Sunday, May 06, 2007

From the Valley of the Dragons: Dragon Rider by Cornelia Funke

In a misty Scottish valley a remnant of the once mighty dragons has sought refuge, but human sprawl has begun its relentless encroachment even there. Filled with legends of a mountain haven to the east, a young dragon named Firedrake sets forth, with his brownie friend Sorrel, to find the mythical sanctuary of dragons, the Rim of Heaven.

Firedrake flies first toward London to obtain a promised map devised by the famous rat cartographer, Gilbert Graytail, and there makes a friend of a homeless boy named Ben who agrees to join the quest. On the first leg of their journey to the far Himalayas, Firedrake and his two riders acquire a homunculus, a tiny manikin named Twigleg, and have their first brush with the ultimate evil, Nettlebrand, to whom Twigleg was formerly enslaved. Nettlebrand, a Frankensteinian monster created by an alchemist's experiment gone horribly wrong, is driven by his nature to destroy dragons, whose visible shape he wears like a misshapen veneer. It is Nettlebrand, whose golden scales are invincible to dragon fire, who had in eons past driven the dragons out of their mountain redoubt in Asia.

Firedrake and his companions meet many fabulous beasts on their flight--a basilisk who threatens, a djinn who offers prophecy, a sea serpent who carries them over the Indian Ocean--and human helpers who also give physical and metaphysical aid--Professor Greenbloom, an archaeologist with a penchant for finding mythic beasts, and Zubaida Ghalib, a dracologist who creates an elixir which enables Firedrake to fly without the nourishment of moonshine.

Eventually the dragon and his riders reach the Himalayas, where they meet Professor Greenbloom and family, Lola Graytail, ace pilot and niece of Gilbert Graytail, and the lama of a monastery which reveres dragons and names Ben the reincarnation of the Dragon Rider of legend. Just as the quest seems to have its goal within grasp, the allies find that Nettlebrand and his dwarf armor polisher have tracked them to the Rim of Heaven and lie waiting within its sacred lake, the Eye of the Moon.

As the final battle looms, the dragon-riding allies come up with a plan in which they slyly trick Nettlebrand's dwarf into substituting a flagon of brownie spit with magical dulling qualities for the polish which keeps his scales brilliant enough to repel dragon fire. When Nettlebrand is lured into the dragons' vast cavern beneath the Himalayas, his defenses fail and he is melted into a mass of molten gold. Ben and Twigleg find a home with the Greenblooms, and Firedrake and his dragon kin are now free to retake their sanctuary and live free in their ancestral home.

Cornelia Funke, better known in North America for her more mature fantasies The Thief Lord, Inkheart, and Inkspell, has in this earlier work created a fantasy of Dickensian detail and near glacial pace. For lovers of dragon lore and adventure, it is a sweeping saga best savored slowly and patiently, for the rewards are not so much in its destination as in the wayside pleasures of the journey toward that end.

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  • Sorry, a bit off topic, but I have a question that I think you can help me with.

    I work with an 11 year old boy, probably reads at 9 year old level, and want a book about engines for him. Any suggestions?

    Nice blog too.


    By Blogger TMink, at 11:46 PM  

  • TMink, we meet again! Thanks for the kind words!

    There are a few oldie/goodie books on the internal combustion engine that are still available used and in library collections.



    Two classics, one about a decade or so old and one fairly new:

    HOW THINGS WORK and THE NEW HOW THINGS WORK (David Macauley) (great cutaways & exploded views)

    Also still around used and in libraries is AUTOMOBILES (NEW TRUE BOOKS SERIES) (Sylvia Wilkinson) (AR 3.2)

    I hope you did mean internal combustion engines!

    By Blogger GTC, at 9:56 AM  

  • TMink,
    Also ran across another older book (1982) titled THE INTERNAL COMBUSTION ENGINE (Ross Olney). Olney was one of those authors who wrote mainly about automobile racing in the 1970's and 1980's. This one may still be available used and in your local P.L.

    Sorry I only found one newer book. It's a subject that seems to be less interesting to authors lately. I had thousands of kids pass through my library who wanted books on cars and engines, so the demand is out there. It looks like more authors would tackle the subject.

    By Blogger GTC, at 10:06 AM  

  • Being a bit pedantic, but are you sure the place where Firedrake and Sorrel meet Ben and Gilbert was in London? I got the impression that Firedrake had flown east, over the North Sea, landing somewhere in Germany, perhaps Hamburg or Bremen. At any rate, Gilbert recommends a ferry service that Rosa could use if she wants to come and visit him, and Ben's first language seems to be German, not English.

    By Blogger Temple Cloud, at 2:02 PM  

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