Dragon Riding with New Adventures
Book Review no. 5: Dragon Rider: the Griffin’s Feather by Cornelia Funke
Series: Dragon Rider, no. 2
Genre: Middle-grade fantasy/magical realism
Completion Date: August 10, 2019
Content for the Sensitive Reader: some conventional mild language, oath-swearing by mushrooms and the Norse gods, references/appeals by characters to unknown gods for help, violence below the level typical in fantasy.
BookmarkedOne Rating: 7/10
Not quite what I would hope for from Cornelia Funke. The woman who whisked us far away with Inkheart, The Thief Lord, and all of Jacob Reckless’s adventures doesn’t present quite the same captivating style in this book.
Still, I did enjoy this one a good deal more than the first Dragon Rider. In that book, the writing style and repetition of the same ordinary descriptor words had bothered me. I’d found myself bored halfway through the enormous volume (perhaps because I disagreed with her ideas and magical theory regarding dragons?), and didn’t read another Funke book until I fell head-over-heels for Inkheart.
Whether you look to dragons or not in this one, and there is very little dragon-riding to be done, Cornelia does throw in Indonesian islands replete with creatures real and mythical that create a veritable Neverland.
With griffins, of course.
And there is a refreshing reunion with Ben, Firedrake, Twigleg, Sorrel, Lola Graytail, and pretty much all the other chief characters from the first book, while acknowledging the passage of time, and the things that change with it. It’s perfectly successful as a sequel, as all of Cornelia’s second books seem to be.
She also continues a tradition I loved in the Inkheart trilogy, leaving quotes from other famous (or not so famous) books at the beginning of each chapter. It feels almost like taking a look at Cornelia’s personal library and seeing what she likes to read, creating a map to answer the persistent question of what to read next, what to read next?
On the other hand, it’s a book with an agenda. From before the first page, it becomes clear that Cornelia is using this book to champion the cause of animal protection. There’s nothing wrong with that. But I don’t read books for the righteous cause they champion, or the lesson they seek to teach.
I read them for the story.
I expect there to be a moral. A truth. Sometimes I even demand it. Every story has one, from The Lord of the Rings to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to Save Me a Seat. But this book felt a bit too much like the story was the vehicle for the lesson, rather than a story in itself. There were just a few too unveiled statements that made me frown, things that felt like the storyteller was trying to teach rather than tell a story. If the story does its job well, the lesson is accepted unquestioningly. It’s proven without a single word pointed at the reader through the narration. That’s good writing. But this book felt more like something Cornelia did during her afternoons for fun, rather than spinning a crafted spell that would wind us all so tightly we couldn’t let go.
There’s also very little violence. On many fronts, that’s a good thing, and Cornelia is to be congratulated. But I couldn’t help feeling a little distracted when the good talking monkeys were humanely tying and gagging other monkey guards during conflict rather than injuring them. Not because of the principle. Certainly not because of that. It’s simply the fact that even though they are slightly humanized in her book, I can’t help but think of J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan. The final battle scenes between Peter and Hook were brutal and ruthless. So ruthless people were concerned. Yet Barrie defends it as necessary for the story. I can’t help feeling that the way Cornelia tried to make her book nonviolent is just a little bit of a cheat. I think of Fox from her Reckless series, as ready to bite as to frolic, simply because that’s her animal nature. It’s instinctive. When you take that away, you get a gentler story, but the animals don’t feel quite as real.
But perhaps the greatest issue I have with the book is one that lurks underneath the surface of the words and seems perfectly innocent at first glance. A problem that I am certain is the furthest thing from the authoress’s peace-loving mind. By giving the ordinary animals human voices, intelligence, and kindness, Cornelia puts them on the same plane with humans. Total and complete equals. In doing so, she makes any character in that book’s world who is not a vegetarian a murderer, and ultimately may make the ending of a human life, for any reason, as guiltless as eating a hamburger.
It’s not a pleasant thought. I hope I’m wrong about it. I hope I’m the only one who noticed. I really do. Books about flying dragons shouldn’t be troubled by what Cornelia’s characters would surely call “Nonsense!” They should be free to fill children’s minds with impossible possibilities and beautiful worlds of silver scales and enchanting islands. And beyond the agenda, the lesson, the problems, the less enchanting prose, that is, ultimately what The Griffin’s Feather has the potential to do.
It’s fantasy, after all. Filled with words that have the power to change the world.