Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)

US movie (1981). Paramount/Disney. Pr Hal Barwood. Exec pr Howard W Koch. Dir Matthew Robbins. Spfx sv Brian Johnson. Vfx Dennis Muren, Industrial Light & Magic. Chief sculptor Derek Howarth. Screenplay Barwood, Robbins. Novelization Dragonslayer * (1981) by Wayland Drew. Starring Sydney Bromley (Hodge), Caitlin Clarke (Valerian), Peter Eyre (King Casiodorus), John Hallam (Tyrian), Emrys James (Blacksmith), Peter MacNicol (Galen Bradwarden), Ralph Richardson (Ulrich), Chloe Salaman (Princess Elspeth). 110 mins. Colour.

Sorcerer's Apprentice Galen, on the apparent suicide of his master Ulrich, joins forces with youthful warrior Valerian in an attempt to destroy a Dragon, Vermithrax pejorative, which is held from devastating the nation of Urland only through a Contract whereby it is fed a virgin (see Virginity) annually. Working against them is Tyrian, right-hand man of King Casiodorus. The king explains the wisdom of the contract: better a single lottery-selected virgin dies each year than that thousands die. (It is to D's great credit that this argument is presented persuasively.) Casiodorus's daughter, Elspeth, discovers the lottery has been rigged to spare the aristocracy, and rigs it so that she will herself be next victim. Aided by Valerian (who proves a girl reared as a boy to avoid the lottery, and whom Galen gleefully disqualifies from further lotteries; see Gender Disguise) and his own clumsy attempts at Magic, Galen tries to save Elspeth and maims, but cannot kill, the dragon. At last he recalls instructions transmitted to him from Ulrich, and raises the sorcerer – who kills the dragon but himself dies.

The dragon owes much at times to the metamorphosed Maleficent in Sleeping Beauty (1959); it is "real" enough that, on occasion, it can draw pathos. D was a box-office failure, largely because the Disney name made potential audiences believe it was a children's movie, yet is one of the best High-Fantasy movies made, blending, often with wit, many archetypal motifs – notably, aside from those mentioned above, the idea that the death of the dragon symbolizes the Thinning of the Golden Age, with crudescent Christianity lurking in the wings. [JG]

This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.