Northern Lights / Golden Compass Word Crawl

The new His Dark Materials TV series started today! But that’s no excuse to shirk our writing duties… especially if, like me, you’re currently engaged in writing 50,000 words a month for NaNoWriMo!

Complete this word crawl to enjoy Northern Lights (and your own story) in a new light…

The Secret Commonwealth & Lyra's Oxford

What is a word crawl?

A word crawl is a succinct narrative with embedded writing prompts.

Many word crawls take existing stories, and reformat them for fans to enjoy. They can be great motivation to get a lot of writing done!

Word crawls seem to have emerged in the NaNoWriMo forums, and the first recorded word crawl is this Word crawl/Pub Crawl by Emmylou.

You can find some popular perennial word crawls here. I drew inspiration for this crawl from the Extreme Harry Potter Word Crawls by my little bird.

Northern Lights Word Crawl

WARNING: Contains SPOILERS for Northern Lights (US: The Golden Compass) by Sir Philip Pullman.

DIFFICULTY: Intermediate
Click here for a TRACKING SPREADSHEET (File > Make a copy to use)
Skipping a step costs 1 gold coin.


Your mother sends you on an errand to the Jordan College kitchens, and as you’re waiting around, you decide to try and find Lyra. Write 300 words as you look for her.

  • If you finish in 1-5 minutes, you must be a COLLEGER. You know your way around.
  • If you finish in 5-10 minutes, you must be a TOWNIE. You’ve been in the College once or twice.
  • If you finish in over 10 minutes, you must be a GYPTIAN. You’re not from around here.

PART 1: OXFORD

  1. Lyra’s convinced you to sneak into the Retiring Room with her. You’re just looking around at the portraits when you suddenly hear voices outside the door. Write for 1 minute as you sprint to a hiding place before the door opens and the Master of Jordan College enters, closely followed by the butler.
  2. ‘I told you this was a bad idea,’ your daemon whispers, as you and Lyra crouch behind two armchairs. You secretly agree, but you weren’t about to look like a coward in front of your friend. Write 200 words as you try to think of excuses to save yourself if you’re discovered.
  3. You’re so distracted that at first you don’t realise what the Master’s doing. Then you and Lyra share a fearful look. Isn’t that the tokay the Master ordered for Lord Asriel? Why is he secretly putting some powder into it? The Master finally leaves. Word war for 5 minutes as you and Lyra argue about what to do next.
  4. Lyra has the last say in the matter, as usual. You both hide in the wardrobe just as the steward enters, followed, in a few moments, by Lord Asriel. You’ve never seen Lyra’s powerful uncle so close, and you’re terrified that he’s going to find and punish you. Lyra stops Lord Asriel drinking the tokay and saves his life. He’s furious, but he gives you each a gold coin and orders you to keep quiet and watch the Master. Write for 30 minutes as you watch Lord Asriel’s presentation.
  5. You soon fall asleep. Lord Asriel wakes you and Lyra, and you say a sleepy ‘good night’. Write 100 words as you walk back home, and face your mother’s displeasure.
  6. A few days later, you, Lyra and Roger are playing kids and Gobblers, and Lord Asriel and the expiring Tartars. Word war for 10 minutes as you try to convince Lyra to let you play as her uncle.
  7. You don’t see Lyra again until the day of the horse fair, when you hear Ma Costa yelling at a man. Billy Costa has been kidnapped. Write for 1 hour as you search for him. If you’re a GYPTIAN, you’re called to help set up the fair, so you can skip this step.
  8. You can’t find Billy, but Ma Costa gives you a gold coin for your help. You go in search of Lyra. She once let you pay for the privilege of playing with her on the roof of Jordan College, and now you want to convince her to let you into the catacombs that she’s been telling you about. 
But as you round a corner, you run straight into a beautiful young woman with a golden monkey. Flustered, you apologise, and tell her that you’re looking for your friend, Lyra. The lovely woman knows Lyra; she’ll help you find her. Write for 10 minutes or to 300 words as you search for Lyra together.
  9. You can’t find Lyra. The lady with the golden monkey asks you if you’d like to stay for some dinner. She has an invitation to dine with the Master of Jordan College, but she tells you that you’re welcome to stay in her rooms in the meantime. You can smell the food already. It smells a lot better than your mum’s cooking. You daemon flutters around you in the form of a nervous, little bird. But why resist such a kind, and gentle woman? Write to the next 1000 words as you stuff yourself full.
  10. You wake up groggy and disoriented. Your daemon is nudging you, and whispering urgently, ‘wake up, wake up!’ Write for 5 minutes as you try to get your bearings.
  11. You realise you’re in a little cabin. A zeppelin cabin. You’ve never been on a zeppelin before. You’re torn between excitement and terror. When did you get on? Why is the door locked? Where is the lovely lady with the monkey daemon? Roll a die and multiply it by 10 minutes for how long you have to wait… and write!
  12. Someone finally unlocks the door, but it isn’t the woman with the monkey daemon… it’s just her servant from the evening before, bringing you food. He tells you that Mrs. Coulter is busy, but that she’s taking you to see Lyra in London. Why is Lyra in London? The servant can’t say. Write as many words as the last 3 digits of your word count as you and your daemon try to unravel the mystery.
  13. You arrive in London, and the servant takes you to a warehouse. You’re properly suspicious now, but then Mrs. Coulter stands before you in all her loveliness, and you’re embarrassed to have ever doubted her. ‘You don’t want to be left behind, do you?’ she asks. ‘Lyra’s already there, waiting for you.’ You hand her the letter you’ve written to your mother, and she kisses you on the forehead. Write 250 words as you board the steamer north.

PART 2: BOLVANGAR

  1. There’s always something to do at Bolvangar, but you dislike the experiments, and you feel a growing sense of guilt that your mother will be unhappy without you. Word war with yourself for 10 minutes (try to beat your word count from 1/6) as you and Roger eat breakfast in glum silence in the noisy canteen.
  2. Suddenly, your daemon, who had been sitting at your feet as a torpid dormouse, turns into a squirrel and jumps into your lap, chasing its tail in excitement. Roger’s daemon, Salcilia has spotted Lyra in the queue. Lyra! Your heart leaps when you see her. How you’ve missed her haughty look of disdain! Write to the next 100 words as you try to hide your excitement.
  3. You want to shout out with joy, but you manage to contain your excitement and not attract attention. Lyra sits at a table with some girls. Write 1000 words as you spend the rest of the morning trying to find a way to talk to her.
  4. Finally, at lunchtime, you, Lyra, Billy, and Roger sit together. Roger informs the group of his discover: the ceiling boards can be lifted! You can tell Lyra’s planning something, but before you can ask her, a man announces something about a fire drill, and then you have to go off to class. Write for 30 minutes as you daydream about how you and Lyra save all of the children from Bolvangar. If you’re a COLLEGER, you’ve sat in on enough classes to skip this step.
  5. The fire alarm goes off, and a nurse tells your class to put on your cold weather things, and to follow her outside in orderly fashion. You soon spot Lyra, Billy, and Roger, and run to join them. Lyra starts a snowball fight. Write 200 words as you follow her, admiring her ingenuity.
  6. You find a squat, windowless building, disconnected from the rest of the complex. Just as Lyra’s about to attempt the door, a witch daemon flies down to talk to her. You want to look inside the building, but Lyra tells you to go and keep watch. Word war for 10 minutes as you keep an eye out for grown-ups.
  7. Lyra joins you just in time. The Bolvangar staff have almost got the children under control again. ‘Pass the word around among all the kids,’ says Lyra. ‘They got to be ready to escape. They got to know where the outdoor clothes are and be ready to get them and run out as soon as I give the signal. And they got to keep this a deadly secret, understand?’ You nod, vigourously. Whatever Lyra needs you to do, you’ll do.  Write to the nearest 100 words as you start spreading the word about the fire drill.
  8. You hear the engine of a zeppelin overhead. It’s Mrs. Coulter, arriving to oversee operations. You’ve been away from her enchanting influence long enough to know that she tricked you. ‘We should never have spoken to her in the first place. Mum’s going to be furious,’ says your daemon. ‘Hopefully she’ll just be glad to see us,’ you reply. Write for 10 minutes as you file inside.
  9. You can’t sleep. After the bedroom checks, you sneak out and begin roaming the corridors. You can always pretend you were sleepwalking — you and your daemon have pulled that off before. Rounding a corner, you see a girl being carried away by three men. One of them is holding the girl’s daemon… With a shiver you recognise Lyra and Pantalaimon. Your daemon leaps into your arms and you hug it tight. Write 200 words as you follow the men secretly, staying out of sight.
  10. The men take Lyra into a room, and before you can run in after them, they’ve shut and locked the door. You hammer against the door, but to no avail. You have to help your friend! You have a deep fear of what they’re planning to do to her. As you and your daemon frantically try to think what to do, you notice someone cross the corridor further ahead. It’s Mrs. Coulter’s manservant! Write 150 words as you follow him to her room.
  11. ‘Mrs. Coulter!’ you yell, bursting into her room in the wake of the servant. She looks up at you, an expression of astonishment and anger playing across her face. You can’t believe you once thought her angelic. Your daemon is terrified of the golden monkey, but you have to try and save Lyra. Surely Mrs. Coulter can’t be aware of what goes on in this place… surely she wouldn’t let children be… be… ‘They’re going to kill one of the children!’ you cry. ‘You have to help her. Three men took her into this room, and they’re going to… they’re going to cut her!’ Mrs. Coulter still looks angry, but she follows you. Write for 5 minutes as you lead her, as fast as you can, to Lyra.
  12. Mrs. Coulter saves Lyra just in time, and carries her away to her room. You want to follow, but one of the men collars you. ‘Come here, you little troublemaker,’ he says, snarling. Attempt to write 1000 words in 30 minutes as you try to free yourself from his and his daemon’s grasp. If you succeed, you can skip the next two steps.
  13. If you fail, he locks you in a room full of shelves of cleaning supplies. You have to write 300 words as you and your daemon hammer on the door, yelling for help.
  14. No one comes to your aid. You slump on the floor, feeling defeated. Would Lyra be safe now, with Mrs. Coulter? ‘She’ll take care of herself. She’s smart,’ says your daemon. ‘Yeah,’ you say, wiping away a tear. Then a thought occurs to you… ‘the ceiling!’ Repeat a step of your choice as you clamber up one of the shelves, and push a ceiling panel loose.
  15. You pull yourself into the ceiling space, and crawl along in the direction in which you hope the dormitories lie. Write to the nearest 100 words as your daemon scouts out the corridor below.
  16. Just as you’re lifting the ceiling panel that’s directly above your bed, the fire alarm sounds. The other children in your dormitory wake up, and rub their eyes. ‘Come on,’ says your daemon. You jump down, bouncing on your bed, and having satisfaction of hearing a couple of bed slats snap under your weight. Roll a die and write for 10 times the number of minutes, as you scramble to get your warm weather gear, and run outside with the other children.
  17. Your daemon becomes a hawk to see better, and you soon find Lyra and Roger.  You’re terrified by the Tartar guard and their wolf daemons, but Lyra shouts for you to throw snowballs at their visors. Your daemon becomes a swift, and nudges the snowballs you hurl straight into the Tartar’s eyes. Word war for 15 minutes as you continue the assault.
  18. Lyra urges you all on through the driving snow. Your daemon changes into an arctic fox and nestles into your coat to keep you warm. You keep walking into the dark cold until you forget what it felt like to be warm, and almost long to return to Bolvangar, now engulfed in fire. ‘Lyra’ll get us to safety,’ your daemon assures you, poking its head out of your coat. ‘Don’t worry. Just keep walking.’ Write for 30 minutes as you trudge on through the snow.
  19. Up ahead, as if in a dream, you see teams of sled dogs. It’s the gyptians come to your rescue! Then Mrs. Coulter is there, trying to pull Lyra away. Word war with yourself for 10 minutes (try to beat your word count from 2/6) as you and Roger try to fight Mrs. Coulter and the monkey daemon.
  20. Suddenly, you’re yanked up into the air as a witch grabs hold of you and lifts you up on her pine branch. In a few moments you find yourself deposited by a hot air balloon, alongside Lyra and Roger. The aëronaut orders you to jump inside, and you follow your friends over the side, shortly followed by the giant bulk of Iorek Byrnison. Write to the end of the scene as the witches let go of the lines holding the balloon down, and you take off on your first balloon flight.

PART 3: SVALBARD

  1. You wake to a terrible sound, as the balloon lurches and you fall into the arms of the giant polar bear. Cliff ghasts are attacking the balloon. Write the last 3 digits of your word count as you hold on for dear life.
  2. You and Lyra are flung out of the basket, and land in a snow bank. Write for 15 minutes as you search for the balloon.
  3. A bear appears out of the mist… but it isn’t Iorek Byrnison. Write 200 words as you and Lyra are marched to the bear king’s palace on Svalbard… as prisoners. You know no one ever escapes Svalbard, and your daemon shivers at the shared thought.
  4. You and Lyra are placed in the dungeon. Your daemon follows Pantalaimon’s example and becomes a firefly to shed some light in the dark cell, but there isn’t much to see. Write for 5 minutes as Lyra reads the alethiometer.
  5. Lyra learns that Iorek intends to rescue her (and hopefully you too). You’re both startled when a man’s voice calls, ‘eh? eh? Who is that? Speak up! Speak up!’ In the dim light cast by the two firefly daemons, you see an old man dressed in rags. Lyra talks to him, and you marvel at the way she’s able to extract information out of the mad, old professor. Word war to 300 words as you and Lyra sit in the dark, brooding.
  6. Lyra has a plan, but won’t tell you what it is. ‘I’ll get you out of here, don’t worry,’ she whispers, before one of the bear guards leads her away. ‘This is worse than Bolvangar,’ you murmur to your daemon, as you curl up together, as far from Professor Santelia as possible. Write 1000 words while you wait… and wait.
  7. After several hours you hear the distant sounds of bear roars, and then, very distinctly, you hear the cries of, ‘Iorek Byrnison!’ The great bear must have arrived. Half an hour later, a bear comes to set you free. He leads you, the Professor, and several other prisoners to the combat-ground. There’s Lyra! You run and embrace her. Write for 5 minutes as she tells you all that’s happened.
  8. You and Lyra curl up for a nap, but when you wake, you’re alone. You find her sitting with Roger, eating seal blubber. It looks disgusting, but you’re very hungry, so you join in. Write to the nearest 500 words as you eat.
  9. Lyra talks to Iorek. A young bear hands you and Roger a gold coin as a token of the new bear king’s thanks. Write for 10 minutes as you and Roger help the former prisoners build a shelter out of driftwood and canvas. If you’re a TOWNIE, you know how to make yourself scarce when there’s hard labour involved, so you can skip this step.
  10. You, Lyra, and Roger all ride polar bears to Lord Asriel’s prison on Svalbard. Prison? More like mansion! It’s not at all what you expected. You remember the last time you met Lyra’s formidable uncle, back in the Retiring Room at Jordan. Will he still be angry with you? Surely he’ll let you stay when you tell him how you saved Lyra from those men in Bolvangar? Write for 5 minutes as you dismount and walk up to the mansion.
  11. Lord Asriel’s manservant answers the door, and you, Lyra, and Roger tumble inside. Lord Asriel doesn’t seem too happy to see his niece, but you’re too intoxicated by the warmth and comfort around you to care. Write to the next 100 words as you enjoy a hot bath and supper.

You wake up in the middle of the night. The house is quiet, and you’re not sure what woke you, but you’re filled with a sense of dread. ‘Lyra? Roger?’ you call. There’s no answer. Outside, the northern lights are shimmering and waving as if they’re falling out of the sky. ‘Look!’ your daemon says, in an awe-struck whisper. You gaze into the aurora, and see a city… just like the one in the photogram in the Retiring Room.

Congratulations! You’ve completed the Northern Lights word crawl. If you’re interested in seeing a crawl for The Subtle Knife, let me know on Twitter or Instagram! :)

Alethiometer Cards

You can also…

  1. Download and print your own alethiometer cards.
  2. You can create your own word crawl with this worksheet.
  3. Read a case study of Northern Lights in the One Page Novel course.
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