The trilogy's main character. Lyra is a free spirit, an twelve-year-old orphan who has been more-or-less adopted by the bachelor Scholars of Jordan College. Between her hodgepodge education, Lyra roams wild over the College and the streets of Oxford. She is passionate, optimistic, and high-spirited — a natural leader and a gifted liar. She has a great destiny awaiting her, of which she must remain entirely ignorant — and it almost seems supernatural how almost everyone who meets her at once likes her and wants to help her.
Jumped at the Call: She stowed away with Gyptians so she could go adventuring with her father. Though they are initially reluctant to let her keep on with them, her ability with the alethiometer convinces Farder Coram of the larger part she had to play.
Like Parent, Like Spouse: Her father and Will are described somewhat similar: dark complexion, dark hair, fierce dark eyes.
Other Me Annoys Me: A variation of this trope with Pantalaimon. It's never made clear what daemons are, but they obviously represent a part of one's personality. And suffice to say, Lyra and her daemon have fights and disagreements more than often.
Punny Name: Lyra = Liar. The harpies in the land of the dead play with this.
Shoot the Dog: She isn't afraid to do this, even to herself in the land of the dead.
Street Urchin: A rare voluntary example. She was born and raised among the posh, wealthy nobility of Oxford, but she spends her days fighting against the kids from the other neighborhoods, stealing stuff from the docks, and climbing and sneaking around Jordan College during the night.
Lyra's daemon, her more sensible and grounded other half. He prefers musteline and feline shapes.
The Smart Guy: Pantalaimon fills this role whenever Serafina Pekkala isn't around.
Weasel Mascot: He prefers to adopt musteline shapes, and eventually settles as a pine marten.
The trilogy's other main character. Will, a twelve-year-old boy from our world, has spent much of his time taking care of his mentally ill mother and avoiding the authorities who would separate them. As such, he's developed into a fiercely independent, protective, determined, and above all suspicious boy. His mother told him that one day he will "take up the mantle" of his father, John, and to that end Will embarks on a dangerous quest to find out the truth of his father's disappearance, and allies with a strange girl from another world.His daemon lives inside of him, invisible, for the majority of the series, which alarmed Lyra the first time they met. After his ordeal in the Land of the Dead in the Amper Spyglass, his daemon is torn out of his body and later settles on the form of a subtly-coloured cat named Kirjava.
Much ado throughout The Subtle Knife is made of Will being a murderer; ironically, he is not a murderer by anyone's imagination. The man he "kills" dies after Will runs into him, causing him to trip over Will's cat and fall down the stairs, breaking his neck. Will is only responsible at worst for involuntary manslaughter.
A panserbjørn, or armored bear. Panserbjørne, specific to Lyra's world, have opposable thumbs, can talk, and have a habit for rampaging around in heavy plate armor. Their armor is sacred to them, as each bear must forge his own out of sky-iron. Like all bears, Iorek is a Proud Warrior Race Guy with a fierce sense of honor. Unlike most bears, Iorek has a chip on his shoulder: he was once the prince of the bears of Svalbard, and his throne and armor have been stolen from him. When Lyra Silvertongue recovers his armor, Iorek Byrnison allies himself with her forever and always.
The Blacksmith / Ultimate Blacksmith: When he's first found he is working in a town fixing metal objects; he also made his own armor (what he calls his soul) out of meteor metal. Later on, after Will has shattered the subtle knife Iorek is the one who repairs it. That it is the only knife like that to have ever been made in all the Multi Verseever barely even gives him pause.
Blue and Orange Morality: Iorek has counted Lee Scoresby as a friend for many years. When Scoresby perishes making a Heroic Sacrifice for Lyra, his body is found and preserved by the witch Serafina Pekkala. Iorek travels north to find Lee's remains. To honor his friend, he then eats Scoresby's body and leaves the leftovers to feed the earth.
A New Danish aeronaut - balloon pilot - from the country of Texas. He's lived a long and colorful life, and loves flying better than anything. He does his best to temper bravery with caution, not always successfully. Despite his aversion to spiritual mumbo-jumbo, he finds himself getting tangled up in some pretty supernatural dealings. He is fiercely loyal to his allies old (Iorek Byrnison) and new (Lyra Silvertongue).His daemon takes the form of a tough, lean hare — an Arctic hare, no ordinary jackrabbit — named Hester.
Cowboy: Incongruous; a cowboy in the far polar regions recruited by a troupe of gyptians, but Lee's the cowboy sure enough. His mercenary aspect and his love for travel in his hot-air balloon give him elements of The Drifter.
Heroic Sacrifice: He prevents the Muscovites (Russians) working for the church from getting to John Parry and Lyra by fighting them off from behind a rock until the zeppelin carrying the Muscovites falls, exploding and killing everyone in its vicinity.
Like a Daughter to Me: Embarks on the quest that eventually leads to his Heroic Sacrifice because he wants to do something right by Lyra. He feels that she has been poorly treated by her real parents (a very accurate appraisal) and takes it on himself to protect her. He doesn't get the chance to do so until after his death.
Memento MacGuffin: Grumman secures Scoresby's help by giving him a ring - a keepsake of his mother's that Lee had lost almost forty years previously.
Never Got to Say Goodbye: After being separated from Lyra in the balloon crash towards the end of the first book, Lee does not get to see her again before he dies. He does, finally, meet Lyra again in the final book while he is a shade in the underworld.
Shoot the Shaggy Dog: Zig-zagged. Lee goes questing for Grumman because he believes he knows the whereabouts of an object that could protect Lyra - the subtle knife. While Lyra does come under the protection of the knife and its wielder, Will Parry, that happens as a part of a completely different chain of events and happens several chapters before Lee's Heroic Sacrifice. Instead Lee delivers Grumman, real name John Parry, to see his son for the first time in twelve years.
Southern Gentleman: Not only is he from the country of Texas, he goes to great lengths in some conversations to avoid offending his hosts.
Spared by the Adaptation: In the stage play, he has a smaller role, pretty much vanishing from the story before the scene of his death. As he is not present in the world of the dead, it has to be assumed that he survived.
Queen of a witch clan and a viewpoint character in the Subtle Knife. She is at least three hundred years old, and still young and beautiful, with fair hair and a crown of spring flowers. She keeps herself at some reserve from non-witches, knowing that she shall outlive them all. Despite her mystical air, is a fierce and passionate fighter, with an ironclad sense of justice. Played by Eva Green in the film. Her daemon is a snow goose named Kaisa.
Action Mom: Had a son with Farder Coram, that died at a young age.
Our Souls Are Different (even In-Universe). Witch's daemons have abilities that other characters find unsettling — most pointedly, the ability to travel hundreds of miles away from their humans without suffering harm.
Who Wants to Live Forever?: When she was in love with Farder Coram, she felt something like this, saying she would have gladly given up her life as a witch to be by his side.
A ferociously willful man who sets the events of the books in motion when he makes an appearance at Jordan College. He lives as if he is above the law, and this has earned him as many allies as enemies. He is naturally, intensely charismatic, as well as a brilliant scholar. His exact goals are unclear for the large part of the trilogy, but we do know that he somehow wants to cross between worlds and get at the heart of all Dust — no matter what the cost. Played by Daniel Craig in the films. His daemon is a fierce and beautiful snow leopard named Stelmaria.
Big Good: Interesting subverted: Because he is the leader of the forces opposing the Big Bad, Lord Asriel could be said to fill this role, despite being pretty firmly an Anti-Villain. Because the other leaders are not so morally questionable (as far as we know), all of them could more easily be said to be the collective Big Good.
Determinator: A lot of Asriel's stunning feats are attributed to the sheer force of his will.
Fate Worse than Death: Its suggested that those who fall into the Abyss between worlds will never escape - and that extends to their souls, as well. He is trapped, falling with Metatron and Mrs. Coulter, even after he dies.Forever.
Heroic Sacrifice: Throws himself into the Abyss while gripping Metatron to take the angel out of the picture forever.
Improbable Age: Pullman rarely gives his character's physical descriptions in the text, but Asriel is constantly described as powerful and with an aura of authority. But during the Gyptian leader's summation of his back-story to Lyra, the alert reader can do the maths and realise that Asriel must be in his sixties. He is very active for someone his age.
Papa Wolf: As seen below, he's never that obviously close to Lyra - and in fact pretends to be her uncle for most of her life - but he killed Mrs. Coulter's husband to protect her when she was a baby; he removed her from the influence of the Church and placed her at Jordan College to make sure she grows up at least relatively happy and free; the only time he ever really, visibly loses his cool in the series is when he thinks Lyra's been sent to him as the sacrifice he needs to leave his world; and, in the end, he sacrifices himself with Mrs. Coulter to stop Metatron, so that Lyra will be safe.
So Proud of You: In a manner of speaking; he never says this to Lyra herself, but in The Amber Spyglass he states how proud he is that he brought a child like her "who tricked the kingdom of the bear king out of his paws!" into the world.
Unscrupulous Hero: He aims for freedom for the people of all worlds oppressed by the authority, but will sacrifice anyone to that end.
Would Hurt a Child: He kills Roger to create the portal between worlds he needs for his plans.
Mrs. Marisa Coulter
A woman who hungers for power and seeks to get it by exploiting the hierarchy of the church. While she initially charms and captivates everyone she meets (except for the strongest-willed), a closer look will reveal her absolutely mercenary intentions. In addition to charm (unnatural persuasion abilities) and beauty, she possesses a mind like a razor and no such thing as a "conscience." She may only have one true weakness — Lyra. Played by Nicole Kidman in the film. Her daemon is a golden monkey which is never named in the books, but is called Ozymandias in the radio play.
Fate Worse than Death: It's suggested that not even angels or souls can escape after falling into the Abyss between worlds. Even death is not an escape. She is trapped in the Abyss, falling forever with Metatron and Lord Asriel, never to leave again.
Manipulative Bitch: An understatement. She plays everyone around her like fiddles if there's something she can gain from it.
May-December Romance: With both Lord Boreal and Lord Asriel, who are both in their sixties whereas she herself is in her mid-thirties. Pullman says that she chooses all her lovers based on how influential they are in her world.
Parental Abandonment: Wants nothing to do with her illegitimate daughter, Lyra. At least, not initially...
Pet the Dog: The affection she develops for her daughter, but it's still so small it's hard to call Lyra her Morality Pet.
Living MacGuffin: He is one motivating factor for Lyra to want to go North—to save him. He serves a similar function in The Amber Spyglass despite not being alive anymore. In that book Lyra's goal is to get to the world of the dead so that she can apologize to him for unwittingly causing his death.
Sidekick: Served as one to Lyra during their normal lives at Oxford.
When Lyra first tracks down this "Scholar," she's surprised to meet a scatterbrained woman instead of a grave and serious gentleman. But Mary Malone is a more than capable astrophysicist who knows about Dust, or Shadows, or Dark Matter, however-you-want-to-call-it. And when adventure calls, Mary answers it, and proves she has greater depths of ingenuity, courage, and wonder than even she thought possible. At the end of The Amber Spyglass, Serafina Pekkala shows Mary how to see her own daemon — and discovers that he's a little black Alpine Chough.
Adapted Out: She and the mulefa are both cut from the stage play. Mary Malone's role is filled by Serafina Pekkala, and the physics-related Techno Babble replaced with mysticism-related Expo Speak.
Adorkable: In the radio drama, definitely. Highlights include exaggerating her English accent to avoid suspicion, quoting Star Trek to herself, and her introduction:
Lyra: I've been told you know about Dust.
Dr Malone: I do! You've seen my flat, then?
Dark Is Not Evil: Not in appearance or methods but in her role in events: she serves a similar role as the Serpent in Eden. And while everyone else refers to Dust as sparkles of light, she initially calls Dust "Shadows."
In addition, her daemon turns out to be an alpine chough - a black bird.
She does display an understanding of evolutionary biology, chemistry, and computer science; but for an educated person, this is not really unexpected.
Parental Substitute: Pullman's notes have her taking the role of Will's guardian when they return to our world.
Trickster Mentor: Subverted. She is told to "play the serpent," which is a role associated with tricksters at its most benevolent, in a Biblical context, but Mary's interactions with Lyra are always straightforward.
Unfazed Everywoman: Albeit she's a very well-educated nun turned astrophysicist, she is the closest thing the books have to an Audience Surrogate, and she certainly possesses no Weirdness Censor.
Lord Carlo Boreal / Sir Charles Latrom
Arc Villain: He is only a prominent villain in the second book.
A man of many talents who is eventually found staying as a shaman with a tribe of Tartars in the north. His daemon is an osprey named Sayan Kötör.
Faking the Dead: The head Asriel waves around in the first chapter of the trilogy? Not actually his.
Functional Magic: The real source of Grumman's wholly unique powers is never really explained. Considering that his daemon can go great distances from him, a trait that is only seen in witches elsewhere in Lyra's universe, he may have undergone as similar ritual to them in order to gain power.
Incurable Cough of Death: Has a vague illness that keeps him physically weak and reliant on Lee's help, while leaving his magical powers intact. Furthermore, this adds a Find the Cure element to his quest. The illness is an unpreventable side-effect of living in a universe that isn't your own, and the only cure is to return to your home universe.
Killed Mid-Sentence: He sees his son for the first time in twelve years and is killed by a witch, whose advances he had rejected years before to stay faithful to his long-lost wife. While it didn't happen precisely mid-sentence, he didn't even know he was talking to his son until after he had been mortally wounded.
Long-Lost Relative: Is actually Will's father who stumbled through a window on our Earth, crossing through the world of Cittagazze before coming into Lyra's world.
Took a Level in Badass: Manifests otherworldly powers and is one of the few characters in the books to perform things that seem like real magic - like controlling the weather in Lyra's world. Not bad for someone originally from our mundane Earth.
Wizards Live Longer: Averted. Grumman is only middle-aged at oldest, but all of his magical arts cannot keep his illness at bay.
King of the armored bears of Svalbard in the first book. Except not really - Iorek's the true king, but Iofur tricked him into killing another bear and thus being exiled, so he could take the throne for himself.
Adaptation Name Change: He is called Ragnar Sturlusson in the film, to prevent confusion between him and the similar-sounding Iorek Byrnison.
Good Is Not Nice: Well, more so because Gallivespians are persecuted by a larger race and thus innately have chips on their shoulders, especially when dealing with humans.
Defrosting Ice Warriors: Partly due to the aforementioned persecution at the hands of humans and partly due to overall resentment at not being able to get Will and Lyra to cooperate with them and return to Lord Asriel willingly, it takes quite a while for Tialys and Salmakia to genuinely warm up to the young protagonists - particularly Tialys.
Ambiguously Gay: They are referred to with male pronouns and are in love with each other. Baruch is implied to have been disowned by his family because of his sexuality. However, angel sexuality is implied to be very different from human sexuality.
Almost Dead Guy: Poor Baruch is attacked while en route to deliver a message to Lord Asriel, and clings to life just long enough to get the job done.
Ascended Extra: Balthamos, kind of, in the BBC radio drama. His role in the story itself has not been expanded, but he's been made the Narrator, and in his role as a "recording angel" and "listener of lives" spends most of the radio drama observing and describing events as he sees them, unheard and unnoticed by the characters. He only begins interacting with them in the Amber Spyglass episode, in which he switches between a "narrator" voice and a "speaking" voice.
Changed My Mind, Kid: When attacked by the Church, Balthamos abandons Will and Lyra. However, he later returns to kill the assassin/priest pursuing them. He dies after the fight.
Dark Is Not Evil: Like most lesser fallen angels, they can only be seen at poor light conditions.
Spared by the Adaptation: Balthamos in the BBC radio drama. As the series' narrator, he survives the fight with Father Gomez — at least all direct references to him dying are cut — but afterwards he returns to just observing and narrating, the way he has been doing all along.
Multiversal Conqueror: Metatron and his angels. While they apparently do not want to rule physically, they do want to install their religious ideals everywhere. Considering the size of the angelic army in the final book compared to the sheer amount of universes with creatures in them to which the concept of "Religion" is propably very alien (the Mulefa), not to mention that several significant events (such as Jesus being born) may not even have happened in some of them, their prospects are propably not very good, although the books never bring that issue up. They get defeated nonetheless, by a - comparably - small opposing force consisting of locals of "only" a few universes and the final battle of the two armies, while fitted with grand and bombastic visual displays (such as the angelic cloud fortress) seems to be on a smaller scale than World War II and is certainly shorter - hardly worthy of a multiverse-deciding conflict.
Our Angels Are Different: Some are created when Dust condenses, while others are humans turned into angels upon their death, their true form is more similar to architecture than human beings and their genders are extremely vague. They also strengthen and then weaken with age like humans, can shapeshift and pass between dimensions, and are extremely difficult to see. They can be most easily perceived at twilight, particularly with smoke to move around their form. Physically they are much weaker than humans.