Chapman, C. H. Murray | Dragons at Home
First and only edition of this rare children’s book describing a fanciful tour through prehistory led by talking dinosaurs. A lovely copy in the scarce jacket. WorldCat locates only eleven institutional copies, and none appear in recent auction records.
Dragons at Home was published posthumously following the death of author C. H. Murray Chapman (1892-1918), who studied geology at the University of Manchester. “His fascination with geology and astronomy was a constant source of inspiration to him and he contributed to several journals and wrote a book on pre-historic animals which he hoped to publish. Unfortunately, he struggled academically and left Manchester University in 1912.” (University of Manchester Roll of Honour biography). Chapman enlisted in the Royal Navy in 1914 and was commissioned to the Royal Naval Air Service for pilot training in 1915. He endured with good humour a series of accidents, including one that broke his jaw, and apparently “relished the opportunity it gave to write vivid accounts of the sensations of crashing to earth”. Chapman died in February 1918 when his plane was involved in a mid-air collision during an escort flight. His wife, Olive Murray Chapman, later became a well-known adventurer and author, and it was she was was responsible for the publication of Dragons at Home.
The plot of the book follows four English children who, in a nod to Peter Pan, are spirited away to prehistoric times by a friendly Pterodactyl named Ptero who “casually picks up with them at the Natural History Museum” (preface). The tour begins in the Jurassic, where they meet a Stegosaurus and are introduced to him as “four young animals from the Holocene”. A series of gentle adventures follow, in which the group traverse the geological ages and speak with creatures such as a Diplodocus, Brontosaurus, Archaeopteryx, Triceratops, Iguanadons, and Plesiosaurs, and eventually find themselves in the Eocene, where they encounter early mammals – the Mastodon and Deinotherium – followed by the Ice Age mammoth and Irish deer.
Though much of the text is taken up with dialogue, Chapman’s prose is witty and engaging, and it’s clear that he had a talent for describing nature. He writes of Ptero presenting “a lizardy grin. It was funny to see him smile. His grin seemed to meet at the back of his head, and all his sharp teeth showed white” and describes the Pterodactyl’s skin as “so funny... like a piece of warm, shrivelled-up gutta-percha, very light and squashy”. Later, formations in a cave are likened to “upset ice-creams” and the waves of a calm sea “crept onto the shore, and tumbled over each other with a faint murmur, as if they did not dare break the stillness of this hot day”.
...Illustrated by the Author. London: Wells Gardner, Darton & Co. Ltd., .
Octavo. Original blue cloth blocked in orange with the image of a triceratops on the spine and a stegosaurus on the upper board, publisher’s device in blind on the lower board. With the dust jacket replicating the design on the binding. Frontispiece and 12 engravings within the text, 1 plate from a photograph of the author. Gift inscription dated Christmas 1924 to the front free endpaper. Spine rolled, just a little rubbing at the extremities but otherwise the cloth fresh and bright, small spot of dampstain and minor abrasion to the top edge of the text block, endpapers partially tanned, light spotting to contents and edges of text block. A very good copy in the rubbed and lightly spotted jacket with a short split and streak of dampstain to the lower panel and slight loss at the corners.