A four-decade-long quest came to an end last night, quietly as such things often do, when I turned the last page and finished Gordon R. Dickson’s old novel, The Dragon and the George.
When I was a kid growing up in suburban Philadelphia my dad’s company would shut down for one week a year to retool their machines. The company actually has two branches, one in Philadelphia and one in Wisconsin. The Wisconsin branch would shut down in November for deer hunting season but the Philadelphia branch would shut down during the first week of August so everyone in Philadelphia could go down the shore. Someone on my mother’s side of the family – an uncle in that vague Italian sense of anyone related to us in a way that was more complicated than it was worth to pin down – owned a house in Sea Isle City NJ and we’d pile into whatever car we had at the time, along with a good portion of our stuff and a cooler full of groceries, and head on down for the week.
Uncle Charlie had a twin house and we’d rent the bottom half of the right side for the week. Sometimes my grandparents would come and rent another chunk of the house. Sometimes Charlie and Judy would be there as well, but not often. You’d walk into the living room – a space about twelve feet square with dark ‘70s paneling, a couple of couches and chairs, and a short table. The kitchen was to the right. Straight ahead was a narrow hallway, with a couple of bedrooms off to the right and a bathroom straight back. My parents would take one room and my brother and I would take the other, and we’d be there for the week.
It tended to rain.
We got good at finding things to do that didn’t need sunshine. I have deeply fond memories of Brigantine Castle, a giant haunted house that they built on a pier and staffed with college students majoring in theater and illegal substances. Eventually it burned down. We’d tour wineries. My dad took me and my brother crab fishing one morning, which we managed to do with fishing rods and hooks even though he was the only one in the boat who would eat the things. We’d see movies. We’d play Yahtzee. My brother and I would catch the innumerable quarter-sized toads that lived in the side lawn until one year they suddenly disappeared and never came back. It was fun.
And when the sun would come out we’d head to the beach, a few blocks to the east of Charlie’s house. We’d walk past another house full of relatives (whose names I never caught, nor do I ever recall seeing them – my mother would point out the house and we’d walk on) and Phil’s Pizza, which had a phone booth that we would search for spare change every time we passed by, and eventually we’d get to the sand and surf of New Jersey where my brother and I would spend quality time trying to damage ourselves and others with the heavy inflatable rubber rafts that you could rent from one of the stands.
Seriously, we had a great time.
The beach was right next to the Spinnaker, an orange and white hotel right on Sea Isle’s short boardwalk and by an order of magnitude the tallest thing in the city. The bottom level of the Spinnaker was given over to shops, one of which I believe was a tiny little bookshop.
I haunted that bookshop, as I tend to do with all bookshops.
One year I saw on the shelves a paperback with a dragon on it. Actually there were a lot of paperbacks with dragons on them, but this one stood out because of the title. I hemmed and hawed about buying it – my parents would always spot me some money for such things – but eventually moved on. I later decided to go back and get it but never managed to find the time and eventually we went home. It wasn’t there the next year.
I have no idea why this particular book stuck in my head the way it did when any number of other books contemplated and passed over faded from memory before I would even hit the front door of the shop. But it remained one of those things in the back of my mind that I would half-heartedly look for whenever I found a second-hand bookseller, not out of any great sense of loss but simply because it was something I remembered.
I found it in a shop in Madison a few weeks ago, and for $2 I just couldn’t pass it up. The price hadn’t changed since the 1970s, except this was the hardback edition. I finished it last night.
It’s, well, okay.
It’s very, very 1970s. It’s about 250 pages long, as opposed to the doorstops that most works of fiction are today. It has cover art by Boris Vallejo because that was a legal requirement for such novels in those days. It has a single-layer plot with no complications beyond obstacle/achievement/repeat. It has a view of women roughly halfway between Rat Pack and Women’s Lib. The basic story is that Angie somehow gets sent bodily from a lab in 1970s America into one of those quasi-medieval Tolkienesque landscapes that were pretty much required for fantasy novels at the time. Jim tries to follow but gets sent back into the mind of a dragon instead. He seeks her out. The other dragons think he’s nuts. He meets a human (a “george”) named Brian, a wolf named Aragh, and several other Companions. Dark Powers are assaulted. Angie somehow never actually appears until nearly the last page, an object of the action rather than an actor herself, and at that point most (if not exactly all) turns out well.
I don’t really recommend you rush out and buy it for yourselves, but it’s a reasonably entertaining way to spend a few hours if you like that sort of thing.
And now I have read it, and that long-ago gap from Sea Isle is now closed.