Modeled after Satan in Milton’s Paradise Lost, Lord Asriel is the gentlemanly devil who plans to overthrow God and establish a Republic of Heaven. In other stories, Asriel would almost certainly be the villain. In Pullman’s trilogy, Asriel is complicated, arrogant, and unlikable, but in many ways he is also a heroic figure.
The name Asriel is derived from Asrael, the name of a biblical angel. In the Bible, Asrael’s appearance heralds the apocalypse. He is also an angel of death who severs human souls from human bodies. Lord Asriel hopes to induce an apocalypse of his own by waging war on God, and he separates Roger’s soul (his daemon) from his body.
In Milton’s Paradise Lost, Satan tempts Eve with the fruit from the tree of knowledge. In Pullman’s trilogy, Lord Asriel’s compelling slides of Dust and the aurora borealis convince Lyra to go on her quest for knowledge. Though Lord Asriel doesn’t ultimately play the serpent to Lyra’s Eve, he does instill in her the thirst for knowledge.