(part of the Oberon Zell Presents series)
by Ash “LeopardDancer” DeKirk
New Page Books, copyright 2006 $16.99
Review by Daven
One of the hazards of reviewing books for a website or a publication is receiving unsolicited books to review. Reviewers are sent advanced copies of books to promote talk about the volume when it’s released. Unfortunately this means that those reviewing the book don’t really have a choice in receiving the book; their only choice is whether or not they actually review it.
When I received this book, I was somewhat put off by it from the beginning, mainly because I have worked with Dragons in the past and have yet to see a book that actually does them justice.
I have to make a few statements before I get into the book’s mechanics. It’s no secret that I don’t like the Grey School or “Grimoire for the Apprentice Wizard” (the book that started all this) by Oberon. This review is going to make clear, I still don’t. To some it may seem that I am on a campaign against the school and all associated with it and not attempting to be fair. Point in fact, I have re-written this review three times trying to be exceedingly fair to this author because I hate giving bad reviews.
Compendium books like this one is fall into two classes of work, exceedingly good or bad. Unfortunately, the majority of the compendiums I have seen are far more commonly found in the latter category.
This book is to be used as part of the standard curriculum of the Grey School, run by Oberon. It is a required text for the class in the School taught by the author. If this is a sample of what is taught, I will never be in line take this class.
The foreword was written by Oberon Zell, the headmaster of the Grey School. No where is there any information from the author of this book, regarding the book’s purpose or how it is supposed to be used, which is odd.
I can’t say that this book is a joke, or a serious scholarly text, or simply a collection of sources or anything else. The need for and methodology behind the book may be stated in class. If so the book should have been kept in the school and not released to the general public.
Personally, all I can go on is Oberon’s words about this book, and from what he says this is going to be required reading at some point.
The first chapter deals with the species of dragons, but instead of settling for what is identifiably a dragon, snakes, hydras and wyverns are added into the mix. Now, while it can be argued that they are descended from draconic stock (if you believe that dragons actually physically existed on this planet), you can’t call them “dragons” anymore. That would be like coming up with a compendium on Horses and adding Giraffes and Hippos into the book.
As I said, the first chapter is about the different types of dragons in the various regions of the world, discussing their abilities, habits and powers attributed to them from myth and story. It is interesting that in this chapter the author discusses what criteria they use to define what is and is not a dragon, but those criteria are so broad and vague as to be able to be applied to almost anything.
Quoting from page 21:
“So how do we tell what is a dragon and what is not? Below is a list of traits and attributes that the myths and legends of the world grant dragons. If your creature in question has one or more of them, then chances are you would be safe calling it a dragon.
- reptilian in looks or behavior
- avian traits such as feathers
- utilization of fire or poison as a natural defense
- being associated with water
- having control over natural occurrences such as the weather, earthquakes, tsunamis and so forth
- being a guardian of something, be it treasure or knowledge
- magickal (sic) or supernatural abilities
- being able to fly, with or without wings
- shape shifting ability
- being viewed as a god or the servant of the gods”
Got that? By that logic, every High Priestess is a Dragon (guardian of knowledge, having magickal abilities and servant of the Gods). All Chickens are Dragons (flight and feathers), a Shrimp Boat Captain is a Dragon (associated with water), and a Gecko is a Dragon (reptilian looks and behavior). Oh, and Witches are Dragons also (stories give witches the power to control the winds and the weather, look no further than the cords where the winds were knotted up in them).
The Second Chapter is the beginning of the stories of the Dragons, taken from myth and legend. Siegfried and the Wurm is in here, as too is the fight between Thor and the Midgard Serpent at Ragnarok also called Gotterdammerung. Saint George and the Dragon is in here as well as… wait? Melusine? A woman cursed to become a dragon is included with the lore of Dragons? Or is half serpent and part faeire and is a guardian of a particular dynasty. (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Melusine ) I wouldn’t include this story, but I’m not the author. But then, why Quetzalcoatl? Why have stories of an Aztecan deity who is called the Feathered Serpent, but isn’t a dragon? Also included is Kiyo, a revenge tale about a spurned girl who goes and learns a spell to turn herself into a dragon to kill the priest who spurned her. Not one I would include either, since it has more to do with revenge and a draconic shape is the medium of that revenge.
The next chapter talks about Modern Dragons, and here my credulity was stretched so far that it snapped. In this section one can find whole references from such works as Harry Potter, Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, the Forgotten Realms (from D&D), Dragonheart (the movie), Dragonslayer (the movie), Final Fantasy (yes, from the game) and many other fictional sources. I didn’t see any of the many stories I know of however (one published in the “Sword and Sorcery” anthologies or “Dragonslayer” by Barbara Hamby), though there are some new short stories that I didn’t bother to read. There was even a reference to the Dungeons and Dragons Movie in this.
I read this chapter in gape-mouthed shock. I wanted to grab my Monster Manual out of storage to compare, but I had an eerie feeling of dejà vu when I started reading as there was EVERY dragon that Dungeons and Dragons ever listed in any of their books. I wonder if Wizards of the Coast (the current copyright holders for the entire AD&D franchise) knows about this. The suggested reading section lists such works as “Pete’s Dragon” and “Dragonball Z“.
The last chapter dealt with Dragons in the Natural World, and I assume this is meant to be archeological evidence that Dragons exist. The listing includes Dinosaurs, of all things, not just the Plesiosaurs, but listing a Triceratops and Ankylosaur as a Dragon. Such notables as a Python or an American Alligator are listed as Dragons, along with the Komodo Dragon. I’m sorry, I don’t care how often you call a walnut shell with feathers a roast turkey it is still a walnut shell with feathers.
The bibliography is not much better. It is full of references to works of fiction; from Harry Potter to movies to the Dragonriders of Pern series (where there are creatures called dragons, they are actually genetically altered aliens on another planet, not true dragons at all).
In short, this book is an assemblage of references from mythology abbreviated to a point of near uselessness with modern fiction about dragons taking precedent. Apparently any creature being called a dragon once in the text of the story , or looking vaguely draconic when it is described, qualifies that story for inclusion in this work. Even creatures who have no right being called dragons at all are added to this text, simply because they might be somewhat maybe perhaps related to or look like a dragon. I personally can’t call a Hadrosaur a Dragon.
In short, this volume cannot be considered a serious scholarly work at all. It ignores the actual serious discussions on Dragons completely, such as the Discovery Channel’s recent well publicized show on how a dragon could be real. And yet, included are things like a discussion of a dragon-seal in the Anime series Full Metal Alchemist and dragons on a card in the card game of Yu-Gi-Oh the cartoon of the same name.
And for the life of me I can’t determine if the author intended it this way or not. If this is a text book on Dragon Lore for the Grey School, one would hope it has some basis in fact. But no, that is not evident in this book. If this is meant to be a fun book, like many other compendiums of lore on creatures, then one would hope that it would be stated somewhere that this is not a serious work, but that’s not in this work either. I believe that text books should entertain and enlighten but, texts books for any school should have some gravitas.
This is not a book that should be used in paganism on any level unless you have a lot of room on your bookshelf and must have everything Dragon.
How to rate this book? I give it one star out of five. The only reason it’s not lower is that there is some information in there of use, like the abbreviated myths that were compiled and some of the names of the Chinese Dragons. None of the rest of this is worth anything in my opinion, and I don’t think that it is nearly worth the $16.99 asking price. Pick it up, read the first chapter, put it back on the shelf.
Originally posted 2011-10-27 12:30:12. Republished by Blog Post Promoter