Posted by: Lizzie Ross | June 17, 2010

Dragons Galore

The Book of Dragons, E. Nesbit (1900), Dover, 100+ pp. (also available at Project Gutenberg)

Eight witty stories are included here. They seem to be aimed at younger readers, age 5-12 or so, but older readers can also appreciate Nesbit’s clever humor. The protagonists are all young, and wizards occasionally appear, but only to cause problems. For the most part, it’s just young children outwitting dreadful dragons.

The first story, “The Book of Beasts”, features King Lionel, who is still just a boy. He discovers a magical book in the royal library that, when opened, releases magical beasts into his realm: a butterfly, a bird of paradise, a dragon. The first two are harmless, but the dragon begins eating people, and so the King must figure out how to save his kingdom.

“Uncle James, or The Purple Stranger” takes place in the Kingdom of Rotundia, where all the animals are the wrong size–guinea pigs are huge and elephants are tiny and cuddly (why this is so involves a short but complex lesson in geography and natural history).

There was only one dog in Rotundia–the kingdom could not afford to keep more than one: He was a Mexican lapdog of the kind that in most parts of the world only measures seven inches from the end of his dear nose to the tip of his darling tail–but in Rotundia he was bigger than I can possibly expect you to believe. And when he barked, his bark was so large that it filled up all the night and left no room for sleep or dreams or polite conversation, or anything else at all. He never barked at things that went on in the island–he was too large-minded for that; but when ships went blundering by in the dark, tumbling over the rocks at the end of the island, he would bark once or twice, just to let the ships know that they couldn’t come playing about there just as they liked.

The dog begins barking one night, and the people awake the next day to find a purple stranger has arrived — a dragon with an excessively long tail. It is promised the young princess if it will go away, and how she escapes this dreadful fate is quite clever.

“The Deliverers of Their Country” describes a plague of dragons in England. Some are smaller than midges, and just as irritating, but many are large enough to eat houses and people. Again, two children, Effie and Harry, must take action to rid their country of the horrible beasts.

I can almost see Nesbit composing these tales as she sits next to her children’s beds, with her two sons and daughter giggling at the far-fetched adventures she describes. These are great read-aloud tales, so find someone to share them with.

If you order this from Amazon, be sure to get Nesbit’s book. A different one, of the same title, includes only one of Nesbit’s stories; the rest are by C S Lewis, Kenneth Grahame and others.



  1. […] of classic dragon literature Over at the Ineluctable Bookshelf, the blogger has written a good overview and review of “The Book of Dragons” by E. […]

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