In Review: Dragon Rider by Cornelia Funke (2004)
Set amidst the modern age of man, Dragon Rider tells the story of a young dragon’s quest to find the mystical Rim of Heaven – a secret valley where fabulous creatures can live in peace. Firedrake is one of the last remaining dragons who inhabit a valley that man is insipidly encroaching upon. The only hope for the dragons’ survival and to preserve their secret existence is to find The Rim Of Heaven before man finds them. The big problem is that the dragons Firedrake descended from fled The Rim Of Heaven so many centuries earlier and for reasons blurred by time. Not only is its location long forgotten, very little is known about this ancient land and it is a place commonly thought to not exist at all.
Firedrake the dragon is not alone in his journey. His good friend Sorrel, a bad-tempered and cynical brownie, accompanies him from the beginning. Their search for clues that might lead them to The Rim Of Heaven takes them precariously into the cities of man, where they serendipitously meet a young, homeless boy named Ben. With no ties to bind him and an instant affinity with the friendly dragon, Ben joins the expedition – in spite of Sorrel’s defensive bickering. Ben’s eyes give the reader a human window through which to view the fantastical world that he finds himself a part of.
This book was one of those truly remarkable, beautifully written stories that can warm a person from the inside out. Cornelia Funke has a uniquely intriguing manner of taking well-known mythological creatures and giving them interesting twists and traits. Sorrel and her kind are the first brownies that I have read of who look like a cross between a squirrel and a cat and harbour a constant hunger for mushrooms. Funke’s portrayal of Sorrel is engagingly intricate, the brownie’s temper provides shock and amusement and her love for mushrooms is so deeply ingrained in her nature that she even swears in mushroom species. Holy shitake!
The dragons themselves are of a kind that I have never met before, their only necessary sustenance being moonlight. This critical element of their nature is woven immaculately into the story and develops cleverly as the plot progresses. Along with dragons and brownies, the earth is inhabited by many fabulous creatures, a term that delighted me with every mention. Creatures that are commonly referred to as mythical or magical being labelled fabulous, as their many dazzling traits would dictate, just seems like a perfect fit. The journey of our heroes across the globe sees them encounter many amazing, magical friends, along with some nasty pasties and one particularly terrifying and powerful villain. The many exciting events that form the adventure of Dragon Rider mean there is never a shortage of action and excitement throughout the chapters. I found myself captivated and hurrying to turn every page.
Although classified as a children’s or young adult novel, Dragon Rider is the kind of soul tickling story that I think would move and delight readers of any age. The language flows descriptively but not excessively and creates an inertia of wonder and suspense that can completely wrap a reader up in its words. At times I felt my eyes sting with tears of pure emotional overload, the good kind of overload, the kind that reminds you that not everything in life is hard or cruel. The world that Funke has created contains so much scope that even the avid guess-ahead reader will surely find themselves enchanted by a few pleasant surprises.
This story will have you cheering and, in usual Funke fashion, entranced in excitement and wonder right up until the end. It’s mentioned in the author’s notes that Dragon Rider began with the intention of creating a cartoon series, but that it developed such a life of its own that Funke eventually decided that she didn’t want Firedrake’s story told as a cartoon show.
In a consumer driven world, so many ideas are sold down the franchise river and slowly destroyed by endless marketing. Stories can lose a little bit of their magic when mixed with other mediums. I think the fact that this story was written for the simple love of writing shows through. Read it now, in case they make a movie… this tale is one best digested with its full sparkle.
Love & Magic,