Here, There Be Dragons
James A. Owen
Grade 8 and up
It’s 1917 and England is at war. Responding to a note from his tutor, John leaves the hospital where he’s being treated for “trench fever”—weakness, constant fever, and battle flashback—and travels to London. When he arrives, he finds the professor has been murdered. After being questioned by the police, John accompanies two Oxford men, Jack and Charles, to a private club to get out of the cold, wet weather. They are just settling in to the comfortable room, when Jack sees a strange man staring through the window at them. They let him in, and in the ensuing description, I found my favorite line of the book:
His eyes twinkled, but his hair and mustache were sopping, and he looked as if he’d been beaten about the head and shoulders with some sort of shedding forest mammal.
His name is Bert and he carries the Imaginarium Geographica, a guide to “all the lands that have ever existed in myth and legend, fable and fairy tale.” John is the new Caretaker of the Geographica now that his tutor is dead. As the men are trying to make sense of all this, they hear howling from outside. Bert explains that someone wants the Geographica and that they need to run. After some confusion, the four men slip out the back of the club and race to the harbor where they board Bert’s ship, the Indigo Dragon.
Thus begins an adventure through the Archipelago of Dreams where the heroes must protect the Geographica from the evil Winter King. Along the way, they encounter everything from dragons and mythological beings to characters from the Arthurian legends. The story seemed a bit meandering at times, but fun, nevertheless. Subsequent books in this series are said to be more cohesive novels.
Though technically not a major spoiler, because as the first of a series with book four already out, the following information is included in many online reviews. It’s also the reason I read this book. The main characters are John (J.R.R. Tolkien), Jack (C.S. Lewis), and Charles (Charles Williams), all members of the Oxford literary group, the Inklings. Who could resist?