cover image The Penguin Book of Dragons

The Penguin Book of Dragons

Edited by Scott G. Bruce. Penguin, $18 trade paper (384p) ISBN 978-0-14-313504-3

Bruce (The Penguin Book of Hell, editor) gathers centuries of fascinating dragon lore culled from works both fictional and academic sources to demonstrate the influence dragons have had on human culture and storytelling, predominantly focusing on the West. He begins in ancient Greece and Rome with excerpts from Ovid, Virgil, and others detailing myths both familiar (Medusa) and obscure (the dragon of Bagrada River), then moves on to early Christian texts centered on serpents and other such “biblical beasts.” He excerpts Beowulf in the section devoted to “The Wyrms of Northern Literature,” and shares Merlin’s prophecies as relayed in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s “The History of the Kings of Britain” in the section on “Dragon Lore in Medieval Europe,” tracing evolving perspectives on both the beasts themselves and their heroic slayers. Interestingly, cuddlier views on dragons only arrive in the final section, which focuses on children’s literature and the kind, misunderstood creatures of Kenneth Grahame’s “The Reluctant Dragon” and Edith Nesbit’s “The Last of the Dragons.” A brief section on “Dragons of the East,” pulls from the Indian sacred text Rigveda and the Japanese folktale “The Fisherman and the Dragon Princess,” among others. Bruce’s expert commentary provides helpful context throughout. The result is a well-researched survey for those with a deep interest in dragons. (Oct.)