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by John Grant and Bob Eggleton

(Paper Tiger, $29.95, 128 pages, hardback; November 2002. In the UK: Chrysalis, £20, hardback.)

cover scanSomewhere deep within the dark and folding recesses of John Grant's mind, there exists a beautiful yet frightening place. And it seems Bob Eggleton has visited there. Or it's the other way around. Hard to tell who is channelling whose vision in the production of this stunning story of dragons and the world they created.

Eggleton's use of colour -- orange, turquoise, brown, threaded with gold and silver -- is dazzling. He juxtaposes black and white drawings -- usually of dragons -- with the swirling, burning colours of a violent creation -- the cosmos born with and borne on the fiery breath of a dragon.

Grant's words, or lyrics perhaps, are just as colourful. He designates the introduction as a "proem" -- prose poem apparently -- but the whole text reads like poetry. For instance, the following is what the Girl-Child LoChi found in the caves of the sun:

Inside the Cave Where Dreams Are Kept it was even brighter than outside it, and the sheets of flickering blaze that were its walls were filled with swiftly moving figments of the not-quite-seen, the pictures that we can descry only from the corners of our eyes and are gone when we turn our heads.

At times, the words take on a rhythmic style like the preaching of a Baptist reverend:

The mindless mind that is the Memory of Qinmeartha has laughter plaited in its invisibility ...
The mindless mind that is the Memory of Qinmeartha has impatience plaited in its invisibility ...
The mindless mind that is the Memory of Qinmeartha has anger plaited in its invisibility ...

Such use of the language and mastery of wild, fantastic colour remind us that this is first and foremost an art book. And it does well in that capacity. But even more than the artistry, Dragonhenge has a story to tell -- the mythology of dragons who have long since departed from our lonely world.

It starts with the Dream of Qinmeartha, who creates the world, or dreams the world, or creates the dream that is the world which was and is all things. Qinmeartha then promptly dies to let his creation be all it can be. But it is incomplete, and so it's up to subsequent dragons to finish the work.

For one thing, the world is grey. There is no colour until Syor brings it. After Syor's contribution, Joli brings the knowledge of life to Earth. The Girl-Child LoChi adds sound. The two Anyas bring evil and good and teach us how to fight -- a logical step now that these two elements have been added to the mix. Fittingly, Angrboda then teaches tolerance. Nadar shows us vanity. Finally, after the last dragon dies, all that is left of their time on Earth is the monument called Dragonhenge -- eight mighty mountains, each with a part of the Dream of Qinmeartha to tell.

It's a wonderful explanation of creation, no more difficult to believe than that of the ancient Greeks, Egyptians, Hebrews of the Bible, or even the Big Bang. And like all the great mythologies, it explains the natural phenomena of the Universe in terms that we can all understand. For instance eclipses are (as in many human mythologies) a result of the moon swallowing the sun. Tides are a result of the fall of Nadar into the seas and his twice-daily breath there.

Of the stories of Dragonhenge, the most heartwarming is that of Ugly Duckling Angrboda, the Lesser dragon. Tiny and weak, she is an outcast. Her father, Barra 'ap Rteniadoli Me'gli'minter Rehan, the greatest of the greatest Greaters, doesn't even know she exists. But one day her father comes down with the dreaded "Disease that is Despair", a plague that is ravishing the world. He leaves his nest so as not to infect his family, and goes off to die on a distant mountaintop. Angrboda, alone of all her bigger and stronger brothers and sisters, follows to comfort him. She finds him on his mountaintop and nestles in under one of his great ailing wings, telling him stories until they both fall asleep. When her father awakes he has miraculously regained his strength and realizes that Angrboda has cured him. He declares an end to the Greater/Lesser caste system that has heretofore been in existence. Tolerance is thus introduced to the world. The bittersweet story ends with Angrboda's death. She was a weak dragon, abused by her family, never growing strong, and so she died very young.

As if the story alone wasn't heart-wrenching enough, Eggleton's accompanying drawing shows the big, strong eye of the father dragon, regarding little tiny Angrboda, herself no bigger than that eye. Her father appears to be scowling. He's annoyed, angered maybe by the presence of a nameless Lesser. But Angrboda is not afraid. She reaches up to comfort him with unconditional love.

This book is for art lovers, dragon enthusiasts, mythologists, children of all cultures, and anyone who experiences wonderful, strange dreams that take place beyond the clouds, beyond the sun, beyond heaven as we know it, out on the crest of the cataract that is the moment of existence. Where a voice tells you to be unafraid of the time you will spend in the still, tide pool below once your time on the crest is past.

Coffee table book? Sure. But this is the one that will stay on the top of the glass the longest, ready to be referred to on rainy afternoons when contemplating the colours of sound.

Review by Sue Lange.

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