The Reluctant Dragon by Kenneth Grahame.

The Reluctant Dragon illustrated by Lois Lenski (1922 edition).
The Reluctant Dragon is a short story from Kenneth Grahame's Dream Days, first published in 1898, and I've been looking forward to it since I discovered it - I think like a lot of people, the only Grahame I've read is The Wind in the Willows and I was eager to read more of Grahame's writings. The Reluctant Dragon didn't let me down.

Grahame tells a story within a story: it begins,
Footprints in the snow have been unfailing provokers of sentiment ever since snow was first a white wonder in this drab-coloured world of ours. In a poetry-book presented to one of us by an aunt, there was a poem by one Wordsworth, in which they stood out strongly—with a picture all to themselves, too—but we didn't think very highly either of the poem or the sentiment. Footprints in the sand, now, were quite another matter, and we grasped Crusoe's attitude of mind much more easily than Wordsworth's. Excitement and mystery, curiosity and suspense—these were the only sentiments that tracks, whether in sand or in snow, were able to arouse in us.
We had awakened early that winter morning, puzzled at first by the added light that filled the room. Then, when the truth at last fully dawned on us and we knew that snow-balling was no longer a wistful dream, but a solid certainty waiting for us outside, it was a mere brute fight for the necessary clothes, and the lacing of boots seemed a clumsy invention, and the buttoning of coats an unduly tedious form of fastening, with all that snow going to waste at our very door.
The narrator, a young boy, and his sister Charlotte find strange tracks in the snow, "something lizardy", and Charlotte hopes for a dragon - "a real British beast". As they attempt to track it down the come across a circus man who indulges them in their inquiries, invites them for tea, and then, on request, tells them a story. And that story begins,
Long ago—might have been hundreds of years ago—in a cottage half-way between this village and yonder shoulder of the Downs up there, a shepherd lived with his wife and their little son. Now the shepherd spent his days—and at certain times of the year his nights too—up on the wide ocean-bosom of the Downs, with only the sun and the stars and the sheep for company, and the friendly chattering world of men and women far out of sight and hearing. But his little son, when he wasn't helping his father, and often when he was as well, spent much of his time buried in big volumes that he borrowed from the affable gentry and interested parsons of the country round about. And his parents were very fond of him, and rather proud[157] of him too, though they didn't let on in his hearing, so he was left to go his own way and read as much as he liked; and instead of frequently getting a cuff on the side of the head, as might very well have happened to him, he was treated more or less as an equal by his parents, who sensibly thought it a very fair division of labour that they should supply the practical knowledge, and he the book-learning. They knew that book-learning often came in useful at a pinch, in spite of what their neighbours said. What the Boy chiefly dabbled in was natural history and fairy-tales, and he just took them as they came, in a sandwichy sort of way, without making any distinctions; and really his course of reading strikes one as rather sensible.
One evening this shepherd saw a dragon,
 "He was sticking half-way out of the cave, and seemed to be enjoying of the cool of the evening in a poetical sort of way. He was as big as four cart-horses, and all covered with shiny scales—deep-blue scales at the top of him, shading off to a tender sort o' green below. As he breathed, there was that sort of flicker over his nostrils that you see over our chalk roads on a baking windless day in summer. He had his chin on his paws, and I should say he was meditating about things. Oh, yes, a peaceable sort o' beast enough, and not ramping or carrying on or doing anything but what was quite right and proper. I admit all that. And yet, what am I to do? Scales, you know, and claws, and a tail for certain, though I didn't see that end of him—I ain't used to 'em, and I don't hold with 'em, and that's a fact!"
The shepherd's boy, oddly enough, is unsurprised and the next day he goes to pay the dragon a visit. The two become friends, and we learn the dragon is a sensitive sort who enjoys poetry, however that doesn't stop the villagers fearing him when they learn of his existence. St. George is called "...to slay the deadly beast, and free us from his horrid yoke. O my! won't there be a jolly fight!". Can the boy and the dragon convince him not to kill the dragon, and that the dragon is not a threat? I won't spoil the end...

It's a very sweet tale, not up there with The Wind in the Willows but nothing really is, so I'll let that go. I enjoyed it very much and I wish I could get a hold of the Michael Hague illustrations. For now, here's four I've found:


And that was my 20th title for the Deal Me In Challenge. Next week - Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder by Émile Zola.

Comments

  1. Love th illustrations... And KG as well... I read his story of his boyhood, "the golden ages" or something like that; it was extraordinarily delightful... Imo, he's one of the high points in the history of literature...

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    1. I'd like to read The Golden Age (Ages?) as well, and Dream Days. Will try and get a hold of them. He is a great writer, I agree :)

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  2. I LOVE this book and I haven't read it in so long! Thanks for the re-introduction. I find that lately I'm drawn more towards the children's classics and if I could get the time, I'd like to read a whole bunch of them. :-)

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    1. I'm the same, wouldn't mind reading a few myself. Jean's got me wanting to read E Nesbit so think I may go for The Railway Children after I've finished Jude (love Jude, can't put it down!) :)

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  3. I found a kindred spirit!
    I too love to read the old authors, and The Wind in the Willows is one of my favorite books. I read this to the girls, we were so excited, but it was a good read, not as superb and feet sweeping as WitW.
    Your blog is beautiful, with the pics and flowers you show.
    I am sorry about what happened in Manchester.

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    1. Old and Dead Authors, Yes!

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    2. The old authors are the best! I found up a quote that sums up my approach perfectly - found in Proust - "On the whole, though, the wisest thing is to stick to dead authors." :D

      The Wind in the Willows, for me, is peak children's lit - the absolute best. I must re-read it soon :)

      And yes, Manchester. It's still dominating the news here, so awful and upsetting. Lead to a lot of unpleasantness and arguments in certain more vocal people, but on the whole, everyone's united. Manchester is such a strong community, I think everyone's impressed, inspired, and proud of the strength and kindness they're showing :)

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