I found a quote by C. S. Lewis that I’m going to misuse. He said “It is a good rule after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between.” Now, my misuse of this quote will be in the definition of “new” and “old” books. For him, a “new” book is one that was contemporary with him, and an old book is a classic. Interestingly, if I was to apply that same rubric to books now, his books have moved from new to old, which is probably something he never imagined.
But I’m taking it in a different angle. And “Old” book to me is a book you’ve read before. And this Culture Quest article is about my third most purchased book, Dealing with Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede.
Synopsis and Review
In Dealing with dragons, Princess Cimorene is really bored of life as a “proper” princess, so runs away and volunteers to be a dragon’s princess, something along the lines of a live in maid. It certainly keeps life from being dull, what with wizards, witches, knights, princes, and dragons all running around doing what they think is “Proper!”
This book is a young adult novel, but one of the good ones. There’s nothing condescending about the story, and while the book is chock full of fairytale references, knowing the story means you get the joke, but the joke is still there even if you don’t know the source. It uses the ideas and tropes of story tales without getting bogged down in the minutiae.
The book also has a… I don’t really want to say a feminist vibe because that feels stronger than it actually is. And it’s not really about gender, it’s about Tradition. Tradition doesn’t want characters who think for themselves, who break the mold, who don’t conform to the standard story. It’s not as solid of a force as the Tradition in Mercedes Lackey’s 500 Kingdoms, but it seems that any character who isn’t a “main” character treats tradition and doing things “Properly” as more important than people being able to be themselves or doing things the smart way.
Dealing with Tradition can be an issue. I understand that The Way Things Are Done are probably done for a reason. But knowing that reason is crucial for future generations to believe in that tradition. We shouldn’t be held to a path because “That’s the way it’s always been.” However, we also shouldn’t make changes for the sake of change. The best way to do things is to treat each case individually. Of course, that takes time and thought. My interaction with Tradition is possibly different than yours, because my family doesn’t have many, IDK. I’d love to hear stories of traditions that have lasted a few generations in your family.
As usual, I was thinking about D&D during all of this book, and my main thought was “Man, I wish I could run good fairy tales in D&D. The frameworks just don’t line up. D&D is dependent on having a group of people that can turn to violence to solve their problems. Fairytales tend to be a single character who talks their way through situations that would get them killed in a fight.
I do have a game called Heroine, a storytelling RPG that handles both problems adroitly. Of course, storytelling games are tricky because you HAVE TO trust your table to be on the same page in telling a story. One person who thinks it’s going to be a grand old time by throwing a wrench in the story can ruin everybody’s time.
Now, outside of trying to run a fairy tale, running a game set in The Enchanted Forest Chronicles sounds like a blast. I don’t know what I’d run it in. ATM, I’d probably use something like Powered by the Apocalypse, because I’ve been reading it so much, and customize some … classes? Whatever they’re called, mix up some custom fairy tale character options to match what’s available in the stories. I’m also working on a new system of my own, again, and that could fit the Enchanted Forest really well. I’ll think about including these elements in the ground floor creation.
As I said, I’ve probably bought this book 4 times. It’s the first of a four book series and most of the time, I find it in a collected version, that always has issues with the spine. Recently, I found a box set, so I don’t have to worry about the spine of a big book. I’ve read them all before and love them. The fourth book has an odd tone shift, but it’s still really good.
The Enchanted Forest Chronicles has really infused my idea of fiction. Most of my dragons act like EFC dragons, somewhat, my witches (aka Oakey Annie) act like Morwen, and I love to pull a fairy tale subversion when I can. I haven’t thrown many princesses into my game, but they are probably more Cimorene than Isolt. The Big Fat Orc Wedding, which is a much better name for the game I ran for the J-Team, could have fit inside of the EFC
Only the first book of this series is on my lists, which saddens me. I mean, I was wondering how I wanted to do sequels and decided I should probably cut them unless they have many recommendations. (like, Narnia has recommendations from EVERY source, so I’m cutting them.) But I do really love these books. I’ll probably use them as palette cleansers after difficult books or the more serious ones, at least.
On the topic of other books, let me give a bit of a report on my status. First, books in my queue. I have a lot of stuff from the library, but I haven’t been reading a lot. I started two different books, then stopped. Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis was highly recommended, but the introduction made me really annoyed at the author, and the first chapter indicated that the book was going to be the same. Le Grand Meaulnes by Henri Alain-Fournier is, unsurprisingly, translated from French. I don’t think I like the translator. Or maybe I don’t get the pacing of French literature. IDK. But both of these I’ve marked on my sheet as rejected, and I will perhaps come back for them later. I have too many books to have to force myself to read something I’m not finding fun.
Speaking of French, I’ve also been reading Essays by Michel Montaigne, which is French… philosophy? The 60 page introduction was fairly amazing, and each chapter is also interesting, but it’s like, 1400 pages and it’ll take me a long time to finish. So I decided as I write this to make it as “Hold” and I’ll put it down for now. I want to get into the habit of reading books and writing things, and a massive book that eats all my time isn’t going to keep my interest in this project. (Although I might find a short list of the really good essays and read those before dropping this volume.)
It’s also been gratifying that of the four books that have been recommended I should add to the list, all 4 were already there. Of the three sizes of bed, I’ve eliminated the “Too small” one. We’ll have to see what the rest will end up being. If you want to suggest something please let me know!
This article was released to Patreons before the rest of the world. I’m trying for articles twice a week, Tuesdays and Fridays for universal updates, Mondays and Thursdays for Patrons. In addition to getting it earlier, Patrons also get updates sent to their e-mail, so they don’t have to remember my update schedule. It might be worth checking out.