Nicholas St. North and the Battle of the Nightmare King

Illustrated by William Joyce
(Book #1 of The Guardians)
About The Book

Don't miss The Rise of the Guardians, soon to be a major motion picture in theaters November 2012.

Before SANTA was SANTA, he was North, Nicholas St. North—a daredevil swordsman whose prowess with double scimitars was legendary. Like any swashbuckling young warrior, North seeks treasure and adventure, leading him to the fiercely guarded village of Santoff Claussen, said to be home to the greatest treasure in all the East, and to an even greater wizard, Ombric Shalazar. But when North arrives, legends of riches have given way to terrors of epic proportions! North must decide whether to seek his fortune…or save the village.

When our rebellious hero gets sucked into the chaos (literally), the fight becomes very personal. The Nightmare King and his evil Fearlings are ruling the night, owning the shadows, and sending waves of fear through all of Santoff Clausen. For North, this is a battle worth fighting...and, he’s not alone. There are five other Guardians out there. He only has to find them in time.

Chapter One

In Which The Great War
Is Renewed

THE BATTLE OF THE Nightmare King began on a moonlit night long ago. In the quiet town of Tangle-wood, a small boy and his smaller sister woke with a start. Like most children (and some adults at one time or another), they were afraid of the dark. They each slowly sat up in bed, clutching their covers around themselves like a shield. Too fearful to rise and light a candle, the boy pushed aside the curtains and peered out the window, looking for the only other light to be seen during these long-ago nights—the Moon. It was there, full and bright.

At that moment a young moonbeam shot down from the sky and through the window. Like all beams, it had a mission: Protectthe children.

The moonbeam glowed its very hardest, which seemed to comfort the two. One, then the other, breathed a sleepy sigh and lay back down. In a few moments they were once again asleep. The moonbeam scanned the room. All was safe. There was nothing there but shadows. But the beam sensed something beyond the room, beyond the cabin. Something, somewhere, wasn’t right. The beam ricocheted off the small glass mirror above the children’s chest of drawers and out the window.

It flashed through the village, then into the surrounding forest of pine and hemlock, flickering from icicle to icicle. Startling bats and surprising owls, it followed the old snow-covered Indian trail to the darkest part of the deep woods—a place the settlers feared and rarely ventured. Like a searchlight, the beam shot out into the darkness until it found a cave.

Strange rocks, curling like melted wax, framed the yawning mouth of the cavern. The cave was thick with shadows that seemed to breathe like living things. In all its travels, the beam had never seen anything so ominous.

The moonbeam wavered and then—not sure if it was being brave or foolish—dropped down, following the shadows into the pit below.

The darkness seemed to go on and on forever. Finally, the moonbeam came to a stagnant pool. Black water reflected its glow, dimly lighting the cave. And there, in the center of the pool, stood a giant figure. He was denser and even darker than the shadows that surrounded him. Still as a statue, he wore a long cloak as inky as an oil seep. The moonbeam scanned the figure slowly, cautiously. When it reached his eyes, they opened! The figure was awake!

The shadows began writhing about at the feet of the figure, their low drone filling the air. They grew, crashing against the cave walls like waves against a ragged jetty. But they weren’t shadows at all! They were creatures—creatures that no child or Moon messenger had seen for centuries. And the moon-beam knew at once: It was surrounded by Fearlings and Nightmare Men—slaves of the Nightmare King!

The moonbeam paled and faltered. Perhaps it should have given up and fl ed back to the Moon. If it had, this story would never have been told. But the moonbeam did not flee. Inching closer, it realized that the phantom figure was the one all moon-beams had been taught to watch for: It was Pitch, the King of Nightmares! He had been pierced through the heart, a diamond-like dagger holding him pinned against a mound of ebony marble. Warily, the moon-beam crept closer still, grazing against the weapon’s crystal hilt.

But light does not go around crystal, it goes through it, and suddenly, the beam was sucked into the blade! Twisting from side to side, the moonbeam was pulled on a jagged course to the blade’s tip. It was trapped, suspended in Pitch’s frozen, glassy heart. Pitch’s chest began to glow from within as the moonbeam ricocheted about in a frenzy, desperate to escape. It was terrifyingly cold there—colder even than the darkest regions of space. But the moonbeam was not alone. There, just beyond the edge of the blade, in the farthest recesses of the phantom figure’s heart, it could see the spectral shape of a tiny elfin child curled tight. A boy? Hesitantly, the beam illuminated the child’s head.

That little ray of light was all it took; the spectral boy began to grow. He burst forth from Pitch’s chest joyfully, free at last! The moonbeam was thrown from side to side as the boy, with one quick tug, wrenched the radiant dagger from the cold heart that had trapped him. Bearing the blade aloft, with the moon-beam still caught inside lighting the way, the boy shot like a rocket straight up and out of the cursed cave and into the starry night. By the time his feet hit the snowy ground, he looked every bit like a real boy, if a real boy could be carved out of mist and light and miraculously brought to life.

Freed from the dagger’s impaling, Pitch began to grow as well, rising like a living tower of coal. Swelling to a monstrous size, he followed the boy’s illuminated trail to the surface.

Looking wildly up at the sky, Pitch sniffed the air in ecstasy. With one shrug and a toss of his midnight cloak, he blotted out the Moon. He crouched down and dug his fingers into the earth, letting the scents of the surrounding forest reach into his searching brain. He was ravenous, overwhelmed by a fiery hunger that burned him from within.

Breathing deeply, he trolled the winter wind for the prize he coveted, the tender meal he had craved even beyond freedom all those endless years of imprisonment down below: the good dreams of innocent children. He would turn those dreams into nightmares—every last one—till every child on Earth lived in terror. For that’s how Pitch intended to exact his revenge upon all those who had dared imprison him!

As glorious thoughts of revenge filled Pitch’s mind, they ignited around him a cloud of sulfurous black. The cloud seeped upward from the seemingly bottomless pit of the cave. From that vapor, hurtling in all directions at once, came the shadow creatures— the Fearlings and Nightmare Men—thousands of them, horrendously shrieking. Like giant bats, they glided over the forest and beyond, invading the dreams of all who slept nearby.

By now the moonbeam was frantic. It had found Pitch! The Evil One! It had to return to the Moon and report back to Tsar Lunar! But it remembered the sleeping children back in their cabin. What if the Fearlings went after them? How could the moonbeam help if it was still trapped inside the diamond dagger? The beam bucked and strained, guiding the boy, who skittered along, light as air, back through the town, back to the small children’s window. They skidded to a stop.

The spectral boy pulled himself up onto the windowsill. As he peered in at the children, somewhere in his heart an ancient memory or remembrance stirred of a sleeping baby and a distant lullaby. But the memory dissolved almost as soon as it appeared, leaving him feeling deeply and unexpectedly sad.

Something dark flashed past the boy and into the children’s room. Suddenly, two Fearlings hovered and twisted in midair above the sleeping brother and sister who turned restlessly, clutching at their quilts. Instinctually, the spectral boy leaped off the windowsill and snatched a broken tree branch from the ground, attaching the diamond dagger to its end. He aimed his gleaming weapon at the window.

The Fearlings shrunk back from the light, but they did not disappear. So, for the second time that evening, the moonbeam glowed with all its might. The brightness was now too much for the Fearlings. With a low moan, they twined and curled, then vanished, as if they had never been there at all.

The children rolled over and nestled into their pillows with a smile.

And after seeing those smiles, the spectral boy laughed.

Up on the Moon, however, there was no cause for laughter. Tsar Lunar—the one we call the Man in the Moon—was on high alert. Something was amiss. Each night he sent thousands of moonbeams down to Earth. And each night they returned and made their reports. If they were still bright, all was well. But if they were darkened or tarnished from their travels, Tsar Lunar would know that the children of Earth needed his help.

For a millennium all had been well and the moon-beams had returned as brightly as they had ventured forth. But now, one moonbeam had not returned.

And for the first time in a very long time, Tsar Lunar felt an ancient dread.

© 2011 William Joyce
Reading Group Guide
                         A Reading Group Guide to  

Nicholas St. North and the Battle of the Nightmare
King (
part of the Guardians series)

by William Joyce and Laura Geringer

Discussion Questions

1.  What does Ombric mean when he says, “To understand pretending is to conquer all barriers of time and space?” Is there any practical use for this saying in our own society? If so, who would use it and why? If not, why not?

2.  Ombric wanted a village that seemed impossible. Discuss with the group their image of an impossible village.
3.  What are some characteristics of a wizard? How does Ombric compare to the list?

4.  What are nightmares? Have your group members ever experienced one? What did they do to stop the nightmare? How do they make themselves feel safe at night? Does anyone use a night-light?

5.  One of the major themes in this story is good versus bad. Is there any such thing as absolute good or absolute bad? Are people born good or bad? Is goodness or badness something they learn?

6.  Pitch wants to capture the good dreams of innocent children and turn them into nightmares. How does one protect oneself from having a nightmare?

7.  What was your first impression of Ombric the Wizard upon reading the description of him and his talents, such as turning lead into gold, being able to walk through walls, his invention of time, and being able to stop time? Of all of Ombric’s fantastical talents, which one would you wish to possess and why?

8.  Santoff Claussen was an enlightened village where no one would laugh at anyone who dreamed of what was possible. Why was this so important to Ombric? Do places such as Santoff Claussen exist? Was the author suggesting Santoff Claussen was a village free of bullies?

9.  Santoff Claussen has several defenses to protect the village from outsiders who wish to do harm or to steal their treasures. Discuss the various ways Ombric attempted to protect his village from harm.

10.  It was learned that Pitch was originally a hero during the Golden Age because he captured the Fearlings and their ilk. He even valiantly guarded the prison. He becomes possessed by the evil shadows. In reality, is it possible for someone who is good to become evil? Is it possible for the same person to be redeemed? Are there various shades of good and evil?

11.  Pitch’s strength was dependent upon the amount of light around him. The darker it was, the more evil he became. In the daylight he was forced to retreat. What is it about light that affects Pitch?

12.  How does the spectral boy interact with Pitch? What is it about him that makes Pitch despise him more than everyone else?

13.   What is so special about laughter?

14.   Is the Spirit of the Forest really a good spirit? By turning visitors whom she deems unkind and ignoble into stone to protect the village, she then prevents them from ever being able to change their ways. Is this spirit implying that if one has an impure heart it can never be redeemed? What about Pitch, who had a pure heart but turned evil: Will he never be able to return to his old self? Are people either good or bad? Can a person be both good and bad at the same time?

15.  Does anyone see the irony of the Fearlings whispering for a breath of fresh air when there is no air in space?

16.  Prince Lunar has never had a nightmare. Since he has never had a nightmare, why does it mean so much to him to protect children from having any? Does he know what he is trying to protect them from?

17.  If one doesn’t experience unpleasant situations and events, how can one understand when things are good? Is it necessary to have the bad so one can understand the good?

18.  When the children of Santoff Claussen were surrounded by the shadows, William attempted to scare them away by increasing the amount of light. Why didn’t his action work?

19.  Ombric provided cookies, chocolate, and warm cocoa to comfort the frightened children. Why do you think he chose these particular items? What do you do to calm yourself down after experiencing a scary event?

20.  North has a special place in his heart for children. He feels a need to protect them. How has North’s own childhood affected his perception of his role as protector?

21.  When the village’s bear attacked the children, Pitch had already trapped the parents in their sleep so they could not come to the children’s defense. What fantastical method do you believe Pitch used to trap the parents?

22.  After Ombric was eaten by the bear and his staff broken, Katherine remembered Ombric’s first lesson. What was that lesson? Discuss other stories that also use this lesson.

23.  North’s horse Petrov saves North from the hypnotic effects of the Spirit of the Forest. Petrov rears up and slams his hooves against the ground. This action draws North’s attention from the treasure and towards the screams from the village children. Only those with a pure heart are able to enter the village. Who had the pure heart—Petrov, North, or both? Can animals have pure hearts?

24.  How did the Man in the Moon know North would respond to the story dream the moonbeam transmitted to North while he was sleeping? Why was North chosen to assist the villagers of Santoff Claussen?

25.   Is there any significance to the resurrection of the giant bear with his wounds gone and his fur as white as snow?

26.  How could Katherine’s steady kindness to North be his greatest comfort and yet at the same time be his worst torment?

27.  There are many different types of friendships in this story. Have the group discuss the friendships between Ombric and the Man in the Moon, Katherine and Ombric, Katherine and North, Pitch and the Fearlings, spectral boy and Moonbeam, and North and Petrov. What does friendship mean? Are there any similarities between these relationships?

28.  Discuss the spectral boy and his simplified understanding of good and bad. Riding clouds was good but Fearlings and Nightmare Men were bad. Did his age and his life experiences have anything to do with his understanding of good and bad?

29.  Discuss with the group which character in the story experienced the most growth in character? Have the group provide examples from the story to support their statements.

30.  Ombric’s telling of The Story of The Golden Age was printed on black paper with white lettering. What do you believe was the reason for this change?

31.  North has problems making friends. Friendship requires trust. Why was it so hard for North to trust anyone? Who was able to befriend him? How did this person succeed?

32.  Ombric states, “Knowledge without wisdom can get a bit messy.” He was referring to North’s attempts at experiments in the lab. What does he mean by this statement? Is it safe or foolhardy to plunge into an experiment without knowing what the results will be?

33.  North’s ability to entertain the children of the village with his stories worked as a tonic for the frightened children. Besides the soothing effect of the stories, was there any other purpose for the storytelling? What is the purpose of stories?

34.  When the djinni asked, “What is your command?” what would you ask it to do? Is there a downside to having one’s own djinni? What would it be?

35.  The djinni misinterprets North’s saying of “Good night, Djinni” as a command. Think of other examples of everyday sayings that the djinni might misinterpret.

36.  Compare and contrast the djinni to robots with artificial intelligence that exist today.

37.  A compass will always point to north. What is the difference between North’s present to Katherine and a regular compass?

38.  When Katherine set out to rescue North and Ombric, what methods and items did she use?

39.  The strength of friendship between Katherine and the spectral boy was very strong. He willingly risked his life to keep her safe. Katherine willingly risked her life to save North and Ombric. Compare the strength of friendship to the control of fear. Which one is stronger?

40.  Katherine makes a drawing of North and depicts him as grander than life and as having an important place in the world. North is surprised by this depiction of himself. Does Katherine’s drawing change North’s perception of himself and what he will do with his life?

41.  Katherine’s drawing of North, which was placed inside djinni, commands a strong power. Why can’t Pitch, inside djinni’s body, harm North?

42.  Who is the spectral boy, and what is his real name? Who has been waiting for his appearance?

43.  What is the significance of the gong that the Luna Lumas own?

44.  The weapons the Abominable Snowmen used to fight Pitch and the Fearlings were forged from the dust of fallen stars. What is so important about the composition of these weapons?

45.  Ombric says, “A daydream properly utilized can be the most powerful force in the universe. One need only dream of freedom to begin to break the spell of enslavement.” Compare this belief in this story to events in our world where the dream of freedom helped escape enslavement.

46.  Katherine, who collects stories, wishes to ride on the back of a Great Snow Goose from the Himalayas. What other character in literature also enjoys riding on the back of a goose?

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Guide prepared by Lynn Dobson, librarian at East Brookfield Elementary School, East Brookfield, MA.

This reading group guide has been provided by Simon & Schuster for classroom, library, and reading group use. It may be reproduced in its entirety or excerpted for these purposes.

About The Authors
photograph (c) Tony Reans

William Joyce does a lot of stuff but children’s books are his true bailiwick (The Guardians, Dinosaur Bob, George Shrinks, and the #1 New York Times bestselling The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, which is also his Academy Award–winning short film, to name a few). He lives in Shreveport, Louisiana. Talk to William Joyce and look at upcoming work at @HeyBillJoyce on Twitter and Instagram.

Laura Geringer is the author of many highly acclaimed books for children and young adults, including the celebrated A Three Hat Day illustrated by Arnold Lobel; Myth Men, a popular series of graphic novels based on the classic Greek myths; and Sign of the Qin, Book l of the Outlaws of Moonshadow Marsh series, an ALA Best Book for Young Adults; and Boom, Boom Go Away illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline. She serves on the National Advisory Board of First Book, a charity that has distributed over seventy million books to children in need. Laura lives in New York City.


About The Illustrators
photograph (c) Tony Reans

William Joyce does a lot of stuff but children’s books are his true bailiwick (The Guardians, Dinosaur Bob, George Shrinks, and the #1 New York Times bestselling The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, which is also his Academy Award–winning short film, to name a few). He lives in Shreveport, Louisiana. Talk to William Joyce and look at upcoming work at @HeyBillJoyce on Twitter and Instagram.

Product Details
  • Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers (October 2011)
  • Length: 240 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781442430488
  • Grades: 2 - 6
  • Ages: 7 - 11
  • Lexile ® 850L ? The Lexile reading levels have been certified by the Lexile developer, MetaMetrics®

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