Posted by: Lizzie Ross | June 14, 2010

Can a dragon be a dilettante?

The Reluctant Dragon, Kenneth Grahame (1898), ill. Ernest H. Shepard, Holiday House, 55 pp.

First stop on Dragon Week, Grahame’s classic novella. If you don’t know this book, you no doubt have heard of The Wind in the Willows, his paean to the English countryside and a quiet life on the river.

The Reluctant Dragon is a different kind of paean, but also to the quiet life. It begins when a dragon settles in a cave outside a village in the English countryside. The villagers are, understandably, concerned, and hire St. George to kill the dragon.

Meanwhile, a boy from the village has befriended the dragon and discovers that it isn’t at all interested in eating people or destroying villages; it’s perfectly happy snoozing in the sun and composing sonnets. As he explains to the boy,

I’m such a confoundedly lazy beggar. … all the other fellows were so active and earnest and all that sort of thing — always rampaging, and skirmishing,and scouring the desert sands, and pacing the margin of the sea, and chasing knights all over the place, and devouring damsels, and going on generally — whereas I liked to get my meals regular and then to prop my back against a bit of rock and snooze a bit, and wake up and think of things going on and how they kept going on just the same, you know!

Sounds a bit like Bertie Wooster, as he defends his fairly useless life to one of his aunts.

Anyway, the dragon eventually gets to do his fire-breathing thing, but all ends well for everyone, and no one has to die.

And here’s a fun fact for you: one of Grahame’s cousins was Anthony Hope, author of The Prisoner of Zenda, subject of a future post!


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