The Eyes of the Dragon Revisited by Joseph Maddrey
When I was eleven years old, my parents bought me a hardback copy of The Eyes of the Dragon for Christmas. I set the book aside initially, because I had no particular interest in medieval fantasy. Dungeons and dragons just weren’t my thing. But after a few days, I got curious and started reading—and I was instantly captivated.
What really got me was the author’s voice. Stephen King conveyed a sense of awe about his fictional world, constantly dropping hints that there were countless stories within his story. It was as if the world of his imagination was comprised of fictional fractals. Even more importantly, he expressed a contagious curiosity about his characters. I felt like he knew them all as real, flesh-and-blood people and cared about every move and every decision they made. As a result I cared about them too, and I quickly realized that this myth was not really about dungeons and dragons, but about human relationships—particularly the relationships between two fathers and two sons.
King Roland, the biological father of Peter and Thomas, is essentially a good man—but weak. Prince Peter is a good man like his father, but strong like his mother. Prince Thomas is weak like his father, and thus susceptible to the manipulation of a surrogate father-figure named Flagg, who is strong but evil. King assures us, however, that Thomas is NOT evil like Flagg…. And it was this assurance that resonated with me as an eleven-year-old boy.
I understood Thomas’s overwhelming need to be loved unconditionally by his father, and how that need could fester and turn into resentment, anger, even hatred. Thankfully I also admired Peter’s struggle to overcome such feelings in the face of cruelty and injustice—and so, for this eleven-year-old reader, The Eyes of the Dragon was as harrowing as the Torrance family’s duel with the devil in The Shining, as inspiring as Andy Dufresne’s 27-year jailbreak in “Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption,” as epic as the battle between good and evil in The Stand. (Random sidenote: When I read Eyes, I pictured Batman actor Hugo Blick as Flagg. Something about that guy really creeped me out. When I read The Stand, I couldn’t picture anyone in the role. Still can’t.)
Long story short: The Eyes of the Dragon was my gateway drug. In the short term, it made me a Stephen King fan. In the long term, it made me a voracious reader and a dedicated writer. That’s how King played a major role in shaping my professional life as well as my personal worldview. All these years later, I remain enthralled by his fictional fractals… A few short years ago, my wife (a JFK documentary researcher) and I read 11/22/63 in tandem. Last year, Joyland was the first book I read aloud to my newborn daughter. The author’s world has become an important part of my life, and that’s why I fully understand what he says of his characters—good, bad and ugly—at the end of The Eyes of the Dragon: “I love them all, and am not ashamed of my love.” I believe that’s the secret of great storytelling, and I will always be grateful to Stephen King for sharing it.
The complete list of the books to be read can be found on the Stephen King Books In Chronological Order For Stephen King Revisited Reading Lists page. To be notified of new posts and updates via email, please sign-up using the box on the right side or the bottom of this site.
Joseph Maddrey is the author of Nightmares in Red White and Blue and The Making of T.S. Eliot, co-author of Not Bad for a Human: The Life and Films of Lance Henriksen and the graphic novel To Hell You Ride, and editor of A Strange Idea of Entertainment: Conversations with Tom McLoughlin. His most recent book, Beyond Fear, is partly a critical biography of Stephen King. Joe lives in Studio City, California, with his wife Liza and daughter Olivia.