Six Degrees: From Kazul to Falkor
Friendly dragons? They’re not unheard of in books these days. And that’s just the sort of character Jenelle described in last week’s “Six Degrees of Kool Books”, the magical game where we get to see which character from one book reminds us of a character from another book.
Kazul was described as “kind and good-hearted…excellent to have on your side in a fight,” a dragon who ends up becoming something of a confidant and protector for a runaway princess instead of some scaly tyrant bent on exacting tribute from some local fiefdom. This character reminded me of Falkor from The Neverending Story, which was one of my Nightstand books a while back.
Falkor is more than just the furry overgrown puppy-like dragon from the 1980’s film adaptation most of you might be familiar with. Falkor was a luck dragon (with no fur whatsoever- they look more like chinese dragons based on the illustration from the book) and luck dragons are probably the coolest mount and friend you could ever want to have. Because, not only can they shoot blue fire from their mouth and fly (despite being wingless), when you’re riding one things are going to go your way, hence the “luck” part of their name.
Falkor, though he may not look like a dog, certainly is a true and loyal as one, offering to serve and carry Atreyu, the young green-skinned plains warrior who saves his life. Atreyu is a serious, earnest boy who, like the rest of his tribe, was born to hunt the purple buffalo of the plains.
Though Atreyu is young and inexperienced, for some reason he is chosen by The Childlike Empress to save the realm of Fantastica, which is being slowly swallowed up by the Nothing, a mysterious force which is pretty much what it sounds like, a black-hole-like phenomenon spreading across the land. Since the land of Fantastica is tied to the life of the Childlike Empress, she has grown ill as the land around her dies. As the ruler of her world she has a strange connection to the inhabitants of her realm. Though there seem to be many civilizations at war with each other, all acknowledge the Childlike Empress as the ultimate sovereign. She makes no demands on them, accepting both the forces of evil and good under her rule and no one dare threatens her since if she died, all of Fantastica would die with her.
Naturally, since Atreyu is traveling as a representative of the Empress on his quest, he meets many characters who help him in one way or another. Two of those are a pair of gnomes, Engywook and his wife Urgl. Engywook is a cranky old scientist who has built an observatory out in the middle of nowhere to study the Southern Oracle, a singular entity who lives behind three magical gates guarded by sphinxes and riddles. Engywook is a bit vain and puffed up about the importance of his research and tends to look down on the simple plainsman Atreyu, but he is mostly harmless and good natured.
Urgl is just as cantankerous in her own way (especially towards her husband), but her pride and persnicketiness revolves around her abilities as a healer. Though she can be quite domineering when it comes to the care of her patients, it is only their good which she has in mind and she, too, is a friend at heart despite her rough nature.
Speaking of rough natures, a giant turtle named Morla also makes a brief, though memorable appearance in the novel. The creature is so large she is mistaken for a small mountain. She’s also rather nihilistic, claiming that she’s lived so long she doesn’t really care one way or the other whether Fantastica is destroyed or not. In the end, however, she is intrigued enough by Atreyu’s cleverness to help him on his quest.
But the person whom Atreyu really needs to help him is Bastian. Bastian is a fat little child from the real world whose only real talent is making up stories. And getting beat up and made fun of by his classmates. The classic “bookworm”, Bastian gets swept up in the story of Fantastica while playing hooky from school and reading a stolen copy of The Neverending Story.
Despite the less than exemplary circumstances by which Bastian comes to read the book, he demonstrates an uncanny ability to identify with the characters he is reading about and the author uses this strange back and forth between the two stories (the novel is written in green and purple ink, the colors letting you know which story is being told, i.e. the real world vs. Fantastica) to make some important observations about the role of imagination in our world and the need for heroes and for enchanted worlds like Fantastica to exist. Bastian truly cares about the fate of the characters he is reading about, often remarking how he wishes he could help them in some way to overcome the obstacles which they are facing. I think every author would love to have a Bastian reading their books!