Character: Penny White
Text: The Temptation of Dragons (Penny White) by Chrys Cymri
‘Vicar arrested for drunk driving’ is not the sort of headline my bishop wants to read about his priests.
Penny White. Church of England Vicar. Fantasy and science fiction fan. Whiskey drinker. Life sounds good, eh? But Penny is also a widow, living alone with the memory of her late husband, and that hole in her life made bigger by the absence of her much younger brother, who she brought up herself after their parents death, plus the general weight of her calling. So she escapes with the made-up worlds of Joss Whedon or in splashes of Doctor Who, and just gets on with it. Problem is, she’s just given the last rites to a dragon on the side of a main road, and she has no idea what the hell is going on. She needs a drink.
Her bishop, Nigel, explains all about this mystical otherworld and its connections to our own, and subsequently asks her if she’d like to interview for the position of Vicar General of Incursions, a sort of conduit between this world and the alternate of Lloegyr, inhabited by all manner of amazing creatures including most fantasy fan’s weakness: dragons. Obviously she’s going to say yes. But how deep does the rabbit hole go? Well, probably about as far as getting an associate who’s a sarcastic gryphon, partial himself to a drink now and again and holding some secrets of his own, then meeting dragon bishops, and dragon tacsis (did I mention they all speak Welsh in Lloegyr?), and vampires, and harpies in pubs, and snail sharks the size of labradors. And then her little brother turns up, fresh from New Zealand, ready to sponge off her again and get himself into some uber trouble. Penny White’s life? Yeah, never going to be the same.
‘It says “willies!” one girl was shouting excitedly. ‘Pack your “willies!”
‘Stupid autocorrect,’ I muttered. ‘Wellies. Bring your wellies because we’re going on a walk tomorrow.’
What’s great about Penny is that we’re shown a really normal person who drinks, binges on TV shows, is quite the workaholic, and is so very connected to humanity, its brightest gains and greatest losses, in a way most people are not. She’s not just dealing with her own life and her brother’s rather whimsical view of responsibility, but the trials and tribulations of her parish; births, marriages and deaths are all part of the package on a daily basis, raising church funds, increasing the congregation. Then with Lloegyr she’s introduced to something that would possibly throw any other person off the rails: fantasy come true. A means of escape. Another calling from God. She’s thrown into world which challenges so many perceptions in her own religion, and her colleagues and superiors, and must balance what she feels is right while trying to keep in line with the regulations of the church. It takes a complex character to handle morality of the self and of the belief system ones holds, especially when challenged with really far out experiences, and it’s fascinating seeing the struggle for a character based in a real world organisation like the CofE coping with relevance and sheer human ignorance from every angle, and then having bleedin’ dragon lore to get a hang of. Blimey!
‘Oh for a sonic screwdriver, I thought. Then I remembered that the sonic screwdriver didn’t work on wood. Once again I wondered whether this were actually reasonable, or simply a convenient plot device by the writers.’
Penny is strong, and not in that sword-wielding kind of way whilst handling the highs of fantasy battles and what-not (not that it might not be in her future, of course), but emotionally iron-clad, allowing herself to be the human buffer for everyone around her. But she’s a little too iron-clad for her health, as she cannot face her own burdens head-on. Under all that armour is a woman vying for some closure, but the armour is working both ways and keeping her from asking for help, for answers, as everyone else’s needs pile up. Penny’s walks a long road, through pain and loss, but she perseveres, she works towards what she thinks is right, and she risks herself for those she loves, bringing the family she didn’t realise she had together, and solving a disturbing crime in the process. With dragons.
‘Penny, if you want it to be anonymous you need to cut out the references to Doctor Who and whiskey.’
Read Chrys Cymri’s Author Spotlight interview!
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