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 admirat...

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... an essential moment that exemplifies our true nature. Lord Asriel represents this, a man who is cunning and self absorbed, who is selfish in his tendencies, but also willing to fight passionately for freedom and independence. Pullman’s Lord Asriel never feels guilt or remorse for his actions, as he fully believes his actions are not wrong. In The Golden Compass, the church is an institution that oppresses it’s citizens, and Lord Asriel has no qualms in fighting against it.
It is the truth behind Lord Asriel’s passion, that allows the reader to accept him as a sort of hero, while it is Satan’s doubt and weakness that allows us to eventually cast him aside. The resolve of Lord Asriel reflects Pullman’s insistence on how detrimental our own individual thoughts and determinations are. Though our actions may be negative and even harmful, he believes we are essentially soulless without them. Milton, however, see’s that man has no greater obligation than to serve God, and this is the only way which we can find true peace within. Both authors use Satan as their strongest tool, to reflect where they believe we should put God and the Church in man’s life.
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