I read The Dragon in the Sock Drawer by Kate Klimo quite a few years ago, and since then I’ve wanted to tear it apart in a review. I’ve wondered if this was too easy a target, the author being relatively unknown and the story meant strictly for very young children. I couldn’t find anything about the books on Wikipedia, and looking up the author’s alleged website simply redirects to the series’ page on the Random House site. In fact, I would likely have passed it by and reviewed something else were it not for what I learnt from reading it.
The Dragon in the Sock Drawer is the first book of Klimo’s Dragon Keepers series. I haven’t read any of the others, and—considering how batshit insane the first one is—I’ve no intention of doing so.
The Imbecile Cousins Find a Dragon
The story is about two cousins, Jesse and Daisy, who find a dragon egg and become “dragon keepers,” keeping the hatchling Emmy in a sock-drawer—hence the book’s title. This isn’t too far from what others have already done so I can’t imagine it’s easy to screw it up quite this thoroughly.
Emmy the dragon speaks in an annoying John Malkovich-esque manner, em–pha–si–zing ev–e–ry syl–la–ble. This wouldn’t be that bad, but Klimo chooses to punctuate each syllable with a full-stop, making all Emmy’s dialogue a chore to decipher. When she’s not using full-stops for everything, she neglects to use spaces. The rest of the dialogue, while not as bad as the dragon’s, is still a bit odd. Klimo fills it with what I assume are American colloquialisms (such as “thunder egg” or “million-dollar car”).
After meeting a professor online who studies dragons, they find out that there’s an evil, immortal… er… sorcerer?—mad scientist?—dragon-slayer?—called Saint George. It turns out that Saint George wants the dragon for a blood-sacrifice that will apparently bring about the end of the world. Some explanation of why Saint George wants to destroy the world would be nice, but the generic moustache-twirling villain is the least of this story’s problems.
Stupid and Spineless
Upon hearing how important it is that they keep the dragon hidden, the first thing the kids do is show the dragon to Daisy’s halfwit father Joe! You know where this going; it’s not hard to see the natural progression of events that would result from such an idiotic move, but they do it anyway! Of course, they don’t let the dragon speak in front of Joe or introduce him to the professor; that might actually have made even an idiot like him understand that they shouldn’t tell anyone about it.
As anyone could have predicted, Joe assumes that such an unusual lizard must be an exotic pet, and instead of telling him the truth and presenting the irrefutable evidence that they hold in their hands, Jesse and Daisy agree to put up “found” signs and lead Saint George right to their doorstep!
Ugh—You Spineless Morons!
Their signs predictably catch the attention of Saint George, who calls Joe claiming that the “lizard” is his. Joe believes him without question, and apparently the word “desperation” means nothing to Daisy or Jesse, because they do nothing to react to the ever-worsening situation. When Emmy protests, saying in her usual horribly-punctuated speech,
“Em. Mee. Not. Go!”
Jesse replies thusly:
“We’re sorry, Emmy,” said Jesse, kneeling before her. His voice was tight. “We don’t have much choice.”
I don’t even know what to say to this! It’s just so stupid that I’m lost for words! This isn’t even the peak of the stupidity in this book. Next they decide not to tell the professor because they’re afraid he’ll be angry with them. Jesse suggests they hide Emmy and tell Joe that she’d run away, but…
Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!
Daisy said, “Hasn’t fibbing gotten us into enough trouble already?”
It was at this point that I realized that these children actually want Saint George to kill the dragon and destroy the world, as there’s absolutely no other explanation for their unquenchable stupidity! Klimo tries to make us feel sorry for Daisy and Jesse as they hand the dragon over to Saint George, but any sympathy I had for any of these imbeciles is long past. After finally going to the professor, the cousins are apparently shocked by an o-so-unexpected revelation, because apparently they didn’t know that he intends on killing Emmy.
You didn’t know?! His name is Saint George! What did you think he was going to do—put her in a wildlife preserve with a male and try to repopulate?! You’d think that at this point it would actually sink in that the stakes are bloody important—certainly more important than courtly behaviour—but you’d be giving Klimo’s writing far too much credit. They come up with a simple plan to lure the dragon-slayer away from the laboratory where he’s keeping Emmy so they can steal her back—I wonder if they’d have been “bold” enough to do it on a school night!
Kúon-ex-Machina (A Dog From the Machine)
Their childish scheme succeeds; they take the dragon home and hide her under a pile of shoes. The book spends far too long on a game of hide-and-seek with Saint George and Uncle Joe trying to find the stolen lizard, and eventually Jesse goes to a nearby barn and hides Emmy in a haystack. In what I think is meant to be the climax, Saint George drives up to the barn, dragging the ever-clueless Joe behind him, and begins to search the hay for his prize.
The story finishes off with an anticlimax as Emmy shape-shifts into a sheepdog. For some reason, this resolves everything, and the same Uncle Joe who insisted on putting out “found” posters when the kids find a rare lizard is completely fine with letting in and keeping a stray dog. St. George, whom I must assume knows a bit about dragons being able to shape-shift, doesn’t catch on or do anything whatsoever. It’s all resolved in a big, contrived, anticlimactic mess!
What I Learnt
The Dragon in the Sock Drawer is one of the stupidest things I have ever read. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced a story that’s quite this juvenile. I keep thinking that I should cut it a break since it’s just for kids, but then I remember that My Little Pony is for kids, and Twilight’s Kingdom—the Season Four finale—is one of the most epic things you’ll ever see. But what am I saying? Even G3 wasn’t as juvenile as The Dragon in the Sock Drawer! Not a single character has enough brain-cells to fill a thimble, but even worse is how utterly spineless everyone is.
The Rules That Really Matter
Regardless how desperate the situation gets, the measures taken by the characters never exceed propriety. Even when the world is at stake, they still do exactly what they’re told, and when Jesse has his one good idea, Daisy refuses to “fib” even to save their friend’s life. Rather than doing the right thing and showing moral courage the way Bilbo does in taking the Arkenstone to Bard, Klimo’s characters always do whatever they’re told, whether it’s the right thing or not. As Captain Jack Sparrow says in The Curse of the Black Pearl,
“The only rules that really matter are these: what a man can do and what a man can’t do.”
The protagonists of this story, however, refuse to break the rules for any reason. It reminds me of when I reviewed the sixteenth chapter of A Game of Thrones, where a character executes his daughter’s dog despite having seemingly no obligation to present proof of the deed and therefore no real reason to carry it out. In similar fashion, the kids could easily have skipped right to the “hide-and-seek” portion and the result would have been no worse for them, but because they’re ethically opposed to “fibbing,” they hand their dragon over to the first person who claims her as his own. Even Saint George, the blood-drinking villain, seemingly abandons his pursuit when the dragon turns into a dog, despite that he could easily have grabbed the dog and claimed it as his own just as he’d done previously.
Measures and Stakes
As terrible as it is, reading The Dragon in the Sock Drawer taught me something valuable about storytelling. The higher the stakes in a story, the tougher the measures a protagonist must take in order to stay sympathetic. If the measures taken exceed the stakes, it can make for great comedy or drama. If the fates of many hang in the balance and a character won’t do anything about it because they don’t want to get their shoes dirty, that makes the character seem petty at best, and in extreme cases such as this and the aforementioned example it can make the character extremely unlikeable.
The same is true of characters, and even authors, that can’t think outside the box. It’s made clear that the bedroom has a window so my first thought was that they should get out the window and make a run for it; perhaps they could get the professor to contact Joe and claim the dragon, calling Saint George’s legitimacy into question—anything would be better than what they do decide to do. I say “outside the box,” but these ideas aren’t even outlandish; “box” refers to whatever tiny scope of ideas the author imagines children to be capable of.
Don’t Read This to Children
Indeed, I get a scary impression that Klimo might be trying to impart a lesson of obedience onto her young readers. If this is so, then The Dragon in the Sock Drawer is infinitely worse. Like Bilbo’s “betrayal” of Thorin, this is a point where morals are pitted against traditional honour, and to be proper is to be immoral, which is far worse. Klimo’s protagonists always choose propriety over morals, and they end up not too far from being themselves evil as a result. When you get into situations of good and evil, adhering to the traditional etiquette of peaceful times is one of the most dangerous things one can do. Teaching kids that they should, for instance, maintain good table-manners even when doing so will have dire consequences is a very bad thing.
Where the quality of the book is concerned, it’s bad. I lost all sympathy for the protagonists the moment they handed the dragon over to their enemy. The characters stand out only because they’re so acquiescent and stupid. The dialogue is annoying. The story is asinine, and it ends in an absurd deus-ex-machina. Like I said, it’s one of the dumbest things I’ve ever read, and I’m happy to finally be done with it.