Saint George and the Dragon

Retold by Margaret Hodges, Illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman

Saint George and the Dragon retold by Margaret Hodges, illustrated by Tina Schart Hyman, based on Edmund Spenser's Faerie Queen, is a beautifully illustrated picture book. It is a retelling of the famous and very classic legend of Saint George, which is based on an actual Army Commander in the crusades who was martyred for refusing to persecute Christians and was later canonized. The story starts with the Red Cross Knight and Princess Una traveling to Una's kingdom so that the knight can fulfill the mission given to him by the Faerie Queen since he is in her service. Once he reaches Una's kingdom, he fights the dragon so mightily that it takes three days to finally slay him. The king, Una's father, is so happy that he offers the knight his kingdom and his daughter's hand in marriage. He accepts both, as he is in love with Una and he continues to serve the Faerie Queen. It ends with the Red Cross Knight earning his name, Saint George of Merry England.


The plot is mostly written into the text with the illustrations serving merely as aids to enhance the reader's mental image. In the illustrations each character is pictured together at a different setting showing movement on they're journey and their attitude, like nobility or sadness, is drawn into the character's face and posture. Both the text and the illustrations are surrounded by a frame, but the only the text is surrounded by a set of small designs, drawn like stained glass, which display a certain impression that the text provides. The illustrations disregard the frame and cover the entire page.


The book is quite large with a rectangular shape that is about a 12" x 9". Each and every single page inside imitates the shape of the book with a rectangular frame, including the cover and the front matter. (There are no end pages). The cover depicts the hero and the villain of the story, George and the dragon, with two faeries on the top. The cover is analogous to the pages in the story that have text. As I have described earlier the text is surrounded by smaller designs that have to do with that page. The designs on the cover almost summarize the book. The front matter juxtaposes the cover giving little to no hint about what is to come in the story. It's two double-page spreads shows the setting for the start of George's journey. The first spread has a few woodland fairy tale creatures while the second spread has George and his companions riding along, presumably at the start of his journey. The cover serves as a incentive to read the book, while the front matter sets the scene.


The colors of the background and the characters in this book usually contrast. The contrasting colors of a somber setting and a bright hero with bright flowery framed text symbolize the contrast of the darkness that surrounds the hero and the pinpoint of light that the hero brings to the kingdom. The colors scheme changes on the page after the dragon is slayed when both the background and the foreground match in brightness and diversity of color. The celebration after the dragon is slayed is extremely colorful.

Each page has vertical and horizontal lines that create rectangles which is the frame mentioned earlier. These show stability, comfort, uniformity and completeness. Though the action in the book keeps the hero at the brink of death, the lines comfort the reader to know that all will be well in the end. The lines that frame each illustration also give the feel of looking through a window at the action or the telling of a story through the use of stained glass. The point of view usually being eye level with the action only furthers that feeling of looking in. There is only one page where the point of view changes and we are looking down upon the hero. That page is the page he finally slays the dragon and the change in point of view is odd. The goal up until that point had all been about fighting and slaying the dragon and yet when the goal is realized the illustration is melancholy. It feels like a funeral for the dragon with us, the reader, looking down into his casket, upon his still form. Even George seems to be forlorn.

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Though the story is fantasy, the style of the illustrations in the book is realism. This style helps the reader imagine that they're in the middle ages, a time where there were knights in shining armor, beautiful princesses in distress, faeries with a kingdom and a queen and dragons terrorizing poor villages. To create this style Tina Schart Hyman used a combination of graphite pencils (for the preliminary sketches), India ink, oil paints (only occasionally), and diluted acrylic paints. She says that she uses a brush to have control over the image. This helps create a sense of realism.

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As I have said many times before, each and every single page is framed. This framing gives the effect of looking in on Saint George's story. Note: In almost every frame for the text there is a flower, different every time. I thought that this could be symbolic of something; that each flower meant something to the story.***

This book is in a traditional chronological narrative sequence with a slightly open ending, where the 3rd person narrator says that Saint George has more quests that the Faerie Queen has given him, but also a closed ending where George marries Una, inherits the kingdom and earns his name.

This book is not a quick page turner. There is a heavy amount of text for a picture book. For those reasons, I would recommend this book for older readers, maybe 4th grade or older, because a younger child would lose interest pretty quickly. Also there is a depiction of blood spurting from the cut off stump of the dragon's tail and blood running down George's arm and sword. This is a little too graphic for a young child.

***I tried to find the symbolism behind these flowers, but trying to find out what flowers they were and the symbolism behind them was just too much for me.
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This book has beautiful illustrations, plenty of symbolism and an engrossing plot but because it is a retelling of an already established story the narrative is awkwardly written, with details that seem to be important in the full length story but not in the picture book. The illustrations by themselves are interesting but without the pictures the story itself is weak, with beautifully described actions and characters, but a stumbling flow and inessential, trivial characteristics. It is much too heavily rooted in the text when the text is where it is weakest.

Analysis by Natalie Zeitman