Edith Nesbit was a famed children’s author who lived all over England from 1858-1924. Born at the end of the Victorian era, certain elements of Victorian culture show through in her writing. Active in the Labour and Socialist movements, concepts of fairness, wealth distribution and community welfare feature prominently in her work. The stories sound like good, solid children’s stories, but when read with this knowledge in mind, the moral lessons are easy to pick out.
The Book of Dragons is a collection of eight stories, all featuring dragons in one way or another. Each one of the stories takes about half an hour to read.
The Book of Beasts – A young and newly coronated king named Lionel is tempted by a book of his ancestors titled The Book of Beasts. Instructed not to read the book, he could not resist opening the book to the page for Dragons. In doing so, a red dragon comes to life out of the pages of the book. For a few days, the dragon hides in the forest, but then begins to terrorize the townsfolk. It is up to Lionel to figure out a way to deal with the dragon before it kills all of his subjects.
Uncle James, or the Purple Stranger – An island called Rotundia is featured which has a very strange characteristic. The animals are all the wrong size. Guinea pigs as large as elephants – large enough for 20 children to ride. The elephants, were the size of chihuahuas or other “purse pets”. Rabbits the size of rhinoceroses, and a doormouse larger than anything else. The menagerie is made even stranger one day when a Purple Dragon decided to pay a visit.
The Deliverers of Their Country – Little Effie’s father fished something out of her eye. He was surprised to find it was a tiny creature that appeared to be some sort of insect with bat-like wings. Excited, the father rushed to the professor with the new find. A while later, another one was discovered that appeared like a tiny lizard with wings. The next morning, a third one was found, a lizard about the size of a kitten, with wings, and breathing fire. Before long, the country is overrun by little winged fire-breathing lizards. It’s a plague of dragons!
The Ice Dragon, or Do as You Are Told – Young Jane and George are enjoying some December fireworks displays when they notice the lights of the Aurora Borealis shimmering in the distant night sky. Jane said she wanted to go see them, but George explained they were a very long way off. Jane would have none of it. She wanted to go to where the lights were, so off they go on an adventure through the frozen north where they encounter many interesting things.
The Island of the Nine Whirlpools – A Queen, desperate for a baby, visits a witch to seek out some enchantment to ensure a child. The Queen returns home to find a baby in her crib, but it is a baby girl, and a girl is not a suitable heir to the King’s crown. Their only hope is that the girl can marry a clever man to rule as King, as a clever man is needed to learn the King’s magic. In order to ensure that the man she marries is clever, the King exiles the princess to an island surrounded by nine deadly whirlpools which will have to be successfully negotiated. Distraught, the Queen turns again to the witch for help, and that is when things get really interesting.
The Dragon Tamers – A poor blacksmith named John has taken up shop and residence in a ruined keep,complete with a dungeon basement. John has stiff competition in the mayor of the town, who has a much better location and a much better forge. John and his family barely get by on the odd job he can pick up. John and his wife befriend the dragon that lives in their dungeon, but when the townsfolk and the mayor learn of the dragon’s existence, they want it exterminated!
The Fiery Dragon – A brother and sister (Prince Tiresome and Princess Sabrinetta) inherit a kingdom at a very young age. The Prince, being very evil, wanted the whole kingdom for himself and locked his sister in a tower. A dragon makes its way into their kingdom, and the Prince decides to imprison the dragon in a silver bottle and keep the silver bottle in the kingdom’s treasury. The Prince discovers quickly that a treasury filled with silver, gold and gems is a very poor place to keep a dragon. Try as he might, the Prince cannot control the dragon, but the Princess, who has a heart of gold, and a pig-keeper named Elfin know how to handle it.
Kind Little Edmund, or The Caves and the Cockatrice – Edmund is a boy with a voracious curiosity. As with most curiosity, it landed Edmund in trouble as often as it produced useful knowledge. His curiosity got the better of him when he discovered noises coming from a cave.
Originally published in 1899, the book is in the Public Domain in countries where copyright is Life +70 and in the United States. You can hear all eight books read aloud by Laurie Anne Walden at LibriVox or download The Book of Dragons for free from Feedbooks.