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elmer and the dragon

21 february 2023

When we left Elmer Elevator at the end of My Father's Dragon, he had rescued the baby dragon from the animals of Wild Island; but of course both Elmer and the Dragon were still at sea and far from home. The next step is to for the dragon to fly Elmer back to "Nevergreen City near Evergreen Park on the coast of Popsicornia" (5).

Ruth Stiles Gannett, half a year away from her hundredth birthday as I write this, is still best known for the Elmer and the Dragon trilogy, of which this 1950 installment is the middle volume. The second is as good as the first. The daffy fantasy world of the books nearly defies dating. The Elmer series reminds me most of Tove Jansson's Moomin series, its near-contemporary. In both, sympathetic fantasy creatures go on extended picaresque adventures. Though they meet some dangers, most of the other creatures they meet are, or turn out to be, helpful and friendly.

Ruth Chrisman Gannett's black-and-white drawings are appealing and magnetic – at least to a nearly-two-year-old that I have been paraphrasing the Elmer books to, lately. The Gannetts had a way of picking the essence of a scene and conveying it dramatically but reassuringly to younger children.

The Moomins are beset by flood and comet; Elmer and the dragon have to face an uncharted sea, and a storm that lands them perilously on a sandbar, where the dragon gets stuck. But the danger ebbs with the tide, and the two friends find themselves in a buried-treasure adventure. You keep expecting pirates to show up and contest the treasure, but that doesn't happen either; Gannett's world is sanguine and benevolent, and frankly we need more of that in any era.

Gannett, Ruth Stiles. Elmer and the Dragon. Illustrated by Ruth Chrisman Gannett. 1950. New York: Yearling [Random House], 1950.