I began a review of James A. Owen's Here, There Be Dragons in a previous post.
I finished the book a couple of days ago.
I came very close to closing the book before the end.
But if I had given up on it I would have missed wonderful moments within it – some unexpected turns of scenes.
Unfortunately these great bits did not outweigh the whole experience. I'm not impressed. I dare say that after a time, I found it slightly insulting. Ironically, the very concept that attracted me to the book is what stirred up the disenchantment. The idea that Tolkien, Lewis and Williams did not come up with their material on their own…that they crafted it based on a wild adventure in a magical realm. And it doesn’t stop there. You’ll find that Dickens, Poe, Dante, Shelley, Byron, Doyle, Verne, Hawthorne, Swift, Grimm (Jacob but not Wilhelm?), Brahe, Wells (who is the Time Traveler, apparently, though he doesn’t use his machine to help them? Or reveal and utilize his experience in the Keep of Time?), Spenser, Kepler, Dumas, Bacon, Andersen, Shakespeare, Twain…apparently all of these authors and more have no internal imaginations. They all simply wrote disguises of experiences they had in the Archipelago of Dreams. This bothers me…but I might be oversensitive. Oh. And then there’s this line about Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland: "Now, John,” Bert chided. “That’s just a story." I’m sorry…what? Dragons is a book about fantastical places, some specifically named from literature such as Lilliput. Yet Wonderland is merely a story? Could be meant as a joke. But then why not include Carroll among the esteemed? Plus, my all-too-obvious speculation from the previous post came out positive. Jamie does indeed refer to Barrie. The book claims that Barrie had been unable to handle the adventure of it and resigned his post as Caretaker of the "Imaginarium Geographica." Excuse me? Surely this is an insult? Also, it states that Barrie had been knighted. Barrie did not accept knighthood in 1909. But he became a Baronet in 1913. The Sir refers to baronetcy.
Besides these curiosities, remember how I said it became all too easy to see the parallels between the characters/places in this book to the authors' work? Such as the Winter King being a form of Jadis, the White Witch? Well, even this went on to annoyance. It’s one thing to refer to or homage elements from other tales. But to condense and squeeze as many as possible into one story for the sake of the premise quickly became tiresome. For instance, taking shadows from people (a la Peter Pan) by looking in a cauldron known as Pandora's Box (standard fantasy icon and Greek myth) resulting in dark, soul-less cloaked figures, slaves to their Master’s will (a la the Ringwraiths/Nazgul) loses its impact. It even has a Ring of Power with other rings given to dwarves, elves… Did I mention the Winter King wants said lost Ring of Power and has a hook on his right hand?
Plus, as I've already shown, it goes on to “borrow” from at least Greek mythology. Yes, I realize that Tolkien and Lewis used world mythologies. So it stands to reason to include them. But here the tales feel thrown together with the rest of it. Bible stories and Arthurian legend, too. Not that it’s wrong to use such things. One of my own works has elements of King Arthur. But to have it all jumbled together in a kind of Storybook Chex Mix?
All in all, I suppose it’s not exactly a bad book per se. The story is told well enough. And it did take some ingenuity to ransack and hodgepodge the great fantasies of the world into a single entity. As I said, at times it delighted with fun surprises. I just question the intention and the outcome. It didn’t warrant the rampant abuse of fiction.
For those of you who enjoyed the novel, I hope you don’t think less of me for my opinion. As my mother always tells me, “That’s why there’s chocolate and vanilla.”