The characters introduced in Northern Lights are all wonderful, and each of them is unique and plays a role in the story. Many of these characters reappear in later books while others only have a brief but important role to play. I could easily start talking about in depth all the characters I enjoyed reading about, the well-known ones and those rarely mentioned, but then we’d be here forever. There are also many more characters than those that I list here, and I could easily discuss each of them, even briefly, but I won’t.
What is brilliant about Pullman and how he has created these characters is that many of them play the smallest roles in Northern Lights, but they are still important roles and important characters. Many of the characters I’ve listed here are reoccurring in the other novels, and their roles grow, but even their brief appearances in the first book offer so much history and depth and questions that they becomes complex in just the simplest of words.
The inventions of dæmons is also another brilliant indicator of who a character is, which is the point of dæmons, they show you who you are as a person. The animal form or actions of the dæmon can describe a character better than a paragraph, especially with unsettled children dæmons because they reflect the character’s emotions phenomenally. but there’ll be more on those later.
Of all the characters in this book, I am a big fan of Lyra and Pan, as well as Iorek. And in a small sentimental way I am rather fond of the Master. I understand where he was coming from and I have so much sympathy for what he was trying to do.
I have also added in some fan art. I know people have different ideas of what characters look like, and Pullman to his credit limits the descriptions allowing readers to fill in the gaps, but I also like seeing how people have interpreted these characters. I know my own images aren’t exactly like the ones I have added, but I can’t draw so you won’t be seeing those ones anytime soon.
If you guys have a favourite character/s, or some art you’ve done I’d love to hear about it!
Lyra Belacqua and Pantalaimon
There is so much you can say about Lyra, she is strong willed and determined, she has a natural ability to lie, and she uses this to make up fanciful stories about her life and to get herself out of trouble. Lyra’s dæmon is Pantalaimon, nicknamed Pan, and together they are full of mischief. Lyra is crafty but curious, always asking questions and wanting to know about new things she discovers. She is driven by destiny and as many of the characters note, she has an important role to play in saving not just one world, but them all. What makes Lyra great is that while she is brave, she is still only a child, and she gets fearful and unsure. But it is her strength to keep going and face things even when filled with fear, and her determination to do the right thing that make her an admirable character.
Roger is one of the main reasons Lyra left Oxford in the first place. He is a kitchen boy who works at Oxford, and a lifelong friend and playmate of Lyra’s. After being kidnapped by the Gobblers, Lyra was determined to bring Roger home. While not in the story very often, Roger plays crucial roles, not just in driving Lyra on, but also in key events. Roger looks up to Lyra he admires her fearlessness and values her friendship. Roger himself isn’t scared or frightful, he is as adventurous as Lyra but he is also the voice of caution. Roger’s dæmon is called Salcilia.
Lord Asriel has a commanding presence, one of power and intimidation, but he isn’t cruel per se. He is tough but fair I guess. He knows what he wants and isn’t above being a bit sneaky to get it. His dæmon is a snow leopard named Stelmaria, and just from studying her you can tell the kind of person Lord Asriel is. He is calm on the surface but powerful, he exudes power and class. While not as evil as Mrs Coulter, Lord Asriel does have his own agenda; he just doesn’t go about making it a reality in as nefarious ways. Trying to determine if Lord Asriel is a good person is hard, he is good to Lyra, as good as he can be, but he also gets blinded by his goal.
When discussing Marisa Coulter, the first thing is to ignore Nicole Kidman and the movie. While the Harry Potter fans won’t let go of “calmly”, I am still annoyed Mrs Coulter suddenly went from having “sleek black hair that framed her cheeks”, to a blonde bob. Having said that though, Pullman apparently wanted her blonde so there’s that. Mrs Coulter is actually one of the scariest characters in Northern Lights. She is manipulative, ruthless, and certainly ruthless, but she can also be charming and alluring when she wants to be, and worst of all thinks she is doing the right thing. As an agent of the Magisterium, she has no problem manipulating the Church for her own gain. She is blinded by her beliefs and does not care who is sacrificed in the process. The fact she can switch so quickly from calm and nurturing to callous and back again is dangerous enough. Adding in her self interests, the total disregard of other people, and tampering with the very make up of the natural world means she is a dangerous force to come across. Her dæmon is a golden monkey, who interestingly is never named through the entire trilogy, despite many other character’s dæmons being named.
Iorek is a character who got my affection very early on. He is tough and formidable, but he is kind and fiercely loyal. He is the rightful king of the panserbjørne, armoured sentient bears, and is recruited and rescued from enslavement by John Faa and Lyra to help with their journey North. Iorek becomes very protective of Lyra after she helps him on more than one occasion and it is beautiful to see the bond between them. Iorek is essentially a large polar bear with an opposable thumb that helps them build. The armoured bears make their armour from sky iron and like a daemon is a soul to humans, so too is the armour the soul of a bear.
Iofur Raknison plays an important role in Northern Lights, despite only being in there for a brief time. A lot revolves around him, and he is a launching point for many events and situations in the story. Iofur stands out as being different from other panserbjørne. He has claimed the throne that belongs to Iorek, and makes many changes to the kingdom and practices of the bears. Much like King Louie in the Jungle Book, Iofur wishes to be human with a dæmon of his own.
Serafina is a witch that assists Lyra and the others in their mission North. Serafina is an important character because while her role is small, it is important and valuable. She offers information about the grander things, away from the immediate situation and about future events. Through her we are told about Lyra’s destiny, the coming war, and the introduction to the world of the witches. Being a witch, their dæmons have different rules, and Serafina’s snow goose dæmon Kaisa, can travel far from her and is also important in helping Lyra on her journey.
Lee is someone I grew to love in later books, but is still intriguing in the first book. He has a lot of past adventures that he references, and a detailed history fighting beside and helping Iorek. He is a Texan and an aeronaut, and his dæmon Hester takes the form of an arctic snow hare. Lee is rough around the edges and a good man though always trying to get reimbursed and paid for his contributions and assistance. It doesn’t make him greedy, it makes him honest, and with only a few brief conversations and comments a true understanding of who Lee is can be established.
Ma Costa is a great character, she is a wonderful mother figure to Lyra, looking out for her, caring for her and hiding her when necessary. She is a Gyptian woman, one of the people Lyra and other Oxford children have been “fighting” for decades. Ma Costa is also one of the people who helps start Lyra’s journey, sending her in the right direction and introducing her to the right people to start the journey North. She is also interesting because there is an inconsistency in Northern Lights about her dæmon. While not named, it is described as both a hawk and a wolf-like dog. Something not possible as adult dæmons are unchangeable.