Thursday, January 20, 2011

Saint George and the Dragon: A Golden Tale, by Margaret Hodges from Edmund Spenser's The Faerie Queene

The masterful artwork of Trina Schart Hyman combined with the beautiful language of Margaret Hodges provide full justice to the ultimate fairy tale of St. George and the Dragon. In this age old tale, the Red Cross Knight fights through rough adventures with the fair princess, Una by his side. She has asked him to save her kingdom from the ravages of a terrifying dragon. He promises to do so, and the illustrations show the magnificent three-day battle, as well as the journey leading up to it.

The text in this work are in formal prose style, making this book for more advanced readers who can enjoy the language as well as the illustrations. For this reason, I have placed this book as appropriate for older readers. But the pictures would provide enough hints for a reader to tell the story aloud without reading the words, and younger children would more than comprehend the flow of the story. As an avid reader of Shakespeare and Spenser, who were contemporaries and friends, I was thoroughly pleased to find an adaptation of this famous story in a children’s book, with such rich illustrations as well. Hodges remains very true to the basic story of St. George, even including the different ways that St. George recovers from each day’s battle, or the different reactions of the village people to the dead dragon. Her vocabulary is also very closely borrowed from Spenser himself, which made my reading all the more enjoyable.

My favorite part of this book, however, was the illustrations. There is always one page of text, with a tapestry like border surrounding it. This tapestry look is mirrored on the opposite page, where the detailed illustrations seem to grow beyond the pages of the book. The battle with the dragon is done with great imagination, and very little gore, which allows the reader to dwell in the illustrations without any feelings of fear, terror, or beastliness. The greatest touch that Hyman has given to her readers, however, is in the borders of the tapestry around the text. For, one sees that each border is different for every page. Fairies, flora, and fauna of different shapes and sizes are discreetly couched in various stances in every border. And each one follows a theme mentioned in the text within. The reader can get a sense of the story, including the struggles, emotions, and possible outcomes of the main characters, simply by watching the changes in the borders.

A book like this provides a child with ample food for the imagination to feast upon. The reader learns about English lore, virtue, and old storytelling methods. In a sense, the child will come away with a better understanding of medieval English culture and fantasy through this book, simply by absorbing the beautiful artwork and language of the author and illustrator.

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