Monday, June 16, 2014

Tooth and Claw

I confess I have never read anything by Anthony Trollope, so I think of Jo Walton's book Tooth and Claw as "Jane Austen with dragons." But I guess it's more like Trollope, according to Walton:
It's all Emmet's fault, that's my husband, Dr. Emmet O'Brien. I was reading two books at once, one fantasy novel and Trollope's The Small House at Allington. I complained that the fantasy novel didn't really understand dragons, and he misheard and thought that I meant that Trollope didn't. Naturally, this led me to the revelation that Trollope did understand dragons extremely well, and that in fact the rather peculiar nature of the women in Trollope can be explained by the facts of dragon biology.
The result is a World Fantasy Award-winning novel that will improve anyone's summer reading list.

I particularly loved how the alienness of the dragons is used to call into question all of the social conventions that go more or less without saying in a Victorian novel: the class snobbery, the gender oppression, the treatment of servants. Reading Walton's story, I thought, why would dragons be this way? And then, well, why did the British of the 19th century think people were this way?

There was one dragony detail that lacks a human cognate: Their formal dining rooms, which can seat dinner parties of 60-foot-long dragons, are minimally decorated and are judged by the cleanliness of the gutters that run around the room. These troughs carry off the blood of the just-killed animals that have been consumed at the table. Oh, and there is a post-repast scouring of blood from their otherwise shining dragon scales.

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