This fantasy book in the "The Chronicles of the Imaginarium Geographica" by James A. Owen is published by Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing.
Here, There Be Dragons is written for kids ages 13 years and up. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.
John, Jack and Charles, three strangers, become caretakers of the Imaginarium Geographica — an atlas of imaginary lands called the Archipelago. John cannot decipher as many of the atlas' ancient languages as others expect, which makes their escape from the Wendigo, black-hearted creatures that eat live flesh, and England on a dragonship even more of an adventure. Once John, Jack and Charles arrive in the imaginary lands, the Morgaine (three witches) prophesy John's future, and the three companions find Bug, a young boy, as a stowaway.
The rest of the book details how they keep Winter King, who isn't a king, from exerting his power over the imaginary lands and capturing souls from the un-dead (Shadow-Borns). Ordo Maas, a wise man from Earth, assists the caretakers, and eventually John and his group realize that if they place a lid on Pandora's box, they can defeat the Winter King. Just when everything seems hopeless, Bug is found to be one of King Arthur Pendragon's descendants, which makes him the true king of the imaginary lands. A lid is placed on Pandora's box, and John deciphers the right words on the atlas to call the dragons, which have been missing from the imaginary lands for some time. Then the dragons return John, Jack and Charles to England.
Although Adam, Eve, Methuselah, Noah and others are referred to, the author distorts the biblical accounts to fit with the book's mythology. Artus, a guide, explains that prayers aren't said for any god's sake. Prayers are important for people to commit to and remember what they believe. The character of Jack is used to emphasize that what people allow in their minds will affect how they act.
The three witches prophesy about John's part in the future. Samaranth, a dragon and a sage, guides the travelers to what they next need to do. On the island of Byblos, people honor those who are older because they have more life experience. Ordo Maas (the counterpart to biblical Noah) is wiser than anyone he is likely to meet, except Adam. Everyone kneels before Ordo, but he tells them to stand. Arthur Pendragon, before his death, rules both the Archipelago and the human world, commands the dragons and unites the two worlds. The author fictionally names former caretakers as well-known authors Roger Bacon, Charles Dickens and James Barrie.
Other Belief Systems
The green knights must do penance for past sins or to right something they did wrong. The Morgaine are three witches who act as one. They can tell the future, much like the three witches in Shakespeare's Macbeth. The human world is described as the fields where Adam, Eve and their children live, and the imaginary lands as being much older than where Adam lives. The gods destroy the Drowned Lands (Atlantis) because the inhabitants either explored the mysteries of life too deeply or had an inattentive angel watching over them.
When Captain Nemo is introduced to the group, he gives a Hindu greeting. The Camelot legend is presented as real, in which King Arthur is the one king who rules both the real world and imaginary lands. A talking badger, Tummeler, says that Oxford is a place of knowledge and Druid craft. Shadow-Borns are people who serve the Winter King after he steals their souls. They in turn can steal the spirits of others.
Ordo Maas knows all the children of the earth. He brought the animals from earth to the imaginary lands and taught them to speak. Ordo Maas, his wife and sons build a large boat before a year-long flood. He says, "The gods have been destroying mankind by flood since time began. It was necessary until the point that men learned enough to begin destroying themselves all on their own." He goes on to tell how people can become gods. Before the Winter King possessed the kettle (Pandora's box), it belonged to Ordo's wife (given to her by the gods). The great kettle of iron holds the talents and vices of man.
Ordo Maas builds the dragonships from a ship with a small bit of divinity. The dragons are the bearers of divinity. "The Golden Eyes of the Dragons are what allows passage between the worlds." These eyes are only on dragonships.
Pandora's box is used to take away free will. Sailors say a prayer to Astraeus, the god of the four winds, to help them keep their course. There is a circle of stones, like those at Stonehenge, where a person can call on the dragons to return. The shield that covers the kettle belongs to Perseus. The Summer Country compares to heaven, which is whatever one wants it to be. The author mixes history with his imagination and makes John's real name J.R.R. Tolkien and his two companions' real names Charles Williams and C.S. Lewis. Perhaps this is an attempt to historically legitimize this tale, as if the imaginary lands were a true part of history, at least from a revisionist viewpoint.
The book begins with the death of a professor, but it implies rather than gives details. Wendigo eat live flesh. People become Wendigo creatures after they have eaten a best friend or loved one. John uses God's name in an exclamation when he sees the Nautilus, Captain Nemo's ship, for the first time. John has war memories about his comrades being killed. There is an attack at the Great Council. Birds are referred to as bloody. Phrases such as "I'll bash your head in" are frequent. Idiot, stupid, d---ed, d---ation and h--- are used, along with such words as drat.
If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:
- Imaginary and real events are combined in this book to create a mythology of its own.
How does this cast doubt on biblical elements and perhaps make people think that the Bible is untrue?
- John did not want to accept a task that he knew nothing about.
Why do you think he finally decided to be a caretaker?
- The Noah flood story was stretched so that it no longer lines up with the biblical account.
What other stories were stretched in the same way?
- Why do you think the author named each of the caretakers as a famous person?
Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. A book's inclusion does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.