Dragons and gold. Done and done, right? But how about a dragon in a Colorado gold mine? That is just where Troy Howell puts his in The Dragon of Cripple Creek, a uniquely American literary fairy tale.
It is the story of Kat Graham who grew up insisting on gold everywhere: golden bedroom walls, a gold-bedecked bed, gold shoes, gold-rimmed eyeglasses, a golden-colored pony named Goldie, and even — when she was four and into pirates — a broken front tooth capped in gold. And so of course when gold-besotted Kat sees an ad for tours of the Mollie Kathleen Gold Mine she won’t rest until she goes. The ad is on the side of the highway Kat, her older brother Dillon, and her father are on, heading to a new life in California, their old one in Ohio having collapsed completely after a freak accident put her mother in a coma and caused her father to lose everything.
Shortly after starting the tour Kat lags behind, takes one false step, and falls Alice-like deep into the mine. Bruised and bleeding she stumbles her way through the dark looking for a way out when she sees the glint of a gold nugget which she pockets. Shortly after that she comes upon something extraordinary — a living and smoke-blowing dragon. His name is Ye and he is, she learns, the last of his kind in the world. Smart, erudite, and philosophical, Ye tells Kat what that glittery mineral she loves so much really is and the two of them forge a strong emotional connection. Despite this, Kat’s lingering love of gold causes her to keep that gold nugget hidden from her new friend even though she has learned from him that it is not hers to take.
Back on the surface, the media is out in force as everyone looks for the missing girl in the mine. And when Kat returns and is recognized, she and the gold nugget end up on television, setting off a raging twenty-first century gold rush. Horrified that Ye might be discovered and guilt-ridden that she has taken his gold, Kat is then determined to return the nugget to the dragon and keep his secret.
Filled with playful language, quirky characters, and plenty of excitement, this is a delightfully unusual tale. Like Frank Cotrell Boyce’s Millions, it takes on big topics and ideas — say the nature of greed and avarice as well as the contradictions and complications of wealth. And like Boyce’s story this one has a thread of sadness underlying the lighter moments. Witty and tender this highly original tale should engage a wide range readers.