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Literature / My Father's Dragon

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The My Father's Dragon series is a trilogy of children's adventure/fantasy chapter books. The first book, My Father's Dragon, was written by Ruth Stiles Gannett and originally published in 1948. In 1949, it was runner up for the Newbery Medal and was followed by two sequels, Elmer and the Dragon (1950) and The Dragons of Blueland (1951). The books are filled out with whimsical illustrations by the author's mother, Ruth Chrisman Gannett. There is a 1997 anime film based on the series, but it has been largely forgotten and fallen into obscurity.

The story begins with the main character, Elmer Elevator, meeting a scruffy old alley cat one rainy night. In an act of kindness that surprises the cat, Elmer takes her home and cares for her. Though his mother makes him get rid of it, the cat is touched enough by his deed to return the favor. Upon finding out that it has always been his dream to fly airplanes when he grows up, the cat informs Elmer there is a way he can do that now.

Though she is old now, she used to go on many trips exploring the world. One of her last travels took her to a strange and dangerous place known as Wild Island. Populated by various strange and feral beasts, no man dares go to it for fear of what horrors may be in store. One of the most fascinating and saddest inhabitants of the island is a little baby dragon, who hurt his wing and fell out of the sky. Once the animals found him, instead of aiding the dragon, they decided to hold him prisoner and use him as a ferry to cross the river.

Shocked by this, Elmer decides to go a rescue the dragon. With just a few house hold items, he sets out for Wild Island.

You may enjoy the first for free, courtesy of Project Gutenberg.

A traditionally animated film adaptation produced by Cartoon Saloon and directed by Nora Twomey was released on November 11, 2022 via Netflix.

Tropes used throughout this series:

  • Alliterative Name: Elmer Elevator, the titular father of the first book.
  • Alliterative Family: Presuming that they're a family, the little group of monkeys on Wild Island all have names starting with "R": Rosie, Rhoda, Rachel, Ruthie, Ruby, and Roberta.
  • Anthropic Principle: In the original book, protagonist Elmer Elevator is a small child who eventually became the narrator's father, so readers know from the start that Elmer must successfully escape the island alive and well in the end.
  • Bizarre Taste in Food: As revealed in book 2, the dragon doesn't like tangerines... but he loves their peels.
  • Call of the Wild Blue Yonder: Elmer's dream has long been to fly through the sky, and go anywhere he wants, but thinks he'll have to wait until he grows up and can get an airplane. When the cat tells him about the dragon on Wild Island, he jumps at the opportunity to go there so he can free it and they can go flying together.
  • Cassandra Truth: At one point in book 3, a little boy sees the dragon flying by and calls for his mother to come see it. She doesn't believe him at the time and just tells him to go back to bed.
  • Chekhov's Armoury: Justified in book 1 — Elmer packs up a backpack full of ordinary kid stuff, like whistles and sticks of gum, and sets out on a mission to rescue a dragon. You guessed it: everything he has in his backpack gets used at one point or another. He was advised to bring all that by a stray cat, the same cat who told him about the dragon in the first place. This is due to the cat having travelled to its island where it was held.
  • Crazy-Prepared: Elmer packs quite the bag, bringing chewing gum, two dozen pink lollipops, a handful of rubber bands, a pair of black rubber boots, a compass, a toothbrush, six magnifying glasses, a very sharp jackknife, a comb and a hairbrush, seven hair ribbons of different colors, an empty grain bag with a label saying "Cranberry", some clean clothes, and twenty-five peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Almost all of it helps him get past all the animals on the island. Justified, as the Cat has been there before him, and she's telling him what to bring. In book 3, he packs another bag of supplies when he needs to go help the dragon rescue its family, including a bunch of horns and whistles, a cap pistol and ammo, a ball of heavy string, chocolate bars and Fig Newtons, plus his jackknife and a flashlight.
  • Delicious Distraction: Elmer at one point tricks a group of tigers into chewing some of his gum, which they happen to be very fond of, and later distracts a set of crocodiles, who want something sweet, with lollipops.
  • Delightful Dragon: Dragons in general are friendly, but Elmer forms a special bond with one in particular, whom he rescues from being forced to work for the other animals on Wild Island.
  • Deserted Island: Elmer and his dragon friend land on one on their way back to Elmer's home, which was occupied by humans long ago but is now home only to canaries. While there, they find a chest of supplies, including a few bags of gold, that the previous settlers left behind for future inhabitants and which the King and Queen of the canaries are happy to share with them.
  • Dragon Rider: Elmer ends up riding the dragon he's come to free in order to escape from Wild Island, fulfilling his dream of flying long before he thought he'd be able to. Since he saved it, the dragon is more than willing to let him ride it.
  • Embarrassing First Name: The dragon does not like his first name, Boris, which he admits to Elmer in book 3. Elmer reassures him that it's no worse a name than "Elmer", which the dragon has to agree with.
  • Fantastic Nature Reserve: As revealed in book 3, dragons are hiding in the mountains of Blueland to keep themselves safe from knights and other humans who would hunt them. The plot of the book involves the dragons being discovered by a new group of humans, who trap them inside until Elmer comes to the rescue, allowing them to escape and head off in search of a new place to hide in again.
  • Given Name Reveal: The dragon's real name, Boris, isn't revealed to the readers until his family members speak it in book 3, and then to Elmer soon afterward.
  • Heavy Sleeper: On his way from Tangerina Island to Wild Island, Elmer is jumping from rock to rock to get there. At one point, he runs across a whale that's so sound asleep and snoring so loudly — narration describes it as "making more noise than a steam shovel" — that it doesn't notice Elmer literally landing on its back before walking along it to get to the next rock.
  • Herald: The cat. She tells Elmer about the fantastical Wild Island, inspiring him to run away from home and go there.
  • Interspecies Friendship: Elmer easily becomes friends with the cat from the alley, and he and the Dragon become incredibly close friends following the events of the first book.
  • Jumped at the Call: Elmer does this twice.
    • Early in book 1, Elmer has a talk with the cat, admitting he wants an airplane when he grows up so he could fly anywhere he wanted. When the cat tells him she knows a way for him to fly now, by going to a certain island, Elmer is so eager to go that he runs away from home to do so.
    • In book 3, when Elmer learns his dragon friend's family is in trouble, he immediately agrees to come and help rescue them.
  • Kindhearted Cat Lover: Elmer. His first reaction upon meeting an old, wet alley cat is to invite her home with him. Initially averted with his mother, who hates cats and, when she discovers he's been keeping the cat in the cellar, literally throws her out the door. When Elmer returns home at the end of book 2 though, Mrs. Elevator admits that since Elmer did like the cat, when the animal came to her door the day after he left, she didn't have the heart to turn it away again and has developed a fondness for the cat herself in the two weeks since then.
  • Laborious Laziness: The animals on Wild Island don't want to go all the way around the river to cross it, so they took a fallen and injured baby dragon prisoner, taking all that time to train him into carrying them instead.
  • Little Stowaway: In order to reach Wild Island, Elmer hides among some sacks in the hold of a cargo ship, later hiding himself inside a burlap sack he'd brought so he can be unloaded at the first stop without getting caught.
  • Made a Slave: Essentially what happened to the baby dragon, whom the animals of Wild Island captured when he was hurt so that they could force him to carry they and their packages across the river between the two sides of the island.
  • Meaningful Name: Mr. Wagonwheel, introduced in book 3, who is a farmer and uses a wagon as his main method of transportation.
  • Narrator: Used only for the first book; the story is told by the nameless child of Elmer. The other two books are in third person.
  • Never Smile at a Crocodile: Early on, the cat warns Elmer that crocodiles are moody, undependable and unwilling to help the other animals cross the river because they just don't care about them. They don't actually try to eat Elmer, but they don't bother to try and help the other animals who are chasing him to stop him from freeing the dragon either.
  • No Name Given: The cat. She is always the cat and never gets a name, even after Elmer and his family officially take her in.
  • Our Dragons Are Different: They're actually quite friendly, but are extremely shy, and eat mostly plants (the dragon Elmer rescues is particularly fond of skunk cabbages and ostrich ferns). They're also brightly colored, varying from plain blue and green to polka dots.
  • Rhino Rampage: At one point, Elmer is attacked by a fierce, angry rhino. He mostly just wants people to stay out of his weeping pool, which he thinks (and rightly so) that Elmer is trying to drink from.
  • The Runaway: Elmer in the first book. He willingly goes to Wild Island so he can rescue the dragon whom the cat had told him about, and isn't sad in the least about running away from home for a while because he's mad at his mother for being rude to his new friend (the aforementioned cat).
  • Sapient Eat Sapient: Well, they want to. All the animals in the series are fully capable of speaking and reasoning, but the predators on Wild Island see nothing wrong with eating any human who comes there — they've eaten every human explorer, and plan to eat Elmer until he distracts them with gum. A lion likewise tries to eat him until he gives it something to clean its mane with and sneaks away while it's distracted with that.
  • Spoonerism: The mouse on Wild Island regularly mixes up the beginnings of words, sometimes with... unfortunate results, such as turning "Come back" into "Bum cack".
  • Sweet Tooth: Many of the characters love sweets. Particularly, the tigers and crocodiles who are foiled with the use of chewing gum and lollipops, respectively. The dragon is also fond of the lollipops when he tries one in book 2, and his family enjoys chocolate when they're given some in book 3.
  • Talking Animal: All of the animals introduced, as they speak English with no explanation for why.