How to Train Your Child to Love Dragons

Dragons have fascinated humanity for millennia. No matter which part of the world you travel to, odds are the indigenous culture had at least one myth devoted to these beasts. While some may run to conspiracy, the logical explanation for widespread dragon mythology is dinosaur bones… or are dinosaurs a cover-up for dragons?!

They’re not. Dinosaurs have always existed but it’s easy to forget that we’ve only started formulating scientific study on these fossils during the last couple centuries. Before then, they were just giant bones – proof that our planet once held strange and amazing animals.

The natural mystery of the dinosaurs gave birth to arguably the greatest fantastical creation of all time. One that symbolizes our creative spirit as a species and adds an element of wonder to our collective consciousness. So, in my mind, passing on this love of dragons is essential in healthy human development.

After all, I love dragons and I consider myself a well-balanced individual (twitch).

Early Childhood

If you’re trying to get your child to love anything then start early. I don’t mean ramming dragons in the face of your baby and screaming “like it!” – rather, maybe just choose books and films that are age appropriate. Luckily, popular culture has you covered.

In terms of movies, recent hits like Pete’s Dragon and The Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader both feature friendly, nonthreatening creatures. Another obvious choice is the How to Train Your Dragon series from Dreamworks Animation.

If I may state a personal preference and a loved childhood memory, I would recommend Flight of Dragons. This light, whimsical fantasy gives dragon flight and fire a pseudo-science explanation and features a lot more elements of the genre. Talking animals? Got it. Ogres – yeah there’s one. James Earl Jones voicing the villain who turns into a giant monster – okay, we’re onto something here.

Also, it’s got this song:

Yeah, that will be in your head awhile. It’s a wonderfully meta film, choosing the author of the source book as a main character. And speaking of books, you don’t get much more famous than The Hobbit. Read that to your child and I guarantee, apart from the giant spiders, Smaug will be a highlight.

In terms of other books, really you can’t go wrong. There are so many dragon stories out there. I would also advise purchasing those giant picture books – like World of Dragons or something. They’re image focused so literacy isn’t a barrier, and the better ones feature drawings that will compel the development of a healthy imagination.

children dragons
One of the coolest aspects of dragon lore is how many different shapes and designs the creature can take. Try to look for literature that highlights each vision.

The tweens

As kids age, “cool” starts to matter more. Everyone wants to be cool – gotta do the cool things to be cool. However, they’re not quite teenagers yet so, you know, parents have yet to become the exact opposite of cool. So you can still make recommendations but the best bet is just making things available for consumption.

A film like Dragonheart, while rated PG-13, is perfect for this age range. After all, you can’t get much more awesome than Sean Connery voicing a dragon. It’s a little more violent without being Game of Thrones and the sexual innuendos will likely fly over your childrens’ heads… like a dragon, get it? I’m very clever.

Notable books include easy reads like Harry Potter, stuff your child can devour and process easily, helping to fuel not just a love of dragons but a greater affection for reading in general.

Harry Potter children dragon
Harry Potter ages along with the series, but its never particularly terrifying or overtly mature.

Teenage Years

Okay, now you’re not cool anymore. Being a teenager is all about being rebellious. Are they old enough to watch Game of Thrones? Doesn’t matter, they’ll likely watch it anyway.  However, this desire to revolt can be capitalized on with some appropriate dragon literature.

Gork the Teenage Dragon is every story of young adult high school trauma and liberation only… you know, with dragons. We follow Gork, a young, smaller dragon who is too nice for his own good. This hurts his chances of winning a female for the mating dance (a more straight forward name for “prom”) and impressing his family.

Gork has no idea what he wants to be but he feels the enormous pressure to be great. Typical teenager stuff, just substitute the people for dragons.

teenage dragon books
I feel the cover gives an excellent indication of the overall tone of this story.

The Magicians trilogy also provides dragons in more mature setting, although parents have to be comfortable exposing their child to teenage sex and drug use – if anything, it can be seen as prep for actual high school.

At this point, more scholarly works like Beowulf may also be attempted. Video games like Dragon Age also, as the name suggests, feature dragons very promptly. And I think it’s safe to assume that Skyrim will still be being released on new systems, even ten years from now.

And there you have it. Obviously there’s more to cover. I haven’t even scratched the surface of dragon pop culture.

I don’t claim to be an expert on the subject but I like to think that I still remember what it was like to be a child. Dragons are amazing creatures of power and mystery. These are qualities that I believe are attractive to children. Keep in mind, you don’t always have to go traditional.

As I mentioned in the beginning, dinosaurs are part of dragon lore and can easily expand the overall love of fire-breathing winged beasts. There’s also Godzilla, who is pretty amazing and fights other dragon-like creatures on a regular basis. I’m just saying.

Please Lev Grossman: Don't Give the Magicians to Syfy!

Back when I wrote my article on untapped potential series for HBO, there were many strong intellectual properties that I left out. One such I.P. was The Magicians trilogy, written by Lev Grossman. For those out there who are unfamiliar with this series, picture a far more adult/realistic interpretation of Harry Potter. A world where being wizards does not stop children from engaging in drug use, alcohol, sex, and all the other stupid crap kids tend to do as they grow older. Add to this an incredibly smart parody of the Chronicles of Narnia series and you have the essence of what The Magicians trilogy is about. This past summer saw the end of the trilogy with the final book, The Magician’s Land, being released in August. Like many fans of the series, I went through typical post-book depression once reaching the end before looking out to see what future, if any, the series might have. Grossman is, at the moment, insisting that this is the end for the series (I’m not so sure) so book-wise prospects were limited. There is a planned television show, however! Huzzah! Who is making it? Netflix? HBO? Hulu? Syfy? Really – Syfy… okay, not sure how to feel there.

A fantastic little trilogy of books for anyone looking for well-written fantasy.
A fantastic little trilogy of books for anyone looking for well-written fantasy.

Actually I do know how to feel: not confident. The network formally known as Sci-Fi has not been the recent name in terms of quality programming. To look back at it, the last Syfy show that anyone even talked about was Battlestar Galatica and that ended (rather poorly) in 2009. Since then Syfy has produced shows such as Haven, Defiance, and Z Nation. None of these shows have enjoyed terrific critical reception. It seems that since Battlestar Galatica, Syfy is still scrambling to find a show that garners a stronger reaction than: “Z Nation, that sounds a lot like the Walking Dead!”

In fact, there is only one recent series that Syfy is famous for: Sharknado. Yes, for those out there looking to gauge just how intelligent the usual Syfy programming is, look no further than Sharknado. For those poor souls out there who are unaware what Sharknado is… it is exactly what it sounds like. A movie about a tornado – made of sharks. Two movies actually, with a planned third on the way. Not to criticize Sharknado, on a personal level I love it for the wonderfully, intentionally stupid movie series that it is. That said, “From the network that brought you Sharknado comes the Magicians” just sounds wrong on so many levels.

Yeah, this is what to expect from Syfy these days.

The point I am trying to make is that the Magicians is smart, and it is that intelligence that made the series work. On the face of it, there have been numerous fantasy books that have tried to bring that ‘adult edge’ to the Harry Potter scenario – and most of them have failed miserably. These books did not rely on their sex or occasional brutal violence to tell a story, they relied on the charm and wit that Lev Grossman installed into their characters.

In particular there is a special challenge with the series protagonist, Quentin Coldwater (I love that name). Quention is nothing like Harry Potter. He is much more your typical hormone-filled adolescent. He makes mistakes, a lot of them, and he is not likeable through the first part of the trilogy. This character is realistic but hard to write. Grossman was able to give Quentin humanity and sympathy – which was very tough when his character was best described as a person who has everything: magic, a woman who loves him, a school to grow his talents, a portal to a magical world… and he manages to thoroughly f*ck everything up through his immaturity and inability to take responsibility. That may not be a tough protagonist to make relatable, but he is not the easiest guy to root for – not in the beginning anyway.

One of the main lessons that Quentin needs to learn throughout his journey.
One of the main lessons that Quentin needs to learn throughout his journey.

Writers John McNamara and Sera Gamble have their hands full in handling the pilot of this adaptation. McNamara’s career is long but not filled with any real highlights (Lois & Clark is not something to be proud of). Gamble at least has Supernatural under her belt. It is not a guaranteed failure, but the odds appear stacked against the Magicians being a show on the same level as the book series it is based off of.  I am only hoping to be proved wrong.

 

On a quick side note, how funny is it how much the dialogue has changed on shows?

“Is there a new show coming out?”

“Yeah.”

“Think it will be any good?”

“Well… they’re airing it on cable TV.”

“F*ck! I was hoping for Netflix!”