Mention Stephen King and one of the first words that will come to most people’s minds is “horror.” And well, with good reason. The US writer has been scaring the Dickens out of us for almost half a century now – his first book (Carrie) was published waaay back in 1974. The exceeding prolific author has given us more than sixty books so far (the latest of which is Billy Summers, which is due for release shortly) and is considered by many to be the creator of the “horror doorstopper” – those massive books in the horror genre that run into hundreds and hundreds of pages (The Stand runs close to TWO THOUSAND pages in its uncut version).
But that does not mean that King only deals in sheer terror. The man has other strings to his literary bow and is extremely versatile. In fact, his Mr. Mercedes series showed us that he is perfectly capable of handling detective fiction and even Billy Summers is supposed to be a good old-fashioned thriller with not too many elements of the supernatural or horror in it.
Still, it seems to be quite a bit of a stretch to think of him writing a story for kids, right? Well, he did. And he wrote it actually for his daughter, Naomi. According to King, even though she had turned thirteen, Naomi had not read any of his books, even though he was established as a bestselling author by this time, with more than a dozen books to his credit. King decided to remedy this by writing a book she would like. The book was originally titled The Napkins, and when he finished it, he gave her the manuscript. He says that she did not seem too interested in it initially, but that changed as she progressed deeper into the book, and when it ended, she hugged her father and told him that the only thing wrong with it was that she did not want it to end.
The book was published under the name The Eyes of the Dragon in 1984, and well, it came with illustrations too. And you know something? It is a terrific read even now. Even if you are not a kid. For this is classic storytelling – the story seems to be set in medieval times, there is a king and a queen, and of course, an evil minister. But hey, this is Stephen King so while the story flows smoothly, it is not exactly a very cheery fairy tale. In fact, it is a little grim and serious, with the minister (Flagg) conspiring to get rid of both the king and the queen, incriminating one of the two princes, and controlling the other who he gets crowned as king.
What makes The Eyes of the Dragon very readable however, is the fact that this is Stephen King in story telling mode. And while he does not have the light and fun touch of say a JK Rowling, he comes up with a far more compelling plot. And as this is a child’s tale, there are elements of magic, but nothing really as supernatural or otherwordly in his conventional horror books. What you have instead is a tale that will keep you tense and riveted with twists and turns aplenty. The characters are brilliant, and well, there is one fantastic escape that would make The Count of Monte Cristo proud. There is also a climax that seems to leave the door open for a sequel.
In short, The Eyes of the Dragon is a great introduction to Stephen King’s storytelling for those who are a little scared of being, well, scared. This is brilliant heroic fantasy and wizardry, a slightly serious fairy tale almost. It is the one Stephen King that we really believe every one should read, because everyone can read it and enjoy it. If you love Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings and hey, even a Game of Thrones, this is a book that you will love. Actually, anyone who has heard fairy tales will love this.
(King incidentally did continue the story in a manner of speaking in his epic The Dark Tower series. But that is for a more adult, more fantasy driven and violence and supernatural loving crowd. We will talk of the series some other day.)