Herb, the Vegetarian Dragon
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This story asks a number of interesting questions about punishment, justice, and conformity.
Herb is a vegetarian dragon who tends a garden with his human friend Nicole. The knights of Castle Dark have a plan to capture and kill dragons. Herb gets captured and is sentenced to execution. When Meathook, the leader of the carnivore dragons, offers to break Herb out of jail if he eats meat, Herb refuses. Right before the execution, Nicole rushes to Herb’s defense.
Read aloud video by Matt
Guidelines for Philosophical Discussion
Herb, The Vegetarian Dragon brings up many philosophical issues that are prominent for kids. The first is punishment. Herb is captured by the knights for no other reason than because he is a dragon. Kids will recognize that this isn’t right, especially when Herb wonders what he has done and no one tells him. Interesting threads to discuss on this topic could include why the knights sought to punish the dragons if it was okay to seek out the dragons because they were eating the people of the kingdom, or if it wasn’t right because the dragons were merely doing what they needed to do to survive. Was the punishment the kingdom gave Herb fair? Capital punishment is a very severe sentence and may not be the type of punishment you want to discuss with your class. However, time-outs and other punishments that the kids are familiar with are great situations to discuss. They would present the opportunity to discuss the fairness in punishment and when it is appropriate.
The issue of individuality versus conformity is frequently noted throughout the book. Herb is a vegetarian, making him different from the other dragons; in fact, the other dragons do not even consort with him because of his dietary choice. However, when Meathook offers to break Herb out of jail if he eats the offered meat, Herb refuses. Herb maintains that if he doesn’t interfere with the other dragons’ eating habits, why should they try to control his?
This should be a topic that kids would readily discuss. They all face some type of conformity issue, whether it be the latest fashion style or what game to play at recess. This could easily evolve into a discussion on role models, should the kids start to talk about who they try to imitate. These people could range from parents or siblings to celebrities, to athletes, to political figures. Regardless, this is an excellent direction to allow the discussion to take. It is important to have the kids provide examples, and in this case, personal ones. When have they either succumbed or stayed strong against peer pressure? Why did they make the choices that they did?
Another direction the discussion could go in is due process, the idea that every person is innocent until proven guilty. While the kids might not understand the actual term “due process” or court proceedings, they will most definitely understand “innocent” and “guilty”. They will probably recognize or voice that almost killing Herb just because he is a dragon is wrong. This could also lead to the topic of judging others, prejudices, and stereotypes, particularly with question five of the Due Process Question Set. All of this is easily relatable to kids’ lives, even if it is being falsely accused of talking during a test. Some kids might bring up the lack of proof or evidence against Herb. This would be an excellent thread of discussion to follow.
A third issue brought up by Herb, The Vegetarian Dragon is trust. Trust is a very large topic rarely discussed without being in conjunction with something else, like friendship or family. However, trust is a huge issue in the book. Nicole, the little girl, trusts that Herb won’t eat her, even if the rest of the kingdom doesn’t. Then, the king decides to that Nicole is right. Herb is a dragon, just like many vicious and presumably untrustworthy dragons. What would make Nicole trust Herb in the first place? Also, children aren’t always taken at their word about serious matters like trials. So why did the kingdom believe Nicole right away? Trust is an intangible idea that kids might struggle with, and they might connect it with emotions or other concepts such as love or friendship. It might be important to first come up with a group definition of the word ‘trust‘ or the idea of being ‘trustworthy‘ before delving into questions.
Questions for Philosophical Discussion
Thousands of people crowded into the square as Herb was dragged from his cell toward the beheading platform.
- Why did the knights capture Herb?
- Why didn’t the knights listen to Herb when he said that he hadn’t done anything wrong?
- What was Herb’s punishment?
- Did Herb deserve to be punished?
- Have you ever been punished? Why?
- What is punishment?
Individuality vs. Conformity
But one dragon was different. For Herb was a vegetarian.
- Why is it unusual that Herb is a vegetarian?
- What would have happened if Herb had eaten the wild boar meat?
- Was it okay for Meathook to try to make Herb eat meat? Why?
- Meathook says, “You can’t be different in the dragon world and survive.” Is what he says to Herb right? Is it true that Herb can’t survive?
- In what ways are you different from others? Is it okay to be different from others?
- Have you ever been in a position like Herb was, where you were asked to change something about yourself? What did you do?
“What have I done?” thought Herb.
- Why was Herb captured?
- Was it fair that he was going to be killed even though he was a vegetarian?
- Why did the people assume that Herb was guilty of the crimes committed by the other dragons?
- Was it right to try to kill Herb without first asking if he had committed the crimes?
- Have you ever gotten in trouble for something you didn’t do?
- Is it fair to assume someone is guilty without asking them if they had done it?
Then she climbed right into Herb’s mouth and sat there, with only her legs dangling free.
- Why does Nicole sit in Herb’s mouth?
- How does she know Herb won’t eat her?
- Who do you trust? Why?
- What qualities does someone have that makes them trustworthy?
- Can you trust someone you don’t know?
- What is trust?
Original questions and guidelines for philosophical discussion by Narisa Bandali. Edited June 2020 by The Janet Prindle Institute for Ethics.
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