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February 20, 2006

Finding Dragons in Wales: Dewi the Dragon - Christie Davies

Posted by Harry Phibbs

Dewi the Dragon
by Christie Davies
Pp. 93. Talybont, Ceredigion: Y Lolfa, 2006
Paperback, 4.95

Talk about traditional values in a modern setting. This is the story of how a dragon, Dewi, would cope with life in contemporary Wales. Despite being the Welsh symbol there is something particularly incongruous about a dragon popping up in such a context. Somehow if it turned out that they did exist after all one would expect a sighting in the Burmese jungle or somewhere similarly exotic. But this is explained:

In nature imaginary animals spring into existence spontaneously, but only when a number of people think about them intensely at the same time. That is why there are dragons in Wales and China but not in Chad or Tasmania.
This is a children's story on one level but with plenty of jokes woven in to keeps grown ups amused. That is the formula that has worked so well for The Simpsons and doubtless Christie, a world expert on humour and fellow Social Affairs Unit contributor, would be content if it achieves a similar following. It would have helped it along to have had more illustrations - there is one on the cover but that's it.

One day Dewi wasn't feeling very well -

as everyone knows a happy dragon puffs out steam not smoke.
Given that dragons don't really exist it is touching that Davies shows such sympathy for them and attention to detail. For instance a later passage records:
Released from their fireproof basket, Dewi, Mei Kamlung and the little dragons flew to the chimney and nestled among the chimney pots. For a dragon, happiness is the outside of a warm chimney.
Dewi was taken to see Evans the vet in Swansea. There was no school that day so his owner Mair took him off in his:
special fire-proof basket and caught the bus into Swansea, taking care not to sit near the fuel tank, in case Dewi should sneeze.
Davies has a vivid turn of phrase, for instance when Dewi sees the doctor we find the doctor:
frowning more and more until his forehead resembles the top of a tube of toothpaste.
It turns out that Dewi is love sick. But where is a female dragon to be found?

Dewi was discovered down a coal mine. Mair laments:

We can't go back and look for another one because they closed the mine down three years ago, due to subsidy or subsidence - something like that.
Mair is worried that a Chinese restaurant called The Short Portly Dragon might serve dragons for people to eat. She is reassured:
Goodness me no... Dragons are much too revered in China. Besides it would be contrary to the Protection of Imaginary Species clause in the Local Government Miscellaneous Provisions Act of 1986.
Mair is not entirely reassured. She thinks:
miscellaneous provisions sounded too much like food.
Part of the technique of his book is that while dragons may dominate proceedings the humans are eminently believable. There are the types that we have all come across, the fretting mother, the nervous child, the kindly but rarefied expert. There is a fascination with language and a determination to prick the pomposity of official jargon. There are plenty of delightfully absurd yet horribly plausible jobs people have. For
instance there is the archaeologist who:
did his doctorate in dangerous imaginary archaeology at the University of Appenzoller and wrote his thesis on the little people who guard the raths in Ireland and slay anyone who disturbs a single bit of the old sod. Now he's in industrial accident archaeology, working with a grant from a firm of American lawyers, trying to work out what poisoned the hammermen working in Port Rewyn in 1873. Most dangerous job he's ever done. Their descendants will want compensation and the company is frightened.
This is not a political book but occasionally the odd passage betrays Davies's ideological leanings:
Toby enjoyed all the privileges of the seriously weird. He was indulged in his nonsense lest he turn to something worse.
Sounds familiar.

Another strength is that Davies has a keen imagination. Here is an intriguing passage about dog breeding. Mrs Evans and her husband Willis:

bred guard dogs that they sold to banks and scrap-metal dealers. They had recently been awarded a first-prize for breeding a Doberman that would only bite people with criminal records, and a silver medal for their Wursthund, a sausage dog dachshund that would slide down a tunnel after a vault robber. Now they were working on a Beulah speckled face sheep dog that could recognise rustlers in a white van by smell.
On another occasion a policeman visits to report a serious allegation:
Your dragon wilfully and deliberately sat down on the main road between Swansea and Llanelli, with his mouth open, pretending to be an underpass leading to the M4. Owing to severe drizzle, the bus driver failed to notice the difference and drove straight into his mouth and down the oesophagus or gullet as it is more commonly known, thus forfeiting the lives of some twenty-seven persons, including that of the new Bishop of Llanelli.
Like all good children's stories Dewi the Dragon deals in moral certainty - heroes and villains, good versus evil. The triumphs are chronicled with a sense of history. Professor Russell says:
A most interesting scientific experience. I feel a monograph coming on: Who will guard the guard dogs: an account of how the dragons defeated the monsters.
Harry Phibbs is a journalist.


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This sure beats the tosh, the so-called parable of Myles Harris. Give me "Dewi the Dragon" over "Darwin's Silver Bullets" any day.

Posted by: Jane at February 20, 2006 10:34 AM
•••

Well worth getting. The easiest way to acquire it is to buy it online at

http://www.ylolfa.com/

This book also gets ample revenge on those who issued a map of EU regions with Wales missing!

Posted by: Robert H. Olley at February 20, 2006 07:17 PM
•••

I cannot wait to get one. Or maybe a few as gifts to friends with kids. It sounds utterly delightful, particularly the theory of how imaginary animals are produced. Is there a sequel in the works? Is Disney looking at it?

Posted by: s masty at February 21, 2006 06:14 AM
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Having read the article above this - can Prof. Davies assure me that Dewi is not going to be sent off to Oxford's new animal lab - or perhaps its lab for imaginary animals? That could drive even me to become an anti-vivisectionist.

Posted by: Jonathan at February 21, 2006 11:34 AM
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Rest assured you can not do experiments on Dragons. Dewi does battle with Saint George and wins because it is the nature of imaginery animals that when you know where they are you can't know where they are going or how fast and vice versa. Saint George could not win because you can not harm imaginery animals. The phone number of the dragon sanctuary is 0122squarerootofminusone so you can not find it.

I did have a plot for another story in which Dewi did advertisements for a tobacco company because it can not harm Dragons. Professor Russell was very keen on it. However, bookshops would have refused to handle it. A friend of mine wrote a best selling children's book in Greek. When he tried to sell the translation in England he was told that he could not have a character in it who smoked a pipe. I would no more invent a character who smoked than I would an imaginery gollywog.

PC readers should note that two of the heroines are Chinese and the Welsh doctor is called Sir Mahendra Patel.
Un-PC readers will like one of the heroes whose hobbies are riding large fast motorcycles across rough terrain and rifle shooting including hunting mutants caused by pollution.

Jewish readers should look out for the three hidden Jewish jokes about kosher, Passover and nutters. They are put there specially for you.
Enjoy!
Christie Davies

Posted by: Christie Davies at February 21, 2006 03:03 PM
•••

where's the picture of the dragon???

Posted by: Ye HAi Cheng at October 23, 2006 01:06 AM
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