17 Oct 2016

HIGH FANTASY RULES - Dragonslayer (1981)

Film genres have formulas and rules, but how well do High Fantasy films follow their formula?

Dragonslayer (1981) is a High Fantasy film, as well as not quite a children's film and mostly low magic.

The following analysis may contain spoilers for


RULE #1 - The Secondary World.

"I've studied Latin. Greek, too. Me appelo Elspeth, filia regis" ~ Elspeth.

1a.  Type:  Faux-Past.
1b.  Faux-medieval - Slightly prior to.
1c.  Panoramic landscapes - Welsh landscapes rather than English.  The area around the dragon's lair is rocky, smoky and dead.
1d. Impossible buildings and landmarks - Fair simple castles and buildings.
1e.  Archaic spelling/strange names - Yes.
1f.  Hyper-real - The people seem cleaner and healthier than they should.

RULE #2 - There may be sex and nudity.

"You'll be dead Galen Bradwarden, Sorcerer's Apprentice. You'll be dead, the dragon will still be alive and I'll still be a virgin! You'll be dead, and I don't care!" ~ Valerian.

2a.  Nudity - The stream bathing occurs, but rather than being gratuitous is an important plot point.
i.  Female Nudity - The heroine is caught bathing nude (seen underwater butt and partial boob) as the reveal that she is a girl dressed as a boy.
ii.  Male Nudity - The hero baths nude, thinking the heroine is also male.
2b.  Sex - No sex shown.
i.  Death - The opposite is true:  The sacrifices to the dragon are virgins.
ii.  Random Sex - None.
iii. Relationship Sex - Galen and Valerian may have sex when he's on his way to kill the dragon.  He says that he's not in love with the princess and they kiss.
iv.  Rape - No attempted rape, surprisingly.

RULE #3 - Characters.

"My lord Ulrich is no longer. All that you asked of him, you may now expect of me. The dangers he would face, I will now conquer. The task he would undertake, I will now fulfill. I'm Galen Brandwarden, inheritor of Ulrich's craft and knowledge, and I am the sorcerer you seek." ~ Galen.

3a.  The Hero - Galen, the young apprentice of Ulrich the sorcerer.  He thinks that he's the user of magic (3g).
3b.  The Hero's Parents - Not mentioned.

3c - 3i.  The Party of Adventurers - Although there was a group at the beginning of the film, there's no real party.  Mostly just Galen.
3c.  The Mentor - Ulrich the sorcerer.  Old, wise user of magic with a white beard and wears robes.  Predicts his own death the moment the film starts and its importance to Galen.  Hodge, also.
3d.  The Heroine - Valerian.  Feisty.  Pretends to be a guy.  Not a princess (her father is poor.)
The actual princess Elspeth, is actually a little more heroic, while both Elspeth and Valerian escape the lottery (Valerian knowingly) when Elspeth finds out she deliberately rigs it so she is picked and when freed instead of escaping feeds herself to the baby dragons.  Valerian assumes Elspeth is the one Galen loves.
3e.  A Warrior - None.
3f.  A Warrior Woman - None.
3g.  A User of Magic - Ulrich and Galen.
3h.  A Thief - None, but I'll count Hodge because of the comic relief angle.
3i.  A pet or other animal - None.

3j.  King - King Casiodorus.
3k.  The Hag - None.

3l.  The Dark Lord - None.
3m.  An evil female.
i. Female Henchman - None.
ii. Member of Harem - None.
iii.  Dark Lord's Daughter - None.
3n.  Male Henchmen - Tyrian, loyal to the country, not the King and is willing to kill people to keep the kingdom safe from the dragon.  Not evil, really, but a person with a different sense of honour to most.
3o.  Minions - There are soldiers.

3o - 3q.  An Evil Person.
3o.  Grand Vizier Horsrik is the king's aid.  Like Tyrian he is loyal to the country not the king.
3p.  Evil relative - None.
3q.  The Priest - Brother Jacopus.  Not evil just incompetent and proven very wrong about there not being a dragon and his ability to defeat it.

RULE #4 - Races & Cultures.

"Did you ever hear of King Gaiseric? Oh no, of course not, you weren't even born. He was my brother, a great King and a valiant man-at-arms. When he ascended the throne, the dragon was unbridled. No one knew where it might strike next. So, he brought forth his broadsword, assembled his best company of fighters and went out to do battle. He was never seen again. But his attack provoked the most terrible reprisals: whole villages incinerated, entire crops burnt, death, famine... horrible. How did you arrogate to yourself the role of 'savior'?" ~ Casiodorus Rex.

4a.  Homogeneous Races - Just humans.

i.  Good/Evil - N/A.
ii.   Magic - N/A.
iii.   Habitat - N/A.
4b.  Races.
i.  Humans - Everyone is a human.
ii.  Elves - None.
iii.  Dwarfs - None.
iii.  Halflings - None.
iv.  Fairies - None.
v.  Centaurs/part animals - None.
vi.  Giants - None.
vii.  Trolls - None.
viii.  Orcs, Goblins, Hobgoblins - None.
4d.  Societies - Just a sorcerer's castle, a small village and a castle shown.
4e.  Homogeneous Culture - Single culture, although it does convert to Christianity by the end.
4f.  Rival cultures - None.

RULE #5 - Magic & Monsters

"Are you afraid of dragons?" ~ Valerian.
"No. In fact, if it weren't for sorcerers, there wouldn't be any dragons. Once, the skies were dotted with them. Magnificent horned backs, leathern wings... soaring... and their hot-breathed wind. Oh, I know this creature of yours... Vermithrax Pejorative. Look at these scales, these ridges. When a dragon gets this old, it knows nothing but pain, constant pain. It grows decrepit... crippled... pitiful. Spiteful!" ~ Ulrich.

5a.  Magical Past - There were more dragons in the past and it seems that the sorcerers are dying out.
5b.  Low Magic Present - Tyrian is a skeptic and the king is unimpressed by Galen's tricks.   Ulrich also seems to be partially an alchemist.  Valerian's father suggests the dragons are dying out.
5c.  Magical laws - Ulrich seems to use a lot of showy flashy magic.
5d.  Good vs Evil - The one real magic user seems good, although they are connected to the dragons.
5e.  Gendered - The one real magic user is male.
5f.  Hereditary - No sign that powers are heriditary or not.
5g.  Spells & Powers. 
i.  Healing - Not directly.
ii.  Remote Viewing - The hero unwilling uses the stream to do this.
iii.  Obfuscation - Doesn't seem to happen.
iv.  Shape changing - Doesn't seem to happen.
v.  Necromancy - Ulrich is called a necromancer, possibly as a generic title, but he does return from the dead, but only so he can be used as some sort of bomb.
5k.  Items of Magic - Galen turns a great dragon spear created by Valerian's father into a magical weapon.
5l.  Artifacts of Great Power - Only the amulet.
5m.  Religion - There is a Christian priest, he doesn't appear to have any powers which he learns with fatal results.
5n.  Mythical creatures.
i.  Dragon - Look at the name of the film and make a guess.
ii.  Unicorns - None.  A horse does turn up at the end in a very unicorn way, but it's just a horse.
iii.  Griffins, Rocs, Sphinx - None.
iv.  Giant Things - None.
v.  Supernatural Creatures - None.
vi.  Raised creatures - None.
vii.  Nameless Beast - None.

RULE #6 - The Quest

"He shall have it.  It's my daughter. Save her, I beg you." ~ King Casiodorus.

6a.  The Artifact - The amulet.  Stolen by the king.  Needed to defeat the dragon, in fact its destruction destroys the dragon.
6b.  Destroy the Dark Lord - No dark lord, but a dragon.
6c.  Save the Heroine - Was asked to save the princess.  Failed.
6d.  Unite the races/Raise an army - Didn't happen.
6e.  Prophecy - Ulrich makes a vague one.
6f.  Other events:
i.  Win a Contest - No contest.
ii.  Stop an Execution - Sort of based around this idea, although they start too late to even attempt to save the first sacrifice victim and the second, Princess Elspeth, kills herself after being saved.
iii.  Stop a Wedding - Does not happen.
6g.  The Hero's Journey -

RULE #7 - The Hero's Journey: Departure.

"I've just seen something. Something of consequence to you." ~ Ulrich.
"To me?" ~ Galen.
"Yes. My own death...  Perhaps we had better hasten your training." ~ Ulrich.

7a.  Secret Origin.
i.  The Chosen One - Ulrich's prophecy (not stated).
ii.  Orphaned - Not clear - no parents shown.
iii.  Revenge - Tyrian kills Ulrich and near the end Galen kills him but it's mostly subplot.
7b.  Ordinary World.
i.  From Earth -  No.
ii.  Peaceful Lands - Peaceful seeming ruined castle.
7c.  Initial Tests - None.
7d.  The Call to Adventure - The death of Ulrich.
7e.  Refusal of the Call - Doesn't seem to refuse.
7f.  Supernatural Aid.
i.  Meeting with the Mentor -  Already knows the mentor.
ii.  A supernatural guide - The amulet.
iii.  May be given a magic item or artifact - The amulet.
iv.  The Party will begin to form - The party arrives almost fully formed (just looking for a magic user.)
7g.  Crossing the Threshold - Leaves the castle.
7h.  Belly of the Whale - Hodge dies.

RULE #8 - The Hero's Journey: Initiation

"There's something you must do." ~ Ulrich.
"Anything." ~ Galen.
"I want you to destroy the amulet, and me along with it." ~ Ulrich.
"You brought me from the flame! You must send me back! You'll know the time! You must act while life is still in me!" ~ Ulrich.

8a.  The Road of Trials - Only marginally, with the problems with the king.
8b.  The Vision Quest - Not completely.  He does have a flash of the what he should do.
8c.  The Meeting with the Goddess - Galen meets the princess, but admits his love for Valerian.
8d.  Lure away from Journey - Galen spends time with Valerian on the way to kill the dragon and so arrives after Princess Elspeth is left as a sacrifice.
8e.  A Greater Power - Galen faces the dragon.
8f.  The Ordeal - Apotheosis/Death - Galen is defeated by the dragon.
8g.  The Ordeal - Descent into the underworld - More for Ulrich than Galen.
8h.  The Ultimate Boon - No.  Christianity and the king claim the glory.

RULE #9 - The Hero's Journey: Return.

"You miss Ulrich." ~ Valerian.
"Yes." ~ Galen.
"And the amulet." ~ Valerian.
"That too." ~ Galen.
"Not me. I'm glad it's gone. I'm glad you did what you did.  You may not be a sorcerer, Galen, but that doesn't matter.  Not to me." ~ Valerian.

9a.  Refusal of the Return - Galen and Valerian attempt to leave.
9b.  The Magic Flight - The horse, possible.
9c.  Rescue from Without - Ulrich.
9d.  The Crossing of the Return Threshold - Not really.
9e.  Master of Two Worlds - No, Galen is revealed to not actually be a sorcerer.
9f.  Freedom to Live - Galen and Valerian leave to start a new life.

RULE #10 - Sequels/Remakes/Adaptations

"You know what I think? Magic is dying out, fading from the world. But that makes me happy. That means the dragon will be dying too." ~ Simon the blacksmith.

10a.  Adaptation - Not an adaptation of anything, but novelised and adapted into a comic.
10b.  Sequels - No sequels.  Noted by a number of authors and filmmakers as influential.
10c.  Remakes - No remakes.


  • Rules that are followed in this film:  1, 2, 5, 7, 10.
  • Rules that are partially followed, or not clear, in this film:  3, 6, 8, 9.
  • Rules not followed by the film:  4.

~ DUG.

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