Stephen King * Eyes of the Dragon Book Review

“Once, in a kingdom called Delain, there was a king with two sons….”

At the time, best known for his horror fiction, King released the unexpected work of classic fantasy and dedicated it to his daughter Naomi.

People’s minds, particularly the minds of children, are like wells—deep wells full of sweet water. And sometimes, when a particular thought is too unpleasant to bear, the person who has that thought will lock it into a heavy box and throw it into that well. He listens for the splash . . . and then the box is gone. Except it is not, of course. Not really.

The author wrote the book for Naomi, who had never read one of his books, professing disinterest in his spooky, supernatural, creepy-crawly horror stuff. Although she began reading Eyes of the Dragon (originally called “The Napkins”) with some reluctance, it soon had its desired effect: she loved it, couldn’t stop reading, and didn’t want it to end.

In an essay titled “The Politics of Limited Editions,” King explains why he had chosen to publish certain books in limited runs, stating that he didn’t think his general public would like such books as Eyes of The Dragon, Cycle of the Werewolf or The Gunslinger. Three years later, however, King would bow to public pressure, releasing a revised trade edition of Eyes of The Dragon incorporating new illustrations by David Palladini.

The synopsis of the book is as follows:

The king’s first born son, Peter, is kind and generous and much loved, and by all accounts, quite brilliant. While the second son, Thomas, is cut from the same cloth as his father. Queen Sasha died when Thomas was born. Although Roland loves both of his sons, he favors Peter because Peter is like his mother.

Fearing that one day the brilliant princeling may muck-up all of his nefarious plans, the magician, and adviser to the king, let’s call him Flagg, devises a way to remove Peter from the equation, before he’s ever given the opportunity to assume the throne.

“One of the great things about tales is how fast time may pass when not much of note is happening. Real life is never that way, and it is probably a good thing.”

King Roland is easily led by Flagg, the court advisor. Flagg, a reoccurring malevolent character in Stephen King’s fiction, first appeared in the novel The Stand as a demonic figure who wreaks havoc after a plague kills most of the population. He makes his second appearance in The Eyes of the Dragon as an evil wizard attempting to plunge the fictional medieval city of Delain into chaos. Flagg made several more appearances in King’s epic series The Dark Tower.

When Roland is murdered, Prince Peter is unfairly convicted of the crime and is imprisoned in a tall tower. Young Prince Thomas, the new ruler is twisted by Flagg. Before Flagg’s final plan for Delain is underway, Peter must find a way to escape and retake his throne.

Vaguely reminiscent of Neil Gaiman’s Stardust, in tone if not in theme, this change of pace, to this humble reader at least, most notably features his epic villain Randall Flagg, in this work simply Flagg, the king’s magician.

King has created in Flagg a universal boogeyman, a timeless and undying human darkness that plays in a score of nefarious roles. But more than just a plug and play antihero, Flagg becomes a recurring evil in a mythos built on bad.

Did they all live happily ever after?

They did not. No one ever does, in spite of what the stories may say. They had their good days, as you do, and they had their bad days, and you know about those. They had their victories, as you do, and they had their defeats, and you know about those, too. There were times when they felt ashamed of themselves, knowing that they had not done their best, and there were times when they knew they had stood where their God had meant them to stand. All I’m trying to say is that they lived as well as they could, each and every one of them; some lived longer than others, but all lived well, and bravely, and I love them all, and am not ashamed of my love.

The Bad Stuff

King’s endless desire to foreshadow events effectively undercuts much of the tension and mystery throughout. Seemingly chopping the legs out from under his story at every turn. It’s quite odd, honestly, his strange compulsion for spoiling stories. A compulsion which, sadly, often finds him spoiling other writer’s stories as well. Also, there is very little action for a fantasy novel… (putting “Dragon” in the title when the dragon is only in the book for about two pages…)
– The book’s fairy-tale narrative voice may not be for everyone. (King often speaks directly to the reader, like Aesop speaking to a crowd, which some might find off-putting.)
– Story drags a bit in the final act.

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4 Comments

  1. I agree with your critiques; though, I would hazard the dragon is only in the book for two pages because the main events of the story are seen through “the eyes of the dragon” in Roland’s chamber. I definitely agree that the third act slows down considerably and King foreshadows too much for his own good, but it is interesting to see his take on high fantasy outside the Dark Tower series. Great review!

    1. Thankee-sai. Stephen King is one of my favourite writers and I love to read stories about the Dark Tower almost as much as finding references to the Crimson King in different other of his books (or small men wearing raincoats)

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