Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Princes and Poisons

So you're not at all into fantasy novels. I understand. There are enough hardships and struggles in the real world; we don't need to veneer it with magic and monsters. Well, I have a book for you, one that features danger as well as good people endeavoring to overcome years of suffering and cruelty.

Maybe you don't mind a bit of magic. Magic is like jalapeƱos on that burger, right? Too many and it ruins the taste. So let's say there's just one dragon in the book. And one magician, but he's the nastiest ever to play the game. Otherwise the story's a familiar one. A father, a bit foolish, who's greatest mistake is favoring one son (though he does love both his boys). The cruelty of ignorant people. The loyalty of good friends. Even a dog helps to save the day. I have a book for you.

And if you're a guy who happens to really enjoy reading the fantastical, the one who'd be adding horseradish to that jalapeƱo burger I mentioned before, well, I have a book for you as well, one about a demonic man who cares only for chaos, possesses a seeing stone, and uses horrible poisons that burn a man from the inside out.

Of course, you're no fool. You've realized I'm talking about just one book, one book that can satisfy so many readers: Eyes of the Dragon. The author happens to be rather well-known: Stephen King.

Eyes of the Dragon was released in 1987. I was eighteen when I first read it. On that edge of being not-so-young, not-so-old. I was tired of being a teenager. And Stephen King didn't write for kids (I was wrong, and later learned this book had been done as a present to his daughter and a dear friend). Oh, but he wrote an amazing fantasy.

After only reading a few pages, I began to trust the unnamed storyteller who narrates the tale of forthright Peter, first in-line to the throne of Delain, his envious brother Thomas, and the most wicked sorcerer ever to cast a spell, Flagg. I loved that it seemed like Stephen King was telling me the story late at night, besides a roaring fire, and pouring mead or wine or some medieval-sounding drink into my glass.

In the book, Flagg realizes that there's no way he can destroy the kingdom from within if Peter reached the throne, and the real story begins after Peter is blindsided and unjustly imprisoned in the castle's tallest tower, the Needle. And Peter suffers. When his face is terribly scarred, I winced at the damage to his looks (yes, I was shallow at eighteen).

I'll admit, I developed a crush on Peter, the young prince, the hero of the story. Handsome, regal, kind, understanding. If I couldn't be Peter (and no one is so flawless), I wished to have him as a close friend... maybe more. He reminded me of those boys in high school who had everything.

All that envy. Maybe I was a bit more like his younger brother, Thomas than I knew. Of course, we're not likely to be tricked by evil magicians these days, right? Maybe. But think how scared you'd be to inherit a crown at twelve. Wouldn't it be easier to allow someone else to make all the decisions for you? And as Thomas grows into an unhappy young man, the people of Delain are taxed and punished by Flagg, who's aim is the downfall of the kingdom and things soon look very grim.

Like all teens, I had a fondness for suffering. I think it happens when you're not too happy with yourself or the world around you. And when you read about a hero who's been tortured, hurt, and spent years imprisoned in a cold cell, you're filled with a weird blend of heartache and and masochistic glee. And when he reminds you of those boys in high school who have everything, well, you're a bit glad he suffers, too.

But now. Well, it's been too many years since last I read the book. When I was asked to join Guys Lit Wire, I remembered Eyes of the Dragon. So, I reread these past few days.

And while Peter was still handsome and forthright and good, I sympathize with Thomas more. Thomas is the far more human hero of the book. In a story with dragons and magicians, it's important to have a character readers can understand. Thomas suffers more than his brother, too, because he makes choices. Like real people do. And sometimes these choices are good, and sometimes they're not. We have to live with the consequences.


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5 comments:

Montgomery said...

Based on your review, I am requesting this book from my library. As a librarian, I am looking for good recommends and since I'm not too heavy into Fantasy, you write up spoke to my needs. I'll let you know what I think of the book, whenever I get that is.

Love the blog. Keep up the great work. If you get a chance, check out my blog at worpress.com - Monster Scifi Show

TadMack said...

EXCELLENT interview -- I read this one when I was about the same age, and it's the only Stephen King book I've ever read. I LOVED IT. You're so right -- it appeals to both sides of the "love fantasy" and "meh, fantasy" aisle.

Kelly Fineman said...

Tadmack: The only Stephen King book you've ever read? *faints dead away*

At the very least, get yourself a copy of On Writing. You really, truly won't regret it.

Colleen said...

On Writing is probably the best book on the craft I have ever read (with Bradbury's Zen and the Art of Writing a close second.)

I reread this book every year and it never fails to impress.

a. fortis said...

On Writing is really good. And actually--I quite liked The Running Man. Haven't read this one.