Jane and the Dragon began as a children's book series, first published in 1988. Now it has new life as an animated TV show created by its author and illustrator, Martin Baynton, in collaboration with the award-winning filmmaker Richard Taylor (King Kong, Lord of the Rings).
Born and educated in England, Baynton moved to New Zealand in 1987 with his wife and their two young boys. Since then, they've made Australia their home. Aside from his children's books Baynton has written for radio, film, TV and the stage. He has also produced, directed, and acted for stage and TV.
For those not yet initiated into the world of Jane and the Dragon, Jane is an adolescent of medieval England who is expected to become a lady-in-waiting, but she'd rather be a knight. She befriends a 300-year-old fire-breathing dragon who also breaks the stereotype by not being terrifying. The show's themes include friendship, loyalty, and forgiveness.
Scholastic Parents: In creating Jane and the Dragon (the TV show), did you intend to reach a particular audience?
Martin Baynton: I wanted to make a show that the whole family can watch and enjoy. So much of kids TV is fast food for the eyes. I wanted us to make real stories with real drama and real consequences for the characters. Old fashioned values of truth, honesty, integrity, bravery and compassion are the backbone of everyone's lives, including kids. So stories need to reflect that wonderful heady mix. Why should children deserve any less than adults in this regard. So we are thrilled that Jane is loved all round the world by all ages.
SP: Is there one message you hope kids will take away from Jane and/or the Dragon?
Baynton: The central message is about standing up for yourself and for others. If you see something which is wrong, be brave enough and strong enough to speak out. Jane gets herself into trouble sometimes for doing this. She sometimes makes mistakes, but she does everything for the right reasons.
SP: When you were a boy of 7 or 8, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Baynton: I remember enjoying my writing from as far back as 6 years old — my second year at school. Writing and drawing seemed to come easily to me. But like most boys at that age I wanted a heroic career, I wanted to be a racing driver and my hero was Sterling Moss.
SP: Did you have a particularly creative childhood? What was it like?
Baynton: It was a warm, safe and encouraging home. I was the middle boy of three sons and so there was competition for attention and I remember I was always rewarded with praise and compliments when I produced a drawing, a poem or a short story, so this began to define who I was in my own mind very early on. We had no TV so reading was how stories came into our lives. We weren't well off so books were very precious and were treasures to get at Christmas or birthdays, but every Saturday Mum and Dad would take us to the library and we could each borrow five books for the week. That was fifteen between us and we continued that tradition into our early teens.
SP: How are you different from your parents and how are you the same?
Baynton: It's such a different time that comparisons are difficult. Love is the common thread. They were always busy because every day was so much more demanding in just doing the basics. So weekends were family time. I was more fortunate as a parent in that writing meant I could work from home so I got to spend everyday with my children, so they were and are my dearest friends from the moment they smiled at the world.
SP: Were there any pivotal decisions or choices you made that allowed you to pursue the creative life? (I don't begin to understand the rigors of electroencephalography, which you studied, but does it in any way relate to your current occupation?)
Baynton: I loved science and the arts equally until I was about 13. Then the joy of enquiry that drives science was squashed by the two teachers at my school who took [taught] biology, chemistry and physics. They clearly had no passion for it and were dry textbook teachers. But the English and art teachers were excited, driven, and passionate people and the sheer joy of delivering to them and being challenged by them took me down that path. I went to art college but then later took myself back to science and studied medical electronics.
SP: You've created for all mediums, and played various roles. Do you ever feel intimidated when taking on a new one? How do you do it?
Baynton: We have one life. I cannot imagine spending it doing the same things just because you become good at them. That seems to be the time to move on and take those skills into another medium and find a new challenge. Learning, enquiry and challenge is what makes life fun to live. I don't ever research or plan for change, opportunities just arrive and you have to say yes and throw yourself at them.
I think life is like surfing a runaway train, you can't ever really control it, you just have to keep your feet and delight at the wind in your face and the sheer thrill of being alive. Sitting safely in a carriage is fine for a while, but too many people seem to be in their carriage with the blinds drawn, their earphones plugging the world out and their yearly planner open on their laps. The last stop on the track is the same for all of us, so ride is everything.
SP: What is your next project?
Baynton: We have several shows in development and one in production. I can't say too much at this stage but the one in production is a pre-school show with two wonderful little characters in it.