Adventures in Bookland: The Last Dragonslayer by Jasper Fforde
In honour of the wonderful Jasper Fforde, and in particular his Thursday Next novels where the eponymous heroine enters Bookworld to save it from various menaces and perils, I’ve renamed the previously rather boring ‘book review’ section of my blog, ‘Adventures in Bookland’. And, in truth, that’s a far better title, for after all, when we read a book we do go on an adventure. If it’s a non-fiction book, then there will be intellectual adventure to go, hopefully, with narrative excitement and verbal fizz; if it’s a story, then, hopefully, there will be dragons!
And, yes, you’ve guessed it (the title does rather give it away), Jasper Fforde does give us dragons, or rather one (with a couple of slither ons at the end). He also gives us a version of Britain, the Ununited Kingdom, split into a myriad little principalities, rather as if GK Chesterton had sat down (on a sturdy, reinforced chair!) and divided the country up on Distributist lines. I particularly enjoyed the Troll Wall, in the far North, built to keep out what it says in its name – no doubt many Westminster politicians, looking with dismay at what is happening north of the border in this 2015 election year, would feel the same.
But now, enjoyable though The Last Dragonslayer is, can I ask a question. When was the last time we had, in books, a proper, fire breathing, maiden eating, gold hoarding, evil serpent? I know there’s been Smaug in the recent Hobbit films, but they hark back to Tolkien (to a greater or lesser extent!). But, since Smaug, have there been any properly evil worms? Thinking back over the last, er, rather too long, but let’s say forty years or so, I can remember Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern, the Luckdragon of The Neverending Story, Gordon Dickson’s Dragon Knight stories, the aerial division of the armies in a modified Napoleonic war in the Temeraire series, and the dragons in George Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire (which I’ve not read or watched, but have been unable to avoid). At worst, these dragons can be called dangerous, but most are positively cuddly (or, at least, as cuddly as fire-breathing beasts with scales can reasonably be expected to be).
Now, I understand that authors might want to play with the stereotype, to break it down and try it from a new angle, but really, don’t you think we have a whole new stereotype here? Now, dragons are always, always, misunderstood creatures, cruelly picked on by a humanity fearful of ‘the other’. Indeed, it’s become such a stereotype that the reward of the unexpected awaits the first writer to make the dragon back into what it was, traditionally: cold, calculating and thoroughly, completely evil.
There, I’ve given you the idea, free and gratis. Now get out there and write it. I, for one, will read it, and, on this day of St George, cheer the dragonslayer!