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August 30, 2011

Here be (no) dragons

One day, after ages of it being beloved, Harriet suddenly refused to let me read Sheree Fitch’s Sleeping Dragons All Around. At that point, she was unable to articulate why, but it was still significant as the first time a book had been outright rejected (as opposed to, say, abandoned out of boredom, which is different).

She also wouldn’t let us read her The Lady With the Alligator Purse— we’re still not sure why. But by the time she’d gone off two books as various as Neil Gaiman’s Instructions and Robert Munsch’s The Paper Bag Princess, I’d started detecting a theme. And by this time, Harriet had the words to explain: “Too scary,” she told us. Apparently it’s a fire-breathing dragon thing.

But how did she discover that dragons were scary? I’d certainly gone out of my way never to mention such a thing. In fact, I’d never mentioned that there was such a thing as “scary” at all, because little people are so open to suggestion, and I’ve been working hard on cultivating fearlessness. I don’t really do “scary” anyway, except when it comes to sensible things like diving off cliffs and tightrope walking. The closest thing I’ve got to an irrational fear is an extreme unease around dogs (which is not so irrational, I’d argue, because they’re equipped with teeth that could chew your face off), but I promise you that around a dog, Harriet has never, ever seen me flinch.

So this dragons thing has brought me to the limits of my powers, my powers of “cultivation”, and I get it that this is only the beginning of a very long education. And I get it too that it doesn’t take a genius to deduce that oversized fire-breathing lizards are probably best left undistubed between covers. (Interestingly, Harriet’s dragon aversion doesn’t extend to dinosaurs. She loves dinosaurs–plush, fossilized, wooden, Edwina, you name it.)

The thing is actually, that I fucking hate books with dragons (some excellent picture books aside). It’s true. I always have– when I was growing up, I never read a single book with a dragon on the cover. Which wasn’t really difficult to accomplish, because there weren’t many books with dragons on the cover. (My YA self would have been horrified by the popularity of science-fiction/fantasy today. And my adult self remains mystified.) A dragon on the cover was a kind of book design shorthand for “boring book for nerds”, and though I was certainly a nerd, I was the type of nerd who preferred books about pretty girls dying of anorexia or getting cancer.

Fantasy books: here’s another place where I’ve come to the limits of my own powers. I just can’t get into them, though I’ve tried. And I think back and wonder if I’d been less dragon-phobic in my youth, maybe fantasy-appreciation would come easier to me. There are a lot of things I wish I’d spent most of my life being a lot more open minded about, hence the reason why I want to make Harriet’s literary horizons broad from the very start. I want her to read better than I did, but then she persists in having her own feelings about things. She persists in refusing to be malleable, in having fears and preferences and in being a person apart from me.

But also a person who is very much like me, which I’m not sure is more or less disconcerting.

9 thoughts on “Here be (no) dragons”

  1. Rebecca says:

    I was always terrified of the books where the pretty girls died! When I read the Sweet Valley High where Regina od’d on coke, I had to sleep with the book in the hallway. But I loved them all the same, and I too never wanted to read anything about dragons.

    (I also wept during a school showing of *The Neverending Story* and, I think, had to be removed from the gym and soothed. But I’ve never revisited that movie to find out of that thing was actually a dragon–was it?)

  2. Kerry says:

    Oh my god, I think The Neverending Story was the root of my fantasy aversion. They made us watch it in school too (why??? who thought this was a good and/or useful idea?) in grade one. That puppy dragon thing sinking into quicksand is seared on my brain, and it is *horrible*. The only part of that movie I liked was the part where Fred Savage’s grandpa reads him a story.

  3. Kerry says:

    PS Maybe fantasy is now really popular because they stopped showing The Neverending Story to small children in schools. Also, it was a horse that sunk in quicksand. But nevertheless, terrible, terrible terrible. I refuse to bear witness.

  4. Rebecca says:

    Yes, yes, this was also my grade 1 year–why? (at least it makes my sobbing more excusable than if it was grade 7). I think in kindergarten we watched ET in the gym and I had so little idea what was going on that I didn’t even cry. I’m not sure how this qualifies as education.

  5. Heidi says:

    I had to watch The Neverending Story in school too and I also hated it and was terrified. And also very, very confused and horrified by the thought that this story was never going to end. Ever. Because it was neverending. I thought we were going to be stuck in the school gym for the rest of our lives, watching this movie that did not end.

  6. Panic says:

    I hate The Neverending Story,though I love the Dark Crystal, which is definitely way scarier. I was a weird horror movie kid though.

    I think it’s related to not liking fantasy as a genre. (Me too! Me too!) Here’s why I don’t like it, and it’s sort of related to why I find Russian novels difficult: naming. The word-names are things I’ve never encountered, so it takes me forever to figure out who’s who, and what they’re doing, and why is that person doing that I thought they were that other person…? I get bored of trying to sort it out. (Russian patronyms are impenetrable to me. It’s a Thing.)

    The only fantasy stuff I can handle is Arthurian. I love those old Mary Stewart books a lot.

  7. Gillian says:

    I hated sleeping dragons all around and my daughter loved it – there are a few rhythmic problems in it that I couldn’t get over so eventually I hid the book and she forgot about it, thank goodness. there were a few books like that – like the ‘young’ mouse in goodnight moon, for instance. at our house it was a ‘small’ mouse. young, pfft.
    now my little girl is turning ten and I bought her the fifth harry potter yesterday. it’s a door stop. I get the adventure part of the potter series and the boarding school part but the writing is really awful. at least I don’t have to read it aloud.
    have you found saturday night at the dinosaur stomp? it’s fantastic: I’d read that out loud to you if you were here. and then again. and maybe Harriet would like it, too!

    1. Kerry says:

      Must defend Sleeping Dragons– I love love love it. But thank you for the dino recommendation. We will seek it out!

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