Friday, May 27, 2022

On Rereading Dragons in Our Midst

My favorites list, whether speaking of authors or series, has changed quite a few times since I first got into fantasy. Wayne Thomas Batson, once in my top three favorite authors, now doesn't even make the top ten. J.R.R. Tolkien stood alone at the highest rank — until Anne Elisabeth Stengl and Brandon Sanderson proved themselves worthy to join him. I spent a heady six months obsessing over Ted Dekker's Circle Trilogy, only for it to fall dramatically out of favor when I tried to reread it a few years later.

But amid all this, there are some authors and books that have consistently remained — well, if not in my top three, at least in my top ten. Chief among them (aside from Tolkien again) is Bryan Davis, particularly with his Dragons in Our Midst and Oracles of Fire series. These were two of the first non-classic fantasy series I fell in love with — and I think it's fair to say that I was really, really into them. I reread them multiple times; I even memorized some of the poetry. And about seven months ago, I decided to return to the two series, reread them, and see how they stood up to the test of time. For the results, well, read on.


On Rereading Dragons in Our Midst

  1. Most of it is as good as I remembered . . . and some bits are better. I'm not going to claim that this series is the pinnacle of literary art, but it remains a genuinely enjoyable, exciting story with a lot of emphasis on family and some very deep, powerful themes. The things about the book that I loved originally, I still love. I also found that I could appreciate some elements of the book that I didn't really get (or didn't love) when I was younger. This is particularly evident in The Candlestone and Enoch's Ghost, which used to be my least favorite books in the double-series and are now . . . well, neither one is my new favorite (I still love Circles of Seven best), but they're both several places higher on the list because I finally get what the author was trying to say with them.
  2. There's so much less angst and edginess than there could've been. I didn't appreciate this enough as a preteen/teen originally reading the series — but, of course, then I didn't have all the experience with other YA (particularly secular YA) to compare it to. Davis gives quite a few members of his cast enough tragic backstory to make the edgiest D&D rogue's story look like a comedy, so he'd be well within his right to make them equally angsty, and he just . . . doesn't. Is there introspection? Emotion? Of course! Do characters hit some pretty low lows? Absolutely. But it doesn't saturate the characters or the narrative, which is really nice, and the characters who would have the most reason for angst (namely, Bonnie, Sapphira, and Elam) end up the exact opposite character type. Granted, that can be frustrating for different reasons, but it's less frustrating than the alternative.
  3. It's really fun to go back to a series that's so family-focused. Very family-focused indeed, actually, given that DiOM/OoF give Kendra E. Ardnek's Rizkaland Legends a run for their money with how large a percentage of major characters are related. And whatever else you say about this series, you have to appreciate how Davis makes a point of writing active, healthy parent-kid relationships into the story and having multiple generations taking on adventures, challenges, and battles together.
  4. Bryan Davis really just does what he wants, doesn't he? This was less evident when I initially read the series, since (A) the YA fantasy genre and its conventions were still somewhat being established and (B) I hadn't read enough to really be aware of what conventions there were. But on rereading the series, it becomes very clear that Davis is a man who looked at trends, said "Nah," and proceeded to make a career out of writing what he thought would be cool. And so, in this series — You have dragons and King Arthur in the modern day. You have multiple variations of an afterlife and interdimensional travel between them, along with so many resurrections. You have sci-fi-ish stuff like Ashley's inventions and her supercomputer/AI, as well as (arguably) two different completely unrelated variations on people being grown in plants. You have everything about Abaddon's lair. And you know what? It works. And it's wonderful. (I would even argue that it works because everything is so all-over, but if I get into that, this point will end up being its own blog post.)
  5. This is, if possible, even more spiritually in-your-face than I remembered. No one can deny that the way Christian fantasy is written has changed since the 2000s when these books were published. Even if you look exclusively at Davis's books, you'll see that over time, the stories lean less into allegory and get more and more subtle with their spiritual messages. So, going back to Dragons in Our Midst and Oracles of Fire, two series which I remembered as being extremely heavy on the Scripture and spiritual stuff even compared to the series' contemporaries, was a bit of an interesting experience. On one hand, the heavy-handedness of some sections and elements (and the emphasis on purity) can pull you out of the story . . . but on the other hand, it was honestly refreshing to read something that's so up-front about being based in Christianity and so saturated in Spiritual truth.

Whew! That was a bit longer than I intended. I had fun both returning to an old favorite and analyzing how I feel about it now, though. If you're still reading, please tell me in the comments what your favorite Bryan Davis book or series is (or which of his works you think looks most interesting). Also tell me if you'd be interested in that blog post about why I think the way Davis mixes so many different elements into his story works so well; I kinda want to get more into this now.
Thanks for reading!


  1. I have wanted to read a Bryan Davis book for a while now and this post only cemented that idea in my mind! These sound so good, even as an adult. I didnt grow up on Christian books at all, so I feel like I need to catch up now :)

    1. Ah, yeah, Davis is definitely one of the cornerstones of modern Christian speculative fiction. These are my favorites of his books, but he has a ton of good options. Hope you can pick some up soon!


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