A few weeks ago, I learned about a movie scheduled to air on the SyFy Channel in July called Age of the Dragons. The movie stars Danny Glover and it tells the story of a band of hunters who travel through the mountains in a ship-like vessel to hunt dragons for a fluid called vitriol. The dragons use the vitriol to create flames. Humans use it as fuel. Essentially the story is a retelling of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick with dragons in place of whales. You can learn more about the movie at its official site: http://ageofthedragonsmovie.com/.
Back in 2001, Realms of Fantasy magazine published my short story called “The Slayers.” That story told about a band of hunters who fly in an airship and hunt dragons for a substance called carbide. Like Age of the Dragons my story is a retelling of Moby Dick with dragons. Moreover, based on the trailer and some preliminary reviews I’d seen on the Internet Movie Database — http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1594917/ — and other places, I felt I had reason to suspect the movie makers got their idea from reading my story.
A few reviews I read indicated that Age of the Dragons had a very Steampunk look. Of course, “The Slayers” with its airship had something of a Steampunk vision years before Steampunk had become popular. There was an interesting discussion at the Internet Movie Database that suggested the Pequod of the film might have originally been designed as an airship gondola. From the trailer and the order of the cast in the film’s credits, it appeared that the film gave larger parts to the characters of Ishmael and Stubb than Melville did. In my story, the characters of Rado and Hujo were based on Ishmael and Stubb respectively, and both play a larger roll in the narrative than their analogs in Moby Dick.
You’ll notice Age of the Dragons uses the same names as Melville used in Moby Dick. However, in “The Slayers” I used different names. In a making-of video, Executive Producer Gil Aglaure discusses the use of the original character names. However, it sounded to me like other names might have been considered. You can see the video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hrTuQEN7OsU.
None of this was conclusive, but taken together with the fact that “The Slayers” appeared in a widely circulated national magazine made me highly suspicious that Age of the Dragons was not an independently conceived project.
So, what’s a writer to do? Similar as things looked on the surface, I wanted to get to the bottom of this issue. So, I sent a letter to Gil Aglaure, the film’s executive producer, expressing my concerns.
Mr. Aglaure responded by sending me a letter and a DVD of the movie. I thought the letter was respectful and professional. He claims that the film’s writers had not heard of my story before I brought it to his attention. After watching the movie, I agree. The only places where my story and the movie are similar are the places where both stories are similar to Melville.
I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but here are some examples of differences between the stories. In “The Slayers,” Rado is a flyer, essentially the equivalent of the guy who rows the boat in a whale hunt. That was Ishmael’s role in Moby Dick. However, in Age of the Dragons, Ishmael is a harpooner. The Pequod of Age of the Dragons has a crew of seven. The crew of the Slayer is much larger, more like a Nantucket whaler of the nineteenth century. I felt Age of the Dragons had more of an epic fantasy sensibility than a Steampunk sensibility.
However, the point that really convinced me that the two are independent creations had to do with the central theme — Ahab’s obsession with the white dragon (or Obrey’s obsession with the gold dragon if you look at “The Slayers.”) In Age of the Dragons, Ahab’s obsession is very personal and has to do with what the dragon did to him and his family. That’s a valid interpretation of Melville. However, Melville’s Ahab is a very nuanced character. Although the whale hurt him, there is an element of his revenge that’s based on hurt pride. The whale eludes the great fisherman. That’s the direction I took with Captain Obrey. He is obsessed because he must have the prize of the gold dragon.
Of course, I would have been happier if the producers of Age of the Dragons had come to me and discussed a film option. I think it would have been cool to have seen the airborne battles I envisioned as part of the film. Although Danny Glover doesn’t look like Captain Obrey as I described him, I would have been thrilled if Mr. Glover had played Obrey. In the end, though, I’m convinced that the writers and producers conceived of their version of Moby Dick with dragons independent of my version.
If you’re curious and would like to read my version of Moby Dick with dragons, I have made it available as an inexpensive ebook through Smashwords. You can download it in almost any ebook format you could imagine at: http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/58303. It’s also available for the Nook at barnesandnoble.com: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-slayers-david-lee-summers/1031238459. I would love to read your comments about the story. Comments about Age of the Dragons would also be welcome.