Marisa Coulter née van Zee,[3] was the head of the General Oblation Board and a long-time agent of the Holy Church before defecting. Her dæmon was a golden monkey whose name was never revealed. Her daughter was Lyra Silvertongue.


Early lifeEdit

Marisa was born in 1962.[citation needed] At some point her dæmon settled as a golden monkey. She studied at St Sophia's College, Oxford,[4] and wrote an academic work named The Bronze Clocks of Benin.[5]

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.[1]

Affair with Lord AsrielEdit

Marisa selected her lovers for their influence and power but she never became fond of a single one. She wasn't able to keep her servants either.[6]

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.[7]

Edward soon learned of the affair and came to the estate, ransacking the cottage and then duelling Asriel before he could reach the baby. Asriel shot Edward with his own gun and killed him, leaving Marisa a widow.[8] 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 an 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.

Marisa also set up the League of St Alexander with the Church, an organisation recruiting children to report acts against the Church comitted by teachers or parents.[9]

After the Flood, Asriel ensured that Lyra obtained scholastic sanctuary at Jordan College, and Marisa was prevented further access to her.[7]

Career in the ChurchEdit

Marisa became one of the few female members of the Royal Arctic Institute.[4] She travelled extensively and to Africa at least once, where she acquired spy-flies and learnt of zombis.[10][11]

When marriage did not work out for Marisa, she turned to the Church for power and influence. Because she was not a man, she had to set up her own networks of power rather than taking the route of priesthood. Specialising in Dust, something people feared and knew little about, quickly gave her the Church’s financing and resources as few others were willing to investigate it.[11]

By 1995, Marisa had obtained a role within the Consistorial Court of Discipline, and began chairing her own organisation: The General Oblation Board of London, its activities personally conceived.[7] She was now ruthlessly investigating Dust and, with a team of experimental theologians at her disposal, was conducting experiments on abducted children.

Funding allowed her to pursue her personal interests.[12] She used the precedent of cutting in the Church – in the form of castration – to make the idea more palatable. The Church knew that people were unlikely to doubt the integrity of a woman so charming, well-connected and reasonable, and by obscuring the activity in the North they could deny involvement if necessary. The idea of cutting was conceived by Marisa after extensive travel, where she learnt that severing a dæmon was not necessarily fatal, and the theory that in adolescence Dust began to settle along with the settling of the dæmon. The Church’s obsession with original sin meant Marisa could make her research into freeing prepubescent children from it very attractive to them.[11]

She was responsible for the disappearances of children across England, often personally using her beauty and charm to catch them. She targeted vulnerable prepubescent children like Tony Makarios (whose mother was an alcoholic) for use at Bolvangar and used her intoxicating presence to control them. She used chocolatl to entice them in and gave them a false sense of security, telling them they were going on a voyage and would be well looked after whilst travelling North. Marisa also promised messages would be sent to families, although threw these letters away once the children left. When people noticed the disappearances, they would stop in certain areas and move elsewhere, spreading across the country.[13]

Keeping Asriel a prisoner was a special charge laid on Iofur Raknison by the Oblation Board. Marisa personally came to Svalbard to meet him and offered him all sorts to keep Asriel out of the way. He became besotted with her and was even going to name his capital after her.[14] She helped to orchestrate Iorek Byrnison’s exile and Iofur’s rise to power by giving Iofur a drug that made Hjalmur Hjalmurson, the bear Iorek was exiled for killing, forget himself. Because human law prevented her intentions at Bolvangar, Marisa planned to build a more extreme version on Svalbard where such laws did not apply.

By promising to convince the Magisterium in Geneva to let Iofur be baptised despite his lack of dæmon, Marisa manipulated him into breaking the custom of the bears that humans could not live on Svalbard. Little by little, she was going to increase her power until the bears did her bidding and were reduced to guarding the horrific new station.[15]

Reunited with LyraEdit

Clarke Peters and the golden monkey

Dr Carne meets with Marisa Coulter


Marisa's dæmon fights with Pantalaimon

However, the Church interest in Dust and children meant she became increasingly concerned for Lyra's safety. Seeking to protect her own child, Marisa travelled to Jordan College in order to bring Lyra back to London to live with her.[16]

She met her estranged daughter without revealing their relationship, inviting Lyra 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.[4]

Lyra had spent six weeks in late autumn and early winter living with her and Pantalaimon began to suspect that Mrs Coulter was never taking them North, instead making her a pet. Just before a Cocktail Party, after a disagreement about wearing the shoulder bag she’d been taking everywhere to keep the alethiometer close, the golden monkey pinned Pantalaimon and Mrs Coulter forced Lyra to obey. Mrs Coulter threatened that Lyra could not hope to win any confrontation and afterwards pretended as if nothing had happened.

Lyra overheard Adèle Starminster and Professor Docker discussing Dust and the General Oblation Board at the party. Mrs Coulter appeared and threatened Adele, who was not invited, with the end of her career. The force of Mrs Coulter’s response directed at Adèle made her daemon swoon and Adèle awkwardly and unsteadily left. Lyra noticed that the monkey was not with Mrs Coulter at the time, but he appeared moments later, visibly putting the woman at ease. Pantalaimon told her that the monkey had been spying and had found out about the alethiometer.[17] Lyra overheard about Asriel’s imprisonment on Svalbard and realised that Mrs Coulter had deceived her, running away during the party after connecting the Oblation Board and what Lyra had come to know as the urban myth of 'the Gobblers'.[4]

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. John Faa speculated that Marisa must have had something over Dr Carne for him to let her take Lyra. He suggested that Marisa would never have defied Asriel if he were free but that his imprisonment had shifted the balance of power.[7] 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.


The children at Bolvangar knew Mrs Coulter’s name and most of them were personally caught by her. They thought she enjoyed watching what happened at Bolvangar and some even speculated that she enjoyed watching the children’s deaths. Most thought it boring at Bolvangar except when Coulter arrived, as this is when children disappeared.[18] She evoked a hysterical fear, silencing the canteen when she entered it and leading the children to suspect that the staff were also afraid of her.[19]

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.[19] 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.[20]


Once Marisa learnt that Lyra had flown to Svalbard, she followed in a transport zeppelin, intending to have Asriel killed on arrival and regain control of the bears. She wanted to reach the city in the sky before him to thwart his intentions. Both she and Asriel wanted Roger for the experiment, aware of the energy intercision produced. Lyra assumed that they were both after the alethiometer when she read it, although found it strange that the instrument did not reference itself.[15]

Marisa appeared just after Asriel had successfully used Roger’s death and intercision to open the sky. The two embraced passionately but then argued about the power of the Church and the consequences to moving into the new world. When Asriel asked her to join him, she argued that she dared not and did not think they could work together. She was not persuaded when he lied about intending to destroy Dust nor when he told her he would lose interest in her if she did not join him, ultimately rejecting him. However, she was moved to tears as Asriel left her to walk into the new world.[21]

Marisa travelled to a ship near to Svalbard where a witch formerly allied to Bolvangar was being held captive. The only woman present among men of the Church and the alethiometrist Fra Pavel, she criticised the discipline on board for starting the torture when she order them to wait. When Cardinal Sturrock implied that Marisa might have been keeping information from them about Lyra, she furiously demanded that the men tell her about the prophecy, admitting that her daughter was born in shame but that this did not lessen her right to know.

Only the Cardinal among the men was unaffected by her power; when he tried to question her about something the witch revealed, she angrily suggested that they could torture her, although that would be fruitless as she was hiding nothing. She mocked that the men were unable to get any more information from the witch and were instead waiting for an answer from the alethiometer, wondering how they dared to keep information from her and assume she was keeping it from them.

When she rose to visit the captured witch, all the men save Sturrock jostled to follow her in awe. Marisa promised the witch great suffering if answers were not provided, delighting in telling her about the experience the Church had in prolonging her misery. She broke a first finger to illustrate her point and threatened more if she got not answers. Despite the agonised pleas of the witch, Marisa did not let up, violently slapping her when her impatience grew. Before the witch could reveal the name that was key to Lyra’s destiny, Serafina Pekkala gently killed her to end her suffering, having arrived and watched the torture unseen. The men were stunned by the appearance of another witch but Marisa recovered almost immediately. Marisa urged them to seize and shoot at Serafina but the witch queen escaped with a great loathing for the woman she had been watching.[22]

Will's worldEdit

Marisa was later Lord Boreal’s guest at Limefield House in Will’s world. They drank Tokay and Marisa asked how Boreal acquired the alethiometer, wanting to use it to get to Lyra. When Boreal called Lyra a ‘brat’, she reminded him that Lyra was her daughter. He flattered her in response that Lyra was all the more repellent for resisting Marisa’s charm and good influence. Marisa manipulated him into bragging about his knowledge of the other worlds, revealing that there were a dozen or so openings to other worlds that he was aware of. As a consequence of Asriel’s activity, he told her it was now possible to travel directly between Will and Lyra’s worlds. He was delighted that he could bring her directly without having to risk Cittàgazze.

Carried away and impatient, she revealed that she had got close to finding out Lyra’s other name from the witch near Svalbard. Boreal told her that the alethiometer would bring Lyra to them and speculated that the intercision of her bodyguards might have made such men free to travel in Cittàgazze.

While they talked, her dæmon prowled restlessly around the room. Marisa told Boreal that the Master was foolish for giving Lyra the alethiometer and he told her how he acquired it from her. Before he could bring up the knife, they were interrupted by a stone thrown by Lyra. Will was unable to completely close the window he used to take back the alethiometer before the monkey reached him. It was only a slash of the knife that allowed him to close it fully. The monkey quickly followed Marisa and Boreal to the front of the house to search for Lyra. The golden monkey was prevented from reaching Lyra by the tabby cat, who fought violently to give Lyra sufficient time to escape.[23]

Physical appearanceEdit

Marisa Coulter was described as very beautiful and alluring, with long blonde 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 organisations 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.


LBS Ch14

Marisa Coulter's dæmon had the form of a male golden monkey. With both his golden fur and Marisa's looks, the pair were able to flatter, entice and threaten adults and children alike which made them great when working for the General Oblation Board or convincing people to do as they asked.


Like his human, Marisa Coulter's dæmon was often cruel. He reflected Coulter's personality as beautiful but on the surface but malevolent of intention. He rarely spoke and had a particular affinity for destruction, seen when he tore the wings off cave bats out of sheer boredom.[24]

Behind the scenesEdit

  • 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"[25] 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". Ruth Wilson will portray a dark-haired Mrs Coulter in the TV show.
  • 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.[26]
  • 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.[27] Malcolm Polstead notes that 'if that monkey had a name, it might be "Malice"'.[28] Ozymandias is also the name the monkey was given in Northern Lights - The Graphic Novel.
  • Her dæmon was always referred to as a golden monkey in the books, but the DVD boxset describes him as a golden lion tamarin.[29] 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).
  • As Marisa's dæmon has no speaking role in the films, it is difficult to gauge its personality (as opposed to Pantalaimon who is very vocal). However, it does without a doubt act as a personification of Marisa Coulter's two-faced cruelty and decisiveness. When she and Lyra are talking at her home, Marisa retains a confident and energetic demeanour while her daemon attacks Pantalaimon, putting him in a choke hold. As Pantalaimon is Lyra's dæmon, a manifestation of her soul, this causes Lyra to experience identical injuries. During the two's final talk in the north, Marisa is talking to Lyra about the experiments she is running (severing dæmon souls from children). Marisa appears very sweet and understanding of Lyra, but the instant she is told where the alethiometer is (it's actually a decoy) the monkey immediately grabs the tin it was supposedly sealed in and starts aggressively attacking the seal.


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HDM Wiki has 10 images of Marisa Coulter.
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HDM Wiki has 6 images of Marisa Coulter's dæmon.


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