‘Gork, the Teenage Dragon’

‘Gork, the Teenage Dragon’ by Gabe Hudson, Knopf, 2017, 380 pages, $24.95

He’s called Gork the Terrible, and he was hatched on Earth after his parents crash-landed their spaceship on their honeymoon and then summarily died.

Of his hatching, Gork says in the first pages of “Gork, the Teenage Dragon:” “And if you want to know the truth, I nearly killed myself trying to break free.”

It is that idea of “breaking free” that infuses every page of this sometimes-intriguing first novel.

It’s somewhat difficult to decide what author Gabe Hudson, who also wrote the collection “Dear Mr. President: Stories,” is setting out to do.

The saga of Gork sometimes reads like a fantasy novel for young readers. Told in the first person, it often channels the defensive adolescent narrators of classic coming-of-age novels like “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” and “The Catcher in the Rye.”

Then, too, it also aims toward adult fans of works such as “Game of Thrones.”

Despite his intention to do what is expected of dragons and, especially, of him, Gork is, well, different. Dragons, he reminds us, have been dealt with bitterly by the likes of the author of “Beowulf,” who was “too ashamed to stick his own damn name on the cover.” Gork also despises J.R.R. Tolkien, whose works are “so full of balderdash and nonsense about my glorious species that it makes my toe claws shudder just to think about it.”

Gork is from birth an orphan and an outsider. He has been reared by and largely educated by the spaceship ATHENOS. Then, at the age of 3, he is whisked away from Earth to Blegwethia, the dragon home planet, by his supremely mad and maddening grandfather, Dr. Terrible: “Like no matter where he went he would be the Ruler of that place.”

Now it is finally Crown Day at WarWings Military Academy, and, if he doesn’t find a mate, er, Queen, during the EggHarvest celebration, Gork will be deemed a failure and relegated to the position of slave.

Enter Rucinta Floop, the daughter of the headmaster of WarWings and the object of Gork’s lust, he tells us, even though he’s having a bit of trouble growing a pair of horns.

There’s also that problem with his being a little too kind-hearted for a dragon.

He has fainting spells, too. Really, he’d just rather be a plain old epic poet.

So Gork embarks on his own epic journey through his world of dragons. He observes the open-ended rivalry between Dr. Terrible and Rucinta’s father, Dean Floop. He tries desperately to increase his Will to Power rating. He works hard to lose his nickname of “Weak Sauce.”

He’s basically a dragon Candide, and he will come to learn a lot of what Voltaire’s young hero learns about breaking free.

But “Gork, the Teenage Dragon” is never really one book. It’s too bloody and profane to recommend to any but a mature young reader. It is often too silly for the serious adult reader.

What Gabe Hudson does succeed at is reminding us to tend our own gardens, not someone else’s. In that respect, “Gork, the Teenage Dragon” might be enough to make Voltaire, Twain and maybe even Salinger smile every once in a while.

Steven Whitton recently retired as Professor of English at Jacksonville State University.