On the His Dark Materials trilogy

The Mysterious Mrs. Coulter

By Ellen Steiber

There’s something fascinating about a great villain.

It’s easy to identify with a story’s hero or heroine. That’s what we’re meant to do. And yet, when an author creates a truly evil villain, that’s often the character who we can’t forget. It’s the villains who often have the power to make us dread turning the page. They force us to enter the shadows, to confront the absolute worst we can imagine. They speak to our deepest fears.

It’s been more than ten years since I first read The Golden Compass, and in those years I’d forgotten many details of the story. But I never forgot Mrs. Coulter. She and her golden monkey remained as vivid in my mind as a nightmare. Although the Authority and his regent Metatron are responsible for the big evil forces in Pullman’s world–they are, in a sense, the evil overlords–it’s Mrs. Coulter who is by far the most frightening of his villains. Part of this may simply be that Mrs. Coulter is given the most attention; she’s the villain we come to know best. But she’s also the most complex, the most intriguing of Pullman’s evil-doers. How is it that she can be simultaneously repulsive and fascinating? And why is it that she is able to grab the reader by the throat and hold on for years?

What I love best about His Dark Materials are the d¦mons. The idea of an animal soul is not only irresistible, especially for all of us who’ve had strong connections with  …

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