Sunday, January 11, 2009

Firecast: The Fire Within by Chris D'Lacey


Please write to: Mrs. Elizabeth Pennykettle
42 Wayward Crescent
Scrubbley, MA

P.S.: Must like children and cats and dragons...

When 20-year-old college student David Rain answers this ad to rent a room for the semester, he finds the Pennykettle family, mother Liz and ten-year-old Lucy, warm and comfortable but a bit unusual. A popular local potter, Liz devotes her business totally to the production of winsome and highly individualized clay dragons. Liz soon gets busy producing a little dragon figure with writing pad and pencil just for David. Her daughter Lucy hints that there is more to the dragons than a profitable business, but her attention is distracted by her worry about a young squirrel with an injured eye whom she has named Conker and whom she hopes to move to the sanctuary of the library's large garden.

Despite his intention to stay aloof from Lucy's obsession with the squirrels, David is drawn into the construction of a trap for the sick squirrel. When he is finally successful, despite the interference of their squirrel-hating neighbor Mr. Bacon, David and Lucy are able to get help from an attractive animal rescue volunteer named Sophie in treating Conker and relocating him to a healthy squirrel colony in the library gardens.

As this plot unfolds, David becomes more and more mystified by the family's close relationship with the personable clay dragon figures placed all around the house. Liz and Lucy treat them as if they are somehow alive, and David finds that his own dragon, whom he names Gadzooks, seems to be able to communicate through writings upon his little notepad. Mysterious sounds and the seeming movement of the dragon called Gruffen about the house give David a sense that Liz and Lucy are not a usual pair of mother and daughter and that their clay figures have a sort of inner life beyond the senses.

As David is drawn into a clandestine search for the real story of the dragons, he also sets out to create as a birthday gift for Lucy a story about Conker and the other squirrels in his colony. As Conker's fate plays itself out--within David's story and in the outside world as well--David seems to be intercepting communications from his own dragon and the others around him. When Conker is found dead, David's sadness for Lucy gives way to anger with Gadzooks' prodding to complete the squirrels' story, and he learns that his rejection of his own dragon can actually threaten the spark of dragon fire resident within each of the little figures which Liz Pennykettle seems sworn to protect.

Chris D'Lacey's Fire Within is a different dragon fantasy from the usual warrior dragon saga so currently popular. A gentle story, centered upon the emotional connections between the human heart and the life force within real animals and mythical dragons, this novel is the first of a series of four which have found a large readership in Britain and now in the United States. The series now includes Icefire, Fire Star (Dragon Trilogy), and the latest, Fire Eternal (Dragon).



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