This is a special book to me in several ways. I bought it one day back in high school when my bosom friend and I were perusing a Border’s. St. George and the Dragon leapt off the book shelf with its gorgeous illustration and title.(Why yes we loved the children’s section, and still do!) Ooh, a dragon…a fairy tale…I was hooked. I read it and bought it, not only because I loved it, but because it was the first book I thought of giving to my child one day. So, home came the book with me.
Years later, my son loves the story. Even when he was about two years old, he would actually sit as I read most of the text to him, enthralled by the colorful and detailed illustrations. Ahh, so special!
Rather than give you the basic plotline of the book, I’m encouraging you to read it for yourself. So here are the reasons I love this book, and think it’s worth a read. But first, a little background information.
This story of St. George and the Dragon is a retelling by Margaret Hodges, illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman. Based off the first book in Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene , the original story is rich with epic figures and symbolism both political and religious. (Read more about it here.)
I haven’t read Spenser’s work. Before I had acquired my limited knowledge of the original author’s intent, the themes of Christ as servant, warrior, champion, and bridegroom were delightfully apparent in Hodge’s retelling. Here are a couple of my favorites.
An examples of Christ as servant occurs during St. George’s journeys to battle the dragon, when he sees the High City. Instantly he longs to go there. Instead, he is told he must first fight the dragon (“go down into the valley”, p.11) before he can enter this beautiful place. He must face an enemy and humble himself in deadly service on behalf of others in this world before he can ascend to the next.
Another favorite, this time a picture of Christ as the champion, occurs after St. George’s defeat of the dragon. The grateful king of that country gives St. George gifts of gold and ivory. “But the knight told the king never to forget the poor people, and gave the rich gifts to them (p.28).” Such a beautiful picture of Christ’s generosity to the bankrupt in heart after his victory over sin and death. It also reminds me of Jesus’ kindness to the poor and downtrodden he encountered on earth.
(Consequently, Christ symbolism isn’t to be found in St. George and his deeds alone. Those familiar with Jesus’s triumphal entry will recognize a parallel here with Una’s riding on a donkey. There are other examples of Una as a Christ figure, which reminds me of the fact that different characters and events in a story often illustrate different facets of the same concept. I love this. How many ways can an author creatively paint a picture, get his point across?)
Children and adults alike will enjoy Hyman’s fantastic illustrations. She captures the action and drama vividly. The characters and scenery depicted are intruiging, and beautifully fit the fairy-tale like setting. The pictures are bordered with whimsical details that provoke curiosity and evoke many epic themes and icons. Throughout the story, author’s and illustrator’s work complement each other to build depth and layers of interest in the story.
As a book for children who have never read <em>The Faerie Queene</em>, I think Hodge’s retelling serves as an excellent introduction, not only to a piece of classic literature, but hopefully to symbolism and it’s significance as well. A princess riding a donkey, a city full of angels, and a three day battle with a dragon may not strike any chord beyond fascination and curiosity in a child’s mind. BUT. I do believe that the seeds of curiosity can be led to see greater things. And any story worth telling and hearing is so in part because it whispers of a greatest story-the story of a King who came as a Servant to redeem rebels into heirs for His kingdom. (This is why I chose this quote for my about page-it’s one of my favorite reasons to write!)