Monday, July 18, 2016

Dragon Magic (Andre Norton)

Dragon Magic
(The Magic Sequence)
Andre Norton
Fiction, YA Fantasy
**** (Good)

DESCRIPTION: It's a new year and a new school for middle-grade boys Sig, George, Artie, and Kim... and they couldn't be more miserable. Sig fears he'll never be able to keep up with his classes. George, swept up in his elder brother's Black Power fervor, demands to be called Ras (Swahili for "Prince"), contributing to growing family tensions. Small Artie just wants to be part of the in-crowd, though no matter how hard he tries he can't seem to get the attention of the cool football boys. And lonely Kim hides behind books, sick of being the only Asian kid on the bus. Then Sig gets it into his head to sneak into the abandoned old house near the bus stop, the one due to be demolished soon, to see if the eccentric old man who lived there left any secret treasures behind. It's there that he finds the strange dragon puzzle with its jewel-like pieces, pieces that seem to come alive. As each boy finds the box, each assembles one of the four dragons - and each is swept up in fantastic tales of ancient and magical times, back when dragons and mystery still walked the earth.

REVIEW: Ages ago, I started - but ultimately abandoned - this book; as an impatient child, the lack of actual dragons for good stretches bored me. But I remembered what I'd read of it, and it lurked and nagged at me for over twenty years. When I found a copy for two bucks (one, with a half-off coupon), I decided to give it another try, now that I'm undeniably older, theoretically wiser, and marginally more patient. I'm glad I did, though I can still see why my younger self tired of it.
Andre Norton wrote middle grade and young adult adventures and genre fiction long before they were separate categories in a bookstore. They're full of imagination and action, but also full of dated stereotypes and a somewhat stiff, formal writing style. (They also tend to be boy-oriented, likely because high adventure with boys was much more marketable.) Norton's multicultural cast has a few unfortunate stereotypes here and there, particularly with George/"Ras" and the whole Black Power movement that was in such high fervor in the 1970's when this tale was published (not to mention Asian Kim's dutiful studiousness.) Beyond that, though, it's actually a decent tale of adventure, with some life lessons thrown in for good measure. The boys each become part of ancient myths and tales from four corners of the world, living through Sigurd's encounter with Fafnir in Norse Germany, the tale of Daniel and the dragon of Babylon, the final days of the "real" King Artos Pendragon of Britain, and the ancient chaos of war-torn Han (China) and a principled hero known as the Slumbering Dragon. If Norton's depictions of ancient times and cultures look a little stilted by today's standards, well, this wasn't meant to be a scholarly work but an entertaining story, plus she was deliberately mimicking the stylized version of reality often presented in epics. It's a story that would likely still entertain readers today, if they can get past some of the dated elements to rediscover it.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Do-It-Yourself Magic (Ruth Chew) - My Review
Knight's Castle (Edward Eager) - My Review
The Once and Future King (T. H. White) - My Review

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