The Dragon and the George
By Gordon R. Dickson
Published by Audible Studios
Read by Paul Boehmer
I first read this one when it was a featured book from the Science Fiction Book Club and it has remained a favorite ever since. The Dragon and the George is a fantasy adventure with humorous overtones that parody fantasy even as it stands as a classic within that same genre. It is strongly reminiscent of the Harold Shea adventures of L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt and while I have seen no admission of it, may well have been written intentionally as a nod to that earlier series.
Jim Eckert, like Harold Shea, is an ordinary man living in this mundane world and both are academics. Shea goes stumbling off into the fantasy realms, looking for adventure (at least at first) while Shea really just wants to settle down with his girlfriend Angie. However, Angie is working for another professor who, for some reason is experimenting with things like astral projection (which would likely get him thrown off any campus if he did not have tenure). One day this idiot professor’s experiment send Angie off somewhere, body and all and Jim must be sent off to help bring her back. The problem is, the professor does not really know what he is doing, so while he is correct that only Jim’s consciousness goes off in search of Angie, it is firmly lodged inside the body of a dragon named Gorbash. It turns out that in this other world magic works and logic does not and Jim is stuck in the dragon’s body.
One thing leads to another and Angie is kidnapped and Jim naturally wants to go charging off after her. He is given a not-so-logical reason for why he cannot go directly, but instead must first gather up a number of companions. What it boils down to, of course, is that this is the standard formula for a fantasy quest epic. If the hero could just go straight to the heart of his problem he could be back by lunchtime and the readers (or listeners in a much earlier age) would not enjoy the story so much. Having the wizard S. Carolinus make it sound like obeying the rules is a delightful parody of the structure of such epics. Sure Mister Dickson could have just sent Jim on his way directly and he could have gathered companions along the way, but forcing him to actively seek them out was a great way to show the difference between the prosaic nature of our world and the inherently poetic nature of this other one.
He runs into a somewhat smaller dragon, who, at first, seems like he is about to become a sidekick – Sancho Panza to Don Quixote – but who turns out to hold a different role. He also meets the ultimately noble knight, Sir Brian, Danielle of the Wold, obviously cast from the same mold as Shea’s Belphoebe of the Wood, who is the self-sufficient daughter of a Robin Hood-like character named Giles of the Wold, an English wolf named Aragh, a Welsh longbowman, whose name escapes me and, eventually all of Giles’ men of the woods. And then finally they can move on to actually attempt their rescue of Angie.
As in the Shea books, the locals of the fantasy world accept Eckert and Angie in terms understood in the fantasy world. I think I would have preferred had Sir Brian just assumed Jim was the Baron of Riveroak, rather than having Jim stick that title on himself. I kept expecting a truth-teller to come along and expose him for the fraud he was on that point. And of course Danielle thought he must really be a prince who was put under an evil spell. In this world I would say she had been listening to too many fairy tales. In that one, she might be right ninety percent of the time.
Anyway, while the plotline of the book is formulaic, Gordon Dickson made it fresh and interesting. The book is actually an expansion of an earlier story, “St. Dragon and the George,” although it shows none of the usual signs of bloated writing such expansions frequently exhibit. The story was also adapted into a Rankin Bass cartoon where is was mixed up with Peter Dickenson’s The Flight of Dragons. I have watched and enjoyed that cartoon – better by a league than their attempt at The Hobbit – and would say it is about 3% of Dickenson’s work of pseudo-natural science (which by the way is an excellent work in its own right, but not a novel) and 97% Gordon Dickson. I never did know why they felt they had to replace Jim Eckert with Peter Dickenson although they obviously used the name of Dickenson’s book as it was so much better known with the viewing public. The cartoon, by the way, starred the vocal talents of John Ritter, Victor Buono, James Earl Jones, Harry Morgan, Larry Storch and a host of other talented stars, many of whom are not known for being the voice behind the characters. It’s worth a watch, but even more so, this book is worth reading!
I found Paul Boehmer’s reading acceptable. In a story that practically begged for silly voices between the sub-basso booms of the mountain dragons and the whines of Secoe the mere-dragon and all the other supernatural creatures, he managed to not fall into the traps inherent in such writing. And that’s a very good thing since having to listen to Aragh growling out his lines in a realistic wolf voice would have been excessively painful. If I have a nit to pick, however, it felt that while he put in a supreme effort to differentiate voices at the start of the book, toward the middle he seemed to relax a bit and voices sometimes became harder to distinguish just by listening. Then again, my recording was a bit scrambled with some tracks sort of playing from the inside out leaving me to listen to some passages two and sometimes three times. Fortunately, as I said above, I have read this book before so I knew what was happening, but that might have affected my ability to judge the narrative performance. What I was able to listen to was clearly spoken and well-paced so it is possible that the confusion between voices is the fault of the tracks where some scenes were out of sequence.
However, all told, the story is a lot of fun and Mister Boehmer’s reading is easy to listen to. I can recommend both.