The Eyes of the Dragon by Stephen King
Signet, 10th printing, 1988
Genre: Dark fantasy
Once upon a time–there was terror. And dragons and princes … evil wizards and dark dungeons … an enchanted castle and a terrible secret. With this enthralling masterpiece of magical evil and daring adventure, Stephen King takes you in his icy grip and leads you into the most shivery and irresistible kingdom of wickedness … THE EYES OF THE DRAGON.
Book Report: When I was in fourth grade and bored because everyone in my class was reading Island of the Blue Dolphins (god, how last year!) and nothing is duller than following along as people very slowly read something you’ve already read and enjoyed on your own, my mother handed me a copy of Stephen King’s The Eyes of the Dragon, thus beginning a lifelong relationship. Now, many people who aren’t familiar with this particular novel might think it a bit much to hand a Stephen King novel off to a nine-year old (especially one who suffered from an intense fear of the dark and of closets), but TEotD is more a bedtime story than an experiment in terror like most of King’s other works. And it’s the one I most recommend to people who aren’t horror readers, but who do enjoy fantasy. Like I said, it’s more a bedtime story, albeit one of dark fantasy, a real fairy tale, more akin to The Princess Bride than to The Shining. It’s a deceptively simple story: An evil magician plots to bring down the kingdom of Delain. That’s it, really. Except … the magician, known as Flagg, really wants nothing so much as to bring about the complete destruction of the entire kingdom, leaving it in chaos. He does this by murdering King Roland and engineering it to seem as though his heir Prince Peter were guilty, and then ruling from behind the throne through the younger Prince Thomas. And with Thomas on the throne, Flagg can raise taxes, impose unjust laws, and just generally work the sort of mischief that results in violent and blood revolution and leaves people fighting in the streets over scraps like dogs.
There you have it in a nutshell. But … it’s so much more interesting than that. King narrates the story in a cozy and intimate way, chock full of his usual sort of vulgarities and colloquialisms, as well as asides with the Narrator’s own opinions on the subjects at hand. Without affectation, the narration comes across as cozily as Goldman’s or even Kipling’s addresses to his Best Beloved. Indeed, I will often pick up TEotD when casting about for something to read and relax with before bed, or when I’m sick (shades of TPB), or on a rainy day. The prose is simple and soothing, and the characters satisfyingly alive. The narrative conceit lends itself well to more of those asides that outline much of Delain’s history, with enough tantalizing tidbits about pirates, sorcery, and even gibbering trolls to satisfy most diehard fans of wonder tales.
My only quibble with the book comes decades after I first read it. Due to some unfortunate retconning, Flagg in TEotD has become the one and the same Flagg from The Stand and also The Dark Tower. I don’t have any issue with such cross-references, and used to be quite tickled at the idea of Thomas and Dennis encountering Roland (a story King promised but which has never materialized). But Flagg is Delain never once indicates that he crosses worlds as the later Flagg does. Nor does he appear to be the demon Legion, like Randall Flagg and the later Flagg incarnation in The Dark Tower–yes, I know he is referred to as a demon at least once in TEotD, but that doesn’t make him Legion. RF in The Stand is the embodiment of evil and savagery, and though Flagg the magician is as evil as the day is long, he also a magician by nature, studying, plotting, dabbling, experimenting with poisons and spells, and above all with fallible arcane and supernatural knowledge. Rf dmeonstrates supernatural powers out the yin yang, but is almost totally lacking in knowledge, even of his own history, something Flagg has a great deal of. (Though the two do have a very similar lack of self-knowledge, a disquieting lack of center.) And let’s not even get into how our world and All-World coincide.
But I digress. Basically, The Eyes of the Dragon is an enjoyable, easy read, delightful for fans of dark fantasy and fairy tales, and for kids and adults alike. It was the perfect starter for my RIP V list one rainy grey afternoon, despite it being a re-read. Actually, I might just have to go and read it again right now.
Cover: Simple. There’s a dragon on it. Mine is actually black, not green, but it’s so battered, I can’t use it.
Dennis felt his way forward, his hands held out in front of him. The sound of weeping grew closer in the dark … and then, suddenly, the dark was no longer complete. He heard a faint sliding noise and then he could see Thomas faintly. He was standing at the end of the corridor, and faint amber light was coming in from two small holes in the dark. To Dennis, those holes looked strangely like floating eyes.
Just as Dennis began to believe that he would be all right, that he would probably survive this strange night walk, Thomas shrieked. He shrieked so loudly it seemed his vocal cords must split open. The strength ran out of Dennis’s legs and he fell to hs knees, hands clapped over his mouth to stop his own screams, and now it seemed to him that this secret way was fille dwith ghosts, ghosts like strange flapping bats that might at any moment snare themselves in his hair; oh yes, the place seemed filled with the unquiet dead to Dennis, and perhaps it was; perhaps it was.
He almost swooned … almost … but not quite.
Somewhere below him, he heard barking dogs and realized they were above the old King’s kennels. The few of Roland’s dogs still alive had never been moved outside again. They were the only living beings–besides Dennis himself–that had heard those wild shrieks. But the dogs were real, not ghosts, and Dennis held on to that thought the way a drowning man might hold on to a floating mast.
A moment or two later, he realized that Thomas was not just shrieking–he was crying out words. At first Dennis could make out only a single phrase, howled out again and again: “Don’t drink the wine! Don’t drink the wine! Don’t drink the wine!“