Posts Tagged With: fantasy

Dragons for Young People, Part Three: Eon

Eon book cover art

Image borrowed from http://www.alisongoodman.com.

For those of you who still come back to read these posts despite my lengthy absences over the last year, thank you! July and August merged together into a crazy journey consisting of a cross-country road trip to a classical teacher’s conference, a week with relatives while teaching a first grade Vacation Bible School class, a freelance ghostwriting project, and preparations for the classes I teach, which start up again on Monday. It has been a load, but a fun one!

I read Eon while staying with my relatives a month ago. I have a cousin who loves fantasy books and dragons, so it was on her shelf that I found this YA novel by Alison Goldman. I had thought that Seraphina would be the best YA dragon book addressed in this blog series, but I just might have been wrong—I finished Eon within a couple of days and snagged Eona, the sequel, to borrow when I returned home. With the ghostwriting and school prep, I still haven’t read it, but I’m excited to see whether it soars or flops as the next chapter of the story. Without further ado, though, here are the top 3’s of Eon:

 

Top 3 Stereotypes

1.  The secret that would prove deadly if discovered

Just like Seraphina, Eon has a secret: the back of the book reveals this one, so it’s no spoiler to say that the young boy Eon is actually a girl (Eona) in disguise. It is forbidden for females to become Dragoneyes (individuals who bond with one of the twelve energy dragons to represent them and share in their power), so only one or two servants and the master who is training her know her true identity. If she is discovered, she will likely be killed.

2. The commoner who falls in with royalty

This stereotype harkens back to both Seraphina and Dragon Slippers. Eon(a) once worked as a slave in a salt mine, but by the time this book reaches full swing, she suddenly becomes a favored member of the royal court and a friend to the emperor’s heir. All this happens just because her master found and trained her to become a Dragoneye—a decision on his part that I don’t remember ever learning the reasoning behind.

3. The youth with a powerful, unheard-of ability

Many stories for young readers wouldn’t exist if the main character wasn’t able to do something that set them apart—something that nobody else could do. In the case of Eon, Eon(a) has the ability to see all eleven of the lesser energy dragons. The dragons don’t exist in the physical realm, so only the individuals specifically bonded to each one can see that dragon. However, even before Eon(a) bonds unexpectedly with the red Mirror Dragon (who used to rule over the other dragons but has been missing for hundreds of years), she can see all of the dragons and is able to communicate with the Rat Dragon in particular. It’s a lot of unexplained power for one sixteen-year-old girl to have.

 

Top 3 Unique Points

1.  A refreshingly fresh take on sexuality

This was by far my favorite aspect of Goodman’s book. Many young adult stories of a girl in a man’s world put across one of two stereotypical worldviews: (1) that women are really the same as men and can do whatever men can do or (2) that women are out-and-out better than men. At first, I was afraid that Eon was telling a tale that would focus on the first stereotype. It was, after all, about a girl attempting to break into a male-only role. However, as the story progresses, Eon learns to accept her real identity as Eona and to quit denying her feminine side—not because it is “just as good as” or “better than”  masculinity, but because her gender has an important, unique function to fulfill in the power balance. The important roles of several eunuchs and a transgender “lady” of the court also open up deeper questions of what it really means to be male or female in a way that gently prompts thought without casting a judgment in any particular direction.

2. The unique Eastern setting

I’m happy whenever I find a fantasy book that doesn’t take place in a stereotypically Tolkien, Rowling, Lewis, or Paolini-esque world, and Eon made me happy in this regard. Goodman’s novel takes place in a land reminiscent of ancient China yet completely comfortable and almost familiar to me as a Western reader. She uses the ideas of zodiac-like dragons, martial arts-like fighting, sun (male)/moon (female) balance, symbol-writing, and an emperor’s court and harem in a world that somehow does not feel sharply foreign and strange like some authors’ attempts at Eastern tales. This land, with its political intrigue, social system, and Dragoneye lords, was quite believable and readable to me as a reader. I’m interested to see how she expands on it in Eona.

3. The elusive sense of something done right

I just can’t put my finger on what it is, but something about this book clicks. Is it the well-rounded, believable characters and the realistically messy relationships between them? Is it the world where there are enough complexities and details to make it seem real and alive without including the extra side plots, character information, or confusing twists that make books vague and unclear? Is it the first-person voice that gives us insight into Eon(a)’s mind and character while painting a clear, compelling, and easy-to-read picture of the world around her?  Whatever it is, I have to applaud Alison Goodman for a book done well.

If you haven’t figured it out by now, Eon is a book that I absolutely recommend. It’s more for teens (or adults who enjoy reading good books about teens) than for younger children, but I think that anyone could read and enjoy it. If you live in the UK, note that you may find this book published under the title The Two Pearls of Wisdom or Eon: Rise of the Dragoneye. The first chapter is available to read on Alison Goodman’s site at http://www.alisongoodman.com.au/e.html.  If you have already read this book, I would love to hear if you enjoyed it as much as I did and can shed light on what that elusive “something” is that makes this book hit the spot!

Categories: Fantasy Literature | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Dragon Lit for Young People

My first year of teaching is officially over, and I can turn my focus back to my writing (and blogging!) for the summer. In honor of the kids that I won’t see until fall, I’m going to be taking a look at a handful of dragon-related books that were written for children and young adults.

As I have started to read these books over the last few weeks, I’ve been noticing some things that I never noticed when I used to read this genre as a twelve-year-old–namely, the stereotypical characters and plot devices that show up in children’s fantasy.  Is it bad for authors to use them? Probably not–there’s a reason they’re popular enough to reuse. Do they get old fast when I read these fantasy books as a twenty-something? Absolutely. As I present five of these dragon books to you, I will make a list of the top three stereotypes that show up in each book along with the top three unique points. There are a lot of dragon books out there as well as a lot of stereotypes, so you’ll probably see this theme pop up again later this summer with new titles.

Here’s a sneak peek at some of the stereotypes that show up in the children’s fantasy genre:

  • the orphaned nobody who winds up marrying royalty after saving the kingdom
  • the young person with a special gift or a unique bond to dragons
  • the main character who has a bond to the villain that they knew nothing about
  • the mentor who dies
  • the journey to self-discovery or self-acceptance
  • the superior wisdom of a twelve-year-old above dozens of mature adults
  • the youth’s single mistake that makes everything appear lost and hopeless until they learn their lesson–and then, somehow, the situation comes back under control
  • the dragon who needs the help of a young human despite being far older, stronger, and wiser than the youth

The list goes on and on, and my longer list keeps growing. I’d love to hear what stereotypes you would add to this list. Which ones bother you the most? Which ones have you seen repeated in the  most books?

Check back again on Wednesday for my thoughts on the book that got me going on this topic: Dragon Slippers.

Categories: Children's, Fantasy Literature | Tags: , , , , , | 6 Comments

And the mystery book* is…

Neverending Story cover art

Falkor, the luckdragon, depicted in the center of the book cover. Image borrowed from Wikipedia.

The Neverending Story.

I first heard the words as a child in a hotel room while my parents flipped channels on the cable TV. My family didn’t get cable at home, so it was only in the already-thrilling setting of a hotel room that I was introduced to Animal Planet, Cartoon Network, and old Disney classics. I don’t remember how old I was when The Neverending Story was briefly flipped on before bed, but I do remember the instant intrigue I felt. A classic tale, a magical book, and a story with no end—I was hooked. It took until this month for me to actually follow through and find the book at the library, but I’ve finally experienced the story that had been calling my name for years.

Have you read, seen, or at least heard of it? It’s a sweet story about a bullied boy who reads the fantasy tale of a world that is literally falling apart—and he, Bastian Balthazar Bux, is the only person who can save it. I have to admit, I enjoyed the half of the book where he was still on the outside looking into the book much more than the person he became upon entering the land of Fantastica, but his journey home again was powerful and touching. The most interesting aspect of the story for me was the idea that there is a link between the human and Fantastican worlds, and only when humans believe in Fantastica can either world be healthy and whole.

There were two “dragons” in the story. The more traditional dragon was invented by Bastian to kidnap a princess so that a noble knight could prove his worth. His role was minimal. Falkor the luckdragon had a much greater part to play.

Luckdragons aren’t exactly what we think of as dragons. I will let Michael Ende, the author, explain in his own words:

“Luckdragons are among the strangest animals in Fantastica. They bear no resemblance to ordinary dragons, which look like loathsome snakes and live in deep caves, diffusing a noxious stench and guarding some real or imaginary treasure…. Luckdragons are creatures of air, warmth, and pure joy. Despite their great size, they are as light as a summer cloud, and consequently need no wings for flying. They swim in the air of heaven as fish swim in water. Seen from the earth, they look like slow lightning flashes. The most amazing thing about them is their song. Their voice sounds like the golden note of a large bell, and when they speak softly the bell seems to be ringing in the distance. Anyone who has heard this sound will remember it as long as he lives and tell his grandchildren about it.” The Neverending Story

Falkor is one of my favorite main characters in the story. Bastian makes too many foolish mistakes for me to love him, and Atreyu (a Fantastican boy who plays a key role in the story) makes too few mistakes. Falkor, on the other hand, is wise, powerful, joyful, and kind–and more convincingly so because he is not a person. He gives helpful advice, is a strong ally in trouble, cheers up those who are discouraged, and above all, holds on to hope. This luckdragon is the kind of friend that we all hope for.

*For those of you who missed my last post, I mentioned a “mystery book” that I had read while sick that I was going to say more about on Thursday. This is that book. Today is no longer Thursday, but some things came up before I finished my post, and I wasn’t able to finish it until today.

Categories: Children's, Fantasy Literature | Tags: , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Ruthless Dragons: teaching heroes teamwork since 2020

Reign of Fire poster image

Reign of Fire movie poster–Image borrowed from Wikipedia.

Only one species is getting out of this alive.

So writes one of the few surviving humans after a worldwide dragon apocalypse in the 2002 film Reign of Fire. The movie may just be another cheap fantasy/action movie without too much going for it (unless you get as much of a kick out of Matthew McConaughey playing a mean, bald Marine as I do), but there are elements that make this movie worth pulling out as “junk food” once in a while.

 

THE HEROES:

Having clashing protagonists is a common enough story device, but Reign of Fire did well in showing two very different sides of the leadership coin.

Quinn (played by Christian Bale) is the leader of a group of Brits holed up in a castle north of London. He saw his mother die when the first dragon woke up, and he has been working hard to keep his people alive ever since.
Leadership style: quiet, gentle, and caring—unwilling that any life under his command be risked unnecessarily.
Method: stay safe; stay alive; outlast the dragons.

Van Zan (played by Matthew McConaughey) is an American marine who shows up in England with tanks, a helicopter, and a daring mission. He is hard-natured and difficult to get along with, but he and his Americans have done what Quinn thought impossible—killing dragons.
Leadership style: strong, harsh, and military minded—willing to use (rather than suffer from) the knowledge of the lives that must be sacrificed to get the job done.
Method: take risks in battle to win the war.

Says Van Zan to Quinn after both men make mistakes and catastrophe strikes: “We have paid a terrible price, and now we’ve got a chance to make a difference. We will.”

 

THE DRAGONS:

These dragons weren’t meant to be intelligent, sentient beings—they’re monsters. In a book to be passed on to future leaders, Quinn writes,

“I saw the first, but soon the world saw millions. No one knew how they spawned so fast. They swarmed like locusts, burning everything in their path, driven by one purpose… to feed. Even then, we couldn’t believe they were real. Ancient man had made them into myths, but nature had made something far more terrible. Too late, our scientists discovered their true identity… a species which had burned the dinosaurs to dust, whose ash had brought on ice ages, who, in eons past, had scorched the world clean of life. Then starved, then slept, waiting for the earth to replenish itself, waiting to start their cycle anew…”

If dragons are monsters, these are the scary ones. My one complaint? A bit of a size inconsistency in a couple of places. If you’re going to make a dragon big and epic, make sure it stays big and epic in other scenes, okay?

 

It’s true that the plot is an old, simple one: when evil is accidentally awakened and takes over the world, two good guys must put aside their differences to fight the monsters in win-or-die action scenes, therein saving the world. Still, simple isn’t always bad—I’m sure I’ll keep pulling this movie out every year or two to see again. You don’t have to love it, but it’s worth watching at least once, just for fun—tell me what you think!

Categories: Film Dragons | Tags: , , , , , | 11 Comments

Dragonworld: dusting off an old cover

Cover of Dragonworld

Dragonworld is full of similar black and white illustrations.
Image borrowed from Amazon.com

One of my dad’s old fantasy novels made it off the dusty basement shelf over the weekend. I was sure I had read Dragonworld by Byron Preiss and Michael Reaves years ago, but I couldn’t remember what it was about and decided to give it another go.

Dragonworld is the story of a misunderstanding—when several connected tragedies strike, the neighboring lands of Fandora and Simbala jump to conclusions and blame the other side. Can one man prevent a war? Can a young monarch maintain political stability in the midst of crisis? How can the lost secrets of the dragons possibly hold the key to ending the whole mess? These questions and others like them are the threads that run through this story, keeping the reader guessing until the last chapter.

The cover of the book claimed it was a #1 fantasy best-seller on the same level as Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. I liked the book, but I have to disagree with the comparison—while both are certainly fantasy adventures with much at stake, the writing style and characterization in Dragonworld simply doesn’t live up to Tolkien’s. It has that same “telling” feel to it that so many cheap fantasy and sci-fi books have. That’s one of my pet peeves in the genre, so let’s not get me started…

The two primary human groups in the story are simple, but very different. The Fandorans are short, simple people, mainly farmers and tradesmen. They are governed by town elders, and there is no overarching government unless a council is called. These are no hobbits, though—where hobbits prefer not to do anything sudden or rash, the Fandorans are ready to go to war against their formidable neighbors the instant they suspect them of wrongdoing. The Simbalese are the opposite: their civilization is more advanced, with mines, cities, flying windships, and a developed monarchy. In Simbala, it is political intrigue, not raw emotion, that runs rampant.

Yes, there are dragons in this book. I don’t want to spoil the story, though, so I won’t say too much. Just know that they are central to the story (even when they aren’t there), are conscious beings (not mere animals as portrayed in Beowulf or speculated by Animal Planet), and exist separate from the humans (this is not an Eragon-like relationship). Something I really found interesting is the respect of a dragon’s fire in this story—a fire that is rarely used. In Chapter XXXII, a late-appearing yet key character explains, “For the Dragonflame is not a gift to be used lightly, or for selfish ends, and never to take a life.” I appreciated this, since today’s books and movies seem a bit flame-happy, having dragons breathing fire every chance they get. In Dragonworld, such fire is not taken for granted.

Conclusion: If you enjoy the fantasy genre, simple style and all, you will like Dragonworld. There is nothing inappropriate in its content, so adventure-loving readers of all ages can safely read and enjoy it. The idea of dragons is well-handled, and it’s a fun story. Just don’t expect Tolkien.

One more fun fact—the sequel to this book was a computer adventure game from the 80’s by the same title. I’d love to get my hands on it, and I’ll let you know how it goes if I ever do.

Categories: Fantasy Fiction | Tags: , , , , , | 5 Comments

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