I don’t know how it happened exactly, coming to that devastating conclusion, but I do remember the feeling of hollow despair when I realised that the world I had imagined as a child was just not the world I lived in. And my life long dream, to that point, was not a reality I would see come to pass.
How was it possible?
I pleaded with my father to take me back, just a day, when my life was filled with wild imagination and happy go lucky dreams. But alas he could not. He could not smooth my pain or help ease the burden of knowledge. I had found out and there was nothing that could be done. I would never feel my feet sailing through the air unabated, as I clung to the reins strapped tightly around my best friends neck. The wind would never rush across my face as we dipped and weaved in and out of clouds, dancing past birds as we tangled ourselves together in one awe inspiring blur. My dreams had been shattered. Would life ever be the same for this eight year old boy? Of course not. How could it be with such a revelation? Where or when would I find that same happiness. The happiness I had felt in my absolute certainty that I would one day know the joy of owning my very own Dragon.
It may not have come as I had expected as that eight year old boy. There was not to be some miracle of nature, no magical mountains where the beautiful beasts roamed in secret. And it would not come in the years of my childhood. It came at the hand of a young man by the name of Christopher Paolini and a message that would stay with me forever.
One Friday, after a day at work I would rather forget, I went for a quiet drink down at the pub with my father. Yes this was our weekly Friday ritual, something to take the strains of my life away, even if that was just for a short while. The days of me running and playing in the back yard, pretending our dog Che-Che was a two thousand pound dragon were long gone, replaced, unfortunately, by the relentless struggle of a fifty hour a week job that had sent my imagination to the very depths of the blackest ocean. My father, however, always tried to help me find it. He would recount tales of my childhood and replay, as best he could with words, the stories I had once envisioned playing out as a young man. But on this day, he sat there quietly in what seemed to be quiet contemplation. After one beer, I had to ask what was wrong. He shrugged and kept quiet. We ordered a second drink and we sat there in silence. After he had finished that he turned to me and asked, in a very soft voice:
‘Did you ever find your dragon?’ I paused, looking at him sceptically. What a very strange question. I shook my head and explained that I had not believed in such things for a life time. He nodded solemnly. I could see he wanted to say something else, but instead he held two fingers up to the bartender ushering in two more drinks.
I’ll never forget that next hour, we hardly spoke a word, just simply sat and drunk. And after perhaps five or six beers, my father reached into his bag, pulled out a book and handed it over to me.
‘I hope this helps you find her,’ he said and without another word walked out of the bar. I sat there speechless, holding onto this book, unsure what had just happened. It was at that stage, and still is to this day, the strangest experience of my life. I flipped the book over and read the blurb.
I frowned, but began to read it softly aloud:
‘When Eragon finds a polished blue stone in the forest, he thinks it is the lucky discovery of a poor farm boy…’ I closed my mouth and continued to read in my head, until I reached a point, stopped, and reread the previous line a little louder than I had intended:
‘With only an ancient sword and the advice of an old storyteller for guidance, Eragon and the fledgling DRAGON!’ I shouted it, quickly holding my tongue. The bartender looked at me and frowned. I apologised and read the blurb again. When I’d finished contemplating why in the world my father had given me a children’s book to read, I tucked it safely in my bag and went home.
Lying in bed that night, after putting my eight year old daughter to bed, I picked up the book off my nightstand and began to read. Of course these were not the books I normally partook in. I was an adult, we are supposed to read books on politics or autobiographies. Not books about fairytales and dragons. But after the strangeness of my father’s behaviour I thought I should at least read the first chapter. I did, and surprisingly it was terrific. A really exciting beginning to a book. But I had to work the next day and really I didn’t have time for such things. I closed the book and went to bed.
Early the next morning I was woken up by a phone call. I rubbed my eyes and looked at the time: 4.10am.
‘Who on earth is ringing at this hour?’ I answered the call and heard my mothers voice on the other end of the phone.
‘Mum, what’s wrong?’ I said at the sound of her half hysterical sobs.
‘It’s dad,’ she said. ‘He’s had a heart attack.’
‘What? Is he okay?’ I knew the answer before she spoke.
‘No. He passed away.’ My hands began to shake before the numbness of the words took hold. I felt like I was eight again, finding out that dragons did not exist. My whole world came crashing down around me in a pit of despair. I glanced over at the book on my bedside table, tears welling in my eyes.
Did he know something was wrong?
After I got off the phone I wrapped my little girl up in a blanket, put her in the car, and rushed over to my mother’s place to comfort her. It was a long night.
The next day I skipped work, feeling mentally and physically exhausted and fully intended to sleep the entire day. I closed the curtains and hopped into bed, but as I lay there my mind would not stop running around with my last encounter with my father. What had he meant by his comment:
‘Did you ever find your dragon?’ After struggling with the thought for what felt like forever, I decided to do the only thing I could. I picked up the book and began to read––
“The sun rose the next morning with a glorious conflagration of pink and yellow. The air was fresh, sweet, and very cold. Ice edged the streams, and small pools were completely frozen over. After a breakfast of porridge, Eragon returned to the glen …”
The words, the descriptions, they were so engaging that as I flicked through the pages, I felt myself transported back to my childhood. Back to the times when adventure, magic, and dragons were all possible. And then came Saphira and I once again felt myself soaring through the the clouds with the carelessness of a burden free life. The wind brushing across my face, the feel of the reins in my hands. In that brief moment I forgot my grief and sailed over the oceans, as Paolini’s words took me to another world. There was an ease in every sentence I read. My eyes rolled across the pages with no more difficulty than watching a movie. In fact, the precision and timing of each word, left me engaged in a way that no movie could replicate.
One chapter turned to two, two to ten. I was encapsulated in a world that gave me back my belief in a better life. A world where working in an office all day every day began to sound more and more ridiculous. Where did we lose ourselves? I asked myself, as I only left the pages of my new world to find some food or go to the bathroom. Why do we become adults and decide to lose the adventure that brought us so much happiness? We are victims of our circumstances, but victims nonetheless. The choices we make to lose faith in magic, lose hope in finding our dragon, are exactly that––choices. If a child believes in the unthinkable, we as adults think it is cute. If an adult was to explore the unbelievable, he is ridiculed and told to grow up. It was hard to believe I was getting all this from reading a book, but the world that had been created within the confines of an ocean blue cover, was showing me that my dragon had never truly left me. I had only forgotten what it looked like.
After reading all day and most of the night, with many chapters read aloud to my daughter, I finally came to the final page of the book. I was bleary eyed, but filled with a sense of life I had not experienced since I was a child. The pain of loosing my father was ever present as I read each page, but somehow I heard his voice as the words drifted through my mind. I hadn’t known it at the time, but this was his final gift to me. I flicked over the last page, and there on the inside of the back cover was his handwriting.
I closed the book and stared up at the ceiling with tears in my eyes. The next day I quit my job and started my new life as a writer. Eragon, and Christopher Paolini, with the help of my father, helped me once again find the true meaning of what life is supposed to be. It is not meant to be wasted in the pits of a miserable job spent hiding behind a desk. No, it is supposed to be spent soaring through the air on the back of a sapphire blue dragon, searching the world below for the life that each one of us is destined to live. Eragon helped me find my dragon, let the words inside this book help you find yours.
Book cover image from goodreads.com.
*Note. This short story is loosely based on true events.