The knight in this neo fairy tale is more than a little self-obsessed. His efforts to impress the uninterested princess with his daring send him searching the countryside, far and wide, for a dragon to fight; but he’s utterly incompetent as we’re shown when he rides through ‘thick tangled forests and looks into gloomy caves’ (a dragon’s foot and gaping mouth); he even stands on a dragon’s nose (‘peered down a raging volcano’, we’re told).
Then one day when a large dragon does finally appear on the scene, rampaging and generally wreaking havoc, the delighted knight has his devoted squire running up and down the hundred and one steps to the armoury for the right gear: shining armour, a helmet with visor and plume, and matching cloak. Oh and his trusty sword and best shield. Finally the knight is ready and looking fantastic; but in the meantime, the princess herself has coolly and calmly taken command and tamed the dragon herself. Needless to say, the knight is far from pleased but what happens next – and yes, there is a happily ever after ending – will surely make him rue his procrastinatory vanity all the more.
There’s visual humour aplenty in Mayhew’s wonderful crayon outlined illustrations: the sight of that poor squire dashing up and down those stairs for instance and that of the rather portly, over-dressed knight heading out to meet his adversary. Not so much a tale of derring do as one of derring didn’t do.