Bothari’s #CBR4 Review #51: The Dragon and the George by Gordon R. Dickson
My dad saw me reading this when we met up for Thanksgiving. He gave a little nostalgic snort and said he’d read it long ago, tossing it back on the hotel side table a little dismissively. I think that kind of sums up this book: it’s one you read when you’re learning to be a fantasy fan. It’s fantasy fiction 101: dragons, knights, comic relief magicians, noble quests, talking animals. It covers all the bases, and it does so very neatly, but to re-read it now, it seems a little paint-by-numbers. Still a fun read, but Gordon “Single R” Dickson’s got nothin’ on the meatier Double Rs of the fantasy world.
Jim is a poor grad student, madly in love with fellow student Angie. They work long hours on campus, trying to save up enough money to move out of student housing and into their own grown-up place. In a rushed scene that doesn’t explain much, Angie volunteers to try her professor’s astral projection device. She disappears from the lab, and Jim panics as he tries to go after her. The professor dials the device back to lower power, theorizing that Jim can send his consciousness out to find Angie and draw her back.
The next thing he knows, Jim is trapped in the body of a dragon named Gorbash. He finds himself in a medieval world full of magic and fantastic creatures, and it just so happens that he’s a medieval studies expert and fits right in. Angie gets kidnapped by a bad dragon, Jim in his good-dragon body has to go save her, along with the usual side adventures and companion-finding along the way. (Dragons call humans ‘georges’ in this world.)
The part where it gets a little Fantasy 101 is with the rules of the quest. Jim seeks the advice of a wizard, who tells him that he can’t go straight to the castle where Angie is being held – he must go find companions to help him. Why? Because that’s how stories go. Ooookay. So Jim goes out traveling aimlessly and runs across Sir Brian. “You need a Noble Companion?” asks Sir Brian. “How coincidental! I myself am out adventuring to make my name in the world, so I will go with you.” You can practically see Dickson’s checklist as he fills in all the puzzle pieces. There’s even a mystical auditing department, so the wizard can say when there are enough Good Powers to defeat the Dark Powers.
It sounds like I didn’t like it, but really it is an enjoyable book. The characters are mostly fun, if a little flat, and watching Jim adjust to life as a dragon with no access to cars or telephones is interesting. It’s just all a little too easy. Jim’s tired? Dragons only need to sleep 20 minutes! Jim’s hungry? Dragons only need to eat every three or four days – why hellooo, friendly innkeeper with a fully-stocked cellar! Jim has enough companions? Off to save Angie we go! There’s a very young-adulty feel to the whole proceeding, including a couple long soul-searching passages where Jim learns Lessons About Himself.
So, read this if you’re feeling nostalgic for youth-friendly fantasy, or if you’re trying to figure out if you like fantasy novels. Or get it for your favorite geeky middle-schooler for Christmas.