This story is perhaps better known in its Grimms’ version as ‘The Tale of the Giant with the Three Golden Hairs’. A brave and innocent young man is sent off by a murderous father-figure on a quest designed to lead to a certain and horrible death. The youth meets three afflicted people or communities on the way, who beg for his help, and he promises to try to discover the source of their woes so that he can advise them on his return journey.
In this version, the youth has been sent out to fetch three feathers from the back of a man-eating dragon, a feat he accomplishes with the help of the dragon’s gentle wife, who also coaxes the three solutions from her husband, ensuring that the youth returns not only healthy but wealthy.
The text here is brisk and rather bland, lacking the extreme menace which haunts my earliest memories of listening to the Grimms’ version more than 50 years ago. The dragon doesn’t seem as dangerous as the giant, and the plights of the people aren’t as abject. The illustrations, however, are splendidly bizarre. The double page spreads present the romantically embellished medieval fairy world of traditional illustration, but the rural idyll has been subtly infiltrated by the grylli, wheeled hybrid creatures and animated bagpipes of Hieronymus Bosch. The Palace of the Dragon has been built by Escher, the Dragon himself is a Jabberwock dandy and his wife a Fellini confection. The text is nestled in a mysteriously extravagant dreamscape which will keep observant children wondering and searching for hours. A splendid book.