The Eyes of the Dragon
This fantasy book by Stephen King is published by Signet, an imprint of New American Library, a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc. Editions have also been published by Viking Press and Time Warner Paperbacks. Eyes of the Dragon is written for adults, but it is on the recommended reading lists for many high schools.
Crude or Profane Language
Drug and Alcohol Content
Other Negative Elements
When the dowager queen of Delain chokes on a lemon and dies, her son (the middle-aged King Roland) must choose a wife and produce an heir. Although Roland isn't attracted to women, he marries Sasha, a 17-year-old girl of noble blood who knows even less about making babies than he does. She becomes a compassionate queen and is loved by all. Roland also grows to love her, but he never learns to like sex — except on one occasion, the day he slays a dragon with a single arrow. Upon returning to the castle, Roland regales his young wife with the details of his heroism. That night, his son Peter is conceived.
Roland's second son might never have been born if it weren't for the misdeeds of Flagg, an evil magician who also serves as Roland's closest adviser. Four years after Peter's birth, Flagg brews Roland a double dose of a special potion that Roland is accustomed to taking on the rare nights he visits Sasha's bedroom. Filled with lustful desire, Roland hurts Sasha and finally collapses in a drunken stupor. Nine months later, Sasha gives birth to Thomas. But before her son is an hour old, Sasha is murdered — the attending midwife kills her on Flagg's orders. Everyone in the kingdom believes she died in childbirth. Peter's two most vivid memories of his mother are of the intricate dollhouse the king commissioned to be built for her when she first arrived in Delain and the night she reminded him to use his napkin. To honor her memory, he uses a napkin at every meal and continues to play with the dollhouse.
Although they grow up together, Peter and Thomas are different. Peter is blessed with both looks and intelligence, and Thomas has neither. To make matters worse, Peter is Roland's obvious favorite. Nevertheless, Peter's character remains unsullied by life's gifts. He saves a horse from certain death. He makes friends with Ben, a lowly squire's son. The citizens of Delain look forward to the day Peter will be their leader.
Thomas, however, internalizes his father's rejection and takes it out on anyone and anything he can. He repeatedly rejects Peter's offers of friendship. He throws a rock at an old, crippled dog — and then keeps throwing rocks until he finally stones it to death. Flagg takes advantage of Thomas' loneliness and shows him things on the castle grounds that will intrigue him and make him fear the magician more than he already does. One of those things is a secret passageway that allows Thomas to spy on his father through the tinted glass eyes of Niner, the dragon that Roland killed and now has mounted on the wall of his study. Thomas grows accustomed to watching his father, often drunk, talking to the mounted heads on his wall, picking his nose and urinating into the fireplace. Thomas soon learns to despise his father. Peter, on the other hand, brings a single glass of wine to Roland every night as a gesture of love and respect.
As the King grows older, Flagg grows increasingly nervous. He is afraid of Peter. Thomas is more malleable, and Flagg has long decided that Thomas should be king instead of Peter. One night, after Peter takes his nightly glass of wine to Roland, Flagg secretly brings him one as well — but Flagg's glass has been spiked with dragon sand, a deadly green poison that burns the victim alive from the inside out. (Flagg doesn't know that Thomas was watching from the secret passage through the glass eyes of the dragon.) Roland, drunk as usual, swills the wine. He dies a gruesome death within the week, smoldering under his sheets while servants throw water on him until a green flame shoots out of his mouth and he stops breathing. Thomas is crowned king, and Peter is tried, found guilty and imprisoned at the top of the Needle, an impregnable fortress that towers 300 feet above the town plaza.
Thomas' rule as king is in name only. While Thomas drinks his way through guilty days and sleepless nights, Flagg taxes the kingdom to ruin and despair. Rebels gather in the outskirts of Delain. But Peter, high above Delain in the Needle, spends every waking moment weaving a rope on the miniature loom in Sasha's old dollhouse using threads he plucks from the napkins that arrive with every meal. He plans to escape, because hidden beneath the flagstones of his cell, he finds an old locket and a letter (written in blood) that proclaimed Flagg as the murderer of a crime committed centuries before — evidence enough to unmask Flagg for the evil magician and murderer that he is.
Flagg goes in search of the rebels, and Thomas begins to sleepwalk. Dennis, the butler's son who now serves Thomas as he once did Peter, follows Thomas to the secret passageway. There Thomas raves against Flagg, and now Dennis also knows the identity of the true murderer. He takes the information to Peyna, the judge who first believed Peter to be guilty of regicide. Peyna is bankrupt under Flagg's harsh regime.
Peyna, acting on intuition, sends Dennis back to the castle with a note to be smuggled to Peter among the napkins. Peter responds by dropping a note (written in his own blood, on the back of the letter that proclaimed Flagg's guilt). Peter writes that he will try to escape the following night, but his rope may break and will be about 20 feet too short.
Ben (the squire's son whom Peter befriended in his youth) and Naomi (a farmer's daughter who is sympathetic to the rebel cause) enter the castle through the sewers and meet Dennis in a room filled with nothing but hundreds of thousands of napkins. A blizzard drops five feet of snow on Delain that night. Feeling that something is afoot, Flagg gazes into his crystal only to see Peter climbing down the outside of the Needle held only by a thin rope. Flagg grabs an ax, kills the guard and races up the stairs to Peter's cell. Peter has already climbed out the window and hangs 100 feet above the ground. His hands are frozen, and the napkin-rope breaks. But instead of falling on the hard stones of the plaza, he falls into a cart that Ben, Dennis and Naomi have piled high with old napkins.
Flagg is furious and chases after the foursome who head for Roland's apartments. Thomas is already there, waiting in the shadows with Roland's old bow and the arrow that he used to slay Niner. When Flagg raises his ax, Thomas shoots him through the left eye. Flagg, shrieking in pain, disappears into thin air, leaving only his clothes behind.
Thomas asks for Peter's forgiveness, which Peter is happy to give. Peter is exonerated and claims his place as rightful king, and Thomas goes on a quest to find and kill Flagg. Dennis continues to serve as Peter's butler, and Ben and Naomi get married.
Phrases such as God's grace and God's way are used infrequently. Hell is referenced as a place. Demons are mentioned. Dennis' mother tells him that pride goes before a fall (a paraphrase of Proverbs 16:18).
Other Belief Systems
Delain's religion is never explicitly described, but it's always in the background. Gods are personal, and characters worship many gods, none of whom are named. God is referred to in both singular and plural forms, capitalized (in the case of Peter's gods) and lower case (as with Flagg's gods). Characters, good and bad, pray regularly and ask their deities for help.
Magic also holds a prominent place in the world of Delain and can be both good and bad. Not all citizens can access its power, and Flagg is described as a devil and feared throughout Delain. It is believed that he hails from the darkly magical land of Garlan. Throughout his unnaturally long life, he returns to Delain every couple hundred years under different guises — sometimes as the king's adviser, other times as the head executioner. He can hear when people speak or think his name.
Among other things, Flagg brews potions, gazes into crystals, uses cards to tell fortunes and can conjure flames on the tip of his index finger. He sometimes uses his powers to cure, for a price. Other magicians turn objects to gold and attempt (unsuccessfully) to change their shape.
Other references to the collective beliefs of Delain include the following: The Devil is referred to as Old Man Splitfoot. Sasha tells Peter that men can choose to be like gods or dogs, and that bad men are more often like dogs than like devils. The dead go to a place called the Far Fields. Peter sees his father's ghost in a dream. The Church of the Great Gods blows down in a blizzard. Mention is made of ogres, angels, hell, demons, fate, ghosts and Rhiannon (the Dark Witch of the Coos).
Profanity includes several uses of p--- and many uses of d--n. Other vulgar terms include b-gger, a-- and turd. Invented epithets include dear creeping gods, by the gods and for the gods' sake.
Most gratuitous violence centers around Flagg. On his orders, a midwife cuts Sasha after she gives birth to Thomas, causing her to bleed to death. He beheads and tortures people, and has a penchant for decorating his belongings with human skin. His favorite weapon of destruction is a dual-bladed battle-ax. He is cruel to animals. He kills Roland with a deadly poison that causes him to burn to death from the inside out. Thomas shoots an arrow into Flagg's eye, and the wound spews black liquid.
A juggler is beheaded for indirectly causing the queen's death. Roland kills a dragon and eats its heart raw. Peter defeats Benson in a fist fight. Thomas stones a dog to death. Heads of deserters are displayed on spikes.
The narrator is open about Roland and Sasha's love life, or lack thereof. Flagg advises Roland to marry before he becomes sterile. (While Roland doesn't fancy women, a preference for men is never mentioned). Sasha has never seen a man naked before marrying Roland, and Roland tells her that his penis is his iron, and she has brought the forge with her. Despite his distaste for the sex act, Roland tries to be properly attentive to his bride, and Flagg brews a potent drink to help Roland perform on the rare nights he visits Sasha's bedroom, though it doesn't always work. When he takes a double-dose, though, Roland is overcome by evil desire and hurts Sasha before collapsing unconscious.
Later, when he learns that Peter has a lady friend, Roland tells him to be gentle, but hot while he still has fuel. A drunken guard sings a song about kissing.
If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics :
Why does Sasha insist that Peter use a napkin even though Roland and other nobles have terrible table manners?
* How do your table manners compare to Peter's? To Roland's?
Why does Thomas accept Flagg's offer to see things in the castle, even though they frighten him?
* Tell about a time when you felt lonely. How did Thomas's refusal of Peter's friendship make him lonelier?
* Why might it have been hard for him to accept?
Why does Thomas make poor choices?
* How does his father's treatment of him spur him on to making wrong decisions?
* Who is responsible for his choices?
* Describe a situation where you made a choice based on something someone else did.
* How much responsibility do you have for your own behavior?
Why does Roland lean so heavily on Flagg for advice?
* Although Roland finds thinking difficult, is that an excuse not to do it?
* What do you find difficult to do?
* What could you do to improve in that area?
Many of the characters eat and drink excessively.
* What does the Bible say about gluttony?
* Does what (and how) you eat affect you spiritually as well as physically?
Peyna and Dennis both realize the part they played in Peter's imprisonment.
* How do they feel when they realize Peter is innocent?
* What do they do to make it right?
* Tell about a time you made a mistake that affected someone else.
* How should you deal with mistakes you've made in the past?
When Peter is unfairly imprisoned, how does he act?
* If you were Peter, how would you feel toward Thomas?
* Why does Peter choose to forgive his brother?
Drug and alcohol use: Characters occasionally smoke and regularly drink alcohol in both moderation and excess (usually the latter).
Nudity: Roland's nakedness is described on his wedding night. Later, while Thomas is watching through the eyes of Niner, Roland rips off his robe and displays his naked body to the dragon head mounted on his wall. His aging form is described in detail.
Gluttony: At royal banquets, guests eat until they are full, then vomit on the floor beside their chairs and continue eating. Both Roland and Thomas become obese from drinking and eating excessively.
Stealing: Thomas steals a bottle of wine and is forced to make repayment. Flagg steals a wooden box that belonged to Peter and uses it to plant false evidence of Roland's murder.
Crude behavior: Being above the law, the kings and queens of Delain develop interesting idiosyncrasies. For example, one king used to vomit into a plate and command his jester to eat it. Another bit the heads off live fish and stuffed the wriggling bodies down the fronts of the serving girls' dresses. Royal banquets often disintegrate into drunken food fights. People pick their noses (Roland eats what he finds), urinate in fires and pass gas with apparent enjoyment. Roland also likes bloody, barely cooked meat.
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Readability Age Range
High school and up
Signet, an imprint of New American Library, a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
Colorado Blue Spruce Young Adult Book Award, 1989