David Wiesner and Kim Kahng's The Loathsome Dragon
Book review by Monica Friedman
A Princess Transformed, a Wicked Stepmother, and a Brave Prince
When the good Queen, mother to the brave and beautiful children Princess Margaret and Prince Childe Wynd, dies, and their father, the King, falls in love with an exquisite enchantress, it’s not hard to predict what will happen next. Although the princess is gracious and loving, welcoming her new stepmother home with the keys to the castle, an errant compliment from a knight on the princess’s loveliness enrages the jealous queen.
Soon her true colors emerge. In the castle’s lonely dungeon, the wicked Queen lets down her hair, summons her magical wraiths, and casts a spell on hapless Princess Margaret, transforming the lovely girl into a loathsome dragon. The only remedy is the kiss of her brother—three kisses from her brother, to be precise—and Childe Wynd has already gone forth to travel the world. In the meantime, the loathsome dragon is hungry.
In a horrible turnabout, the kind of loving princess begins terrorizing the countryside, “for hunger drove the monster from its resting place to wander the kingdom, devouring all in its path.”
Fortunately for all involved, a mighty warlock with “books of magic and scrolls of knowledge” (and, according to the rich illustrations, an excessive number of cats) untangles the puzzle, realizes that the dragon is actually the princess, determines the temporary fix for her horrible hunger—the milk of seven cows a day—and the ultimate solution: the return of Childe Wynd.
Childe Wynd is that sort of intelligent and well-prepared prince who doesn’t need a goddess or a fairy to help him along. He intuitively builds his ship from magical rowan wood and swears “a mighty oath that he would not rest until he had rescued his sister and had taken vengeance on the witch who had cast the spell.” Although the witch sends her wraiths to sink the ship and causes the dragon to keep the prince from the harbor, Childe Wynd is smart enough to simply put his ship in down the coast and approach the dragon on foot.
Narrowly averting tragedy, Princess Margaret, from within the dragon, sings the solution to her brother, who finally decides to kiss her thrice instead of running her through. The enchantment is ended, and the siblings return to their castle, a twig of the magical rowan tree in hand, to work their own magic: “A single touch and the Queen slowly shriveled into a Loathsome Toad.” They all live happily ever after, even the toad, which, “to this very day…can still be seen haunting the grounds of Bamborough Castle, croaking in dismay when it sees itself.
Drawing on classic fairy tale tropes, The Loathsome Dragon has the power to delight all lovers of enchantment and transformation. Tragedy is narrowly averted and good triumphs over evil, all of which is illustrated with the lush images of Wiesner’s hand, so well-suited for the subject matter. Each scale on the dragon’s body, the arcane contents of the warlock’s workshop, the rich folds of fabric, even the stones of the castle’s walls are rendered with clear beauty, rendering this award-winning picture book an excellent choice for the child in search of the perfect princess story, dragon myth, or fairy tale.
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