Growing up, I always looked up to the Inklings. C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Lloyd Alexander (yes, he’s an Inkling…don’t overlook him, he rocks). These were all authors that inspired me and made me decide that I wanted to be a writer. They wrote with a beauty and consciousness that blew me away, and their novels still push me to write.
So, when I heard that there was a series called The Chronicles of the Imaginarium Geographica where the main characters were Inklings, I was a bit hesitant. What if these novels didn’t do these great authors justice? What if the story was cliche, what if the plot was bad, what if, what if?
But people kept telling me I’d love them, so I sat down and read Here, There by Dragons, the first novel in the series.
I loved it. Here, There Be Dragons is a unique story filled with nods to some of my favorite British authors and books. It has magic and myth and beautiful writing and great themes.
As I mentioned above, the main characters in this series are Inklings, but I don’t want to spoil exactly who they are, though their character names kind of give them away if you are at all familiar with these particular authors. And yes, James A. Owen absolutely nailed these great writers and how they would act if they were suddenly thrown into a completely new world that needs saving.
When an brilliant professor is murdered in London, three unlikely companions are thrown together: John, Jack, and Charles. They are all Oxford men, one was a soldier and wishes he hadn’t been, one isn’t a soldier and wishes he was, and the other is a rather pretentious editor for the Oxford press.
They all have connections to the murdered professor, John most of all. An eccentric little man shows up after the professor’s death and pronounces John, Jack, and Charles as the new caretakers of the Imaginarium Geographica: an atlas of lands that exist in fable, myth, fairy tale, legend, and novel. These lands can only be reached by one of the seven vessels capable of sailing between lands.
Pursued by terrifying servants of an evil king who wants the Imaginarium Geographica for himself, John, Jack, and Charles leave London aboard the Indigo Dragon. Sailing into lands of magic and myth, they must lean upon one another to overcome their fears and fight the dark force that seeks to conquer all the lands mapped within the Geographica.
This book made me happy. Very, very happy. I felt like Captain America with every turn of the page: I understood that reference! There was talk of Avalon, the Ring of Power (a formation of rocks similar to Stonehenge), royal playing cards, Captain Nemo, and several mentions of Prydain. There was even a rather awesome nod to the “speak friend and enter” scene from Lord of the Rings. It’s was candy land for a bookworm.
But, aside from the cleverly woven in literary references, this novel still had a lot of amazing things going on. The characters were very well developed, each with their own struggles and each fighting hard to overcome them. It was very neat to see the adventures that these three imaginative Oxford men went on…and how these events could have possibly shaped the stories they went on to write.
The writing style James A. Owen employed for this novel was brilliant: It had a very British feel to it: proper and beautiful, but with some ironic humor. Much of his prose felt like something right out of the early to mid 19oo’s. These two facts are impressive given that A) James A. Owen is American, not British and B) He’s a modern-day author. I will certainly be reading more of his stories, as it is apparent that his writing powers are about as competent as they come.
I found myself extremely annoyed with myself for having borrowed this book from the library rather than buying it. The amount of passages that wanted underlining was insane.
The amount of thought that went into the themes of this novel made me want to pat Owen on the back and say “thank you.” This is the kind of story I’m always looking for: A book that has a good plot, good characters, but also possesses that extra “above and beyond” factor of strong – yet not knock-you-over-the-head – morals. Woven throughout the entire novel was the main theme of finding and recognizing your own strength, though there were many other themes woven throughout.
I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Warner Brothers has purchased the rights to the first two novels in the Imaginarium Geographica. It’s beens said that Travis Wright is to be the screen writer, while Rick Porras (co-producer of the Lord of the Rings trilogy) will be producing this film. However, this all took place a while ago and there doesn’t seem to be any new news. Hopefully this novel doesn’t end up being one of the many stories with sold rights that end up never being adapted. It really does deserves it’s own movie.
Here, There be Dragons will appeal to readers of the Inklings or classic literature, but I’m sure it would be enjoyable to those who are just looking for a good fantasy novel. Owen has the unique ability to pay homage to many great authors while also allowing his own distinct style to shine. To say I’m impressed would be an understatement.
Have you read this novel (or the entire series)? Please tell me about your favorite scenes or characters! And, if you haven’t read this book, you really need to give it a shot. It’s been one of my favorite reads this year, and I think it will very possibly be yours, too.