Monday, January 17, 2011

Golden Sword of Dragonwalk

R.L. Stine rose to prominence with his Goosebumps books after I stopped visiting the “young readers” section at the local library, but his stuff was showing up while I was still going once a week looking for the latest literary thrill. Like one involving a golden sword in a land where dragons walk…

You’re paying a visit to Grandma Carmen’s house, and the only thing on your mind is spending the day exploring all the awesome secret passages and locked trunks. Of course, what always happens when you’re looking forward to a day of fun? That’s right, Grandma Carmen promised you’d babysit Stacy the neighbor kid. And what’s even harder than having fun when you’re dragging around a whiny kid? Vanquishing the forces of evil while you’re dragging around a whiny kid, of course!

The first secret passage you explore with your oh-so-helpful companion takes you to the beleaguered kingdom of Dragonwalk where the wizard Merle hands over the kingdom’s legendary golden sword. Right before three dragons (a big one, a little one and one in the middle) swoop down and try to chew up the village where you arrived. The sword has the power to…make you a good sword fighter, but the secret to beating the dragons is picking the right order to fight them out of a list of six. You’re probably saying to yourself, “that sounds pretty dumb.” And it is. It probably wouldn’t improve the way you look at it to hear your reward for beating the dragons is a wish the little girl who ran for the hills makes for you, would it? Didn’t think so. In fact you get sent back in time to before you entered the passage, meaning the dragons you just killed are still alive and still terrorizing Dragonwalk. Nice one, Stacy.

Fortunately, assuming you survive the fight with the dragons or opt out of it in the first place, you can experience the “main” quest of the book which is a little less dumb. You find another secret passageway and a dying knight who hands over the golden sword and his mission to save Dragonwalk from the evil wizard Ravenhurst. This quest adds a little extra depth because you get to pick one of three sidekicks to help out when a magic sword isn’t quite enough: Elkar, a knight, Chalidor, an apprentice magician, and Bendux, the Dragonwalk version of Bill Gates who bribes monsters into not eating him.

You can read the book yourself to find out which one’s the best, but the most interesting is Elkar. After you guys are catching a breather in the aftermath of a fight with a killer tree, an elf comes by and steals his sword. The elf thinks he’s struck it rich, but finds out the sword won’t go anywhere without its owner and Elkar was on the varsity elf-kicking team.

Stine contributed a couple books to the Wizards, Warriors and You series back in the 80’s and it feels like he was covering a lot of the same ground in this book. That is to say when you run into a frog knight or giant lizard that wants to spill your blood, the book asks you to pick a random number or figure out what time it is and that determines whether you kill it or not. Reading at night? Tough noogies, you’ve been turned into a frog. You’re about to be eaten by a dinosaur, pick a number from one to ten! Picked even? Uh oh, you’re in trouble, but maybe your buddy can help you! Chose Elkar? Flip a coin!

If it sounds like a lot of what happens to you is determined by random elements or variables you decided on a long time ago, it should. So like in Wizards, Warriors and You, you actually don’t control what happens that much.

So is Golden Sword of Dragonwalk entertaining? If you’re willing to live without a sense of coherence or control. Seems like people thought the kids going nuts over the Goosebumps books would, because like Stine’s other Twistaplot books it was re-released at the height of his popularity to squeeze a few more bucks out of those squealing kids.

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