A Return to Imagination with a Flight of Dragons

5 Nov

By Ed Sum (The Vintage Tempest)

flight-of-dragons-book-cover

This book is available for those who know where to look.

Not since 30 years ago has there been a worthy look at the nomenclature of dragons. Author Peter Dickinson and illustrator Wayne Anderson crafted a brilliant book, A Flight of Dragons, that looks at the mythical origins of the creature and postulates how they may have evolved based on real life science.

Literary observation and historical research fills the pages. The read is like that of a textbook. Dickinson draws upon centuries of research from clerics to theologians to explore the habitat and biology of a dragon. In what he gleams from various novelists, especially from Tolkien to McCaffrey, the ideas presented here read like something Charles Darwin would write.

Some readers might liken this work to that of On the Origin of Species. The prose is sometimes difficult to read, and reading this book is nothing like the Book of Dragons, as penned by a youthful Hiccup in the animated series How to Train Your Dragon. In the novels, Fishlegs is responsible for chronicling what they discover. His version gives stats and descriptions alongside illustrations. In Dickinson’s version, the drawings are phenomenally detailed. It’s doubtful that Hiccup will ever dissect a beast just to explain how the digestion system works.

Fans of dragon lore will find this book worth keeping on the tabletop. It’s a book worth owning just for its illustrations alone, and for completists, they can order Warner Bros. Archive edition of the animated movie of the same name. The concept of the movie intertwines ideas from Dickinson’s book with the plot from The Dragon and the George (1976), written by Gordon R. Dickson. The video release is very bare-bones; no thought is put to menu design and it is a product made-on-demand, burned to a data disc, than pressed. Had it of been the latter, this disc would stand the test of time.

Interestingly, the main character is named Peter Dickenson and his love for this mythical beast can certainly be felt in John Ritter’s performance. His voice work worked very well to convey this idea, and he does a great job at playing a scrutinizing skeptic who accidentally finds himself in a body of a dragon. But in this plot, he has to make the ultimate choice as to which world he truly belongs to. Is it one of science or magic? Some viewers might want to parlay that to whether or not science and religion can exist harmoniously together, but that’s an answer that theologians and philosophers can better answer.

The animation style will look outdated and different to the material that’s offered today. The art style is similar to that of Jules Bass and Arthur Rankin, Jr.’s The Hobbit (1977) and Ralph Bakshi’s Lord of the Rings (1978). A Flight of Dragons was released in 1981 when this style was prominent and the producers may have intentionally wanted to ride on the mixed success of Tolkein’s works. But instead of producing a tale that is 100% high fantasy, the touch of realism made the animated Dragons tale a unique fixture.

There was an attempt to make a new product this year, but due to legal and licensing issues, it just could not happen. At least its legacy can be found elsewhere. The book and animation may have proved to be an influence maker for some long running dragon themed sagas. For example, Dragonlance may have taken a tiny cue from Flight of Dragons for the simple reason of how the denizens of Krynn rejected the Gods even though their presence remains in mysterious occult ways. Although not many newer series have matched Flight of Dragons for its exploration of doctrine, maybe the veil is indeed closed. Science cannot indeed explain how these giant beasts can fly and breathe fire. But at least in our collective imaginations, we can all dream about saving damsels in distress by being that knight in waiting.

To stay on top of what’s happening for a live-action remake, readers can follow the latest developments on Facebook.

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