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Here There Be Dragons
Jane Yolen
Harcourt Brace & Company, 149 pages

Here There Be Dragons
Jane Yolen
Jane Yolen has been called the Hans Christian Andersen of America and the Aesop of the 20th century because of her many fairy tales and story books. She has written over 150 books for children, young adults and adults, along with hundreds of stories and poems. She's a past-president of SFWA and has been a member of the Board of Directors of SCBWI (Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators) since its inception.

Jane Yolen Website ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The Sea Man
SF Site Review: Twelve Impossible Things Before Breakfast
SF Site Review: The Transfigured Hart

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Robert Francis

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Here There Be Dragons is a collection of short stories and poems about dragons. The author, Jane Yolen, is a prolific writer who consistently demonstrates a masterful ability to craft stories for people of diverse age groups and interests. Harcourt Brace is publishing Here There Be Dragons through its Children's Book Division, and is recommending it for ages 10 and up. Unfortunately, this may turn out to be an example of the counter-productiveness of the industry's need to file everything into a neat little category, or to focus advertising efforts on a "target market." I'll agree, this book is perfect for children -- no sex, no blood, no gore, no guts, no "controversial" scenes containing alternative lifestyles, organized religion, or politics. The average adult reader might therefore be justifiably suspicious that this book would be chock-full of bland pap -- but they'd be wrong. What Harcourt Brace should have promoted about this book is that Here There Be Dragons is a book full of good stories, that just happens to also be appropriate for young readers.

The central focus of the book is, not surprisingly, dragons. Sentient civilized dragons, loyal trainable dragons, malicious ravenous dragons, inscrutable dragons, and of course, the human Pendragon. Dragons have always had a following, and were quite the fad not too long ago. Yolen's portrayals of dragons are so varied and so beautifully told that the book not only avoids the pitfalls of draconian cliché but also allows the more jaded adult reader to recapture some of the wonder felt when they first encountered dragon stories.

In the short story, "Great-Grandfather Dragon's Tale," we hear a common human legend told from the dragon's point of view. In "Cockfight" we are taken to a world where dragons are trained to fight each other for the entertainment of humans, and are given a tale of the bonding between one young trainer and his dragon. In "Dragonfield" we learn that when a marauding dragon appears, long after the last of the dragon-slaying heroes are dead, courage and ingenuity can allow average people to become the heroes for future legends. In "The Dragon's Boy" we find that it was the hunger for wisdom, not fighting ability, that helped a young boy named Arthur become the Pendragon. And in "One Ox, Two Ox, Three Ox, and the Dragon King" we have a tale of family devotion and determination that allows three young brothers to do the impossible.

There are also a few very short stories and poems included in this volume. These did not impress me as much as the longer stories, but I have never really been much for poetry. The same goes for those 100-word or 50-word prose exercises in artificiality. Granted, it does take a lot of skill to evoke a full and vivid image within such artificial limits, but they've always struck me as rather pointless.

I should note for you Jane Yolen fans out there that I noticed some of the stories, and at least one of the poems, were very familiar. If you own or have read Yolen's books Dragon's Blood (Chapters 20-22), Dragonfield and Other Stories, Merlin's Booke, or if you have read Spaceships and Spells or Dragons and Dreams edited by Yolen, Martin H. Greenberg and Charles Waugh, you will have already read five of the short stories and one of the poems contained in Here There Be Dragons. This shouldn't keep you from thinking about buying this one, as Here There Be Dragons compiles them all in one place, with additional material and good illustrations by David Wilgus, and would be a great gift for that young, or old, reader who doesn't require gratuitous violence or sex in their leisure reading.

Copyright © 1998 by Robert Francis

Robert Francis is by profession a geologist, and, perhaps due to some hidden need for symmetry, spends his spare time looking at the stars. He is married, has a son, and is proud that the entire family would rather read anything remotely resembling literature than watch Jerry Springer.


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