Marisa Coulter (1962–1997), née van Zee, was the head of the General Oblation Board and a long-time agent of the Church before defecting in 1997. Her dæmon was a golden monkey who neither spoke nor went by a specific name. Her daughter was Lyra Silvertongue.
When she was 18, she travelled to Will's world and sat for a portrait at the artist Skipton's studio. It was there she met the art collector, Grinstead. The two were lovers for less than a month. At this time, Marisa was already involved in politics.
Affair with Lord Asriel
Marisa married politician Edward Coulter, but had an affair with Lord Asriel that resulted in a daughter, Lyra. The baby bore no resemblance to Edward, so Marisa hid the affair and claimed the infant had died. She handed responsibility to Asriel, who placed Lyra into the care of the Gyptian boatwife, Ma Costa, and the two intended to live at a cottage on one of Asriel's estates in Oxfordshire.
Edward soon learned of the affair and came to the estate, ransacking the cottage and then duelling Asriel with pistols. Asriel shot Edward and he died, leaving Marisa a widow. She then wanted nothing more to do with Asriel or her daughter and Lyra was ordered to be raised at the Priory at Godstow.
It was around this time that Marisa began academic investigation into the phenomenon of Dust, and had some sort of relationship with Gerard Bonneville, after which he developed an obsession with her. Just before the Great Flood of 1986, Marisa visited Hannah Relf at her home in Jericho and asked about her daughter's whereabouts, in a manner that suggested to Hannah that she had access to an alethiometer. There she also met Malcolm Polstead in passing, who unnerved her by mentioning Bonneville before her departure.
Reunited with Lyra
By 1995, Marisa had obtained a role within the Consistorial Court of Discipline, and began chairing her own organization: The General Oblation Board of London. She was now ruthlessly investigating Dust and with a team of experimental theologians at her disposal was conducting experiments on abducted children. At this time, however, she arrived at Jordan College and met her estranged daughter, inviting her to become her assistant in her work. During her time in London, Lyra was educated in navigation, geography and mathematics as well as general survival training and adhering to societal norms and expectations of women. Amid her tutorship was the glamorous London life, however Lyra became frustrated and felt trapped, running away during a Cocktail Party after learning that Marisa was the leader of the Oblation Board, who Lyra had come to know as an urban myth called 'the Gobblers'. It was whilst under the care of the Gyptians of Eastern Anglia that Lyra learned Marisa's true identity as her mother, and Asriel as her father. Marisa relentlessly pursued Lyra - sending spy-flies across England and using her political powers to begin a police search for a young girl of Lyra's description, however the two did not meet again until Lyra reached Mrs Coulter's research station at Bolvangar.
Lyra learned the true horror of Mrs Coulter's work at Bolvangar, where she found severed dæmons and was nearly a victim of the intercision process under the Silver Guillotine. Mrs Coulter saved her life and the two discussed Dust before Lyra, repulsed by what her mother had been doing, released a trapped spy-fly and ran away once more. Marisa followed her onto the wastes around Bolvangar, whence Lyra escaped in the balloon of Lee Scoresby and travelled to Svalbard, where Asriel was exiled. At the opening into the new world on Svalbard, Asriel and Marisa were reunited, however she chose to walk away as Asriel and Lyra went into the new world.
Marisa Coulter was described as very beautiful, with short fair hair and dark eyes. She wore expensive, fashionable clothes and spoke with a soft, musical voice.
Marisa Coulter was a very beautiful, superficially charming woman. She was also very well-educated, especially for a woman in her world, and loved to associate with various people of status and influence. Yet behind the pretty mask hid a woman of iron, who allowed nothing to go against her or get in her way. Her anger is described more than once as having a metallic scent to it. She was notably manipulative, managing to use various church organizations and powerful individuals in her quest for power. Her ambition was a very important part of her; the main motivation for her marriage to Edward Coulter and her creation of the General Oblation Board was accumulation of political power.
Despite keeping composed and cool in most situations, her composure crumbled when she saw her own daughter in danger. She was also daring, ruthlessly pursuing her goals with no regard to morality, but she seemed somewhat wary to go against what she saw as the dominant power (the Church), and to give up her connections.
However, she did prove to have great love for her daughter in the end, saving her on several occasions, despite frequently receiving nothing but loathing in return. This kernel of goodness gradually began to overwhelm the sum of her negative traits as the war with the Authority grew closer.
Behind the scenes
- In the film The Golden Compass, Marisa Coulter is played by Nicole Kidman, who was initially reluctant to play a villain.
- Although Northern Lights originally described Mrs. Coulter as having "sleek black hair", after Nicole Kidman's performance, Philip Pullman has said in an interview that he "was clearly wrong" about her hair colour. All works published after The Golden Compass have described her as blonde and more recent editions of Northern Lights have been amended to describe her as having "sleek fair hair".
- In the BBC radio adaptation, she was portrayed by Emma Fielding.
- In the audiobook read by Philip Pullman, the role of Marisa Coulter was taken by Alison Dowling.
- Mrs. Coulter was named the third biggest villain in the Big Bad Read poll after Lord Voldemort and Sauron.
- Mrs Coulter's dæmon was never named in the books, but took the name Ozymandias in the radio dramatisation. This change was not authorised by Pullman, who questioned why the scriptwriter made the choice. Malcolm Polstead notes that 'if that monkey had a name, it might be "Malice"'.
- Her dæmon was always referred to as a golden monkey in the books, but the DVD boxset describes him as a golden lion tamarin. Philip Pullman's chapter illustration for Northern Lights Chapter 5, 'The Cocktail Party' shows the golden monkey as closely resembling a Green Monkey (Chlorocebus sabaeus). The chapter illustration for La Belle Sauvage Chapter 14, 'Lady with Monkey' shows the golden monkey as resembling something like a large golden lion tamarin. Real-world golden monkeys include the Golden Monkey (Cercopithecus kandti) and the Golden snub-nosed Monkey (Rhinopithecus roxellana).
- Northern Lights
- The Golden Compass (film)
- The Golden Compass (video game)
- The Subtle Knife
- The Amber Spyglass
- La Belle Sauvage
- ↑ 1.0 1.1 1.2 The Collectors
- ↑ La Belle Sauvage
- ↑ https://twitter.com/PhilipPullman/status/923595910692659201
- ↑ 4.0 4.1 Northern Lights, Chapter 4
- ↑ Lyra's Oxford
- ↑ 6.0 6.1 Northern Lights, Chapter 7
- ↑ Web Archive
- ↑ The Big Bad Read
- ↑ Philip Pullman webchat
- ↑ La Belle Sauvage Chapter 14, 'Lady with Monkey'
- ↑ Stated in the booklet provided in The Golden Compass film box.