Wednesday, October 26, 2011

You See, the Thing About Deadlines Is . . .

. . . it makes me a very bad blogger!

So sorry, dear readers, for my sorry lack of blogging these days. I am so wrapped up in Book 5, and really have hardly had brainpower for anything else. And the manuscript of Moonblood is on its way for my final inspection in just a few days, and I don't see myself having much inspiration for any real blogging (other than the pre-planned dragon posts) for some time. So many abject apologies! The well of bloggerly inspiration is well and truly dry.

If you're interested, however, you can have a look at the Ruling Despot of Rooglewood's blog. She seems to be finding time (and inspiration) to post even when I do not. If you need a laugh, have a glance.

And please, don't believe everything she says about me.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Tuesday's Dragon

St. George's Dragon
Charming, eh?

Another nameless fellow, known only for who killed him rather than any great virtue of his own. In fact, this dragon has no virtue, as, here at last, we find a symbol of Sin Incarnate in dragon form.

The above illustration is possibly the most famous picture of St. George and the Dragon. And . . . he looks rather like the Jabberwocky.

No, certainly not a whole lot of dignity for him in that most famous portrayal. The painting above even inspired U.A. Fanthorpe to write the following poem:


Not my best side, I'm afraid.
The artist didn't give me a chance to
Pose properly, and as you can see,
Poor chap, he had this obsession with
Triangles, so he left off two of my
Feet. I didn't comment at the time
(What, after all, are two feet
To a monster?) but afterwards
I was sorry for the bad publicity.
Why, I said to myself, should my conqueror
Be so ostentatiously beardless, and ride
A horse with a deformed neck and square hoofs?
Why should my victim be so
Unattractive as to be inedible,
And why should she have me literally
On a string? I don't mind dying
Ritually, since I always rise again,
But I should have liked a little more blood
To show they were taking me seriously.

Teeeheee! Follow the link to read the rest of this comical piece.

Nevertheless, Edmund Spenser, the author of The Faerie Queene, who wrote the most famous take upon this classic dragon, took him very seriously indeed, and described him like so:

Approaching nigh, he  reared high afore
His body monstrous, horrible, and vaste,
Which to increase his wondrous greatnesse more,
Was swolne with wrath, & poyson, & with bloudy gore.
                                                (Book I, Canto XI)

If you had a bit of trouble reading that, let me offer my personal translation:

Approaching near, he reared up upon his hind legs,
His body monstrous, horrible, and vast,
And to increase his wondrous greatness even more,
Was swollen up with wrath, and poison, and with bloody gore!

Not so comical anymore, is he? And definitely not suited to the image displayed above! For all that's the most famous depiction of the Redcross Knight slaying his dragon (and Princess Una, rather unattractive, securing it with her belt), it's not a particularly awe-inspiring sight.

I much prefer Trina Schart Hyman's elegant depiction!

That's the image of the dragon I grew up with, taken from this marvelous, award-winning picture book that is, I think,  THE perfect portrait of the hero-against-dragon archetype. A huge inspiration on my own work, even down to a princess named Una!

But, back to the dragon . . .

The actual story of St. George and the Dragon had been around a LONG time before Edmund Spenser borrowed it for his epic. Some people speculate that the origins of the story took their inspiration from the tale of "Perseus and Andromeda." In fact, the origins might go farther back still, even to the old Babylonian tale of Marduk slaying the dragon Tiamat!

It was a fellow named Jacobus de Voragine who made the St. George version of the tale  popular. Around 1260, he wrote his collection of stories, Golden Legend, which included the St. George story, which involves a poisonous dragon who plagues a certain countryside. To pacify him, the villagers feed him two sheep a day. When the sheep run out, he requires children, chosen by lot. One day, the lot falls upon the king's own daughter, so, dressed as a bride, she is sent to the dragon.

But by chance, our bold hero, St. George, rode by that very lake. Seeing the princess's plight, he fought the dragon and subdued it. They tied it about the neck with the princess's own sash and led it back to the village. There, St. George promised to slay the dragon if everyone in that village would convert to Christianity.

A bit of a bullying evangelist, you might say.

But, the people agreed, so the dragon was slain. But his legacy has lived on far beyond the Golden Legends! He, along with St. George, has been immortalized in stained glass and tapestries, paintings and poetry. To be sure, he's always the villain . . . and, to be sure, he always loses.

But as he said at the end of Not My Best Side: "I always rise again".

There will always be more dragons for our heroes to battle.

In a sense, this dragon has found his way into cinematic life via the (slightly campy) film, DragonslayerIn that story, the dreadful dragon, Vermithrax Pejorative, demands a sacrificial virgin every so often, also drawn by lots. And one day, the lot chosen is the king's own daughter . . .

Her fate is, sadly, very different from Princess Una's. Not all heroes are St. George!

St. George's Dragon on a scale of 1-10

Evil:  9
In Spenser's version at least, he represents the Devil. Sometimes he's more animalistic, though, so I can't give him a perfect 10.

Scariness: 7
He's scary enough, especially as Spenser describes him! But many of his portraits through history have been less than frightening.

Poison: 9
This dragon is very poisonous. He envenomed the whole countryside where he lurked!

Hoard: 0
As far as I can tell, none of his stories includes any hoard at all. Poor dragon.

Cleverness: 5
I don't think he's dumb, per se. But it's hard to think when you're spewing that much fire!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Tuesday's Dragon


Also called Colchian Dragon.

This dragon was actually more of a giant serpent in the tradition of the "dragons" found in the most ancient dragon-centered texts, the Hindu Rg Veda, and the Babylonian Enuma Elish. Doesn't make him any less of a dragon, though!

This dragon, as seen in the picture above, guarded the Golden Fleece that Jason (of Argonaut fame) set out to find. Like most dragons in epics, it  met an unlucky fate. Some stories say he was put to sleep by drugs the sly Medea fed him. Others claim that Jason killed him.

The dragon didn't necessarily go down without a fight. One story, painted on an old vase, says that the Colchian Dragon devoured and regurgitated Jason before the hero had a chance to kill him.

Drakon: "Bleh! Heroes is nasty!"

One way or the other, the poor fellow ended up dead, and Medea's charming father, King Aeetes, harvested his teeth. From those teeth, fully-grown warriors grew! So, in this one way at least, the Drakon Kholkikos lived on.

It is interesting to note that Dragon Kholkikos had a close relative (not literally, more literarily), Drakon Ismenios, who guarded a stream near Thebes. This dragon also lost his teeth, poor fellow, and from those teeth there also sprang warriors.

I must confess, I was a pretty confused cookie as far as this dragon was concerned for many, many years. You see, my first experience with the Golden Fleece saga was this movie from the 1960s:

Now, you can see from the cover that the guardian of the Golden Fleece is the Hydra (a multi-headed monster from Greek mythology). So I--8 year old innocent that I was--blithely assumed for years that it was the Hydra who guarded the fleece.

I also assumed that the Hydra must have given up his/her teeth, which were subsequently planted, producing these charming fellows:

Oh, Ray Harryhausen! How you have misled me!

So now, hopefully, you won't make the same mistake I did. No Hydras, and no grinning skeletons. Just a serpent and some pretty basic warriors.

Drakon Kholkikos on a scale of 1-10

Evil:  1
I mean, he's just doing his job! It's Jason and Medea who are the traitors, murderers, and thieves. Hoorah for Greek heroes.

Scariness: 7
He's pretty scary, I guess, but I think his teeth-sprung warriors might be more frightening than he is.

Poison: 1
He's a snake, so he might be poisonous. But he's so big, I suspect he's more like an anaconda than a viper. Just saying.

Hoard: 8
Quality vs. quantity. After all, heroes were willing to cross the world and risk their lives to achieve the Golden Fleece!

Cleverness: 2
If he had been truly clever, he wouldn't have spit up Jason after swallowing him, no matter how bitter a pill he was to swallow!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Tuesday's Dragon

Beowulf's Bane

He doesn't have a name. He doesn't need one. When one proves to be the death of the greatest warrior king in known literature, one needs no other name.

 Though this dragon will have his moment of fiery glory and terror, he begins as a more subtle danger in the dark. While Beowulf, victorious from two previous battles, first with the Grendel, then with its monstrous mother, rules his kingdom for fifty prosperous winters, the dragon sleeps fitfully in his barrow.

                        He ruled it well
For fifty winters, grew old and wise
as warden of the land
                        until one began
to dominate the dark, a dragon on the prowl
from the steep vaults of a stone-roofed barrow
where he guarded a hoard
                                                            (lines 2208-2214)

Like Fáfnir, this dragon has a treasure he loves with consuming passion. Perhaps he too was once a dwarf or even a man, turned to this dreadful state by his own greed. We cannot know for certain.

What we do know is that the epic Beowulf, though British, is heavily influenced by Germanic mythology, though the author himself is distinctly Christian. The earlier battles the hero fights are heavy with Christian symbolism. The Grendel is said to be a descendant of Cain, the first murderer.

                        he [Grendel] had dwelt for a time
in misery among the banished monsters,
Cain's clan, whom the Creator had outlawed
and condemned as outcasts. For the killing of Abel
the Eternal Lord had exacted a price
                                                            (lines 104-108)

 Obviously, the author is more than happy to insert Biblical allusions within his story, possibly in an attempt (and a grand one at that) to bring Christian doctrine to the Germanic people now dominating Britain. Due to this previous use of symbols and allusion, it would seem natural for this author to make his dragon dragon a symbol of the Devil.

However, this is not the direction the poet takes the story. This dragon bears a much closer resemblance to Fáfnir, the greedy hoarder, than to Satan, the liar and deceiver.

Perhaps what the poet's hero is fighting is the clinging darkness of older beliefs. The subversive "dragon" that lurks beneath an otherwise prospering society. Perhaps the poet, through his tragic tale, is trying to warn his own people against the danger of falling back into the old beliefs and practices of Germanic tradition and religion.

But, this isn't a college paper, so I won't pursue that train of thought just now. Back to the dragon himself!

The dragon discovered this hoard while burrowing in the dark. The gold once belonged to a heathen king, long dead. The dragon doesn't care! Finders keepers, thank you very much, says he, and happily goes to roost.

But he wasn't the only one to find that secret passage. A poor man, a slave we are told, desperate to escape "the heavy hand of some master, guilt-ridden and on the run, going to ground." (lines 2223-2225), found his way to the dragon's lair. There he saw so many jewels, so much treasure, it dazzled him! Surely the dragon wouldn't notice if he took one gem-studded cup?

But, as Smaug would prove to us later in The Hobbit, a dragon knows every last piece of his hoard.

When the dragon awoke, trouble flared again.
He rippled down the rock, writhing with anger
when he saw the footprints of the prowler who had stolen
too close to his dreaming head.
                                                            (lines 2287-2290)

Beowulf had faced the Grendel, the ogre, and sea monsters already. Though old and gray now, he was not about to turn back from facing the dragon! But though he fought valiantly:

                         So the king of the Geats
raised his hand and struck hard
at the enamelled scales, but scarcely cut through:
the blade flashed and slashed yet the blow
was far less powerful than the hard-pressed king
had need of at that moment. The mound-keeper [dragon]
went into a spasm and spouted deadly flames:
when he felt the stroke, battle-fire
billowed and spewed.
                                                            (lines 2575-2583)

How's that for a descriptive battle scene? Gives me the chills!

Seeing their brave leader failing, all Beowulf's men deserted him, save one. Young Wiglaf, son of Woehstan, stood firm. And in the end, it was he who enabled the king to kill the dragon.

They had killed the enemy, courage quelled his life;
that pair of kinsmen, partners in nobility,
had destroyed the foe.
                                                            (lines 2706-2708)

Yes, it is the fate of dragons in epics to be slain. But not all of them kill their slayers in return! For though young Wiglaf survived the battle, Beowulf was dealt a mortal blow.

This dragon has found his way into many depictions. The version I have been quoting is Seamus Heaney's translation of the original text . . . which has been called, truth be told, "Beowulf Lite." So, not the very most accurate translation in the world! But it's a fun read. I've read at least three different translations of Beowulf, and honestly enjoyed this one the most (don't tell my professors!).

This dragon was also in the movie Beowulf, written by Neil Gaiman. I haven't seen it. Heard it was pretty dreadfully altered from the original, so I didn't bother. But the dragon looks relatively frightening.

Most movie versions leave the dragon out. After all, isn't it better to end with the hero victoriously killing ogres than to see him vanquished by the dragon?

And, of course, he made his way into comic book world!
Godzilla's baby, maybe?

And he was obviously another huge influence on Tolkien's Smaug, who, centuries later, would also sleep on a hoard and have a gem-crusted cup stolen from him, inciting his fury.

Beowulf's Bane on a scale of 1-10

 Evil:  4
This dragon is a bit more animalistic, not really evil. Not saying I'd try to keep him as a pet or anything! But I don't think basic dragon-y behavior counts as evil, per se.

Scariness:  9
Definitely a scary dragon! Some of those descriptions are breathtakingly frightening! Just because he isn't evil doesn't mean he can't terrify.

 Poison:   7
There is "molten venom in the fire he breathes." So his breath is poisonous, but the battle described is much more concerned with the heat than the poison.

Hoard:   9
From the descriptions of gold-crusted weapons, masks, and goblets, I don't know if a dragon could find a much better hoard!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Contest Winner

The winner of the Who Said That? dragon quotes challenge is . . .


Well done, finding all those dragon-quotes. Some of them were a bit tricky! Go ahead and email me your mailing address (again!), and you shall receive a signed copy of BOTH Heartless and Veiled Rose. You can also let me know to whom you would like them signed (in case you want to give one as a gift).

Thank you to everyone who contributed to this contest! It was a tricky one, and I doubt anyone could have gotten them all without googling answers. But I appreciate those of you who just listed the ones you knew . . . and some of you got some that I didn't expect people to recognize! Here is the list with its answers:

1.      “No hunter of the sky should end his days as prey. Better to die on the wing than pinned to the ground.”
Saphira from Eragon

2.      “You have the effrontery to be squeamish. But we were dragons. We were SUPPOSED to be cruel, cunning, heartless and terrible. But this much I can tell you, you ape, we never burned and tortured and ripped one another apart and called it morality.”
The Dragon "King" from Guards! Guards!

3.      “I like cherries jubilee. And I like the look of her. Besides, the Latin scrolls in my library need cataloguing, and if I can’t find someone who knows a little of the language, I’ll have to do it myself.”

4.      “I kill when I wish! I am strong, strong, STRONG! My armor is like tenfold shields! My teeth like swords! My claws, spears! The shock of my tail, a thunderbolt! My wings, a hurricane! And my breath, death!”
Smaug from The Hobbit

5.      “Believe me when I say I want you to stay a long time with me. I am sad when I am alone. My unhappiest hours are after I have destroyed a guest. I have never forgotten any of you. I have remembered my first guest for over seven hundred years. He had a short life breathing the air, but a long life in memory.”

6.      “Now, shall you deal with me, O prince, and all the powers of hell!”
Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty

7.      “Understand then, old enchanter, they that sprung from me fear thee and thy kind. Thou art unto them the slayer folk, they that drove us hence.”
Calbhiorus from Mad Merlin (I've not actually read it . . . My husband asked me to include this one, so this is a nod to my Authriana-loving Rohan!)

8.      “The half cannot truly hate that which makes it whole.”
Great Dragon from Merlin

9.      “Never give up and good luck will find you.”

10.  “Gleep!”

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Tuesday's Dragon

Since the time of the ancient Babylonians, dragons have been hugely important literary figures. There's a reason why they still hold such a significant position in literature still today. So I am beginning a new series in honor of these dreadful, dangerous, beautiful, classic characters. At least up through Christmas, I'm going to feature a famous dragon every Tuesday. Hope you will enjoy learning a little more about these grand old fellows!

To start us out, we'll begin with one of the most influential dragons of them all.


Also known as: Fafner and Frænir

Fáfnir is the classic gold-hoarding dragon. He started life as a dwarf prince, son of King Hreidmar and brother Regin and Ótr. Later, poisoned by gold-greed, he became a dragon.

Fáfnir's story is part of old Norse Mythology, and as such, is pretty grim. His brother, Ótr, a shape-shifter who had taken the form of an otter, was killed by the prankster god, Loki. King Hreidmar, furious at this evil worked upon his son, made Loki fill the dead otter's skin with gold.

But Loki didn't fill it with just any gold; he used gold he had stolen from another dwarf, Andvari. Loki included the ring, Andvaranaut, which is capable of producing more gold. But its former owner, Andvari, had cursed the ring and the rest of the stolen gold, saying that it would bring destruction to any who owned it! 

Such was to prove true, first for poor Fáfnir, later for other heroes of old. Fáfnir coveted the gold Loki offered. So he killed King Hreidmar, his own father, and took the otter skin of treasure for himself! His greed transformed him into a dreadful dragon so that he could better guard and hoard his precious gold. 

But Fáfnir's other brother, Regin, wanted the gold for himself. So Regin sent his foster-son, renowned Sigurd, to take the gold and kill the dragon. Sigurd went about this in a distinctly non-heroic fashion . . . he dug a pit in the path that Fáfnir crawled to get to water, hid inside, and waited for the dragon. When Fáfnir came lurching and lumbering by (as dragons are wont to do), Sigurd stabbed him in the left shoulder, mortally wounding him.

One of the most famous images of Fáfnir, painted by Arthur Rackham.

Because it's a grand old legend (practically begging Richard Wagner to make it an opera), Fáfnir didn't die until he'd had plenty of time to say a piece. He found out that his brother had sent Sigurd and proceeded to warn Sigurd that all who possess the gold will perish. (Which was rather decent of him, when you think about it. I probably would have just said: "You want my gold so much? Take it and enjoy it . . . while you can! Mwaa haa haa!")

Sigurd, being a hero in the classic sense (i.e. none-too-bright), takes the gold anyway, and much drama ensues. But Fáfnir's sad story ends here.

 It's interesting to note that Fáfnir is not considered a universally Bad Guy. Jacqueline Simpson, in her British Dragons, says: "Fafnir, whom  Sigurd the Volsung (Siegfried) slew, was not only a treasure-guarding dragon but also a wise and powerful being, whose flesh gave anyone who ate the power to understand the language of birds, and whose blood conferred invulnerability" (p. 30).

In Germanic mythology, dragons were not the overt symbols of the Devil they later became. They were frightening, sure, and often at odds with the hero. But they weren't necessarily evil. Fáfnir obviously was a flawed character from the get-go for the enchanted gold to work such evil on him. But was he any worse than acclaimed Sigurd, who also murdered to take the gold? Probably not.

Fáfnir has certainly left his mark upon dragon literature! His gold-hoarding was likely a huge inspiration both for Tolkien's Smaug and Lewis's transformed Eustace (who turns into a dragon while greedily lusting after dragon-gold, rather like Fáfnir).

As stated above, he found his way into Wagner's enormous monstrosity of an opera. In that story, he began life as a giant rather than the dwarf and was called Fafner.

Sadly, he also found his way into comic book land. And looks like a Godzilla-wannabe. How are the mighty fallen!

I first encountered Fáfnir in Greg Hildebrandt's Favorite Fairy Tales, illustrated to glowing perfection just as Sigurd is stabbing him. A gruesome, gory, gold-lustful story.

I was ten. I loved it!

Fáfnir on a scale of 1-10

Evil:   7
Definitely bad, but not so bad that he didn't warn the hero about the cursed gold.

Scariness:  8
Fáfnir is nothing if not frightening! Did you watch that opera link?

Poison:  8
Fáfnir poisons the land in order to protect his gold.

Hoard:  6
He's got a nice hoard (including a cursed ring). But still, it only fits in an otter's skin.

Cleverness: 4
I mean, he crawled right over a man with a sword. Oops.