Dragons! One of the most classic and ancient of mythical beasties, famed far and wide for hoarding gold, setting fire to villages, carrying off virgins just so some knight has an excuse to come and slay them. Having been portrayed as the villain for countless centuries, it’s only been within the last century or so that dragons have been given some sympathy. Whether as the protagonist or antagonist, sympathetic or just pathetic, here are some of my favorite books with dragons (in no particular order):
- The Reluctant Dragon by Kenneth Grahame. Written in 1898 in his Dream Days collection of tales, The Reluctant Dragon is a take on the St. George legend, this is the story of a young boy who meets a kindly, poetic dragon. A sweet short story about acceptance, where St George and the dragon are able to resolve the situation peacefully.
- Kenny and the Dragon by Tony DiTerlizzi, a 2008 version of The Reluctant Dragon. The characters are now animals themselves, with the young boy rabbit, penny-farthing riding protagonist, Kenny. The dragon he meets is thus called Grahame. Very nicely illustrated. Tony DiTerlizzi is also the author of the Wondla and Spiderwick Chronicles books.
- The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch and illustrated by Michael Martchenko, 1980. The first part of the plot, from wikipedia: “Princess Elizabeth plans on marrying Prince Ronald, who is practically perfect. However, a dragon arrives who destroys her kingdom, kidnaps Ronald, and burns all her clothes (rendering her naked) so that she has no choice but to wear a paper bag. Elizabeth follows the dragon and Ronald, and seeking to rescue her fiancé, [and] challenges the dragon…”
- A Natural History of Dragons, a memoir by Lady Trent by Marie Brennan, 2013. First in a series. This takes place in a totally fictional world, but exceedingly familiar cultures. Isabella grows up obsessed with dragons in a very Victorian-style society, where by pluck and a healthy dosage of luck, is able to fulfill her dream of going on an expedition to study dragons in their native habitat.
- The Truth About Dragons: An Anti-Romance by Hazard Adams. Published in 1971, this is the story of Firedrake, the text ostensibly the transcription of voice-recordings he made with a cassette tape-recorder he salvaged. Firedrake lives in the hills of Santa Barbara, CA, where he spends his days relating the history of dragon culture, safe-guarding his treasure trove, and hoarding the more interesting litter he finds. Also, terrifying the local hippies. I really want to see this done as a radio play. I cannot for the life of me remember how I discovered this book.
- The Last Dragonslayer by Jasper Fforde. I am a huge fan of Fforde’s Thursday Next series, but I’m always slightly dubious when an author starts writing specifically for a younger audience (not that I don’t like YA, ). But, turns out this book is just as bonkers and delightful and inventive as any of the Thursday Next novels. The protagonist is 15-year-old orphan Jennifer Strange, who is in charge of managing the last remaining practicing magicians in this alternate, sorta-kinda-modern England. Magic is waning (they do pizza runs and plumbing repairs), possibly due to there being only one old dragon left alive… The first in a series of four.
Honorable mentions include The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien, Beowulf, Grendel by John Gardner, and How Droofus Lost His Head by Bill Peet.
All the pretty covers:
Bonus video clips from the obscure-but-delicious animated version of John Gardner’s Grendel – the scenes where Grendel consults and philosophizes with the Dragon. The first one includes the musical number (and if that doesn’t get you curious, I don’t know what will!):
and that scene continued…