A couple weeks ago, I posted some little musings about Here There Be Dragons, by James A. Owen. I was only three chapters in at the time. Let’s just say I finished fairly soon after, but I didn’t want to post on the same novel twice in one week, so I figured I’d wait a bit, let things percolate in my head. Now, to finish a review for the whole novel.
I believe I left off last time with how entertaining it was just to read, due to the writing style, and the story itself had hooked me. In fact, from beginning to end, there was simply no telling where the adventure was going to go. There were some broad assumptions one could make, but things got turned on their head so many times, and so fast, it was a bit like watching the protagonists play the most dangerous game of hopscotch ever, with the ground falling out from under them within a millisecond of their foot making contact, and a tide of molten lava pursuing behind them. It begins and ends in London, but passes through a good handful of fantastic worlds filled with wonder, wisdom, and danger.
I noticed something as I read. The entire world of the Archipelago of Dreams, where every imaginary land exists, seemed like a humongous hodgepodge of everything to be found in classic fantasy stories. There were even moments which reminded me distinctly of stories like The Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings. This proved to be more insightful than I realized.
I believe I also mentioned how the characters were not being given concrete physical descriptions, but then I noticed that all of these new characters were being properly described. The discrepancy struck me, and I wondered, why were the first several, and most major, characters we met not treated the same?
Then, towards the end of the novel, we learned the identities of these characters called Bert, Charles, Jack, and John. Respectively, they were H.G. Wells, Charlie Whelan, C.S. Lewis, and J.R.R. Tolkien.
This explained a few things, particularly about the smorgasbord of fantasy tropes and why Owen didn’t bother with physical descriptions.
And it makes me wonder about further installments of the Chronicles of the Imaginarium Geographica and the Archipelago of Dreams as a whole. If these are the imaginary lands, and there are some very clear ways they inspire the greatest minds of every age, then I have to ask: how much do the wonders of the Archipelago influence the writers and such, and how much is the reverse true? Also, why do these famous authors change certain things, such as making dragons evil in their novels, when they weren’t so evil in their experience?
I definitely need to read the rest of the series, partially to see if those questions are answered, and partially because I just want to follow the continuing adventures of our heroes!
As for this novel, it is very much telling the personal journeys taken by our protagonists, which interweave with one another over the course of their physical journey. We have our young Englishmen interacting with iconic characters from literature and folklore. Captain Nemo, for instance, is quickly a favorite, and one of the chief leaders of the allied forces against the abominable armies of the Winter King, who turns out to also be a most well-known figure from legend.
We see a fantastical spin, and one which I believe the Grandfathers of Fantasy would most appreciate, on where Lewis, Tolkien, and Whelan (I think, as I’ve not read anything by Whelan) got inspiration for the tales they spun for audiences later in life. The “ring of power” and the burden of responsibility are particular recurring themes in John Tolkien’s personal journey. We also see Lewis, aka “Jack,” learn a bitter lesson about how the mistakes of a brash and prideful youth can cost even the life of a great man, a’la Edmund and Aslan. Whelan, I can’t speak on, but I’d be surprised if there wasn’t something for him as well. And, of course, there are trolls, goblins, talking animals, dragons, wraiths, etc.
Yet, all of that is background, and it adds a rich texture to this literary meal. The story itself is simply enchanting and thrilling, fun and full of suspense. And they don’t even harp too much on the (potential) love story(ies)! My kind of story!
I am definitely putting the rest of The Chronicles of the Imaginarium Geographica on my list for future reading!
Overall rating: 9 out of 10.