Happy Chinese New Year!
It’s the year of the dragon and, in celebration, we have flocked together to talk about our favorite dragons in literature. Here are ours; don’t forget to share yours in the comments below!
In middle school, the word ‘dragon’ anywhere on a book cover ensured that I would pick it up. So when I came across a book simply called Dragon by Steven Brust, I read the back cover and discovered it was about an assassin. I opened the book and slipped out of the library and into an impossible vortex of awesome.
I had stumbled upon my library’s only Vlad Taltos novel, featuring a bold first-person-smartass assassin with an equally sarcastic winged sidekick, and a cast of recurring frenemies and badasses.
I found these books at a vulnerable time in my fantasy reading; I had lost all patience for shiny little knights farmboys-come-heroes and surprise Jesus figures. Vlad was the snarky assassin counterpoint that I had been wishing for.
Then came the cultish obsession. Brust ensured that I burst out laughing a dozen times while reading in public. I bullied CanaryTheFirst into reading Dragon, and we made a tradition of exchanging Vlad novels as gifts for all holidays for the next two hundred years.*
It was of the best series I read in my formative years. I never would have discovered it if it hadn’t been for Dragon.
*figure includes future projections
As an elementary schooler, I read absolutely everything Bruce Coville published. As a premier fantasy writer for kids, it’s no wonder that Coville has a dragon installment in his collection. Like many of his books, the cnetral themes of the story dealt with kids who were bullied or just general outsiders who find solace in some aspect of high fantasy (unicorns, fairy godmothers, etc). And what better supernatural friend than a dragon?
I have definite memories of loving Jeremy Thatcher Dragon Hatcher, of reading it over and over, and pining after the day when I would have a dragon of my very own. But upon looking up the plot of the book online, I was shocked to discover that not even a little of it sounded familiar.
Not the characters (Mary Lou, Mrs. Priest, Tiamat the Dragon), not the finer plot points of Jeremy using Tiamat to set his teacher’s shoe on fire, and not even how the story ended. In fact, I stopped reading the plot summary about halfway through when I realized that I didn’t remember even an iota of the story.
So here is my Chinese New Year Resolution: Re-read Jeremy Thatcher Dragon Hatcher and fall in love with dragons all over again.
Pirate Canary’s Dragon:
The dragon that strikes me the most is the one that doesn’t look like a dragon at first. She looks gentler, tamer, and much more familiar. Dragons aren’t dinosaurs, after all. She’s not in her game for meat, but for treasure. It’s the little things that tip you off: the hidden lair, the sparkling marvels she’s hoarded, the hungry look in her black button eyes…
I am speaking, of course, of the Other Mother from Coraline by Neil Gaiman. The Other Mother’s transformation from a near-mirror image of Coraline’s real mother into a spiderlike, screeching demon is one of the most delightfully creepy parts of the book (and Henry Selick did a masterful job of it in the movie as well).
She may hoard souls instead of gold, but who says dragons have to stick to tradition? The Other Mother represents the cunning side of dragons and the greed that laces their hunger. Without the human element, a dragon would be indistinguishable from a T-Rex.
With it, it’s a much scarier and more fascinating kind of monster.
This was my first Barbara Hambly book, and it has stayed with me for years. I will be honest and say that like TheLibraryCanary and TheOtherCanary, I don’t quite remember what it was about, but it launched me into a brilliant world of witches, medieval realism, and shimmering, night-sky dragons.
Jenny stays with me as one of the most brilliant and brilliantly tragic characters, and her adventure with John–and then, later, with Morkeleb–had me coming back to the library nearly weekly, checking the shelves to see if maybe, maybe, there was a new Hambly book up.
I think it’s about time to revisit the Winterland’s series–Dragonsbane, Dragonshadow, Knight of the Demon Queen, and Dragonstar.
the Library Canary’s Dragon
This vague memory of the book’s cover—burgundy, with a yellow moon—and its location on the library shelf—at one of the far ends, meaning a last name close to A or Z. That’s all I had to go on, trying to recall the dragon book that meant so much to me as an eleven-year-old. Cue fruitless searches at the bookstore and library, even a phone call to my childhood librarian. (Did you know libraries often delete records after two years of inactivity?) Finally I found it: Dragon’s Bait by Vivian Vande Velde.
Accused of witchcraft by her small-town neighbors, teenaged Alys says goodbye to her dying tinsmith father, and life as she knows it, when she is tied to a stake outside town as an offering to the local dragon. When said dragon appears, things take an unexpected turn. Able to transform himself into a (conveniently handsome, teenaged) human only slightly older than Alys, the dragon offers to help her take revenge on her disloyal neighbors.
Reading it now’s a different experience, of course. Subtexts leap off the page. There’s the unmistakable whiff of Morality with a capital M. Gone is the world I constructed around the story’s actual plot.
But what hasn’t changed is the strong female lead, bravely and honestly responding to unwanted circumstances, uncertainty, and her own fear. This was a story I really needed to hear as a little girl.
Those are just some of our favorite dragons. What are yours?