The Origin of War: Byron Preiss and J Michael Reaves’ ‘Dragonworld’


I first became aware of Preiss and Reaves’ Dragonworld when I saw it featured in the August 1979 issue of Heavy Metal Magazine, which was the same periodical that introduced me to Terry Brooks’ The Sword of Shannara. Similar to Shannara, what captivated my imagination much more than the story were the illustrations. In the case of Dragonworld, Joseph Zucker was the source of my escape into this world of legendary monsters. I stared at these images for hours, copying them in my sketchbook. I wanted nothing less than to completely immerse myself in this world. As for the epic narrative that Zucker illustrated, Preiss and Reaves’ collaboration would have to wait decades for me to finally turn the page on the first chapter and begin reading. I have always read a great deal, however, for some reason certain books simply have to wait until it is their time to be read.  With respect to Dragonworld, that time was recently, thirty-six years after Bantam Books published this title in September 1979.

Dragonworld did not disappoint my expectations, neither as a seasoned reader nor as someone who recalls his original adolescent fascination with this work. At first, the story suggests a boy’s tale of exploit, as a child character Johan “borrows” Amsel’s “wing,” which Zucker portrays as a Da Vinci-inspired hang-glider, and launches himself off a sea cliff. Tragically, Johan meets his end, which sends his father, Jondalrun, into the throes of agony and despair. Even more unfortunate is when Jondalrun lets his gut-wrenching grief guide his conscience, which leads him to blame Amsel for his son’s “murder.” Soon, because Amsel if from a different people than Jondalrun, a grieving father’s need to blame someone for his child’s death eventually turns into a desire for vengeance, which grows into Fandora organizing an invasion of Simbala. It is at this juncture in the narrative when Preiss and Reaves’ turn their adventure into a parable about the futility of war.

As for the dragons, their stories, including the Last Dragon and coldrakes, are more than legend—they are the creatures that once ruled the land and their stories are part of the natural history of Dragonworld. However, dragon and coldrake alike have been driven to near extinction, turning their fragile existence into the stuff of myth and misunderstanding. Yet, the true story of their tragic lives possesses the key to settling the upheaval devastating Fandora and Simbala, which is contingent upon comprehending how to restore the land to balance, so that dragon, coldrakes, and humans may live in peace. Complete with Arthurian-like characters and a Tolkien-esque sense of adventure, Dragonworld reminded me what it was like to see literature through the eyes of a sixteen-year-old, when reality was simply not enough to slake my thirst for the extraordinary.

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