Recently another parent at our church asked me if I knew of any really good middle-grade Christian novels. I gave my standard answer: well, The Bronze Bow is wonderful, if not explicitly “Christian,” and, well…I was on the lookout for more.
St George and the Dragon isn’t precisely a middle-grade novel, or even precisely a novel for that matter: it’s one possible telling of a saint’s life, and has more theological and historical heft than much middle-grade fare. What it is, precisely, is an absolutely lovely book that I can’t wait to read aloud to my daughter and that I’m so pleased to share with you, our readers.**
By way of introduction, Michael Lotti writes, “This is a story of St. George. I say a story and not the story, for no one knows much about St George…I have taken what is guessed at and added many of my own guesses to create a story about a great Christian man.” We’re not wholly in the realm of Christian history, not really in a novel — rather, it’s that delightful space that has existed for centuries in the church: holy legend. It’s a form that has flourished in some corners of the church more than others, and one rich in its power to enlarge our theological imaginations.
And what a legend it is. In this telling, George is born Marcellus, a Roman tribune who hails from a noble estate in modern-day Turkey. He is rapidly advancing through the Roman army, engaged to be married to a beautiful and wealthy girl, and proud of his empire and the virtues it embodies. That is, until he discovers that a dragon has taken up residence in the region of his father’s estate, and he must choose between sacrificing to it and a different, more difficult refusal.
I had always half-imagined St George as the Christian knight, prancing in on his white horse to kill an evil dragon and probably leaving some swooning ladies in his wake. Not the most terribly interesting story. But this telling includes high drama, Roman history, a conversion, friendship and grief, told compellingly and with theological sophistication. In the dragon, Marcellus (who takes George as his baptismal name) encounters the true face of what he has worshiped and served — the Empire — and finds himself alternately seduced and repelled. Unable to make sense of or resist the dragon’s pull on his old loyalties, he stumbles across a group of Christians worshipping on his father’s estate. Although initially shocked by their alien ways (men and women worshiping together! Slaves and freedmen embracing as brothers! Worship at a funeral and hope in death!) Marcellus finds them, and the hope they promise, strangely compelling. St George and the Dragon is nothing less than the story of a soul’s death to life in Christ, the putting off the old man in a violently liberating way.
The experience of the early Christians, and the radical upending of human empires and institutions (slavery, ancestor-worship, even marriage and friendship) that the gospel entails: it’s all here, in a story that will capture children’s imaginations as well as their parents’. This book would make a lovely family read-aloud, and offer excellent fodder for longer conversations with older children and teens. I heartily commend St George and the Dragon to you and hope you enjoy it as much as I have.
**Full disclosure: Michael Lotti is a former teaching colleague of mine, but that only adds to my pleasure. What’s better than passing along a superb book? Why, when said book is written by someone you like and respect!