Marisa Coulter

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Marisa Coulter
First appearanceLa Belle Sauvage
Last appearanceThe Amber Spyglass
Created byPhilip Pullman
Portrayed byNicole Kidman (The Golden Compass film)
Ruth Wilson (Television series )
SpouseMr Edward Coulter (husband; deceased)
Lord Asriel (lover; dies with her in The Amber Spyglass)
Lord Boreal (lover; killed by her with poison)
ChildrenLyra Belacqua (daughter)
Age35 through the main trilogy

Marisa Coulter (née van Zee)[1][2] is a fictional character in Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy and one of the main antagonists of Northern Lights. She is the former lover of Lord Asriel and is usually called 'Mrs Coulter'.


Mrs Coulter is described as being 35 years old in the third novel, The Amber Spyglass. She is described as appearing 'beautiful and young' with 'sleek black hair' that 'framed her cheeks' and slim,[3] though later accounts of her describe her as having blonde or 'golden' hair. [4][5][6] Such details of a character's physical appearances are uncommon in His Dark Materials. 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 sophisticate; with social savoir faire, but she is also an extremely determined, calculating, and ruthless power-seeker with wide political connections, who is highly placed and trusted in the Church's hierarchy who give her a large degree of autonomy, which she uses for her own as well as their benefit. She arranges for Iorek Byrnison, the heir to the throne of the Armoured 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 motherly instincts override 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.[7] 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:[8]

"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, Metatron describes her as lovelier than any wife he had, and he wishes to take her as his consort.[8] This is her final deception as by this point she intends to betray Metatron himself in order to safeguard her daughter. She describes her self-perception to Asriel just prior to their joint sacrifice:[9]

"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. 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. How the golden monkey can go so far from Mrs. Coulter is not explained, Mrs. Coulter has not undergone any of the processes which enable other humans to achieve such separation. 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.

Relationship with Lyra[edit]

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 marriage to Edward Coulter, who died before the events in the books.) In 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, Mrs Coulter repeatedly saves Lyra. At the beginning of The Northern Lights Mrs. Coulter saves 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. 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 reveals that she is Lyra's mother. Mrs. Coulter is ultimately 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 takes Lyra to a cave and keeps her drugged there at the beginning of The Amber Spyglass and ultimately saves Lyra at the end of The Subtle Knife.


Nicole Kidman as Marisa Coulter in the film The Golden Compass.
  • Emma Fielding played Mrs Coulter in the BBC Radio 4 version of His Dark Materials.
  • Alison Dowling played her in the Chivers Children's Audio Books version, which author Philip Pullman narrated.
  • Patricia Hodge played Marisa Coulter in the first run of the National Theatre stage adaptation in London, and Lesley Manville played her in the second run.[10]
  • Nicole Kidman played Mrs. Coulter in the film adaptation, The Golden Compass, Pullman had previously indicated that he would like to see Kidman play the role.[11] Kidman is blonde, though Pullman approved of the hair colour change made from the book's description, saying he regretted not making her blonde in the first place.[6]
  • Ruth Wilson is set to portray Mrs. Coulter in the forthcoming BBC television adaptation.[12]

See also[edit]

References and notes[edit]

  1. ^ Pullman, Philip. The Collectors.
  2. ^ Pullman, Philip (26 Oct 2017). "Philip Pullman on Twitter". Twitter. Retrieved 26 Oct 2017.
  3. ^ Pullman, 1995, p.66
  4. ^ Pullman, Philip. The Collectors.
  5. ^ Pullman, Philip (2017). La Belle Sauvage. Oxford, UK: David Fickling Books. p. 270. ISBN 978-0-385-60441-3.
  6. ^ a b Robert Butler (December 3, 2007). "An Interview with Philip Pullman". Intelligent Life. Archived from the original on March 5, 2008. Retrieved March 5, 2008.
  7. ^ 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..."
  8. ^ a b The Amber Spyglass, p.419.
  9. ^ The Amber Spyglass, p. 426-7
  10. ^ Marisa Coulter at Srafopedia (Accessed 13 November 2007)
  11. ^ His Dark Materials: The Golden Compass (2007) IMDb (Accessed 18 July 2006)
  12. ^ Mitchell, Bea (11 June 2018). "Luther's Ruth Wilson is the latest big name to join BBC's His Dark Materials". Digital Spy. Retrieved 15 June 2018.