Michael Kneeland's Reviews > Saint George and the Dragon

Saint George and the Dragon by Margaret Hodges
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Jun 28, 12

Read in December, 1989

I am fairly certain 'St. George and the Dragon' was the first library book I took out to read by myself; I was 7 and in the 2nd Grade. (Though there were probably many before, 'The Hobbit' was the first book I remember taking out to read with my mom; I was then 5.)

What struck me as most memorable about this book at the time, not surprisingly, were the pictures. I read and understood the story well enough (not realizing, to be sure, that it was a retelling of elements of Spenser's 'The Faerie Queen'), but the pictures left such an impression on my developing imagination that they would still be with me almost twenty years later, when I rediscovered the book in a Children's Literature course I took as part of teacher training.

Indeed, I did not even need the written story. I could tell quite vividly from the pictures alone of the heroic Red-Cross Knight, his lady fair with her snow-white lamb, and the accompanying dwarf, and how they sought out an evil dragon; how they took refuge with a hermit who showed the Red-Cross Knight a heavenly far-off city; and how the Knight finally found the dragon, seemed to die a number of times during battle with the beast but continually rose again and eventually succeeded in slaying his enemy, thus bringing peace to the lands and ensuring marriage to his lady fair. True, the pictures are violent in places -- the Red-Cross Knight cuts off the dragon's tail-stinger and claw, and the Knight gets pretty scratched up, singed, and beaten in the process -- but even these are far from needlessly gory. The quest is the slaying of a dragon, after all. In short, these pictures far exceed the simple illustration of the text and become something quite a bit grander and memorable.

I read this book constantly, inundating my parents with retellings and annoying my sister with reenactments. (Inexplicably, she was never quite pleased to be the dragon.) Certainly, during my Christmas vacation of 1989, I lived this book.

(In fact, come to think of it, this was also my first overdue library book.)

I read this book now with my son -- who has also become enamored by the illustrations -- and I even use it as an example of literary archerypes with my 8th Graders. (The Hero; the Group Companions; the Faithful Wife; the Creature of Nightmare; the Mentor; the revivifying power of water: it's all there.) The writing is good -- not great -- but the package as a whole is a monumental success, for modern fairy tales and Children's Literature in general. Any home or classroom library would be greatly enhanced by the inclusion of this book.
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