Archetypes in The Golden Compass

I wrote this paper for my Children's Literature class a year ago. I LOVED that class. We read a ton of really good books! This was my favorite paper to write! Sorry the spaces are so weird. I tried to fix them...

“Archetypes provide a deep structure for human motivation and meaning. When we encounter them in art, literature, sacred texts, advertising- or in individual groups- they evoke deep feelings within us.” (Archetypes 101) The same is true in Pullman’s The Golden Compass. Throughout this epic narrative depicting the battle between good and evil, the author utilizes contrasting archetypes to emphasize the struggle. Through the opposing archetypal characters the reader becomes aware of the divergent forces and their distinct nature. Two of the characters that serve this purpose are Mrs. Coulter and Serafina Pekkala.

Mrs. Coulter, the main antagonist, represents the femme fatale archetype, or “the alluring and seductive woman whose charms ensnare her lovers in bonds of irresistible desire, often leading them into compromising, dangerous, and deadly situations” (Wikipedia). This is evident when the author describes her powerful presence as she lures both children and people of power into her clutches: “They all gazed, suddenly shy. They had never seen a lady like this; she was so gracious and sweet and kind that they felt they hardly deserved their good luck, and whatever she asked, they’d give it gladly so as to stay in her presence a little longer” (Pullman pg 39) It is this “air of graciousness” that draws men and children alike to her (pg 59). However, beneath her beautiful exterior lies a cunning and controlling core. Manifestations of Mrs. Coulter’s true character are displayed through her daemon, a golden monkey. Lyra, the central protagonist, first experiences Mrs. Coulter’s true nature when she mentions Dust. While Mrs. Coulter remains collected at the mention of Dust, her daemon “snap[s] his head up to look at her, and all the golden fur on his little body [stands] up, bristling” (pg 73). Later, Lyra is preparing to leave for a cocktail party when Mrs. Coulter asks Lyra to leave her shoulder bag behind. When she stubbornly refuses Mrs. Coulter’s daemon seizes Pan, Lyra’s daemon, and grabs its ear and “pull[s] as if he intended to tear it off” (pg 75). Calmly, Mrs. Coulter insists on Lyra’s obedience. It is only until Lyra promises to obey Mrs. Coulter’s wishes that Pan is released. This “cold curious force that was horrifying to see and even worse to feel” is Mrs. Coulters constituent for power (pg 75). Her cunning elegance and subtle domination enables her to maintain favor within the church, become head of the General Oblation Board, kidnap children, and gain power over Iofur Raknison, the Bear King. This attractive but crafty evil depicts the nature of the malevolent forces within The Golden Compass.

In contrast to Lyra’s biological mother, Serafina Pekkala represents the archetypal Earth Mother. The Earth Mother “offers spiritual and emotional nourishment to those with whom she comes in contact” (Malendez). A witch queen, Serafina Pekkala is pure, wise, and strong and, similar to Mrs. Coulter’s daemon, the witch’s stately grey goose daemon also reflects her character. Throughout the story, Kiasa, Serafina Pekkala’s daemon, comes to aid, inform, and protect. When he first appears to the Gyptains, he provides valuable information about Bolvangar, the place where the children are being held captive, that will enable the Gyptains to rescue the kidnapped children. Later, he assists Lyra there. He says “I followed you here, though you didn’t see me” (pg 226). He assists her in releasing the caged daemons by “throwing snow up against the door” to help unlock the room in which they were held (pg 227). When the children finally do escape, Serafina Pekkala assists in transporting the balloon that carries Lyra to safety.

Serafina is kind in nature and because witches live for hundreds of years, timeless in perspective. She describes “Witches own nothing, so we’re not interested in preserving value or making profits…We have different needs… We have no means of exchange apart from mutual aid. If a witch needs something, another witch will give it to her. If there is a war to be fought, we don’t consider cost one of the factors in deciding whether or not it is right to fight” (pg 270).
While Mrs. Coulter and Serafina Pekkala have opposing archetypal roles, there is one archetype that they have in common: that of the forbidden lover. However, the distinction between good and evil is evident here as well. Mrs. Coulter, a power hungry megalomaniac, was once married to a rising politician but fell in love with the rich and passionate explorer Lord Asriel, and gave birth to their illegitimate child. When her husband discovered that he was not the father of the child, he challenged Lord Asriel, who in an attempt to secure the safety of his family, killed Mr. Coulter. As consequence to the lawsuits against him, Lord Asriel lost his entire fortune. At this time Mrs. Coulter “wanted nothing to do with it…She turned her back” (pg 109). True to femme fatale form, she selfishly chose to have this love be forbidden because her desire for power outweighed her desire for love.

Dissimilarly, the relationship between Serefina Pekkala and Farder Coram is an unadulterated romance that has forcefully ended due to the nature of their beings. Witches, such as Serefina Pekkula, live for nearly a thousand years while their lovers age as mortals. Though the relationship has ended between the lovers, the devotion and assistance is still mutual. Nature will not allow their romance to live on, but their personal natures keep the flame burning within their hearts. The manner in which both Mrs. Coulter and Serafina Pekkala create (and deal with) their individual roles as the classic forbidden lovers serves to further illustrate the contrasting motivations and personalities of these characters. Thus the reader is further prompted to truly feel sympathetic for the good and apathetic for the evil in the overall struggle portrayed in the novel.

Through the archetype representations of Mrs. Coulter and Serefina Pekkala the author is able to more clearly establish the struggle between good and evil within The Golden Compass. Throughout the novel, Lyra and her comrades are striving to free captive children from the Gobblers, of which Mrs. Coulter is the leader. Fortunately, Lyra is able to enlist the aid of such benevolent characters as Sarafina Pekkala, and by so doing is able to free the children. Thus we see that, true to archetypal form, the author places the good witch and the evil temptress on the sides of good and evil, respectively. Through the traits and decisions of these characters it is easy for the reader to deeply care about this struggle, and to, in essence, love and hate the characters the author intends them to.

Works Cited
• Archetypes 101. 19 October 2008 .

• Malendez, Doctor M. Archetypes List. 2002. 19 October 2008 .

• Pullman, Philip. The Golden Compass. New York: Random House , 1995.

• Wikipedia. Femme fatale. May 2007. 19 October 2008 .

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