Monday, 7 July 2014

Underrated dragons 4 - Falkor, the Luck Dragon

I first read Michael Ende's The Neverending Story soon after its first English publication - and it bowled me over. A fantasy about fantasy, a book within a book, looking at the meaning and uses of imagination, both good and ill. The central conceit is that a boy (an unlikeable young man, at that) steals a book and sits and reads it. In the edition we have. the text printed in red describes what happens to the young man, and the book he reads is printed in green.

Except that after a time the two texts begin to cross over, and Bastian tumbles into the story. The fantasy realm is the realm of stories, and it is fading because people - especially children - are not reading and feeling a sense of wonder. Bastian ends up taking on the task of preventing the decay of Fantastica.

But imagination and story can also be put to less good ends - the commercialisation of imagination is a darker threat that draws Bastian into much grimmer, darker bywaters in the second half of the book, and the boy almost loses himself.

So why am I referring to the book in this blog? Mostly because I think it is an extraordinary work of fantasy that deserves to be more widely read. My excuse is that the book contains a dragon, Falkor, a luck dragon who is far more akin to the Chinese dragons than to European wyrms. Falkor is a very well-drawn character, sympathetic and interesting. Unfortunately, most people's vision of Falkor comes from the film, which turns him into a dog-like sock puppet with very little character and not much interest. I will say in passing that the film deeply disappointed me - it turned Bastian, at the beginning, into a nice little boy, rather than the unpleasant boy from the book, which makes his transformation during the plot far less interesting, and it cuts the second half of the book completely, losing much of the point of it. Avoid the film. Read the book, as it is immeasurably better, and has a very interesting dragon in it.

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