Dragons at Crumbling Castle: Less fun than I expected

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsDragons at Crumbling Castle: and Other Tales by Terry Pratchett children's fantasy book reviewsDragons at Crumbling Castle: And Other Tales by Terry Pratchett

Dragons at Crumbling Castle is a collection of fourteen stories written by Terry Pratchett and illustrated by Mark Beech. Each page of the books is covered in wacky fonts or scribbles to emphasize certain words and phrases, and the lines of print are double-spaced to promote easy reading for young eyes. The entire book is clearly engineered for elementary school readers. The stories were written when Pratchett was a teenager, working for his local newspaper; Pratchett writes in the Introduction that he touched them up a little before publication, though much of the weakness of style and craft which are to be expected from such an immature writer still remain.

The tales themselves are enjoyable, I suppose, though I think I would have appreciated the silliness and random events were I closer to the 9-12-year-old target audience. There are a few glimmers of talent and humor, not to mention philosophical insight, but overall these are clearly stories written by an immature writer. Adults who are not already fans of Pratchett’s work would do well to acquaint themselves with his DISCWORLD series rather than beginning with this book. Young children may find Dragons at Crumbling Castle to be a good introduction to Pratchett’s style, though from a personal perspective, I found the stories, characters, and playful use of language to be inferior to work produced by other authors.

The stories are quite short, and I only felt it necessary to write a few words about each in turn.

“Dragons at Crumbling Castle:” A young boy sets off to rout some dragons from a castle in the time of King Arthur. The story and resolution are more silly than clever.

“Hercules the Tortoise:” A pedestrian nature story which describes the life of a tortoise who adventures beyond his garden fence.

“The Great Speck:” Kingdoms of people live on dust motes in an allegory for the space race. The moralizing is quite clumsy and obvious, even considering its target audience.

“Hunt the Snorry:” A large number of people set out to catch a mysterious beast in this short and silly story.

“Tales of the Carpet People:” Tiny people who live in a carpet must travel from one end to the other. I found it to be twee and full of whimsy, but not in a positive way, and altogether too long and drawn-out.

“Dok the Caveman:” A prehistoric inventor’s efforts are not well-received by his tribesmen in this rather bitter story about unappreciated genius.

“The Big Race:” Adults who remember watching Wacky Races on Saturday mornings will recognize many of the plot elements of this story.

“Another Tale of the Carpet People:” Contains troublesome ideas with a colonialist slant — if a country is wild and unkempt, obviously its people will be, too. A tiresome, rather than fun, story.

“The Great Egg-Dancing Championship:” A bitter rivalry exists between the two small towns of Gritshire and Umbridge. Jem Stronginthearm loves Alice Band, but can their young hopes survive her father’s anger? Ridiculous names and premise.

“Edwo, the Boring Knight:” Typical fairy-tale structure — three princes must go out and find their fortunes in the world — but the youngest is an insufferable prat rather than the cleverest or bravest. There are interesting twists to the expected structure, though the princess Edwo saves may as well be a chair for all that she participates in her end of the story.

“The 59A Bus Goes Back in Time:” A country bus and its operators travel to various moments in British history. Travel occurs whenever convenient or necessary to the progression of the plot. The history itself isn’t terribly accurate, though it may have been considered correct at the time that this was written.

“The Abominable Snowman:” A bored, fabulously wealthy Londoner helps a famous explorer to find Abominable Snowmen in the country of Chilistan. The best part is the idea of a Joke Monastery in which monks tell jokes; when the last joke is told, the world will end. It’s a fun kernel buried within a boring story, hinting at the sly humor for which the adult Pratchett would become famous.

“The Blackbury Monster:” The city of Blackbury fabricates a lake monster to draw tourists in a bog-standard “be careful what you wish for” tale.

“Father Christmas Goes to Work:” Mrs. Christmas nags her husband into getting a second job to supplement their once-yearly income. The idea that Father Christmas is so poor that he needs another job in order to make ends meet has rather worrisome implications.

A quick note about the artwork: every single illustration looks like a rip-off of the fabulous work produced by Quentin Blake for Roald Dahl’s novels and stories. The fact that the text contains next to no acknowledgement of the artwork or its creator is additionally problematic — why ape such a distinctive pen-and-ink style, and then make no mention of it whatsoever, even though the drawings appear on nearly every single page?

In truth, while none of the stories are awful, none of them were entirely enjoyable to me, either. For the intended age group, these will probably be fun, though I would more quickly recommend the works of Dahl, Robert Munsch, Astrid Lindgren, or Brian Jacques to young readers looking for fantasy and adventure.

Publication Date: February 3, 2015 | Age Level: 9 – 12 | Grade Level: 4 – 7. This never-before-published collection of fourteen funny and inventive tales by acclaimed author Sir Terry Pratchett features a memorable cast of inept wizards, sensible heroes, and unusually adventuresome tortoises. Including more than one hundred black-and-white illustrations, the appealingly designed book celebrates Pratchett’s inimitable wordplay and irreverent approach to the conventions of storytelling. These accessible and mischievous tales are an ideal introduction for young readers to this beloved author. Established fans of Pratchett’s work will savor the playful presentation of the themes and ideas that inform his best-selling novels.

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JANA NYMAN, with us since January 2015, is a freelance copy-editor who has lived all over the United States, but now makes her home in Colorado with her dog and a Wookiee. Jana was exposed to science fiction and fantasy at an early age, watching Star Wars and Star Trek movie marathons with her family and reading works by Robert Heinlein and Ray Bradbury WAY before she was old enough to understand them; thus began a lifelong fascination with what it means to be human. Jana enjoys reading all kinds of books, but her particular favorites are fairy- and folktales (old and new), fantasy involving dragons or other mythological beasties, contemporary science fiction, and superhero fiction. Some of her favorite authors are James Tiptree, Jr., Madeleine L'Engle, Ann Leckie, N.K. Jemisin, and Seanan McGuire.

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5 comments

  1. Weren’t the Carpet People stories released in a separate edition? I’m sure I’ve seen them someplace.

    Sounds like it’s for Pratchett completists only. I still have plenty of Discworld books to wander through.

    • I think the Carpet People stories were published separately.

      And I think you’re right about the potential appeal–in much the same way that a lot of unfinished or fragmentary work from Tolkien’s early years might only appeal to completionists, Marion. There’s great appeal in discovering a beloved author’s evolutionary roots. If you’re the target audience, you’ll love it, and if you aren’t, you may want to skip it.

  2. Ouch. Something I took away from this review, though, is that young people should not despair if their first writing efforts are not very good. They could be just like Terry Pratchett some day!

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