Birthday Reviews: P.C. Hodgell’s “Knot and the Dragon”

Birthday Reviews: P.C. Hodgell’s “Knot and the Dragon”

Cover by Tom Wood
Cover by Tom Wood

P.C. (Patricia Christine) Hodgell was born on March 16, 1951. She has written the eight volume Chronicles of the Kencyrath, which began with God Stalk and continued most recently with The Gates of Tagmeth in 2017. God Stalk was nominated for the Mythopoeic Award as was its follow-up, Dark of the Moon.

“Knot and the Dragon” was originally published in Esther Friesner’s Chicks and Balances, the most recent addition to her long-running Chicks in Chainmail series. The story has not been reprinted.

One of the common tropes in fairy tales is the step-daughter whose father has died, leaving her with an unloving mother. Hodgell uses this set up for “Knot and the Dragon,” with Knot living with her step-mother, Marta, and her two step-sisters. Everyone in town makes it clear to Knot that she doesn’t fit in with them.

Knot’s character comes across as a mixture of a Cinderella-type mixed with Belle from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, for Knot is constantly striving to learn more about the world in which she finds herself, lamenting the death of her father, with whom she had things in common, but also accepting her current life.

Reports of nearby dragon attacks further bring out the town’s character, with the villagers firm in their belief that since they haven’t done anything wrong, there is no reason the dragon would punish them. Naturally enough, this conviction is enough (narratively) to bring a dragon down on their village, and they decide that Knot should essentially be a sacrifice to the dragon.

Rather than do as she was instructed, Knot seeks out the witch who lives nearby ever since she was forced from her home by the dragon. Although the witch’s first inclination is to flee with her son, who was accidentally turned into a pig during her last encounter with the dragon, the witch agrees to offer (dubious) help to Knot.

“Knot and the Dragon” offers another common trope in fantasy, similar to Andersen’s “The Emperor’s New Clothes” of the child who sees the situation more clearly than the adults. Hodgell handles the material well, although the relatively short story has enough hooks in it that Hodgell could easily expand it to be a more complex examination of clichés found in fiction.

Reviewed in  its original publication in the anthology Chicks and Balances, edited by Esther M. Friesner and John Helfers, Baen, 2015.

Steven H Silver-largeSteven H Silver is a fifteen-time Hugo Award nominee and was the publisher of the Hugo-nominated fanzine Argentus as well as the editor and publisher of ISFiC Press for 8 years. He has also edited books for DAW and NESFA Press. He began publishing short fiction in 2008 and his most recently published story is “Big White Men—Attack!” in Little Green Men—Attack! Steven has chaired the first Midwest Construction, Windycon three times, and the SFWA Nebula Conference 5 times, as well as serving as the Event Coordinator for SFWA. He was programming chair for Chicon 2000 and Vice Chair of Chicon 7. He has been the news editor for SF Site since 2002.

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Sarah Avery

Hodgell’s God Stalk was one of the novels that made me a fantasy writer. I read it I don’t even know how many times, starting when I was 13. So glad she’s still writing.

John ONeill

Thanks, Sarah. It was Fletcher who introduced me to the Godstalk books — I’d completely missed them in their first release. I’ve gradually been accumulating the entire series. What do you think of the later volumes?

Sarah Avery

I haven’t read them yet. I read the first three volumes, and the collection of pre-God-Stalk Kencyr stories, back when Hodgell was publishing with Meisha Merlin. Since then, I’ve been buying the books, but they haven’t fought their way to the top of the TBR pile. That’s the trouble with living in a golden age of fantasy–just too many intriguing books to fit into one reading life.

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