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Literature / The Dragonslayers

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Let's play the "Which one's really the Rebellious Princess" game!

King Mildred raised his hand and said, "I pronounce you the Dragonslayers! Now go forth and slay this mighty beast."
He didn't notice the look in his daughters face, nor hear her mutter to herself, "Not if I get there first, Daddy."

Grizelda: (Singing)
"Revenge can be sweet
Can be fun
Can be fine"

The Dragonslayers is both a musical and a children's book (1994) based off it (the latter written by Bruce Coville). It's the typical tale of a princess who needs to get married soon. Her parents are in despair, as she is not interested in anyone.

And then the dragon attacks the kingdom. But even with the king offering half the kingdom, and the princess's hand in marriage to the one who kills said dragon, no one is willing to take up the job except Elizar, who is old enough to be the princess's father. Naturally, she's not happy with this. Disguising herself as a boy, she runs off the kill the dragon herself. But the dragon isn't a "normal" dragon, and instead it is the creation of a witch, who wants revenge for something...

Along the way, the Princess-disguised-as-a-boy runs into Elizar (who is really the Kingdom's oldest squire), his page, Brian (who has a birthmark that could explain a lot of things), a talking bear, fox and cat and the one who created the dragon in the first place.

A CD with the songs from the musical can be bought from the website here.

It was eventually revealed that Bruce Coville's other books The Foolish Giant (1978), Goblins in the Castle (1992) and Goblins on the Prowl (2015) took place in the same universe as The Dragonslayers, with Goblins on the Prowl referring to the now Queen Wilhelmina.

This book contains examples of:

  • Beary Friendly: The bear that Willie rescues and joins her in thanks turns out to be quite nice.
  • Cat Girl: In the stage musical, the cat is portrayed as one.
  • Child Marriage Veto: When King Mildred promises that whoever can slay the dragon may marry his daughter, he winds up sending Elizar, who's old enough to be Willie's grandfather. Willie privately refuses to even consider marrying him (good thing too, seeing as it turns out his supposedly dead wife is still alive), and sets out to kill the dragon herself and thus earn the right to choose her own husband.
  • Crusading Widow: Grizelda thinks she's this, seeking revenge on the king for the loss of her husband, who'd been drafted into his armies and never returned, and son, thinking King Mildred had burned her cottage with the child inside. In fact, both are alive and well — Brian was rescued from the burning house (which had been set on fire by enemy soldiers) by King Mildred and his men, but Grizelda didn't know this and abandoned the destroyed house in favor of finding a witch to teach her what she needed. Later, Elizar (whom Grizelda assumed had died in the war) returned to find his home destroyed. Thinking his wife and son were dead, he went wandering and eventually found employment at King Mildred's castle. Eventually, all three are reunited at the end of the book after Grizelda, having recognized Brian as her son, reveals their relationship and how she recognized him... and Elizar is shocked because his son had the same birthmark as hers.
  • Distinguishing Mark: Brian has a dragon-shaped birthmark.
  • Engagement Challenge: King Mildred promises that whoever can slay the dragon may marry his daughter. The only person who will go is the ancient squire Elizar, whom Princess Wilhelmina calls old enough to be her grandfather. Disgusted, she pulls a Sweet Polly Oliver and sets off to slay the dragon herself; doing so wins her the right to choose her own husband when she's ready.
  • Eye of Newt: The first chapter includes a large list of items to create the dragon, and the witch Phrenella is surprised that the trope namer isn't one of them. That's when Grizelda pulls out a live newt and says she's actually using the whole thing.
  • Fiery Redhead: Princess Wilhelmina, who's very stubborn and hot-tempered.
  • Heel–Face Turn: The witch Grizelda, once everyone finds out what happened.
  • Heroes Want Redheads The end result, as Brian marries Willie.
  • Honor Before Reason: Willie has this issue. She refuses to kill a giant spider while its back is turned. Later, after she slays the dragon, her parents say they're calling off the Standard Hero Reward because they love Willie too much to make her unhappy and will offer anything else. Willie still insists they give her the award of their daughter's hand so that no one can use it to marry her. Then she reveals herself, making her parents relieved that they're not condemning her to an unhappy Arranged Marriage.
  • I Call It "Vera": Brian names his sword Dragonwhacker.
  • "I Want" Song: At least three in the musical.
    • "Why Can't a Girl?" (Willie's Song)
    • "Revenge" (Grizelda's song)
    • "Father's Lament" (King Mildred)
    • "One of the Boys" (Brian)
  • I Owe You My Life: Throughout the book Willie, Brian, and Elizar each save a Talking Animal (Elizar quite by accident), who subsequently decide that the best use of their time is to help them on their quest, regardless of how... um... helpful they can actually be. (A bear, maybe. A housecat and a fox can only do so much where a dragon is involved.)
  • Loophole Abuse: The one who slays the dragon will win Princess Wilhemina's hand. Willie ends up doing it disguised as a boy so she won't be betrothed to a random knight or hero. Her parents allow it when she reveals herself because they were worried about her running away.
  • Luke, I Am Your Father: After her dragon is killed, Grizelda swoops in and informs Brian that she's his mother. When she points out the birthmark on his shoulder, which is how she knew, Elizar recognizes it as the one his son had. That's when they both realize who the other is.
  • May–December Romance: Averted and played straight. King Mildred offers his fourteen-year-old daughter's hand in marriage to the one who kills the dragon, then sends Elizar, who's old enough to be Princess Wilhelmina's grandfather, to do it; she avoids having to marry him by killing the dragon herself. Then it's played somewhat straighter when it turns out Elizar's long-lost wife, who was much younger than he was, is still alive and well.
  • Meaningful Rename: When she became a witch, the peasant woman Maureen renamed herself Grizelda to fit her new image.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: This is Grizelda's reaction when she realizes that Brian, the boy she just cursed so he won't be able to kill her dragon, is her long-lost son.
  • Orphan's Ordeal: Brian loses both his parents as a child, and is saved and taken back to King Mildred's castle, where he works as a page but is treated poorly by the other pages because he does such a good job that it unintentionally makes them look bad.
  • Our Dragons Are Different: The dragon in this story is a magical construct, who can only be killed if you learn its true name. It's Fear.
  • Parental Abandonment: Sort of. Elizar and Grizelda were married, but Elizar was forcibly drafted into King Mildred's army, leaving his wife and son alone. Later, after the war was over but while enemy soldiers were still roaming the area, Grizelda came home from working in the fields and found her house on fire and her son gone, and believed that King Mildred was responsible for all of her losses, setting her on her quest for revenge.
  • Rebellious Princess: Princess Wilhelmina, who dislikes being treated as "girly" and finally sneaks out to deal with the dragon herself.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Grizelda's reason for unleashing the dragon — it's to punish King Mildred, whom she blames for the loss of her husband and son, and she wants him to feel the pain of losing a child as she did.
  • The Runaway: King Mildred and his wife are very worried when they find their daughter's run off, and set out to search for her, along with all their knights and pages. They say they're calling off the Standard Hero Reward because they don't want Willie to be unhappy.
  • Standard Hero Reward: King Mildred promises half the kingdom and his daughter's hand in marriage to whoever kills the dragon. When she kills it herself, it means she can choose her own husband.
  • Sweet Polly Oliver: Princess Wilhelmina, who disguises herself as a boy named Bill when she sneaks out of the castle to find the dragon.
  • Talking Animal: A female fox, a male bear, and a female cat all accompany the protagonists on their journey, all of which have the ability to speak.
  • Unfortunate Names:
    • King Mildred, who tries to make up for it with his daughter's name.
    • Princess Wilhelmina (aka Willie, for her willfullness).
  • Warrior Princess: Princess Wilhelmina, who proves a very competent fighter by killing a giant spider and defeating the dragon.
  • Wicked Witch: Lead villain Grizelda, her associate Phrenella and Grizelda's teacher are all evil witches. Grizelda no longer qualifies after being reunited with her family at the end.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: About halfway through the book, the witch Phrenella flies off to deal with the Dragonslayers. That's the last anyone ever sees of her.
  • You Can't Fight Fate: The Exact Wording of the curse Grizelda used to create her Fear Dragon. Its purpose was to give the King the pain of losing a child Grizelda herself has had to suffer through. Well, the creation of the Dragon is what put Willie in the position of choosing between taking care of things herself or else marrying an old man. She chooses to leave and the King now has the suffering of parental worry. However, seeing as the whole affair of Grizelda's family was a giant miscommunication, the pain is not as permanent as Grizelda intended to begin with, and both are happily reunited with their children.