Follow TV Tropes


Literature / Dragon Rider

Go To

A series by German author Cornelia Funke, in which the first book (Drachenreiter in the original German) 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 (Die Feder eines Greifs) 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.

A third entry in the series exists in the form of an audio drama, The Volcano Mission, which has only been released in German so far. It picks up not long after the second book. Ben and his family receive various reports of fantastic beings disappearing all around the world, with Sorrel having a nagging feeling that Firedrake has fallen victim to it, too. When a "photomeleon" appears and reports that she had been kidnapped by a human, who is reponsible for the other disappearances as well, a scouting team consisting of Twigleg, Lola, and Sorrel is sent out to investigate.

A CGI animated movie based on the first book, Dragon Rider, was released in 2020.

A third book, The Aurelia Curse (Der Fluch der Aurelia), was released October 7, 2021.

This book provides examples of:

  • 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 it's not clear 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 never used in modern German outside of fiction. 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.
  • Bad Boss: Nettlebrand, and Kraa. Even Shrii fears he may become this if he takes over from Kraa as leader of the griffins.
  • 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. Justified in that much of what they eat, such as leaves, roots, and raw mushrooms, probably doesn’t contain a lot of calories, so they need to browse continuously.
  • 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. Depending on your point of view. As far as his colleagues are concerned, he's a Cloud Cuckoolander who believes in obviously mythical creatures such as dragons, kobolds, and homunculi. From the point of view of the mythical creatures, this makes him the Only Sane Man.
  • Cats Are Snarkers: Sorrel. We don't know whether she is actually descended from cats, but she is described as having catlike features, and (despite being vegetarian) has feline hunter-instincts; we first see her pouncing on a rat, and she isn't above threatening to bite Twigleg's head off when she's angry with him. In the original German, she is described as a kobold, and kobolds are traditionally pictured as either humanoid OR looking like cats who have been caught out in the rain; the fact that Sorrel has an upright stance and can wear human clothes, but is furry with a catlike face and claws (and is first seen in a wet, misty Scottish valley) makes her a compromise between these two.
  • Character Development: At first, Twigleg just seems to be a pathetic Yes-Man tending towards Evil Minion. As he gets further away from Nettlebrand, he shows himself to have Hidden Depths, both in having the ability to love and the courage to rebel against Nettlebrand, and in turning out to be be a self-educated Renaissance Man who, for example, had taught himself to read Urdu because he was investigating all the world religions and needed to be able to read Hindu sacred texts. In The Griffin's Feather, he has had time to catch up with the modern world, and turned out to be brilliant with computers — although, as he prefers the old-fashioned ways, he still insists on submitting handwritten reports in 17th-century Gothic calligraphy that the other characters can barely read.
  • 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 Taken for Granite, 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.
  • Cowardly Sidekick and Reckless Sidekick: Twigleg alternates between these. Most of the time he is extremely timid and terrified of most things (though he does his best to face up to them anyway). However, in an Out-of-Character Moment, such as in Dragonrider when he finally gets the chance to take revenge on Nettlebrand, or in The Griffin's Feather where he is frantic with worry about Ben, he can be dangerously reckless, and wind up in a situation where he needs to be rescued. Then again, getting captured and being in mortal peril also happens to him when he hadn't wanted to accept the dangerous task in the first place, but was just going through with it because it needed doing.
  • 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 toad, in Twigleg's probably a spider, woodlouse, or other small insect.
  • Creepy Ravens: The majority of Nettlebrand's forces are ravens. Except they're actually enchanted crabs.
  • Cunning Linguist: Twigleg speaks hundreds of languages — not only numerous human languages, but also Elven and many bird languages, including at least a dozen dialects of Parrot. However, as most of his knowledge of human languages had come from studying books in the alchemist’s castle, it’s about four hundred years out of date — and possibly his pronunciation would have sounded a bit odd even back then.
  • Cyborg: Nettlebrand was made from a living creature, but, unlike the other enchanted creatures made by the alchemist, is partly metallic; he is covered with golden armour, and keeps his heart locked in a metal box inside his body. This explains why, while dragonfire simply turns the Creepy Ravens back into crayfish, Nettlebrand becomes a mass of melted armour, out of which a toad eventually hops.
  • 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.
  • The Drag-Along: In Dragonrider, Sorrel is this to Firedrake, mixed with Sour Supporter. In The Griffin's Feather, Twigleg is this to Ben and Barnabas (about going on a quest to search for griffins) and Sorrel is this to Firedrake (about going to rescue Ben).
  • Dub Species Change: The English translation changes Sorrel from a kobold to a brownie, since kobols were obscure in English-speaking countries at the time.
  • 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.
    • In The Griffin's Feather, 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. When the other characters first encounter Twigleg in Dragonrider, Barnabas suggests that Sorrel is prejudiced against him because he is a homunculus, but in fact she is just being as wary as she would be of anyone else who might be an enemy — and with good reason.
    • 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- or lemur-like than anything else), and in The 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.)
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Four-Temperament Ensemble: Ben = Sanguine, Sorrel = Choleric, Twigleg = Melancholic, Firedrake = Phlegmatic.
  • 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.
  • Happily Adopted: Ben's eventual fate adopted by the Greenblooms, as shown by the ending. Twigleg joins him in this.
  • Heroic BSoD: 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 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.
  • 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.
  • Humans Are the Real Monsters: Played with. In Dragonrider, the verdict on humans seems similar to human stereotypes about dragons: Eastern human are beneficent, and Western humans are mostly ruthless, dangerous monsters, but there are some friendly ones. In The Griffin's Feather, whether humans are monsters doesn't have anything to do with race; Winston (Indonesian) is clearly a good guy, but the poachers, who come from a range of ethnicities and have become poachers for different reasons, from the ruthless big-game hunters to those who are simply trying to survive, are treated collectively as villains.
  • Interchangeable Asian Cultures: Although the village that Firedrake and his passengers reach on the far side of the Arabian Sea is expressly stated to be in Pakistan, and the monastery further up the Indus apparently is too, the culture of both seems to be influenced more by Hindu or Buddhist beliefs in reincarnation, and Chinese traditions of beneficent dragons, than Islam — despite the fact that Pakistan is predominantly Muslim and often intolerant of minority religions. Perhaps justified in that the village and the monastery had been regularly visited by dragons until 150 years ago, and that the monastery is high up in the mountains and probably far more concerned with its own traditions than with what country it is nominally part of and what the government says about religion.
  • 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 they soon become close friends. Lola is highly protective of Twigleg, and willing to rescue him from any danger (real or perceived) from Nettlebrand to a curious monkey. In The Griffin's Feather, 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.
  • Meaningful Name: Both "Firedrake" (in the English translation) and "Lung" (Firedrake's name in the original) mean "dragon", but Lung is the Chinese word for dragon, hinting at his oriental origins.
    • Greenbloom, or Wiesengrund (Barnabas' surname in the original, literally "meadow-ground") suggest a gentle, natural approach to life, contrasted with his colleague Schwertling ("little sword"). His first name means "Son of Encouragement". When Anemos considers naming one of his foals after Barnabas, Barnabas laughs it off, but arguably "Son of Encouragement" would be a good name for the young of an endangered species which has survived against all the odds.
    • "Twigleg" gives a clear picture of the character’s fragile, spindly build, but his name in the original, Fliegenbein ("fly-leg"), goes further, hinting at his origins (since he was created from some kind of insect).
  • 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, and growing old and lazy. 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. The differences between the silver dragons and Nettlebrand mix-and-match traditional traits of Eastern and Western dragons: the silver dragons (who evolved in Asia) are benign (like traditional Eastern dragons) but have wings and breathe fire (Western), while Nettlebrand (created in Germany) is evil and has heavy armour which is impervious to magic (Western) and is wingless and has magical powers over water (Eastern).
  • 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.
  • 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).
  • Polly Wants a Microphone: Me-Rah speaks English, but she sometimes forgets how in moments of excitement, and lapses back into her native dialect of Parrot (there are dozens, subverting the idea that all Animal Talk is the same).
  • Red Baron: Nettlebrand is known as "the Golden One."
  • Redemption Equals Death: Or at least Redemption Equals Accepting Mortality. Twigleg discovers that if a homunculus comes to love a human, he will die when the person he love dies, and so he resolves to avoid love at all costs. Eventually, he accepts that he does love Ben, and that even if this means that he will die of grief when Ben dies, this is still better than having no-one to love and nothing to live for.
  • 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.
  • Taken for Granite: When the last group of dragons Nettlebrand attacked became too afraid to fly out and take in moonlight, they ended up literally petrified. 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 The 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.
  • Theme Naming: In the German version, Twigleg's and all of his brothers' known names are taken from various bugs. Aside from Fliegenbein ("fly's leg"), The Griffin's Feather reveals: Spinnerich ("Spinne" = "spider"), Brummer (literally "buzzer", like an insect in flight), Libello ("Libelle" = "dragonfly"), Wasserläufer ("water strider"), Käferling ("Käfer" = "beetle", "bug"), Hummel ("bumblebee"), and Floh (literally "flea", but is actually a real given name, too). This also ties into the Meaningful Name trope, as according to Twigleg, they were likely all created from bugs.
  • The Mole: Twigleg, although this isn't revealed (to the other characters, at least) for a good portion of the book. After his relatively early Heel–Face Turn/Mook–Face Turn, Gravelbeard takes his place.
  • Took a Level in Kindness: In Dragonrider, Twigleg starts off entirely self-centred, simply focused on trying to survive by not offending Nettlebrand. In time, he comes to care about Ben, but not, at first, about anyone else (while he is horrified when he realises that Nettlebrand is planning to eat Ben as well as Firedrake and Sorrel, he doesn't seem worried about having put Barnabas in danger, despite the fact that Barnabas had been friendly and welcoming to him). By The Griffin's Feather, he has become much more caring and empathetic, presumably as a result of Ben's influence on him, to the point where he is able to persuade Me-Rah to join them precisely because he knows how frightened and miserable she feels (and in spite of the fact that he had wished they wouldn't be able to find a guide, so that they could just go home). The flip-side of this is that he now believes that it is wickedly selfish to think about his own problems at all, and so feels guilty about ever thinking about himself.
  • Trademark Favorite Food: Sorrel really, really loves mushrooms. In Dragonrider she is willing to eat other things, from roots and leaves to biscuits and chickpea soup (pretty much anything vegetarian, which is odd considering her catlike appearance). By The Griffin's Feather, her love of mushrooms is becoming something of an obsession — probably because she is frustrated that her favourite varieties don't grow in the Himalayas.
  • Translator Microbes: Fantastic beings can communicate effortlessly with each other and also with any human — even if the humans are from different countries and cannot understand each other. The presence of a fantastic being also sometimes enables humans to understand what animals are saying, though this doesn’t always work the same way: for example, in The Griffin's Feather, Winston realises that he can understand what his tarsier friend Berulu is saying, but nobody else seems to be able to hear Berulu. The magic only seems to work for fantastic beings that have evolved naturally — Twigleg doesn’t have these abilities, but has just studied a phenomenal number of languages. Also, the language abilities of elves and fairies are zig-zagged — the ones which try to waylay Firedrake and his passengers in Arabia can talk to humans (even if they do this only to confuse them), but in the last chapter, Twigleg grumbles about Ben and Guinever wanting him to translate what the fairies in the garden are saying even though they just talk nonsense.
  • 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.