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Tool of the Devil: Comparing Satan in Paradise Lost and the Golden Compass

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The devil, in literature, is always a catalyst of change for those who encounter him. He is a force working underground, moving against what is widely considered virtuous and good, and it is contact with him that often changes the course of characters lives, and even the world. In Paradise Lost and a book based on it, The Golden Compass, 'the devil', in both cases, is an advocate for moving away from the control of God and the Church. Where the stories differ, is in the author's intent for these actions. In the former, John Milton uses the devil to display how vanity and pride are the sins that halt us in an opportunity to live blissfully, with and under God. Philip Pullman, in his twist on Paradise Lost, The Golden Compass, claims that the original sin was the first, and most essential, step in human beings claiming their free will. He writes the devil (Lord Asriel) as a manipulative, selfish but ultimately admirable character. One who stands his ground and holds onto his beliefs with an intense passion. Milton's Satan, on the other hand, comes off originally as charming, but slowly presents himself to be weak and unsure, and his ideals are eventually presented as a mask for his insatiable pride. When Milton's Satan tricks Adam and Eve into leaving paradise, they are ultimately worse off. Pullman, on the other hand, shows that human beings are essentially crippled without their right and ability to sin and make choices. It is through their differing portrayals of Satan, that Milton and Pullman present their respective cases on how the original sin caused man to lose paradise and eternal bliss, or find free will.

When Paradise Lost begins, the vainglorious actions of Satan have resulted in his removal from heaven and placed him on the path to exact revenge against those who have done so. Though, the reader is hardly able to experience any distaste when reading about this man who opposes the consented force of good. He is are charming, dark, fanatical and desperate in his attempts. It is from these characteristics, that the reader may be swayed into viewing him as the protagonist (or even the hero) of the tale. Even C.S. Lewis, famous for his critical detraction of Milton's Satan acknowledges how, "Milton's presentation of him (Satan) is a magnificent poetical achievement which engages the attention and excites the admiration of the reader" (Lewis, 94). Almost as if he wishes to show the reader how easy it is to falter to the temptations of evil, Milton infuses as much passion into Satan as he can. "His splendor simply overrides our consciousness of his evil" (Werblowski, 12). The reader cannot help but be swept up by his fervor. "We shall be free; th' Almighty hath not built Here for his envy, will not drive us hence: Here we may reign secure; and, in my choice, To reign is worth ambition, though in Hell: Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven." (Milton, BK I, 259-263).

Lord Asriel also exudes a charisma and a determination that everyone who crosses his path cannot help but be moved by. Literary critic Werblowsky claims Milton's Satan "is surrounded by an aura of majesty and power" (70, Werblowsky), which is the interpretation which Pullman seems to directly draw from for his character. When his daughter, Lyra, observes him, she thinks, "Lord Asriel was a tall man with powerful shoulders, a fierce dark face, and eyes that seemed to flash and glitter with savage laughter. It was a face to be dominated by, or to fight: never a face to patronize or pity" (Pullman, 12).

The powerful difference in the two characters, lies in the fact that Lord Asriel's passions appear to be rooted to his core, and to be genuine, and Satan's may be there only to mask his doubt and are the result of enormous pride. As a result of the latter, many critics often view Satan as an almost comical character. His unparalleled vanity and boasting, and (as some believe) posturing as God, makes it hard for some to not see the humor in his character. "Satan is certainly given to perversity of his own, particularly in displays of almost laughable vanity, but when he is at his absolute worst... he is also attempting to emulate the Father" (Bryson, 97). He battles "exalted as a God, Th' Apostate in his sun-bright chariot sat, Idol of majesty divine" (Milton, BK VI, 99-101). Lewis also claims that Milton wrote Satan to be intentionally skimming the edge of farce as "we know from his prose works that he believed everything detestable to be, in the long run, also ridiculous" ( CS Lewis XIII 95). As Milton was a devoutly religious man, it is possible to see how Satan's attempts to overthrow God would be so offensive, they would become absurd.

Pullman, on the other hand, writes Lord Asriel with not the slightest trace of humor within his character. He is a dark, deceptive man, whose arrogance concerning himself and his beliefs have resulted in a man who knows no boundaries. Even his own daughter, is frightened and chilled by his infinite drive.

"Her father was lying back in his chair, lazy and powerful, his eyes as fierce as his daemon's. She didn't love him, she couldn't trust him, but she had to admire him, and the extravagant luxury he'd assembled in his desolate wasteland, and the power of his ambition" (Pullman, 330).

Lord Asriel, while not technically "the Devil" by any means, becomes a more chilling character, as his passion is unwavering and he holds his views with the utmost importance.

It is through the exploitation of innocence and ignorance that Satan and Lord Asriel achieve their goals. They are both rebelling against an overpowering force and are juxtaposed by young, savage-like females, who they manipulate to help them in their revolt. Satan, "is clearly attempting to provoke Eve to precisely the same "sense of injur'd merit" that led to his own desire..." (107, Cullen) by flattering her and questioning why someone who is so beautiful, must live among animals. C.S. Lewis notes that through all Satan's lies and manipulation, he does "not know whether we can distinguish his conscious lies from the blindness which he has almost willingly imposed upon himself" (Lewis, 97).

The same question can be posed for Lord Asriel. He uses the fact that Lyra admires him so deeply, to subtly convince her to go out North (to where he is being helped captive), free him and provide him with what he needs to create a bridge to another universe (his ultimate goal, that the church has been attempting to stop him from doing). His daughter, upon realizing what he has done, thinks, "She had struggled all this way to bring something to Lord Asriel, thinking she knew what he wanted; and it wasn't the alethimeter

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