“Tell me a story.”
It’s one of life’s earliest demands and meeting this human need helps to form the relationship between child and adult, and between young readers and those who write for them. A good story will fill in the blanks in unanswered questions, transforming the mundane into the amazing and preparing a weary mind and body for a night’s sleep, where dreams become one more fantastic experience. No wonder that no wonder would not be wonderful. A work of imaginative fiction, like David McLain’s “Dragonbait”, can strike familiar themes, unfold along unreal but recognizable settings and indulge the sense of “everyday magic” that can be both a delight and a learning experience.
“Dragonbait” will be familiar in some ways to young and old, while taking off in its own direction. The narrative begins,
Once, a long, long time ago, a little bit before your grandmother was born and a little bit after the invention of fire, there was a beautiful princess who lived in a fairy kingdom. Her name was Jocelyn. This was during the Golden Age of Princesses, when enchanted young women with long hair and elegant dresses and golden crowns sat at the tops of tall towers waiting for handsome knights to come and rescue.Jocelyn would have undoubtedly been one of the most charming and famous of these women, it it weren’t for a tiny problem: Joselyn wasn’t the daughter of a king and queen and she never had worn a fancy crown or even visited a castle. Jocelyn’s princess resume was, in fact,rather slim.
This story is clearly off to a fine start. David McLain knows the direction that an odyssey of imagination and fantasy must go. He’s also one author who doesn’t try to take the action of his story too seriously. In fact, “Dragonbait” begins as a story quest, with an unnamed father responding to his six- and eight-year old sons. His conversation with the two boys punctuates the adventure as they respond sometimes with apprehension about Jocelyn’s fate, and sometimes with skepticism. The self-proclaimed princess falls through her own version of Alice’s rabbit hole and encounters a dragon, who will become her protector and guide as tjhey meet with a troll named Algernon, a black unicorn named Sebastian, Arachnis, queen of the spiders, various clowns, jesters, farmers and thieves, and The Black Knight, a villainous figure who attempts to imprison her in his castle. Along the way she sees the Endless Ocean and the City of X, typical of the locales in imaginative fiction, and meets up with truly frightening antagonists.
The phrase “mad dog” was still used in those days. It isn’t a great phrase and you aren’t going to win a Pulitzer Prize for using it, but back then, it served as a reminder that men were not always on top of the food chain. People knew that when you were confronted unarmed by an angry wolf, there was never any question of who would be eating whom for dinner. Now Jocelyn and her entourage were facing a whole pack of wolves, and they were all very, very angry.
David McLain is from Endicott, NY and earned a degree at SUNY-Purchase, where he directed a production of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest”, with its otherworldly scenes and settings. His stories have appeared in many literary magazines, including “Paumanok Review”, and his 2010 debut novel was “The Life of a Thief”. The illustrations in “Dragonbait” are by Robin “Felix” Eddy. She holds a BFA from Alfred University and says of her work, “I often feel like my head is full of stories; when I create art it’s like creating a window for these creatures in my head to peer out at the viewer.” “The Bestiary Alphabet” is Felix’s first published book.