Nicholas St. North and the Battle of the Nightmare King

The Guardians: Book One

by William Joyce and Laura Geringer

“charcoal drawings of shadowy creatures and the black bear…and himself, guarding the children as if they were the tsar of Russia’s treasures” (Joyce, 98-9).
Chapter Ten – Chapter Twelve

Ah, yes, the frightening Pitch appeared last time.

What’s striking is that “there was a magnificence about him like that of an approaching storm” (87). This heralds back to his origin; he may have become devoured by Fearlings, but he was once one of the Constellations (I think). His appearance — somehow grander and more unfathomable than anything the children have seen — sufficiently portrays his non-human origin, which I like.

The dawn drives Pitch away, but he promises to return.

It’s here that Ombric’s first lesson about magic is put to the test, which is that “[t]here’s a little bit of wizard in everyone. That magic’s real power was in belief. That every spell began, ‘I believe, I believe, I believe'” (92-3).


Does belief work like that?

I generally agree that if you think something’s possible, it’s more likely to happen (with hard work, too). I’m not entirely sure why I think that, other than if you expect something to happen and really believe it, it has a higher chance of actualizing in reality because it’s already taken for granted that it will be. 

But does it make sense to prop that up as an ideology?

I’m thinking of depression or anxiety or other types of neuro-divergent cases where it isn’t always easy to just pick yourself up and work. 

But is there a difference between doing and believing? Or more specifically, belief does not equal positivism. Like do you have to always feel good or motivated to believe? If you believe in a certain outcome, even if you stagnate and feel terrible, in the ideology of Ombric’s magic, would the magic of belief still work?

Or maybe trying to make sense of a children’s book’s presentation of belief for an adult is silly. And yet, there’s a part of me that still believes in what the Guardians of Childhood are about. I still believe, somehow.

Anyway, Ombric’s magic ideology works here; his broken staff is re-fused, Ombric returns and the bear returns to life. It’s a bit sad that the bear’s “fur was now as white as a cloud” (94). We don’t need any more correlations between white and goodness. We’ve got enough for black/dark and danger.

That settled, it’s time to heal North.

It takes time to recover and as he does, he’s struggles with the new way he’s seen, especially by Katherine. While he insists that he’s a bandit and a thief who only came to steal from them, “Katherine broke through. ‘But you were also our hero.’ She looked at him with more strength and purpose than he thought any child was capable of” (103).

And typing this now, I just realized that since Katherine’s strength is her stories (and considering what happens near the end), it’s possible to think that her views or how she speaks them has a powerful effect on people. What she believes North to be is what he will become.

What’s equally touching about this little connection is that North’s previous loneliness growing up is brought to the fore, as the story gets deeper into his character:

“There was something in their faces that he was barely beginning to fathom. Something he had never seen before: kindness. And though he fought it, he was soothed. His pain eased. Not just the pain of battle wounds, but the wounds he’d always ignored — the deep, lonely hurt of a loveless life” (103).

Suddenly his previous lack of love, lack of family, and lack of notice (remember he was forgotten) is slowly being healed in this new environment. And I actually think this is a stunningly subtle nod to North’s development. Once he recovers, he still retains his reckless, headstrong nature, but he’s changed, just a little. Having people care about him, especially Katherine has changed him.

On that note, I wonder if his loneliness/want to be loved from when he was young effects his reasons for gift-giving and the sense of joy/wonder he brings to children. Like he brings gifts not necessarily because children are good, but because he knows what it’s like to feel unwanted and the wondrous changes that occur when someone cares about you.

In particular, North and Katherine grow to be quite close because of the relatability between them. Initially, “[h]er steady kindness to North was his greatest comfort and worse torment. He saw himself in her. He knew what it was like to be lost. And this haunted him” (104).

For Katherine has no parents either, just like North. She’s a foundling being raised by Ombric, making her a reminder of North’s own childhood.

Realizing this,

“he seemed to redraw even further. North saw within the child’s serious gray eyes a need, a hope, a wish he’d fought since he could remember.

To have a friend

His life had been so hard and ruthless. Friendship meant trusting someone, and that was a luxury he had never enjoyed” (104-5).

And what’s great is that his response makes sense. He would be cautious. He’s not going to change his entire ideology in the blink of an eye.

But North does accept Katherine as a friend, and I love North’s rationale behind his decision: “What danger could this little girl possibly pose? She wasn’t a Cossack or a thief. She was just a lonely little girl” (105).

This perfectly encapsulates a way of thinking that would make sense for North. Katherine isn’t a threat, so his usual approach and wariness toward trusting others is negated.

Basically I love North’s characterization.

While North is healing, there’s an interesting look into the spectral boy’s point of view. He sees things as good or bad. There’s no room for a mixing or grayness. I mostly think this is important since it shows off how he conceptualizes the world. He has a very simplistic view of the world.

Also of interest and very importance, is this little tidbit about how “[t]he boy thawed the tiny fragment of goodness that still lived in Pitch and kept his evil frozen, unable to act” (107).

And in the same way Ombric and Katherine are growing fond of North, the spectral boy is developing a friendly fondness for Katherine and North, too.



no words

Book Quote:

“He liked North a great deal. He was brave and strong and always kind to Small Ones” (108). Small Ones are what the spectral boy calls children.

Works Cited:

Joyce, William and Laura Geringer. Nicholas St. North and the Battle of the Nightmare King. New York: Atheneum Books, 2011. Print.


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