Lee Scoresby is an expert balloonist.
Lee Scoresby is a skilled "aeronaut" balloonist from the country of Texas. In regards to Scoresby's name, Philip Pullman says: "Lee Scoresby comes from two sources. One is the actor Lee Van Cleef, who looks just like the character. And the other is the name of an Arctic explorer, William Scoresby."
His exact age can only be approximated, as no precise reference is given, but makes an observation when suddenly faced by his mother's ring: "I ain't seen that ring in forty years!" He is 24 in 'once upon a time in the north' and in the same book it says "he looked after [the winchester] well for the rest of his life, and 35 years later, the Winchester was in his hands when he died". That makes him 59 when he died.
Lee is an old Arctic hand, and extremely skilled with his balloons. He is sharp with a gun, though nonviolent. He is intelligent, and a bit of a mercenary, though with consistent ethics. His dream is to sell his balloons and buy a ranch back in Texas.
American cowboy icon Sam Elliott plays Lee Scoresby in the film adaptation of Northern Lights/The Golden Compass. Pullman has, as with all of the actors in the film, expressed satisfaction with Elliot's casting.
Lee's best friend is the armored bear Iorek Byrnison. They fought together, and he once saved Iorek's life.
Lee (and his dæmon, Hester the hare) pledge their support to John Faa and the Gyptians on a mission to destroy Bolvangar and save its captive children. He is delighted to learn that Iorek has been hired too.
As the Gyptians finish destroying Bolvangar, Mrs. Coulter attacks with some Tartars to capture her daughter, Lyra. Lee rescues Iorek from another part of the battle, and is just in time to save Lyra and Roger Parslow from Mrs Coulter. The four, helped by witches, escape.
On this journey, Lee expresses his concern to Serafina Pekkala, the clan-queen of the witches of Lake Enara, about the whole situation. He is worried about the war which he is about to be caught up in, and unsure who he will side with - indeed, who are the sides. However, he promises loyalty to Lyra. He is disturbed by the witches' idea of destiny.
The party is attacked by cliff ghasts. Lyra falls out of the balloon, and Iorek and Roger go to rescue her as soon as the balloon can be put down. As Lee floats with the witches, Lord Asriel tears the path into another world open. Buffeted by winds, Lee and the witches are swept far away, but manage to regroup for a witch council. Lee is given the unique privilege of joining it.
Lee informs Serafina and the others that he has heard of an object which can protect the bearer. A mysterious
professor called Grumman knows of its whereabouts. Lee intends to seek out Grumman and then take the object (the Subtle Knife) to Lyra.
On his mission, he is forced to kill a servant of the Church. He takes his ring, which can command some power and authority.
Lee and Hester find Grumman, and learn that he is really John Parry, from our own world. John has become a shaman and can command magic. He claims that he drew Lee with his mother's ring.
The pair set off to find the Bearer of the Subtle Knife, Grumman to inform him of his task and Lee to get Lyra under his protection. They use the Church's ring to regain Lee's confiscated balloons.
As the pair make their escape, they are pursued. The shaman's magic destroys three of the enemy four zeppelins, but Lee loses his balloon in the process. Escaping from the last one, they are pursued into a narrow gorge. Lee holds the pass as Grumman escapes, killing all of the enemies and blowing up the zeppelin. He is killed in the process. His death is described in a very moving way, with him saying goodbye to his weeping dæmon, embracing her tenderly for the last time until she disappears. Moments before dying, he calls for Serafina Pekkala with the flower she gave him, but she arrives too late to save his life. Instead, she places a protective barrier around his body to protect him from carrion beasts. Iorek comes across Lee's body several days after his death, perfectly preserved due to the witch's spell. In an act of final respect for his friend and ally, the bear thanks him, then devours his body, giving him strength to pursue and save Lyra, which was Lee's greatest wish.Lyra and Will Parry find him in the world of the dead, and he briefly returns to fight the Spectres before his particles scatter and set off to find Hester's. He also mentions searching for his mother's particles, and those of "his sweethearts".