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Friday, 14 February 2014

In a dragon's eye

It was the early 1980s, and children's publishers really didn't know what hit them. For decades they'd been turning out nice cozy books based on their mental picture of a short-trousered scamp with a cap gun in one hand and a bottle of ginger pop in the other. In fact, even that view may be too generous. Hardly a single children's editor was male, or under forty, and mostly I think all those nice ladies just wrote boys off as not wanting to read books. Their ideal reader was sweet, quiet and mild as milk. So, not really like most girls at the time either.

They got a rude awakening. Boys did want to read books, and tomboys too - just not the books the publishers had been churning out. They wanted blood, guts, gore, mayhem, violence, and gutsy action. And most of all they wanted to be the hero.

The younger generation of editors understood this. Philippa Dickinson was twenty-six years old when she commissioned The Warlock of Firetop Mountain. A few years later, when she was publishing the Dragon Warriors series, Oliver Johnson and I were keen to stress that the covers should not give the sense of being "you know, for kids" and Philippa agreed about that. Dubious as she may have been about the buxom babes in the Alan Craddock paintings we showed her, she got that boys at that age (they were, let's face it, most of them boys, our readers back then) didn't see themselves as little kids any more. As this post by @burnedfx puts it: "Which cover would appeal to kids and which one is grandma going to pick up for little Bobby?"

Before Dragon Warriors, Oliver and I had been published by Grafton Books. I appreciated our editors there - Angela Sheehan and Gillian Appleby - but they definitely belonged to the old school of kids' publishing. I managed to get artwork by Russ Nicholson for one book, The Eye of the Dragon, and we were mostly lucky with Bruno Elletori's cover paintings, but I've ranted about that puppyish dragon logo before. And don't even get me started on the covers we were given by Pacer Books in the USA. "For young adults," said their logo (and that wasn't a term you heard much in the mid-'80s) but look at that painting in the middle! A boy in a frigging skirt. Wearing tennis shoes. Holding a little blue ball. By Azathoth, why? Especially when you consider that the rest of the image is fine, and if only little Bobby wasn't there in his pretty little dress then it could have worked.

Now compare my two covers to what Ian Livingstone got for his own Eye of the Dragon book. Okay, his came out twenty years after the Golden Dragon series, but even so. The salt in the wound is that I bet his cover cost a lot less too. As so often, less is more.
As we're talking about The Eye of the Dragon, you may be wondering why it wasn't reissued along with the other five Golden Dragon books last year. No? Well, I'll tell you anyway. Reviews by Mrs Giggles, the aforementioned burnedfx, and on Demian Katz's site point out some serious flaws in the book. Most egregious of all, it seems that the big finale depends on a one-in-three guess. Ulp.

If that's really true, I owe an apology to an entire generation, as a random choice like that would be hard to justify right at the start of a book, but is criminally wrong at the end. And while I'm checking that, and fixing it if need be, I might as well tinker with the magic system and make a bit more of the protagonist's unusual background. So The Eye of the Dragon will probably come out later this year in quite a different form. And now that there's a Fighting Fantasy book of that name, I think I'll change the title to something more interesting too. And ditch the Dungeons and Dragons brand of fantasy setting while I'm at it. And...

On reflection, it could be next year.

24 comments:

  1. Ah yes, that one-in-three guess at the end of the book. I complained about that in my own review, as well, but it's in Italian so you're spared the pain of reading it :-)

    To add salt to the wound, the paragraph said something like "It needed a great adventurer to come this far, but now you'll need to be a truly exceptional one"... when the choice presented to you is nothing more than a lucky guess. There's no clue at all about it in the book!

    To be fair, that Livingstone cover you posted is actually the reissue, and it includes only a fragment of the original image, which I'm sure costed a bit more ;-)
    And while your book has that blind guess at the end, Livingstone's books are practically built around blind guesses, so between the two Eyes of the Dragon, that at least is an easy choice for me...

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    1. Thanks, Efrem, that makes me feel a bit better! It's strange, though - I really thought I had provided a clue. That's my memory playing tricks, then. If and when I get around to the new edition I will certainly rectify the problem.

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  2. While you're at it...was that the one with four zombies to fight at the start? Kind of an odd difficulty curve there.

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  3. I don't remember any zombies, but I'll take a look at that too.

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  4. Third cover: How is the dragon looking at us slightly to the side, with his eyebrow hooked around the edge of the shield-porthole, but his snout still behind it?

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  5. He must have a broad triangular face, I guess. Or an oddly shaped snout.

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  6. Please keep Eye of the Dragon set in the Lands of Legend, please keep Eye of the Dragon set in the Lands of Legend, please keep Eye of the Dragon set in the Lands of Legend...

    Knuckelavee for the win (and not just that awesome illustration, either)!

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    1. I don't think it was ever set in Legend, was it? True, it has a city called Achtan, but the general prevalence of magic seems pretty un-Legendy...

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  7. The world that the Golden Dragon books describe is very clearly not a 1:1 representation of the Lands of Legend. That much is obvious, and rightly so, as the Golden Dragon books were written well before Dragon Warriors. The tone and level of magic throughout the books, and some of the encounters in Golden Dragon books one, two and four are very different to that of the Lands Of Legend in Dragon Warriors, but nevertheless they share a good number of very significant elements.

    Crypt Of The Vampire is set in Wistren Wood, which is prominently located within Dragon Warriors. The new version of CotV has a very different setting and timeframe, but the original clearly holds a shared kernal of medieval fantasy, although the level of magic is obviously higher and not representative of the Lands Of Legend. The Elf in the original version of Crypt of the Vampire is just one example of a very non-Dragon Warriors entity.

    The Temple Of Flame contains perhaps the first references not just to Achtan, but also the iconic Ring Of Red Ruin and the Mirror Of The Moon - exactly as described in the later Dragon Warriors books. Other high magic issues do crop up from time-to-time, though.

    Eye Of The Dragon features Achtan again, and an encounter with Knuckelavee, who appears exactly as he is described in Dragon Warriors. However, the really big giveaway is that the primary antagonists in the book are a raiding party of Kappa warriors - depicted exactly as in Lands Of Legend. Again, some of the magical elements are problematic.

    Dragon Warriors was clearly informed by a number of sources, and it really does seem that the Golden Dragon books were a part of that *inspiration*. That's really the key point as I see it.

    A good analogy for the relationship between Golden Dragon and Dragon Warriors may be that of an hyper-anime version of a traditional fairytale, or perhaps even more accurately a bard's highly embellished and larger-than-life version of a traditional folk tale.

    The general tone and a few elements within the Golden Dragon books feel rather "wrong" but if those problems are ignored then there is more than enough recognisable parts left to join the dots between the two works very well. With a few twists and turns most of the material within the Golden Dragon books are easily slotted into the Lands of Legend - as has been achieved on the DW Wiki.

    While certainly not 100% "authentic" then, at the very least, I do feel that the Golden Dragon books play an important and well deserved role in enriching the Dragon Warriors world. They can be used as inspiration for further adventures in some of the "blanker" parts of the Lands of Legend maps...

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    1. You make a good case, Jon. Of course, from my perspective it was just a case of cherry-picking ideas that I'd test-run in Golden Dragon for inclusion in DW, not any sense then of them being part of the same world. And then there's "real" Legend as opposed to DW - no kappa in the former, unless you go way out east. But... l'auteur est mort, and that's as it should be. Legend is whatever each player chooses to make it.

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    2. Btw I really like the anime/trad analogy. Maybe that's the key to continuing the FL series in an interesting modern way too... Hmm.

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    3. One final Golden Dragon analogy that I should have thought of sooner; the case of King Arthur. Apologies for a history lesson to anybody familiar with this.

      All the evidence there is for a potential person called "Arthur" in early British history was written hundreds of years after he was supposed to have died. At best it stretches to just a couple of lines of fairly insignificant text. The rest of the Arthurian romance is missing from that evidence - kingship, Excalibur, Camelot, Guinevere, Lancelot, Gawaine, Merlin, etc. It all seems to have been invented later during the Medieval era.

      However, that later mythology has long since become the only "real" mythology to all concerned. No tale of King Arthur would be complete without Lancelot, Guinevere and Merlin, right?

      The complete legend of King Arthur holds a power over us that resonates even today, despite the small roots that it flourished from.

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    4. Another example: in the third Knightmare book, Oliver and I put a kind of dwarf or goblin character who had been preying on Hannibal's elephants, so Hannibal imprisoned him in a block of ice. The 13th century characters in the novel didn't question this. Hannibal was a legendary general of ancient times, so *of course* he had magical powers.

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  8. Hey Dave, a totally unrelated question (FL1 spoiler alert):
    Did I just found a space capsule in my way from Yellowport and the Druids Island? It was an awesome encounter!!

    This last two weeks I have really enjoyed book 1. This time I get further than my first Troubadour (who ended in a stew, with garlic of course!)

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    1. Book One was Jamie's, so I'm not sure, but you could be right. Didn't he also put a dock of spaceships into Book Four? I guess the key to it all is: books 2, 3 and 6 are pure fantasy; books 1, 4 and 5 are SF/fantasy!

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    2. Yeah, I made a short tour to Golnir (Forsaken Forest). It was quite evocative and hostile (I almost died). I left some emerald untouched, so perhaps I will return soon to explore.

      It's really good to be back on the road.

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  9. Eye of the Dragon is a great little book, full of brooding atmosphere and memorable encounters. The magic system is interesting too... with a lot of "too awesome to use" one-use spells. I never reached the ending legitimately, and even avoiding dice I still remember it's a 1 in 3 chance of winning. Still, it's the journey not the destination!

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    1. It was based on a Tekumel role-playing scenario that I ran back in my college days. IIRC it kicked off with the theft of the magnificently jewelled exoskeleton of a hlüss warrior. There was probably no McGuffin magic item to be found, but quite possibly I did have an important NPC lost in the ruins because I would have liked the unity of time involved in setting the adventure in a single night (or tidal interval, anyway) with a deadline.

      The twist was that the players went expecting hlüss and actually got ssü - a distinction of some importance:
      http://www.tekumel.com/eoasw1_09.html

      My regret now is that I didn't try and get permission from Professor Barker to set the book on Tekumel. Probably it would have been a contractual nightmare, though. Having to find a substitute for the ssü, I sort-of-appropriated the kappa from Japanese myth. I say "sort of" because my kappa bear scant resemblance to the Japanese variety and I suspect I only used the name because of its Greek connotations, which tied in with the architecture of the city. Oh, and the city itself is mostly based on Oxford. You can find the Radcliffe Camera in there somewhere.

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  10. Revisiting this article reminded me to ask, are there any walkthroughs of the Golden Dragon books? I seem to recall never actually completing Eye of the Dragon (still my fave in the series though) without cheating.

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    1. I'll check that, Mike. I've completely reflowcharted the Blood Sword books in order to make sure they work, and will do the same for Eye of the Dragon.

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  11. Any news about "The eye of the dragon" reprint?

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    1. It's gone to the back of the queue while we've been working on Blood Sword, Falcon, Keep of the Lich Lord, and Way of the Tiger. Currently I'm thinking of converting it to the FL world and system so that it can appear in our Fabled Lands Quests series (of which Lich Lord will be the first). In any case, I don't expect it to be out before next spring at the earliest.

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    2. Thanks Dave, so I've another question about "The way of the tiger" since you quoted it. Will Fabled Lands Publishing print a paperback edition both for book #6 and #7?

      Marco

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    3. We'll do a paperback version of WOTT book 6, Marco. That should be on sale in just a couple of weeks. Unfortunately Fabled Lands Publishing only have the rights to books 1-6, so I don't know for sure about book 7, but the odds are that David Walters (the author) will publish his own pb edition of that before too long.

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