I just finished reading two very different dragon books, one right after the other. The first was Rebecca Hahn’s A Creature of Moonlight. What a gorgeous book! It’s a quiet novel with rather little dialogue, which you’d think might make it a slow read, but instead it reads like water, if that makes any sense. The words just flow by. It’s poetic without being flowery.
There was a notable passage that struck me as directly addressing a certain pressing issue in our world. See if you can guess which one I mean:
“Do you know what it is, lady, that’s…making the woods close in on us?”
I shake my head. “I don’t know.”
“It’s just–it seems no one actually cares. Everyone talks of it, sure, but the next moment it’s gone clean out of their heads, as if it doesn’t exist. And if the dragon’s really coming, well, we’ll all be sorry for it, won’t we?”
She looks so concerned, so sure that something ought to be done about this, and sure that I am the one who’ll know what to do. “In my experience,” I say, “there’s nothing we’re better at than pretending things don’t exist. We think if we pretend long and hard enough, the things will disappear. …We can push it out of our heads again and again, but it won’t make no difference in the end. The woods will keep on coming. The dragon will appear. We’ll walk half blind, thinking we’re safe, and one day we’ll turn and he’ll be there, right beside us, waiting.”
I don’t know if this exchange was intended to be commentary on climate change, but it certainly lends itself easily to such a reading. That said, the novel as a whole is not, to me, an environmental parable. It’s a story of self-knowledge and self-determination.
The second dragon book was The Story of Owen: Dragon Slayer of Trondheim by E. K. Johnston, a 2014 Morris Award finalist. It was fantastic. And hilarious, while still being heartfelt. I loved the dragon-inflected alternate history. Basically, this is our world but with dangerous dragons. Everything from the lives of Eloise and Abelard to the history of 20th century music is shaped by dragons, and, you know, Shakespeare “ignored dragons for the most part and set his plays in bizarre alternate universes where dragons were imaginary creatures of significant rarity.” When I got to the following passage, I almost laughed out loud on the bus:
Canada managed to retain a portion of its traditional music, largely thanks to a statute that mandated 40 percent of everything on the radio had to be written by a Canadian [this is apparently true!] or feature a dragon slayer. This allowed for the success of songs like “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” which told the story of the attempted rescue-by-dragon-slayer of a tanker’s crew after they were attacked in the middle of Lake Superior.
I have one more thing to say, but look away now if you wish to avoid spoilers! So, throughout the book the characters slew (Johnston uses “slayed,” but it just sounds wrong to me) a number of dragons. Each time it seemed surprisingly easy, and there were no permanent consequences for anyone involved. Thus I was mildly shocked by the extent of Siobhan’s injuries after the climactic last dragon slaying. She is a musician (piano, winds, a bit of brass), and her hands are seriously damaged, so much so that she herself believes she will “never play again.” As a cellist, I found this nightmarish, and I wasn’t expecting Siobhan to end up paying such a high price for the success of their mission.