Thursday, September 8, 2011

Roger Zelazny Book Review: The George Business

Back after a brief delay of boring personal stuff, the Roger Zelazny book reviews are back! Today, I'm looking at The George Business. Any review worth its salt will have to address the Dragonheart question, and this one will do that, but more on it later.

The story has a characteristically Zelaznian opening.

Deep in his lair, Dart twisted his green and golden length about his small hoard, his sleep troubled by dreams of a series of identical armored assailants. Since dragons' dreams are always prophetic, he woke with a shudder, cleared his throat to the point of sufficient illumination to check on the state of his treasure, stretched, yawned and set forth up the tunnel to consider the strength of the opposition. If it was too great, he would simply flee, he decided. The hell with the hoard; it wouldn't be the first time. 

As he peered from the cave mouth, he beheld a single knight in mis-matched armor atop a tired-looking gray horse, just rounding the bend. His lance was not even couched, but still pointing skyward.

Assuring himself that the man was unaccompanied, he roared and slithered forth. 

"Halt," he bellowed, "you who are about to fry!" 

It turns out the knight doesn't want to fight, but instead has an offer for Dart, who is naturally suspicious.

"I dreamt a dragon dream of a young man named George with whom I must do battle. You bear him an extremely close resemblance." 

"I can explain. It's not as bad as it looks. You see-"

"Is your name George?"  "Well, yes. But don't let that bother you-" 

"It does bother me. You want my pitiful hoard? It wouldn't keep you in beer money for the season. Hardly worth the risk." 

"I'm not after your hoard-" 

"I haven't grabbed off a virgin in centuries. They're usually old and tough, anyhow, not to mention hard to find." 

Heh. They eventually settle down to their arrangement. George wishes to wed Rosalind, daughter of the local Baron and he wants to pay Dart to abduct her and allow himself to be vanquished. Dart gets paid, George gets to be the hero, everyone's happy. Things don't quite work out exactly as intended, but everyone is satisfied in the end.

I like the story. It's the type of short, punchy little tale that Zelazny did well. A lot of my comments about the Great Slow Kings apply here. He comes up with a funny concept, explores it for a bit and then wraps it up before it gets tired. Modern stories sometimes remind me of Hawkana, the innkeeper in Lord of Light,"whose speeches, like rivers, always threaten to flow on forever", but Zelazny always understood the virtues of brevity, a fact that is doubly true, I feel, for humor stories. 

The Dragonheart connection. It's been widely observed that the plot for Dragonheart has at its core the same story as the George Business, in which knight and a dragon engage in a charade for fun and profit. George preceded Dragonheart by a good ten years, so there's no question of which came first. The question is if Dragonheart ripped off George

Let me tell you the tale of a young boy. He's is the most important wizard in the world, though he's only an English schoolboy, slender, dark-haired and bespectacled. He was told his mother died in a car crash, and after growing up a misfit in mundane society, he's introduced to a magical world that he had never dreamed existed. 

I speak, of course, of Timothy Hunter

I read Neil Gaimain's Books of Magic because I saw Roger Zelazny's name on the cover (he wrote the forward). It predates the Harry Potter books by a good decade, and while it has significant similarities, it has just as many differences, and both Neil Gaiman and J.K. Rowling have dismissed them as coincidental. 

I observed way back when in this post that similar movies arise all the time. The people who create these movies move in the same culture, and to mangle another Lord of Light quote for this review, they are coming from as a result of factors already present in the culture, and not being pulled like a rabbit from a hat.

There's no specific evidence to tie the two stories together, and the stories are sufficiently different is that my best guess is that they both happened to spring from a common well and Dragonheart didn't steal the idea from George.

1 comment:

  1. I have mixed thoughts on this one. The story is brief enough that I can't help but wonder if cutting George's name from the title and only revealing it at the end would serve as a fun punchline. "Wait, did Zelazny just write Saint George the Dragonslayer as a fraud?"