‘St. George and the Dragon’: a tale for all ages

| David Paul Deavel | September 25, 2014 | 0 Comments

20 book coverGirls will, generally, enjoy or dutifully read books more oriented toward male interests; the opposite is not true. Thus, it is always a distinct pleasure to discover a book I know will appeal to my boys, especially a book dealing with Christian faith. Michael Lotti’s new novel, “St. George and the Dragon,” fits the bill perfectly.

Like all truly good children’s or young adult fiction, it will interest all ages. I know because I read it aloud to my three oldest boys.  They, my wife (listening in), and I loved it.

Lotti, an Eastern Orthodox writer and former teacher at Trinity School at River Ridge [in Eagan], introduces the book as “a story and not the story, for no one knows much about Saint George.” We know George was a Roman soldier and Christian martyr who lived in modern-day Turkey around 300 A.D. “All the stories,” Lotti adds, say he defeated a dragon. The book, then, is historical fiction with a bit of guesswork and imagination about the details. But George definitely kills a dragon.

Lotti’s George begins the story as Marcellus, a young Roman officer fresh from battle, readying himself to return to his father’s estate in Galatia and marry childhood sweetheart Regina. Girls will immediately sense interest here. But boys aren’t left out.  Marcellus’ honor and courage are revealed when the commanding officer asks about his own behavior during the recent campaign against Persian Sassanids: “And you personally, Marcellus? I’ve heard reports that you went first into the enemy’s camp. Not every tribune would have done that.”

Marcellus worries about the fate of the Empire. Two groups bother him. The first are Christians, whom co-emperor Galerius (under Diocletian) is campaigning to eradicate from military life. Marcellus thinks this unwise. He thinks Christians are better soldiers, more honest and reliable, less prone to drinking or gambling.

The other group, fictional but plausible, is a mysterious dragon cult. Upon Marcellus’ return home, he finds his intended bride is a member. Torn between the desire to please her and his growing sense of the dragon’s malevolence, Marcellus is simultaneously drawn to the Christians on the family estate. Because Marcellus doesn’t sacrifice to him, the dragon raids the estate, taking sheep and wounding or killing slaves. While the dragon’s physical threat drives the action, the choice of spiritual allegiance dominates Marcellus’ mind. A slave’s funeral is the hinge of Marcellus’ decision. Marcellus hears the local bishop speaking of a “Jewish peasant” as “the Lord.”  Not Julius Caesar. Not Diocletian.  Marcellus’ doubts are over. He knows he can’t submit to the dragon — his engagement and military career are over.

After another dragon raid, Marcellus realizes his only option is to attack. Inspired by a dream, he asks for baptism before mounting the assault. Christened with a new name, George, he sets out with five slaves who are former soldiers.

Jennifer Soriano, a local artist and parishioner at St. Joseph in West St. Paul, complements Lotti’s text with capable drawings. She wisely depicts the baptism and not the final battle in her penultimate illustration, a reminder that the real fight is for the human soul. But Lotti’s description of the final combat with the dragon doesn’t disappoint. George leads troops again — and delivers the final thrust.

But the story really is about how Marcellus becomes George. It’s that transformation and conversion in a culture that thinks Christian faith weird and perhaps dangerous that matters for all of us. In today’s culture, I want my boys to read this kind of imaginative engagement with the saints. The great thing is, I know they will, because they did.

Deavel is associate editor of Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture, and adjunct professor of Catholic Studies at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul.

About the book“St. George and the Dragon” by Michael Lotti, illustrations by Jennifer Soriano; Create Space Independent Publishing Platform, 2014; soft cover, 149 pages; $9.95.

Read Deavel’s full review.

 

Read more: Local artist takes on challenge of bringing dragons to life

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Category: Book Reviews