Literature / Dragon Rider

A series by German author Cornelia Funke, in which the first book follows a dragon, a Brownie, and an unassuming human orphan (and eventually a few more partners) as they travel from one end of the earth to the other searching for the Rim of Heaven - the only true sanctuary left for the dragons, now that humans are building over all the others. On the way, they'll encounter an assortment of magical creatures both good and bad and travel through exotic locations, all while trying to keep themselves out of reach of a very persistent beast with a hunger for dragon flesh.

The sequel, The Griffin's Feather picks up the story two years later. The dragons and the brownies are happily settled in the Himalayas, while Ben and his adoptive family are now living in Norway and working at a sanctuary for endangered magical creatures. Life hasn't worked out as smoothly as intended for anyone, particularly Ben, who dearly loves his new family, but misses his dragon friend Firedrake. But everyone has new difficulties to deal with, when the problems of hand-rearing Pegasus foals send Ben and his father across the world in search of griffins.


This book provides examples of:

  • Ace Pilot: Lola Graytail, who even introduces herself as such.
  • All Girls Like Ponies: Double subverted. Although Guinevere had met, and sometimes ridden, various mythological equids such as kelpies, she had always felt that, for someone who has nursed injured mermaids back to health in a bathtub, horses aren’t exactly the most exciting creatures in the world. But when she meets Anemos, a recently widowed Pegasus stallion, they quickly become very close friends.
  • All Trolls Are Different: Hothbrodd seems to be more of a Plant Person, considering that he is green, has bark-like skin, and can communicate with trees. Perhaps surprisingly in view of this, he is a carpenter. Less surprisingly, he never actually chops a tree down, as he can just ask trees to sprout branches in the shape of the piece of wood he wants.
    • Hothbrodd explains that, contrary to human prejudice, fjord trolls are highly intelligent, but adds that mountain trolls are just as stupid as everyone says. (We don’t meet any mountain trolls, so don’t know whether this is true or just Hothbrodd’s prejudice.) Weirdly, the English translation has Hothbrodd say that fjord trolls (like himself) are stupid.
  • Antiquated Linguistics: In the original German, non-human characters never call anyone Sie (the usual polite form of ‘you’), preferring to address even a superior with either the familiar ‘du’ or the archaic, ultra-deferential ‘Ihr’. This is the plural of ‘du’, and, used to address a single person, is the second-person equivalent of a king referring to himself as ‘We’, and is virtually unknown among modern Germans. However, bearing in mind that many fantastic beings are either hundreds of years old or have not had much contact with humans since the Middle Ages, it is understandable that their speech patterns are different from ours. Generally, tyrants like Nettlebrand and Kraa expect to be addressed as ‘Ihr’, while more easy-going leaders like Shrii prefer ‘du’. However, fantastic beings who have previously served a despot may feel more comfortable addressing anyone they see as an authority figure as ‘Ihr’. Twigleg still calls Ben ‘Ihr’ even when they have been close friends for several years, and in spite of the fact that he is Ben’s teacher.
  • Applied Phlebotinum: Although it doesn't show up until more than halfway through the book, the Moon Dew collected from Zubeida Ghalib's special flowers.
  • Artificial Human: Twigleg.
  • Author Tract: The book is flagrantly plagued by the author's numerous holier-than-thou agendas. Every character we are supposed to like is a vegetarian, a pacifist, and will never stop bemoaning mankind's need to put animals in cages even though this theme has cursory relevance to the actual plot, at best. The author places Eastern people high up on a pedestal over Western people to a point of othering them.
  • Becoming the Mask: Twigleg goes from using Ben as a cover to spy on Firedrake to genuinely liking him as a friend, mostly because Ben is nicer to him than Nettlebrand would ever be.
  • Big Bad: Nettlebrand is the driving force of the conflict.
  • Big Damn Heroes: A few times. First, Barnabas Greenbloom shows up with a mirror handy when Firedrake wakes up a Basilisk; Firedrake and the others arrive in the nick of time to prevent Ben becoming a Roc chick's dinner; and Lola getting Twigleg out of Nettlebrand's reach during the final showdown.
  • Big Eater: Sorrel is always either eating or wanting to eat. By extension, all of the Brownies seem to be like this.
  • Bigger Bad: The alchemist who created Nettlebrand could be considered this.
  • Breath Weapon: The dragons breathe fire, of course. Although it also has a few other uses, like healing wounded animals or revealing the true nature of enchanted creatures.
  • Bunny-Ears Lawyer: Barnabas Greenbloom.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Nettlebrand's missing scales.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Sorrel's marksmanship and proficiency with spitting, coupled with the properties of Firedrake's breath, come in handy near the end of the book.
    • Tattoo, one of the dragons who had been restored from being a stone statue, flames a boatload of poachers early in ‘’The Griffin’s Feather. It sinks immediately, without trace – no sign of burning wreckage. Later on, Tattoo’s fire twice turns griffins to stone – but it isn’t until the second griffin that we actually see this happen.
  • Creating Life: The Mad Scientist who created Nettlebrand was adept at this, although his real goal in life was to make gold.
    • Twigleg says that the Mad Scientist actually COULDN'T create life, but instead "borrowed" a life from another creature... in Nettlebrand's case, a frog, in Twigleg's probably a spider or other small insect.
  • Creepy Ravens: The majority of Nettlebrand's forces are ravens. Except they're actually enchanted crabs.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Sorrel, when she isn't complaining about her hunger.
  • Death by Irony: Nettlebrand's indestructible armor is melted by the very thing it was made to withstand- dragon's fire- because the good guys fiddled with his beloved scale polish.
  • Doorstopper
  • Fantastic Racism
    • Most griffins regard dragons as their natural enemies, and despise all other creatures, especially horses – which makes things awkward when Barnabas needs the griffins’ help to hand-rear a clutch of orphaned Pegasus eggs. They can do deals with humans, because humans are as mercenary and ruthless as griffins.
    • Shrii, who is an unusual griffin in being more interested in conservation than in hoarding gold, is deeply offended when Barnabas offers him treasure, clearly feeling that Barnabas is racially stereotyping him. But considering that most of the other griffins really are as avaricious as the books say, you can hardly blame Barnabas. Eventually the two of them accept that you can’t judge people by their species.
    • When European groups of dragons, brownies/kobolds, and dwarfs, move into the Rim of Heavens, Firedrake has to sort out perpetual squabbles between them and their oriental counterparts. In particular, the European dwarfs resent the fact that the Nepalese dwarfs have six arms, and can therefore swing several pickaxes at once and mine far more treasure.
    • Twigleg is convinced that everyone (even a crab scuttling past him on the beach!) regards him as a freak because he is an Artificial Human who had been born in a glass jar. In fact, nobody except Twigleg himself even thinks about this, let alone thinks it matters.
    • Both Twigleg and Sorrel are annoyed that most people don’t even recognise what they are – after all, homunculi aren’t exactly well-known compared to dragons or griffins, and Sorrel is a 'kobold' , a word so unfamiliar in English that the translator refers to her as a brownie instead (mainly for the sake of a truly groanworthy pun towards the end of the first book), though a more obvious translation of ‘kobold’ might be goblin. Generally, as Sorrel is furry, people assume that she is some kind of monkey or even a giant squirrel (though in the illustrations her face looks more cat-like than anything else), and in A Griffin’s Feather Twigleg is repeatedly either asked what he is (mainly by creatures wondering whether he is edible) or referred to as a jenglot, which baffles him as he doesn’t recognise the word. (As the author comments, he might have been flattered if he knew that jenglots are vampire zombie dwarfs in Indonesian mythology, and very scary.)
  • Fatal Flaw: Nettlebrand's Pride.
  • Feed the Mole: Twigleg, to save Ben's life, gives Nettlebrand fake directions to the Rim of Heaven so he'll be trapped in a desert. And then turned against them when Nettlebrand not only survives, but gets Gravelbeard to fudge a story about his demise so the good guys don't know they're being followed.
  • Feathered Fiend: The Giant Roc.
  • Five-Token Band: A dragon, a brownie, a Token Human, a homunculus, and a rat, in the first book. ''The Griffin’s Feather’’ adds a troll to this team.
  • Flaw Exploitation: When Nettlebrand shows up to reclaim one of his scales, Professor Greenbloom is able to use Gravelbeard's obsession with precious metals to escape.
  • Foreshadowing: Firedrake is actually warned about Nettlebrand several chapters before he becomes a threat by an old dragon back in his home, and Gilbert Graytail's comments about the ravens serves as a warning for Sorrel and Ben that they might be being watched.
  • Gone Horribly Right: Nettlebrand, who was created to hunt dragons for an alchemist, was SO good at his job that he eventually ran out of dragons to hunt. This led to him getting bad-tempered, and, well... he ate the majority of his servants AND his master.
  • Hair of Gold, Heart of Gold: Averted – at least where fur, feathers or plumage of gold are concerned:
    • Nettlebrand is evil and vain of his golden scales, while the real dragons have silver scales and much kindlier natures.
    • Most of the older griffins in ''The Griffin’s Feather’’ have sand-yellow plumage and fur, and are obsessed with hoarding golden treasure. A few have bright golden feathers, which they earn by doing heroic deeds – which, with inverted griffin morality, probably means deeds of extreme violence. By contrast, the young griffin Shrii has green feathers, and an appropriately green commitment to protecting animals from poachers.
    • Sorrel probably has yellow fur, given that her name in the original German, Schwefelfell, means ‘Sulphur-Fur’. She is (basically) a good character, but far from a stereotypical sweet-natured heroine – while Ben, who has black hair, is endlessly forgiving, caring and sympathetic.
  • Happily Adopted: Ben's eventual fate adopted by the Greenblooms, as shown by the ending. Twigleg joins him in this.
  • Heroic B.S.O.D.: In ‘’The Griffin’s Feather’’, Twigleg repeatedly withdraws into a shell of intense depression, a combination of grief over the murder of his brothers 350 years earlier, and despair at the probability that he is probably the Last of His Kind. Usually he recovers (for the time being) as soon as Ben shows him any affection, since his friendship with Ben is by far the most important relationship in his life. When Ben disappears, apparently captured by the servants of the griffins, Twigleg is briefly hysterical with grief, but then, impressively, manages to pull himself together, checking his pulse to establish that he is still alive, and reasoning that, as he will suffer Death by Despair when Ben dies, the fact that he is still alive proves that Ben must be alive too, and that he needs to go and rescue him. Twigleg seems to be overcome by emotion far more often in The Griffin’s Feather’’ than in the first book - other than the moment near the end of Dragonrider’’ where he bursts into tears because he believes Ben is going to go away and leave him. Probably, between the death of his brothers and meeting Ben 348 years later, Twigleg’s life had been so lonely and miserable that Emotion Suppression had been the only way he could cope.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Nettlebrand's creator, devoured by his own creation. And Nettlebrand's obsession with his scales, as well as his abusing his servants also turns around to hit him where the sun don't shine.
  • Last of His Kind: Many of the characters in ‘’The Griffin’s Feather’’ face this, which isn’t surprising given that the setting is a sanctuary for endangered mythological creatures. Twigleg is almost certainly this (though he is obsessed with searching the internet for any videos suggesting that there might be other homunculi); Anemos will be if his foals don’t hatch out; and a kraken whom Firedrake and Sorrel meet in Indonesia is thrilled to hear that Ben and Barnabas know another kraken and would be willing to introduce them.
  • Masculine Girl, Feminine Boy: Lola is a daredevil Action Girl whose idea of a fun day is taunting hungry monsters while darting just out of reach of their fangs. Twigleg, by contrast, is timid, sensitive (both in the sense of being empathetic to other people’s moods, especially Ben’s, and in the sense of getting upset easily) and much more at home with books and computers than with having hair-raising adventures. However, he and Lola often have to work together (as he is the only other person small enough to fit into Lola’s miniature aeroplane) and by ‘’A Griffin’s Feather’’, they have become close friends. Lola is highly protective of Twigleg; in one scene where a gibbon much bigger than they are tries to touch Twigleg to work out whether he is real, Lola threatens the gibbon with a spanner, pointing out that Twigleg’s limbs are very delicate and he isn’t a plaything for monkeys. In a later scene, after Twigleg had narrowly escaped being eaten by a griffin while Lola was trapped and unable to come to help him, Lola complains that she was disappointed to have missed all the fun. This is almost certainly true, but is also Lola’s way of consoling Twigleg, trying to help him feel that what he has been through wasn’t all that terrible.
  • Meet the New Boss: Kraa in The Griffin’s Feather’’ is very much the same style of villain as Nettlebrand in Dragonrider’’: vain, pitiless, tyrannical and paranoid. There’s one major difference: while Nettlebrand was a synthetic monster created to eat dragons, Kraa is one of the few surviving members of a critically endangered species, and Barnabas can’t help feeling that to let Kraa die would be absolutely tragic. But it happens anyway.
  • Our Dragons Are Different: Firedrake's race of silver dragons look like the Western archetype, although they breathe enchanted blue fire and can only fly when the moon is out; in fact, they live off the light and don't even need to eat.
  • Our Homunculi Are Different: Twigleg is a homunculus created by an alchemist. Turns out the alchemist couldn't actually create life - only "borrow" it from other creatures. Thus, Twigleg was probably created from a spider or a beetle.
  • Our Gryphons Are Different And Shrii is more different than most.
  • Pegasus Pegasi are intelligent and can talk. They are descended from the original Pegasus who sprung from the blood of a gorgon, and are now a critically endangered species, with an unusual life-cycle. They are oviparous, laying eggs which are initially no bigger than a hen’s egg, which the mother pegasus has to lick to enable the eggs to grow (ultimately to ostrich-size), so that the foals within them can develop up to the point of hatching (when they are the size of a hen).
  • Red Baron: Nettlebrand is known as "The Golden One."
  • Red Eyes, Take Warning: Nettlebrand has them, as does his army of Creepy Ravens. Of course, Twigleg has them too, and it's possible all enchanted creatures are born with red eyes, so it's subverted and played straight.
  • Stock Ness Monster: Two of these were rumored to have driven Firedrake's last relations from the Rim of Heaven into hiding... except they meet one of the said Nessies, and not only is she VERY helpful, but it turns out she and her sister were trying to stop Nettlebrand from killing them.
  • Super-Persistent Predator: Nettlebrand is this trope.
  • Taken for Granite: When the last group of dragons Nettlebrand attacked went into hiding and stopped taking in moonlight, they turned to stone. Gravelbeard actually says this is a threat to a lot of magical creatures; thankfully, some of them can be broken out of it and they don't seem to notice the passage of time while frozen.
  • Token Adult To some extent Twigleg could be seen as this in the first book – and Barnabas avoids being it by only keeping out of the way of Ben and his friends for most of the story. In A Griffin’s Feather, now that Ben and Guinevere are teenagers and are treated as equal members of the team at Mimameiđr, distinctions between generations don’t seem to apply. Indeed, even though Twigleg is now Ben and Guinevere’s teacher, he is so obviously vulnerable (both physically and emotionally) that Ben is almost a Parental Substitute for Twigleg rather than the other way round. (Twigleg reflects ruefully at one point that the abusive alchemist who created him was the nearest thing he had ever had to a father.)
  • The Dog Bites Back: Hey Nettlebrand! That tiny armor-cleaner you've been pushing around for a few hundred years, and his greedy replacement? Yeah, bad idea.
  • The Fair Folk: While not being full-fledged villains, the fairies and elves in this book can be dangerous if you annoy them. According to Firedrake, they're also one of the few magical creatures able to stop humans from building over their homes, thanks to all the nasty tricks they pack.
  • The Mole: Twigleg, although this isn't revealed (to the other characters, at least) for a good portion of the book. And after his relatively early Heel–Face Turn, Gravelbeard takes his place.
  • Weirdness Magnet: Fantastic creatures attract each other, the intelligent ones considering Muggles to be too boring. This both helps and endangers the good guys a few times.
  • Where the Hell Is Springfield?: Intentionally invoked, as Lola Graytail fakes the mapping information to her uncle, so nobody will find the Rim of Heaven.
  • You Dirty Rat! Averted – though it is made clear that Lola and her family are very unusual rats, and almost certainly have some magical creatures in their ancestry. Twigleg reflects that in the past, he had always experienced rats as dangerous predators, and would never have expected to be friends with one before he met Lola. Before he met Ben, he probably felt much the same way about humans, too.

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