall crush them like sesame seeds in the oil-press."
- His Dark Materials: The Golden Compass (2007) IMDb (Accessed 18 July 2006)
- White, Peter (8 June 2018). "James McAvoy & Clarke Peters Sign Up To BBC One Fantasy Drama 'His Dark Materials'". Deadline. Retrieved 15 June 2018.