Dragon Slave by Cela Day is such a breath of fresh air. When I tell you it’s a modern day version of Pilgrim’s Progress you might inclined to overlook it because allegory is hardly fashionable these days, but if you pass it by for that reason alone you will be missing out on a truly great book.
Though clearly inspired by Pilgrim’s Progress, this book varies significantly from it. In the first place the protagonist, Stephen Steward, is not a believer. At the beginning of the book thoughts of God are the furthest thing from his mind, in fact. And the story doesn’t even begin in the allegorical mode, it’s set in modern day America. Stephen is just an average (albeit exceptionally poor) teenager who likes playing video games with his rich friend, fights with his mom, and has a paper route.
Portal to truth
But everything changes when he goes to bed one night and awakes in the Unseen World. And that’s the real genius of this book. By blending it with portal fantasy (such as The Chronicles of Narnia if you’re not familiar with that term) it makes the spiritual lessons much more immediate and compelling. The reader truly feels as if he’s in Stephen’s predicaments, as if we are living this strange dream he thinks he’s having, because in a very real sense we are. While we don’t always like Stephen’s choices, they mirror ones we are all tempted to make. We can sympathize with his failures. He’s just a kid, like maybe we were (or are), like fifty million other kids in America.
It was just such a delight to read. I enjoyed every page. The author has such an imaginative way of coming up with places and characters and situations to put her protagonist in that you never know what to expect. I especially loved the principle side characters, the Greathearts. And the scenes in the mines were hard and terrifying—as they should be. The story is told in a simple, straightforward manner, and there is a good bit of dialogue and explanation, but it’s so fascinating that I kept wanting to find out more. And the author really captured a believable, relatable American kid struggling to figure out where the pieces fit in life.
A journey worth taking
The emphasis on the Unseen world is what really makes this book soar. It is something we are so inoculated against with the busyness and the materialistic nature of modern life. We lose sight of what’s eternal, of what matters, of what the real threats are. It’s not struggling to make ends meet that is the chief drama of life, it is following the Road that leads to the King. And I so appreciated that reminder. I would even go so far to say that this book challenged me in ways that I really needed. The reading of it enriched my life and blessed me in a way that few books ever have.
So this is one I heartily recommend. This belongs in the same field as Pilgrim’s Progress, Pilgrim’s Regress by C.S. Lewis, and Hinds’ Feet on High Places by Hannah Hunnard. This should be sold in all bookstores and read by everyone, but especially it belongs in Christian bookstores where sadly, there is not much originality or imagination. I’m so glad I read this. I was not expecting to love it as much as I did. It make me want to read more allegory, and I’ll be expectantly anticipation the release of the next volume in the series.