The Dragon and the George
By Gordon R Dickson
The Dragon and the George is a fantasy novel by the author Gordon R Dickson.
Welcome to Gordon R. Dickson's alternate reality. Within that reality, we find ourselves in a medieval landscape balanced between the natural forces of Chance and History. A landscape filled with knights, castles, dragons, wolves, magic, and of course evil forces out to destroy all. The interesting twist to this reality is that dragons and wolves are sentient creatures. Dragons are proud, long-lived, conservative types by nature, they accumulate hoards, have a love of wine, and for stories. Their primary weakness, however, are their tempers known as dragon-fury, and once raised causes them to abandon conservatism in favor of a fight.
Wolves are independent, brash, solitary creatures that let you know exactly where they stand on issues. The humans or "georges" as dragons call them are the typical types you'd expect to see in a medieval landscape and something to be avoided, since they've learned how to grow shells, stingers, and horns. Within the last few centuries, many a dragon has fallen to the horns of the "georges". As for the magic in this realm, it has its own set of physical laws and is monitored with its own built-in auditing/accounting system. Its practitioners learn and study magic much the same way we would study science. They are also on the alert to preserve the balance of the natural forces at work in this world. Then there are the malevolent forces known as the "Dark Powers" that are out to disrupt the balance of Chance and History so that the world may fall into either chaos or stasis. They can't act directly so they seek out and use living creatures to do their bidding. Overview
Mild spoilers to follow
Then one special day, along came Angie and Jim. Two struggling contemporary 20-century teaching assistants from a mid-western college. Jim had been short-changed an instructorship in the History Department due to budgetary issues then learns he must wait at least another year before he can have another shot at it. His fiancée Angie works part time as a lab assistant on an Astral Projection project and becomes the victim of an experiment gone awry and arrives in this alternate realty body and all. Jim, who was about to confront Angie's boss about the excessive overtime, arrives in time to see her vanish. Together they craft a plan to rescue Angie and so Jim uses the device (at lower power) in an attempt to locate her thinking she is simply somewhere else on the planet, a place with dragons since this is what Angie was focusing on. However, Jim discovers something has gone terribly wrong. He was to be a disembodied spirit that only Angie would be aware of, but now finds himself in the body of the dragon known as Gorbash. This sudden awareness of talking dragons gives Jim his first good clue that he's probably not in his native realm anymore.
Having no time to lose, Jim takes advantage of his situation to secure Angie's immediate safety and gets an opportunity to send her home. However, Angie sees serious problems with Jim's plan for both of them returning home and crafts the B-plan. Jim as Gorbash was to seek out the local mage Carolinus to work as a mediator with the local georges concerning Angie. However, Angie suggests that Jim contact Carolinus about their situation, in hopes he can find a way to send both of them back together. But to accomplish this, Jim must first learn how to fly. Angie points out that the body Jim is in knows how to fly and that it should be instinctual to him, once in the air. So, at her suggestion, Jim reluctantly leaps from the cliffs of the dragon caves and manages to figure out the flying thing. (Jim will have his revenge, but that's another story.)
While pursuing the B-plan with Carolinus, Jim learns that he and Angie have seriously disrupted the balance between the natural forces of Chance and History. Worse yet, he also learns that he and Angie have now been caught up in the "Dark Powers" attempts to use them to finally tip the balance, and that they've already managed to abduct Angie from the dragon caves. So Jim now finds himself in a life and death struggle not only for Angie's life and his own, but for the lives of everyone in this realm. In order to set things right, Jim must set out on a quest to gather the companions that he'll need to confront and defeat the "Dark Powers" and all that serve them. During that quest, Jim must figuring how to survive as a dragon in a strange land, how to interact with its inhabitants, as well as figuring out the workings of this realm.
Additional spoilers to follow
I came across this interesting fantasy novel during the late 70's and must admit it was a compelling story and my first book that I couldn't put down. Recently I got thinking about it again, so I located another copy and reread it and enjoyed it as much this time around as the first for it didn't lose anything over the years. This will most likely become a classic for readers of any genre. It had a great premise, great characters, told with intelligence, and with occasional humor. Dickson's style for this novel was formalistic, but masterfully done. He introduces us to his characters individually, lets us get to know them, and then forces some peril/situation on them for dramatic/emotional effect. This method does stir you emotionally as it takes you through its uplifting moments as well as its tragic ones. Then there's the concept of an academically trained mind suddenly dealing with and adapting to a foreign and bizarre environment, which was intriguing, thought provoking, and set the stage for some great comedic culture shock moments.
I got drawn into in the adventure by getting to know the characters as well as having genuine concern for the situations they faced. I couldn't wait to find out what would happen next. It was also refreshing to see intelligent dragons and portrayed as interesting creatures. From the turn coat Bryagh, to the patriarchal Smrgol, to the punitive and timid mare dragon Secoh. You really got a good sense of what it might be like to be one of these creatures as Jim learns to deal with real dragon feelings and instincts. You also got a good understanding about their culture as well as their situation with the humans. Dickson also created a great cast of human characters as well, Sir Brian Neville-Smythe a chivalrous knight, Danielle a lovely master archer, and Dafydd a master bowman to name a few. Of course we can't leave out Aargh the English Wolf. The use of magic was sparse, but it helped frame the background and back-story. Also the way it was being explained, you got a sense that magic was a form of science in this world. Especially since it appears that only the academics study and perform magic.
Looking back, I wondered why Gorbash was selected as the dragon Jim would wind up in. However, I came to realize just how much Jim and Gorbash had in common and that there was really no other choice. Both had similar size, strength, and age among their species. Also Jim's nature for direct action when confronted is a definite dragon trait. Then there's Jim's ignorance of the "universal laws" that make him appear dim or slow-witted in that regard, which made for grant banter between him and Carolinus who expects someone with advanced academic credentials to have a sound grasp of the natural forces and laws. So Gorbash is the only choice to keep everything in balance, a theme that definitely comes up several times. Then there was the question of how Angie could be captured by Bryagh so quickly since she arrived outside of the dragon caves. Then I got on the subtly stated fact that she was wearing perfume, something that would definitely make her easy to find for someone with a good sense of smell. I think it was the discovery of these subtle clues that made my recent reading of this novel that much more enjoyable. Finally, I enjoyed Dickson's realistic portrayal of medieval life during this period of time, which was outright dangerous. However, there were many lighthearted moments, as Dickson played the culture shock moments wonderfully.
One question that still puzzles me is whether the arrival of Jim and Angie was simply a random event or something that was planned for. Secoh told Jim that the Loathly Tower had become more fearsome recently with strange comings and goings, which seem to indicate that the "Dark Powers" were getting ready for something. Also Carolinus did have some knowledge of future events, however, he also demonstrated what appears to be a sincere lack of understanding of the present, especially when Jim first showed up at his door. What got me thinking about this is that during my recent reading of the story, I caught on to the subtle clues that put the "astral projection accident" into a whole new perspective. Dickson never did identify the 20-century date for the occurrence of the accident, however, after doing some research; I located a 20-century date that seems to be a perfect match for the clues I found.
Dickson won a British Fantasy Award (1977) for this novel that was published in 1976. Later he would continue the adventures of his characters with the publication of "The Dragon Knight" in 1990, which begins Jim's adventures as "The Dragon Knight". One last footnote: several characters and plot elements from "The Dragon and The George" formed the base for the 1982 animated Rankin/Bass film "The Flight of Dragons" with additional story ideas and characters thrown in. One of which was Peter Dickinson's work "The Flight of Dragons" which drew upon his ideas/concepts for the dragons (also a fascinating read by the way). This movie features the voices of actors John Ritter, Harry Morgan, James Earl Jones, Victor Buono, and Larry Storch to name a few.
This movie generally receives great reviews and is admired by its fans. However, after viewing this movie, I'm surprised that Peter Dickinson's book got top billing as there are more of Gordon Dickson's story elements present and that Dickson's book was only referenced in the trailer. Anyway, it was interesting to watch but Dickson's book is so much better.
So for the fans of the movie, just a word of caution to treat the "Dragon and The George" as an independent work to fully enjoy it as it shares only several plot points with the movie. However, that shouldn't prevent you from enjoying an otherwise great novel.
Written on 20th August 2010 by TC .