All I could remember was an illustration. It featured an old man transforming into a dragon.
I couldn’t remember the plot very well, other than it involved an old man turning into a dragon. I couldn’t remember any of the characters, and I didn’t recall any of the other pictures. What memory I had of the book was limited to one picture, and a sense that I had loved it as a small child.
When the memory emerged during my adulthood or why, I cannot remember either. Suffice it to say that into my mind drifted a hazy picture of an old man transforming into a dragon, accompanied by a longing to find the book again. The longing was strong enough that, when I happened to find myself in book stores with children’s books, I would see if I could find one about an old man turning into a dragon. I would ask the workers in the children’s sections if they’d ever heard of such a book, but invariably these conversations took place in gigantic stores with helpful but inexpert staff who had no idea what I was talking about.
I suspected that the picture was really just the memory of a particularly plangent childhood dream.
Then one day I entered a bookstore for children in the city where I was living at the time. I had been past it several times, but had never been moved to go in. And that day, on a whim, I decided to go in and ask.
In keeping with the theme of this post, I don’t remember the woman who greeted me that well. She was middle-aged, if memory serves. She was very friendly, as one would expect for a children’s bookstore. I sheepishly asked if she’d ever heard about a book I’d been looking for, the name of which I’d forgotten and the existence of which I couldn’t confirm, about an old man who turns into a dragon.
“Oh,” she said. “You must mean ‘Everyone Knows What a Dragon Looks Like.” In a matter of a few seconds, she had ducked around a bookshelf and returned with it in her hands.
It was the book I remembered. There, toward the back, was the very picture from my memory. An old man leaps into the air and transforms into a magnificent dragon. Along with that picture were many, many others, once lost and immediately familiar again.
The memory of that moment fills me with joy even as I write this. Whoever that woman was, she will probably never know how her simple familiarity with a wonderful children’s book made one guy for a brief minute the happiest person on the face of the earth. I don’t know what about its magic made me love it so much as a child that it lingered so long in my subconscious, but linger it did and I loved it all over again when I finally found it.
It is a charming and delightful story, a spin on the notion of not judging people’s worth based on how they look. It is subtly witty and (as noted) gloriously illustrated. For children who can tolerate a little bit of threatened violence (the dragon shows up to defend a city against a rampaging horde of marauders), it’s a gem. My son (who adores books) was for a time prone to proclaiming “The enemy is coming” like the messenger who comes running to warn the Mandarin in the tale. I hope he will love it for the rest of his life, too.
So that’s this week’s Question — what treasured thing have you lost and found? What have you rediscovered under the buried layers of time? What called out just loudly enough to make you look for it again?