The Story of Owen: Review and Discussion

It’s officially an off-week here at Redeemedreader.  But we’ve put together one “extra” post for your holiday weekend: a review of The Story of Owen: Dragon Slayer of Trondhiem.

As you’ll recall, we originally chose Owen for our Summer Reading Challenge.  But after giving it extra scrutiny, we realized it was not the book we were looking for.  (We ended up choosing N.D. Wilson’s The Dragon’s Tooth as a replacement, so see here for that review.)

While we do NOT recommend this book for younger teens, we do think some older teens may find it a good opportunity to read critically.  As Hayley Schoeppler, our Assistant Editor for Older Readers, explains below, the book has a lot going for it…if you are able to handle the issue of gay marriage without being swept away by the author’s position.  This is an issue that is only likely to become more common in teen and adult fare, so whether you read this book or not with your teens, it a topic we do recommend discussing with your kids.  See below for some other book recommendations that present a Biblical point of view of this topic.

Book Review

The Story of Owen: Dragon Slayer of Trondheim by E.K. Johnston.  Carolrhoda Books, March 2014.  312 pgs.  Ages 15-up.

Siobhan McQuaid’s parents are concerned  They think she is too focused on school, too focused on her music.  But soon Siobhan’s parents have a much greater worry.  Why?  Siobhan becomes too focused on dragons and dragon slaying.

Imagine a modern world with current culture, countries, and carbon-consuming dragons. It is quite like our world, yet it is quite different. For one thing, dragon-slaying is a legitimate profession, and of all dragon slayers, Lottie Thorskard is the most renown.

Now, imagine the excitement when Lottie Thorskard, in her retirement, moves to the obscure Canadian town of Trondheim. With her, and of interest to readers, comes Lottie’s teenage nephew, Owen.

Siobhan, resident of Trondheim and new friend of Owen, narrates the story. At Lottie’s suggestion, Siobhan becomes Owen’s bard. As such, she chronicles Owen’s adjustment to life in Trondheim as well as the town’s adjustment to life with dragon slayers. Soon things begin to happen. Or, as Siobhan and Owen realize, they might have been happening already. Siobhan’s growing friendship with Owen puts her into the midst of interesting events, often pertaining to dragons.

The Story of Owen is an alternative reality that will be enjoyed by detail-oriented readers. Siobhan, as narrator, has a dry sense of humor, bordering on sarcastic. Her observations on life and events often left me chuckling:

It’s counterintuitive, really, because you’d think that dragons, being coldblooded and otherwise reptilian, would hibernate or migrate or have the decency to die off in the winter. But we’re not that lucky. For whatever reason, dragons are immune to the cold, and some species actually seem to prefer it. Immunity or not, the cold makes the dragons waspish and easily annoyed.

Despite many positive elements such as a well-told story, no sex, and hardly any language, Owen is not without shortcomings. As Siobhan grows in her role as a bard, she realizes that truth is a relative matter, a vehicle to be used or changed for the greater good of the public. There are never adverse effects for this truth twisting, and younger, sensitive readers might find this fact disturbing.

Most blatant and concerning to Christian readers (and parents!), this truth-twisting is manifested in Siobhan’s matter-of-fact acceptance of Owen’s lesbian aunt and her “wife.” Without turning a hair, Siobhan talks about the affection between the two and presents a domestic situation that is just as happy and normal as the marriage of Siobhan’s own parents. Yet as you’ll hear in our discussion below, that is contrary to the witness of Scripture, which tells us that God created marriage to be between one man and one woman.

Is Owen worth reading? I believe it is, IF your teen is able to handle the abovementioned themes.

Literary Value: 4.5 

Worldiew Value: 2.5 

Summer Reading Team Discussion

After we recorded our Dragon’s Tooth discussion recently, I asked our Summer Reading Challenge Team to discuss this book, too.  Here’s what we had to say:

Discussion Questions

  1. If you have read Owen, what did you enjoy about the story? What did you dislike?
  2. While Siobhan talks about playing the organ in church, she never talks about faith. What are the important things in her life?
  3. Why do you think E.K. Johnston structures many of her chapters as individual stories? Why do you think she includes so much history and flashbacks?
  4. Often, in a story, we can find clues about what the author believes in real life. As we have already seen in Owen, E. K. Johnston believes that homosexuality is all right. What do you think she thinks about government? How about small towns?
  5. Dragon-slaying is not the only place that lying occurs with Owen. Where is another place that Siobhan, or another character, chooses not to tell the truth? (Hint, look for the chapter, “The First Lie.”)
  6. Curious question: did you anticipate the end? Did you see it coming? I really enjoyed the plot twist!
  7. Bonus: Would you rather be a bard or a dragon slayer?

Positive Books for Teens

If your teens need further reading on this subject, we’d recommend a these titles:

1) Same-Sex Marriage: A Thoughtful Approach to God?s Design for Marriage (A Thoughtful Response Series)by Sean McDowell and John Stonestreet.

2) The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert by Rosaria Butterfield is a great resource for older teens and teens who want to go on to study literature in college.

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