Top critical review
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on 22 April 2007
Ever wonder why Smaug hoarded all that treasure? Apparently it was just to impress the lady dragons. That's only one detail of "Dr. Ernest Drake's Dragonology: The Complete Book of Dragons," a faux-scholarly book that gives intricate details to the legendary beasts. (The actual author is Dugald A. Steer).
Without robbing dragons of their mystique, we get an overview of them: there are intricate studies of the different kinds of dragons, from the Eastern lung to the Australian marsupial (which is a bit too silly for the tongue-in-cheek tone of the book). "Dr. Drake" also examines their habits, such as courtship rituals and parenting, as well as the the biological means by which they spew flames, and the reason why they hoard gems.
He also gives quite a bit of advice for the budding dragonolist, ranging from the obscure (hide shiny objects from baby dragons) to the ordinary (wear fireproof clothing). Finally, there is a historical overview of famous dragonologists from around the world, and spells that assist them.
Dragons are a staple of legend and literature, although a neglected one. Though "Dragonology" is presented as a serious work, Steer never forgets to keep his tongue in cheek. It's a fun read, with lots of detail and thought -- after all, it can't be easy to document the physiology of a beast that doesn't, technically, exist.
Taken on its own, the book might merely be cute. But Steer also includes little details like a faux library card belonging to Ernest Drake, a little letter enclosed in a special envelope, and an inscription on the inner front cover: "To Friendly Dragons" followed by a bunch of Tolkienesque runes.
And the illustrations are as much a part as the faux-scholarly text. Classic-looking pictures of various kinds of dragons are only one part of it; there are also looks at embroyonic dragons in the egg, the different egg shapes, a foldout map that shows where the various species live, and several pictures of the anatomy of dragons, including musculature, skeleton, and things like claws, wing "fingers" and optic nerves.
Okay, maybe dragons don't exist. Big deal. The faux-scholarly tone, exquisite illustrations and intricate detail of "Dr. Ernest Drake's Dragonology: The Complete Book of Dragons" makes it an immensely fun read.