© Dugald A. Steer
I grew up among dragons: they were my playmates, my antagonists, the object of my expeditions to abandoned train tracks and chalk pits. I thought about them, dreamt about them and, when I decided that I was definitely going to be a palaeontologist around the age of eight, it was thanks to my love of dragons, and not the other way around. Oh, alright, perhaps it was a trip to the British Museum of Natural History to see the T. Rex skeleton but still, my love of dragons went right back to when my mother would hum 'Puff the Magic Dragon' and I would wish that I could go to Honalee and never grow up, just like Puff.
I thought I was lucky: there were plenty of books with dragons in them, from the Ice Dragon in 'Postgate' and Firmin’s 'Noggin the Nogg' sagas, to E Nesbitt’s wonderful 'Book of Dragons', to Smaug, of course, in Tolkein’s 'The Hobbit' to Eustace Scrubb, who turns into a dragon in C.S. Lewis’s 'Voyage of the Dawn Treader'. As soon as the first boxed set of rules for 'Gygax' and Arneson’s 'Dungeons and Dragons' became available in Britain my dragon-loving friends and I became avid fans, designing and dungeon mastering our own intricate realms full of quests and fantastical beasts.
All of this, of course, set me to reading the timeless myths and legends about dragons: from the battling red and white dragons found my Merlin under Vortigern’s castle, to Saint George, to Perseus and all of the Greek sagas, to the mighty Beowulf, and many more. So what is it about these creatures? Why did I keep wanting more of the same stuff? Was I nuts? After all, things called dragons don’t even share the same traits. They are mostly scaly, usually winged, almost always fire-breathing, come in all sorts of colours, usually have one head, sometimes have four legs, and a lot of them live in caves, hoard treasure and have bad attitudes. For me I think it was all about seeking out the miraculous and magical, of escaping from the every day into worlds that might exist, just around the corner, full of good and bad. And dragons might sometimes be good and wise, but they can certainly be bad in ways that must have impressed the earliest stone age hunter gatherers, and they probably took a lot of impressing. After all, it won’t have been long before mere lions, tigers and bears ceased to be an everyday threat to our ancestors. There’s a man-eating lion or tiger around? We’ll round up a posse and bring him back on a pole before sundown. Lions, tigers and bears must soon have learned to respect puny but clever humans with their spears and irritating traps and projectile weapons. But dragons? Think again. Gigantic, muscular, powerful, avaricious, they burn down homes with fire, pillage treasures, steal princesses, and they had insatiable appetites, like a terrible incarnation of an entire invading army. Brave but hopelessly outmatched posses would wiped out in a few minutes, leaving no option but to draw lots to see who gets eaten first, and hold out for a hero. Stirring stuff indeed.
Dragons, like all worthy storybook enemies, are clever, powerful, almost impossible to outwit or defeat, so that you stand very little chance of surviving an encounter with them, then even less chance right up until the final last minute when suddenly some tiny thing goes right — you remember they have a weak spot, you are saved by an unanswerable riddle — and defeat turns to victory at last. Which leads me to a final consideration: I thought I was lucky as a boy that there were so many wonderful books featuring dragons. How much luckier, then, are the dragon lovers of today! They have all the books I had, but they also have Rowling’s 'Harry Potter' books, Jasper Fforde’s 'The Last Dragonslayer' series, Chris d’Lacey’s 'Fire Within' books and Cressida Cowell’s 'How to Train Your Dragon' among many, many others, most of which have very clever twists on the old formula. There is scant evidence that the everlasting appeal of dragons is on the wane. On the contrary, for a dragon-lover, now is probably the best time there has ever, ever been!
‘The Dragon Prophecy: The Dragonology Chronicles’
By Dugald A. Steer
Published by Templar June 2012
RRP £9.99 (hardback)
This is the much-awaited final instalment of The Dragonology Chronicles. Fans of the series – which has sold over 350,000 globally, will be gripped by the mystery that Dr Drake and his apprentices Daniel and Beatrice have to solve. Age-old rivalries rear their heads, battles between the powers of good and evil are fought and the protagonists find themselves in grave danger as they strive to save the dragons.
Enjoy the thrilling adventure, the gripping action and the brilliant story-telling!
Highly recommended for readers aged 10+