Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Last of the dragons and some others by E. Nesbit, illustrated by Erik Blegvad

 I'm going a little retro today. I'm in the process of re-cataloging and arranging my entire library and am currently going through paperbacks. I have a lot of middle grade books I'm in the middle of, but nothing at review point yet, so...have something old!

Edith Nesbit's collection, A Book of Dragons, has been republished several times in different forms. This particular edition includes an extra dragon story - "The Last of the Dragons" and has an admittedly awful cover. These stories typify what I think of as "common magic" every day, ordinary children who suddenly encounter magic, usually with complete equanimity. I always think of E. Nesbit as the creator of this genre.

"The Last of the Dragons" is the story of....the last dragon. Of course, the princess must face him and be rescued by the prince. But the princess thinks this is a great shame and wouldn't it be better to give the dragon some kind words and maybe a few biscuits? The dragon has never faced such treatment before and it changes his whole attitude.

"The Book of Beasts" in which a little boy is made king and learns he oughtn't to open books that his nurse says should stay case horrid beasts come out! Fortunately, the little king remembers his duty, wipes away his tears, and finds the right creature to put right the wrongs he's done.

"Uncle James, or, The Purple Stranger" is a truly adorable story. A princess and a garden boy live on an island where everything is backwards - there's a chihuahua as big as an elephant and the elephant can fit in your pocket, for example. The princess has a horrid uncle who tries to take over the kingdom, but the clever gardener's boy saves her. I love that the princess tries her best to do her lessons, although she is not very good at them, and when Uncle James gets shrunk "the dragon took him because he wanted a birthday present."

"The deliverers of their country" is, perhaps my favorite story. There is a sudden plague of dragons on England. At first nobody believes the children who see them, then everyone thinks it's interesting, but as the dragons grow bigger and bigger and keep multiplying it becomes a major infestation and nobody knows how to deal with it. Fortunately for England, a naughty boy and his sister are prepared to be the Deliverers of Their Country, especially when St. George isn't able to help. A little plumbing, and the problem is solved!

"The ice dragon; or, do as you are told" in which two naughty children discover the truly awful things that can happen to children who sneak out of the house at night - like sliding all the way to the north pole and nearly getting eaten!

Hmm, no, I think "The Dragon Tamers" is my favorite. It tells the story of a blacksmith who accidentally discovers a dragon in his cellar. Catastrophe is averted by his clever children and there is bread and milk for everyone!

"The Fiery Dragon; or the Heart of Stone and the Heart of Gold" is the closest to a traditional fairy tale, complete with a captured princess and a rescuing prince. Except the prince turns out to be a really nasty piece of work an an usurper to boot and the real heroes are the princess herself and the brave pig-boy. He becomes a prince and marries the princess and "keeps no hippopotamuses and is consequently very popular."

"Kind little Edmund; or, the Caves and the Cockatrice" is probably the most outdated of these stories as it's a rather moralistic tale about not asking questions, respecting your betters, and the frontispiece for the story shows a boy being whipped by his schoolmaster.

Finally, we have another fairy tale, "The Island of the Nine Whirlpools". It takes a mathematically-inclined sailor boy and some help from the princess herself to get her rescued from all the fearsome guardians her nasty father has set about her.
Verdict: If I was replacing and adding classics, which I hope to do in a year or two, I'd definitely add this one to the list. The stories are fresh, funny, and clever. Although some of the language is outdated, the characters and plots are lively enough to overcome this. There's a nice, very affordable edition from the Looking Glass Library series by Random House that I have on a list to get sometime soon!

ISBN: 0140350691; Published 1972 by Puffin (this edition is out of print); From my personal library


Frankie Berneri said...

Hi! May i ask you a favor? I have been searching for this book because I need it for one of my subjects, but I haven't been able to finding it. Could you scan it? I know this is a pain in the ass... But it's worth giving a try. Sorry for disturbing you, and for my bad english too. I love your blog by the way :)

Jennifer said...

Some of the original Nesbit works are no longer covered by copyright, depending on what country you are in. You can find free versions online of many of the stories, if you just want the text. If you want the specific versions with illustrations, those are copyright and scanning them would be illegal. You can find the full text at Project Gutenberg, among other places,