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The Last Dragon - Jane Yolen

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Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Last Dragon - Jane Yolen

I can't write a review on this graphic novel until I exorcise my excitement over another anything titled The Last Dragon.  This is because The Last Dragon (1985) is one of my favorite movies of all time bar none.  In the film, a young man searches for the "master" to obtain the final level of martial arts mastery known as the glow. Along the way he must fight an evil martial arts expert and an rescue a beautiful singer from an obsessed music producer.  It's an incredible homage to the 80's, martial arts films, and the Artist Formerly Known as Prince proteges (in this case, Vanity).  The movie should be required viewing for anyone interested in those three things.

Similarly, the graphic novel of the same name written by Jane Yolen and drawn by Rebecca Guay is an homage to times gone by. The plot swirls around the honored fantasy tradition of family caught in the battle to save their village from a rampaging dragon. Its art is very reminiscent of the animated film, The Hobbit (1977), with more whimsy and maturity (being as there are no cute halflings running around).  While that description is apt, it really doesn't do justice to what is an elegantly drawn book. Almost like watercolor the images flow together and create a dreamlike quality. In many ways reading the book feels like remembering - nostalgic and evocative.

The Last Dragon is decidedly female centric in a pretty exciting way. I read a post last week from Adam P. Knave (here) that discussed the notion that there aren't enough women in comics. He said:
Let’s be honest. The majority of American Comics (again mainstream stuff etc) is full of women being used and abused, discarded and ignored as actual characters. Imagine you love drawing comics. Now imagine you’re told to draw stuff that marginalizes and tosses under the bus the people in the stories that represent you. How long would you do it? 

Dark Horse Books has taken that perception and said, not here. Written by women, the book features strong female characters and pokes fun at the hero archetype.  It embraces the notion that women can not only produce outstanding comics, but that there are women out there to read them.  Fantasy as a literary genre has undergone some these same realizations in recent years with the phenomenal debuts of female authors like Catherynne Valente and N.K Jemisin (among many others).  Novels are now being released that portray strong women and they're being read by both men and women in great numbers.

There's no doubt that speculative fiction as a genre has a long way to go to reach some measure of gender equality.  I believe strongly that more titles like The Last Dragon will continue to push that needle further along inspiring young female readers to keep reading and young female writers to keep writing.  Clearly, The Last Dragon is a young adult title and should be read through that filter.  I know, as a father of an 18-month old little girl, I would be proud to read it to her one day (when she's no longer scared of anything that breathes fire).

For an adult reader the plot will be extremely straight forward and won't provide anything new beyond the refreshing perspective on gender roles.  I found myself a little bored early on before things really got going toward the end.  Still, it is a wonderful addition to the young adult market and any parent looking to find something "fantastic" to read to their children would be well served by taking a look.  Additionally, it would be a stellar entry point for a young reader into more novelized fantasy like The Chronicles of Prydain or The Chronicles of Narnia.

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At August 20, 2011 at 5:48 AM , Anonymous Lloyd christie said...

Hey Justin the last dragon a great Movie so inspirational - Thanks for the reminder


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