Thursday, December 11, 2014

Review: The Dragon and the George by Gordon R. Dickson

The Dragon and the George by Gordon R. Dickson
Published: Ballantine Books, 1975
Series: Book 1 of the Dragon Knight
Awards Won: British Fantasy Society
Awards Nominated: World Fantasy Award

The Book:

Jim Eckert was a dragon. He hadn't planned it that way, but that's what happened when he set out to rescue his betrothed. Following her through an erratic astral-projection machine, Jim suddenly found himself in a cockeyed world - locked in the body of a talking dragon named Gorbash.

That wouldn't have been so bad if his beloved Angie were also a dragon. But in this magical land, that was not the case. Angie had somehow remained a very female human - or a george, as the dragons called any human. And Jim, no matter what anyone called him, was a dragon.

To make matters worse, Angie had been taken prisoner by an evil dragon and was held captive in the impenetrable Loathly Tower. So in this land where georges were edible and beasts were magical - where spells worked and logic didn't - Jim Eckert had a problem.
And he needed help, by george!

This is the first book I’ve read by Gordon R. Dickson, and I chose it for the 12 Awards 12 Months reading challenge.  I bought a really old copy of the book at a used bookstore, so this is one of my relatively rare physical books.  The Dragon and the George kicks off a very long-running series of Dragon Knight novels.

The Book:

I had the feeling that The Dragon and the George might have been intended to be a parody of a standard good-vs-evil fantasy, but it also seems to simply be that sort of a novel. There are a lot of jokes about various clichés along the way, but it doesn’t really go very far beyond them.  For instance, there’s a lot of tongue-in-cheek type stuff with a sorcerer who talks about a magical IRS, but he still fulfills the standard role of the wizard who guides the hero’s quest and provides support at the darkest times.  In another example, Jim becoming a dragon kind of subverts the ‘knight’ hero, but it doesn’t actually change his fellowship-gathering or damsel-rescuing in any major way. The characters were mostly stock, though often amusing, and everything progressed as you would expect in this kind of pseudo-medieval quest fantasy.

Because it does seem to be intended as light and comedic, there are a lot of things that just seem to be hand-waved away.  For instance, the whole story takes place because Jim’s fiancée is accidentally transported to a magical medieval land during a University astral projection experiment.  I guess astral projection was a popular topic in the 70s, but it comes across as pretty silly today.  I also found it kind of weird that everyone seemed to accept that the fantasy land—with its dragons, magic, etc.—actually was medieval Europe. Given how aggressive a few of the characters were about mentioning their nationalities, I wondered if this was to allow for some kind of tongue-in-cheek social commentary.  If so, I think it is probably too specific to the time and place of publication to be particularly meaningful to me. In these ways, as well as in its simple story structure, The Dragon and the George felt really dated.  However, I still think it would be an entertaining story for a reader in the mood for this kind of light fantasy.

My Rating: 2.5/5

The Dragon and the George felt to me like it wanted to be a parody of a generic fantasy novel while still being a generic fantasy novel. It was pretty cute and funny, but it never strayed very far from the expected. I think it may have been more unconventional when it was first published, but now it feels rather predictable and dated. It’s still an entertaining, undemanding, comedic novel, though, and I think it would be a pretty fun beach read for fans of light medieval-Europe style fantasy stories.

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