An ode to a fond and finally found memory of youth: Dragon’s Blood
My God, we’ve found it.
For a very, very long time, I’ve been searching for one single episode of the old CBS Storybreak Saturday morning cartoon anthology. For those unfamiliar, Storybreak, hosted through most of its run by Bob “Captain Kangaroo” Keeshan, was a half-hour show that pimped the joys of reading by adapting children’s books for the small screen. It was a bit like Reading Rainbow, if you’re more familiar with that Levar Burton-infused program. Usually broadcast in the noon hour, its rocking opening intro still sends my brain the Pavlovian signal that the cartoons are over and it’s time to ditch the pajamas and go outside. Though episodes of the series could be hit or miss in regards to quality, they had the merit of covering the broad subject spectrum of kid-friendly literature, with talking animals or regular humans as leads in limitless fields of imagination.
It was a nice but rather unremarkable series, since there was no unifying force tying it all together week after week — other than the avuncular, be-sweatered Mr. Keeshan. But there was one episode that singed itself into my cortex like a cattle brand: Dragon’s Blood.
Adapted from the first of Jane Yolen’s Pit Dragon series of books, the story follows a young slave named Jakkin, who steals a baby dragon (Heart’s Blood) from the pits — where dragons are raised for competition in arena combat — and raises it in the wild. The episode was notable for its outer space setting, THE PRESENCE OF DRAGONS, BABY (Vermithrax Pejorative they aren’t, but still), a solid story, and a synthesized musical score that I totally fell in love with. It’s that last thing that has haunted me most over the years since the cartoon’s 1985 debut. I remember liking it, REALLY liking it, but I could never remember the tune. Whenever this episode would come on in repeats, I’d get all excited to hear it again, but these were in the years before we got the first family VCR, so I could never tape it. And the tune would vanish like a fog each and every time. And then Storybreak was off the air, and it seemed to be gone forever.
But along came the internet. A few times a year, going back pretty much as long as there’s been a web to surf, I’d get the impulse to do a search for Dragon’s Blood. A clip. An embed. A torrent. Hell, a .wav of the music. Anything. But there was nothing to be had. Which was just as maddening as the forgotten theme music that had danced in and out of my ears. Keep in mind, everything is on the internet. You can find every deranged, out-there kind of pornography with a few keystrokes and the click of a mouse (so I hear), but Dragon’s Blood, despite page after page confirming its existence, was a phantom.
Then along came YouTube, with vintage ads and bumpers and shows from days gone by in abundance. Even, yes, some episodes of Storybreak. But still no Dragon’s Blood. The funny thing was, in the comments sections of those select posted episodes, many a person asked, hat in hand, if the uploader had Dragon’s Blood., like little waifish cartoon-seeking Oliver Twists. Please, sir, can I have Dragon’s Blood? So it turned out I wasn’t alone in my desperation, and that this short filmlet struck a nerve with people who had seen it. This was comforting, but no solace.
Then, a couple nights ago, fully expecting to once again come up empty, I typed “dragon’s blood storybreak” into the YouTube search field. And son of a bitch, it was there. So I sat at my desk in the home office watching it, chin resting on joined hands, like a kid plopped in front of the TV(OldTube) on a lazy weekend morning. Here it is, in all its VHS-to-Flash glory:
Does it hold up to youthful memory? I’ll say this: I’ve often gone back and watched episodes of The Transformers, G.I. Joe and He-Man, shows that I was once convinced were of the highest assayed quality and not the rotters of brains that my parents insisted, and I’ve come away wondering how in the hell I could have watched them over and over again as a kid. There’s a whole lot of awful in them. But Dragon’s Blood, despite being over in a blink, before you ever get a real chance to know the characters, and in spite of rushed, one-off animation, was a fun watch. Granted, a lot of that’s because this was, literally, a decade long quest, minus the treasure maps and surly natives. But still, the character arcs were simple but adequate, and that of Likkarn, the embittered slave overseer busted back to being a stable boy, stood out in its brief time. And who can hate training montages of a boy training his dragon for combat?
And that theme — though its frequent reprise may make some of us drill a hole in their head, the 1980s synthesizers straight from a Michael Mann film are still catchy to these ears (despite the occasional audio drops from the old VHS tape). The story rides the music like a surfer on a wave.
Anyway, I just wanted to vent my small slice of joy, and maybe inform any closeted Dragon’s Blood-aholics out there that the grail has been found. Have I oversold its merits? Probably. Also, I seem to recall seeing somewhere in those interminable searches that Yolen lamented some of the changes from the source material. I haven’t read the books, so I can’t speak to that. But if you’re a child of the 1980s open to a dose of nostalgia, there are worse ways to spend twenty-five minutes. For the rest, please forgive me this non-comic digression — though I hope you understand it’s a branch from the same wistful tree. Also, thanks to the uploader, and hopefully that embed box up there won’t go dark for a very long while. My month has been made. EXCELSIOR.