My daughter (credit where due) was struck by Mrs Coulter’s hair changing colour between La Belle Sauvage and His Dark Materials – do we know anything about why?

In His Dark Materials1, the third chapter of Northern Lights, Lyra’s Jordan, ends with this sentence describing Mrs Coulter:

Her sleek black har framed her cheeks, and her dæmon was a golden monkey.

In La Belle Sauvage2, Chapter 14, Lady with Monkey, we read:

She was the most beautiful lady he had ever seen: young and golden-haired and sweet-faced, …

Possible partial explanations: a mistake, Nicole Kidman is fair in the film, Mrs Coulter dyes her hair on a whim or for a deeper reason …

1Everyman (UK), 2011 (single volume edition with preface by author and introduction by Lucy Hughes-Hallet)

2David Fickling Books (UK), 2017

3 Answers 3


From His Dark Materials Wiki

Although Northern Lights originally described Mrs. Coulter as having "sleek black hair", after Nicole Kidman's performance, Philip Pullman has said in an interview that he "was clearly wrong" about her hair colour. All works published after The Golden Compass have described her as blonde and more recent editions of Northern Lights have been amended to describe her as having "sleek fair hair".

From Wikipedia

She is described as appearing 'beautiful and young' with 'sleek black hair' that 'framed her cheeks' and slim, though later accounts of her describe her as having blonde or 'golden' hair.

From Wikiwand

Nicole Kidman plays Mrs. Coulter in the film adaptation, The Golden Compass, Pullman had previously indicated that he would like to see Kidman play the role. Kidman is blonde, though Pullman approved of the hair colour change made from the book's description, saying he regretted not making her blonde in the first place.

Looks like it was a simple mistake or change of heart on Philip Pullman's part...

  • That sounds fairly comprehensive, though it is then surprising that my one-volume 2011 Everyman edition still has dark hair, four years after the 2007 film. It would also be satisfying to have some citations – preferably the earliest – of the later works describing her as blonde.
    – PJTraill
    Commented Nov 9, 2017 at 12:39
  • 3
    And now in the BBC/HBO series she's back to having black hair
    – OrangeDog
    Commented Dec 11, 2019 at 12:55
  • 1
    To be fair, Ruth Wilson also is fantastic as Mrs. Coulter with black hair...
    – Lou
    Commented Jan 19, 2022 at 10:36

It looks like Mrs. Coulter’s hair is going to be dark in the upcoming “His Dark Materials” series on HBO. Ruth Wilson plays her and she has dark, reddish brown hair. Otherwise, I’d say that canonically her hair is blonde, as put in “La Belle Sauvage” since it’s one of Pullman’s most recent works revolving around His Dark Materials. A change in heart after the film is the only explanation I can think of. But basically, She went from having dark hair in the books, to light hair in the film, to light hair in the books, and back again to dark hair for the series.

  • A lot of this seems to be tangential information but you do answer the question. Might be worth editing to focus more on the direct answer or fleshing out the direct answer more.
    – TheLethalCarrot
    Commented May 14, 2019 at 23:11
  • @TheLethalCarrot: Although this contains an answer, that does not seem to me significantly different from Pat Dobson’s. This might be a comment-as-answer, as the poster does not yet have the reputation – that is just the way the site works in practice, though it is not intended.
    – PJTraill
    Commented May 15, 2019 at 10:23

In my copy of Northern Lights, Mrs Coulter is blonde when Lyra first meets her in Jordan College. When she arrives at Bolvangar in the Zeppelin, she is dark. A woman is allowed to change her hair colour from time to time.

  • 4
    This is interesting that the hair colour would change within a single book, rather than with the changing editions as noted above. If you could pull the passages from the book, and note if any other character mentions or notices the change that would be fantastic.
    – Jontia
    Commented Mar 16, 2021 at 10:06

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