Magic, Mensa, and Mayhem is a good example of truth in advertising. Karina Fabian has written a merry romp through a world where social, political, and economic concourse between mundane Earth and the realm of Faerie has become routine, so there’s nothing particularly odd about magical creatures participating in a Mensa conference in Florida, affinity among brainy people being a common denominator in both dimensions.
However, sinister forces are afoot, so it’s up to dragon detective Vern d’Wyvern and his partner, Sister Grace McCarthy of Our Lady of the Miracles, to make sure everything goes smoothly.
Ms. Fabian peppers her story with wry social commentary and puns galore, assuring a chuckle on almost every page. No ox is left ungored, from Magic Kingdoms(tm) to environmental protesters to nefarious corporate profiteers, to bloviating politicians. Everybody gets a heaping helping of Vern’s sardonic wit, and despite all manner of obstacles, including drunken pixies, obsessive-compulsive brownies, starstruck dwarves, lovelorn valkyries, and the master of disaster himself, Coyote the Trickster of Native American lore, Vern and Grace prevail with style and, well, grace. It’s lighthearted, diverting entertainment for everyone from eight to eighty (though some of the puns and double-entendres may fly over the heads of younger folks).
I’d recommend this book on its entertainment merits alone, but something else struck me as I finished the last few pages. Underneath all the yuks and puns and magical farce is a very profound story of personal transformation illustrated by an unlikely character–Vern himself.
Without going into a lot of Vern’s backstory (read the book for that), Vern was, for millenia, a typical, fire-breathing, knight-noshing engine of intimidation and destruction, until he was captured by the Faerie version of Saint George, stripped of most of his dragonly powers, and dragooned (sorry, the puns are contagious) into the service of the Faerie Catholic Church, the dominant faith in Fabian’s Faerie realm. To regain his former magnificence, Vern must cultivate a life of good works and service to others.
Despite his protestations to the contrary, Vern is a dragon in need of salvation, and his downfall is pride. He has a traumatic conversion experience and enters God’s service. He discovers the power of humility, loyalty, and friendship. He adopts spiritual disciplines. He learns how to control his anger and solve problems cooperatively, not depending on his own strength and abilities. He learns to put others before himself.
As Vern grows spiritually, he also grows physically, slowly regaining the powers he surrendered at his conversion, but he is now able to use them humbly and responsibly. It is the reverse, but not the opposite, of the “un-dragoning” of Eustace in C.S. Lewis’ The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Vern is re-dragoned, becoming the truly noble creature of God’s imagination he was always meant to be.
Ms. Fabian is a Catholic writer, so it’s not surprising that references to her faith emerge in this story. They are handled in a simple, unselfconscious manner consistent with the universe she has created. She’s not shy about expressing her faith, but her story is not in any way a Catholic tract in disguise. The themes are universal–everyone, on some level, is looking for redemption and transformation.
Vern’s metaphor speaks most poignantly to Christians, I think, because it lies at the very heart of what we believe is true about our relationship with God. He reaches out to us and changes us, though we’ve done nothing to deserve it, and then He leads us on a lifelong journey in which we become conformed to that divine image which was our original birthright. We become the people we were always meant to be. Maybe this is why I found Vern such an appealing character. I can see a lot of me in Vern.
Whew, all this depth in a funny little story about a dragon. Who’d have thought?
I’ll be posting an interview with Karina Fabian about Magic, Mensa, and Mayhem next month. In the meantime, go buy a copy of the book and enjoy it. Karina’s also set up a webpage for the book with discussion forums and more details about Vern and his other adventures at http://www.dragoneyepi.net .
>>This review is based upon an electronic copy of the book provided to me free of charge by the publisher, a courtesy I appreciate, but which does not guarantee my recommendation. I strive to evaluate every book I review purely on its intrinsic merits.<<