Monday, December 20, 2010

Singing the Songs of the Dragon: McCaffey’s Vision

The unceasing faith is what dragons create in Dragonsong by Anne McCaffrey. Unlike the other writers pursuing the topic of the mythology, she makes dragons the central characters of her story as opposed to the way Tolkien used dragons. In this story, dragons are already beings with heart and with feelings of compassion and affection. The dragon that saves the girl, Branth, is a clear-cut example of an image of a dragon coming so close to the one of a human being that the boundary between the two can be hardly drawn. In this respect, the dragon depicted by McCaffrey is very similar to the creature which was described by Vandergrift: “If a dragon dies and the rider survives, he or she is but a half creature” (28). Indeed, as the dragon rescues the girl, he seems to be an integral part of her, as if they were a single creature, struggling with the unjust people, willing to free itself and thrashing about in the nets of the foes.

However, it must be admitted that Branth is the only exception out of the range of the fierce dragons of the fairy-tale world. The rest of them, the fire-breathing lizards, create an impression of wild savages. Still, being a part of the guard that does not let the heroine go, these dragons are the slaves of the people, the watchdogs which have duties and which are supposed to follow people’s orders.

Thus, exploring the image of Branth, McCaffey shows the way an enslaved, “fire-breathing lizard,” turning into a free and proud dragon, the animal which makes the foes tremble in dread and fear. The final part of the trilogy, The White Dragon, shows a beast completely different from the one seen in Dragonsong. Branth has turned into a wild and free creature, with all his gorgeousness.

Thus, McCaffey shows the readers that dragons can be wild, mad and very, very unhappy. The humane approach of hers makes it clear that the era when dragons were the enemies of a man is over, and the new era of legends begins, when dragons can make friends with the mankind. The very term, ‘dragonrider’, which is rather humiliating for a dragon, is the symbol of the wrong relationship between a man and a dragon – why not saying, “dragonfriend” instead?

Works Cited

Vandergrift, Kay E. “Meaning-Making and the Dragons of Pern.” Children's Literature Association Quarterly 15.1, 1990, 27-32.

Harry Potter and Three Dragons: Making the Difference

 In the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling, dragons play the part of background characters, providing the frame for the rest of the heroes. Among the dragons mentioned, one can differentiate the three most distinctive. The first ones are the images of the guardian dragons which are used by wizards in order to guard the premises of the magic bank. These dragons are very close to the image of a watchdog, just as fierce and emotionless. The idea which Rowling expresses in describing this kind of dragon is that wizards make use of these fairy-tale creatures without thinking that they might have feelings as well, treating them as if they were merely unthinking beasts. In this respect, the way in which the wizards treat their dragons is close to the ways in which they are used to address the elves in their houses. As it is known, the elves in the houses of the wizards were playing the part of those deprived of their rights, neglected and discriminated – and yet unwilling to change anything:

… which praises Rowling for depicting a non-ideal fantasy world before homing in the focus specifically on the moral problem of house-elves as apparently willing slaves. (McDaniel 183)

In a still image from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, Hagrid tickles his pet dragon Norbert. Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures Inc.
In contrast to the “watch-dragons” that guard the bank in the wizard world, the dragon which Hagrid, the forest warden in the wizards’ school, keeps as a house pet, is described as a loving, though rather awkward and not very smart creature. Although it seems rather hard to make friends with such a beast, unless you are Hagrid, of course, the creature is still unwilling to harm people and even displaying friendly attitude towards the creatures and the environment around. Still, it is well worth noticing that Norbert, Hagrid’s dragon, was described as the beast of rather doubtful intelligence. In contrast to the magnificence of the dragons described above, this one is rather a mock dragon.

The dragons which have been trained for the tournament are quite another subject. Here, with all their force and seeing splendor, they are just as pitiful as the house-elves, for they are the circus animals used for the fun of the spectators. Trained to amuse the others, they make the image of the animals rather unhappy than frightening, for they can be just as easily tamed and restrained. The wild nature of the fairy-tale beast has been cut according to the needs of the wizards once and for all, and the remaining of the once free beasts is worth feeling sorry for.

It is also worth noticing that the name of one of the negative characters, Draco Malfoy, is also translated as “dragon”. Thus, Rowling tells that there is a dragon within some people, latent in its sleep; however, taking into consideration the features of Draco’s personality, one can see that the image of a dragon employed in this very case is close to a mock-dragon described above, cowardly and sly, but without a slightest idea of magnificence and pride.

Tracing the development of the image of a dragon through the works of various writers, one can see that dragons are gradually losing their natural powers. Succumbed to the needs of the people, the beasts are no longer the legend which they once used to be. Their wings are clipped, and they become the tamed animals in the circus created by the storytellers. In contrast to the authors of the ancient legends, who worshipped the dragons and added to their splendor with each and every legend created, the authors of the modern books adjust the image of a dragon to the modern understanding of a house pet. In spite of the fact that Tolkien followed the traditions of the English idea of a dragon and created the picture accordingly to the understanding of the dragon which used to be the dominant one, the modern fiction writers make the image less and less impressive, until it turns into a tiny creature walking leashed and muzzled. However sad this might sound, the image of a dragon has changed to the idea of a creature enslaved.  Dragons are powerful enough to shake the feeble people off the dragons’ mighty backs. After all, as Bates said, “The dying dragon killed the heroes too, at the end of an age” (96).

Works Cited

Bates, Brian. The Real Middle Earth: Exploring the Magic and Mystery of the Middle Ages, J. R. R. Tolkien, and 'The Lord of the Rings’. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003.

McDaniel, Kathryn N. “The Elfin Mystique: Fantasy and Feminism in J. K.Rowling's Harry Potter Series.” Past Watchful Dragons: Fantasy and Faith in the World of C. S. Lewis. Altadena, CA: Mythopoeic, 2007. 183-207.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Imaginary World of C.S. Lewis: On Leather Wings

Pictured above is a still image from the film The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.  The image is copyright 20th Century Fox.

In The Chronicles of Narnia, by C.S. Lewis the world of dragons is quite another mystery. Lewis makes them one of the most powerful and strong animals as well, yet he adds them the tint of humanity which Tolkien deprived them of. In Lewis’ opinion, the beasts are a true force of nature, just as incontrollable as the four elements. Narnia makes a world where dragons can ride free, without any cavaliers in the saddle, and that makes them more impressive and majestic.

It is peculiar that the image of a dragon, as well as the rest of the images depicted in the book was started literally from scratch;

All my Narnia books … began with seeing pictures in my head. At first they were not a story, just pictures. The Lion all began with a picture of a Faun carrying an umbrella and parcels in a snowy wood. This picture has been in my mind since I was sixteen. Then one day when I was about forty, I said to myself: let’s try to make a story about it, (Anderson 53).

As well as the rest of the images, the picture of a dragon was drawn out of the depth of the author’s imagination just as unexpectedly. Despite seeing the simplicity of the image, it was developing over a long period of time until it became the image of a dragon which all children know now. Lewis comes very close to the point made by Tolkien, depicting dragons like live creatures with an immortal soul. However, in contrast to Tolkien, Lewis makes his image of a dragon kinder and closer to what children expect the beasts to be. Dusted with the fairy-tale magic powder, the dragon of Lewis’ world is the creature which is wild and free, yet which can become a man’s friend. In contrast to Tolkien, Lewis describes the beast as an animal merging between the real world and the world of fantasy, the creature which can feel and be happy or suffer. In other words, the difference between the dragon and a man in Lewis’s understanding is very little. The contrast set between a dragon’s strong and almost invulnerable body and the tender soul of a living creature is striking. However, Lewis makes the dragon’s spirit as strong as the shell which covers its back. Thus, the author creates a vision of a fairy-tale beast which does not frighten children but, nevertheless, is doubtlessly a real and obvious dragon.

Dragons live in all tales of the ancient times, making the stories even closer to the truth and adding a scent of magnificence, making them sound even more unbelievably probable. The world of the unreal crosses realities, making it change in the way children wish it could. The creatures who breathe fire also breathe a tint of trust in the hearts of the little readers who dream of them.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Dragons in the World of Tolkien: The Magnificent Beast of the Immense Powers

Because of their constant craving for something miraculous and unusual, people have created a number of mythological creatures which live their full life in numerous legends and fairy-tales. Made up not only for children, but also for those whose hearts there is still some room for wonders and adventures, the mythological creatures are at the service of modern writers. The latter create imaginary worlds of theirs, inhabited by the beasts so powerful that a man can only stand in awe and gaze in fear at the legendary creatures. One of the most significant figures among the range of the animals inhabiting the land of fantasy is a dragon, the symbol of wisdom and power.

It must be remembered though, that, described by modern writers whose works left a significant trace in modern literature and culture, the image of dragon underwent great changes. As a result, one can see that the old-fashioned idea of a leather-winged beast has almost nothing to do with what modern fantasy and fiction suggests. Taking a look at literary works from most well-known writers, one can see the paradigm of the dragon image development, starting from the old legends up to the modern fantasy fiction books.

In spite of the fact that dragons are mythological creatures, they have always been close to people as a necessary element of a fairy-tale. Without these incredible beasts, the world of fairy-tales and legends would have suffered great losses and many tales would have been left untold. However cruel and merciless dragons could be depicted in the stories, they would always leave a trace of something unknown yet possessing the wisdom of the centuries, a creature with stone heart and the wisdom of the universe. Although the creatures were depicted in different ways by different writers, they were all given certain similar elements. The question is, which features are in common in the most famous stories and which make difference between the dragons?

Because of the fact that Tolkien created a world so unusual and unfamiliar to what people have already known, yet giving it the traits of a human’s world with its wars, misconceptions and – well, and the unceasing fun which have been helping people to survive so far. In the imaginary world of his, the dragons do not possess the features of the wise. Being characterized rather as the beasts which have human traits, bloodthirsty and violent, Tolkien turns the scope of the audience back to the Middle Ages, when people feared everything that was connected with magic, and, as a result, thought everything which beheld the magic gift a curse to the mankind. He based his idea of a dragon on the German tales, which had a significant effect on his book (Berman).

However, according to what the modern culture suggests, dragons exist no longer. As Judith A. John noted;

Dragons are dead! Killed by science, jokes, logic and technology, the once-vigorous symbol of evil in Western culture has been vanquished. In the past dragon sightings were so numerous and so well-documented that, like UFO spotters toady, most rational, intelligent, scientific thinkers including Pliny the Elder, Herodotus, and Edward Topsell accepted dragons as a fact, and Marco Polo recorded witnessing flying dragons during his trip to China (219).

Fortunately, as Tolkien was writing his incredible story, The Hobbit, science had not ruined the vision of the fairy-tales which people had and dragons lived a full life in people’s imagination, feeding on the beliefs and the legends composed in honor of the wise and terrifying creatures.

Tolkien depicts dragons as the creatures which possess certain traits of people’s character. Depicting Smaug, a creature born by his exciting imagination, John points out that “Smaug is mesmerizing and intelligent, but suffers from what Tolkien defines as ‘dragon sickness’” (254). In Tolkien’s understanding, dragons are flesh and blood, but rather dangerous one, and the incredible mystique of theirs is what people should stand in awe and amazement in front of. With such an approach, Tolkien creates a most convincing image of a dragon, not harming the “reputation” which the beast has acquired through the centuries of legends and myths.

However, Tolkien also admits that the powers of a dragon are rather frightening, since they are immense:

… in two illustrations Tolkien did for the book, both of which, at least as originally drawn, show a full moon in the eastern sky on the night of the dragon’s marauding. (Sturgis 13)

Indeed, dragons as Tolkien depicted them were the creatures of rather scary appearance and influence.

Note: The video clip above is from animated film The Hobbit (1977).

Works Cited

Berman, Ruth. “Dragons for Tolkien and Lewis.” Mythlore: A Journal of J. R.R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, Charles Williams, and the Genres of Myth and Fantasy Studies 11.1 (39), 1984, 53-58.

John, Judith A. "From Death to Rebirth: A Short History of Dragons and Their Presence in Modern Fantasy." Flashes of the Fantastic. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2004, 219-228.

Sturgis, Amy H., and Darrell Gwaltney. Past Watchful Dragons: Fantasy and Faith in the World of C. S. Lewis. Altadena, CA: Mythopoeic, 2007.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Dragon Evolution

The dragon has had many descriptions since the belief that they ever existed in the earth’s surface. Amongst the definitions proposed, include a huge serpent, a fabulous animal that represented as a monstrous winged and scaly serpent, or an animal with a crested head and enormous claws. Other definitions believe that dragons may prefer to very scary, huge animals in a reptilian form with very distinctive characteristics from those of other reptiles. Whichever the definition proposed for the dragon it should include a huge animal that can conjure fear and dread, usually with wings. In this essay, the latter definition is adopted to help us define the fantasy behind the evolution of the dragons (John, 219).

Evolution of Dragons
Where are the dragons? Where did they come from? Do we really believe in their existence? How sure can we be that these creatures existed? These are some of the questions we ask whenever the name dragon mentioned (Bates, 58). Dragon stories and myths have been around for a long time with a fantasy in existence. Some scholars believe that the story of the dragon is to help in shunning down some behaviors that the majority and the well off did to the minority and the speechless in the society. Elliot Smith, a renowned scholar proposed that dragons evolved from the story of a king who refused to die when it was time to. According to him, the aging king refused to be slain and called upon the ‘Great Mother’ as the only one who gave life to give him life (John, 221).

The rejuvenation of the king however required some sacrifices to be made which involved blood shedding. The ‘giver of life’ as they called her advised the aging king to shed blood in order to be rescued from dying and be rejuvenated. Unfortunately, the sacrifice was to be a human body and since the king wanted to live, he never cared about fellow human beings he sacrificed someone else. This unethical and unaccepted act made  the development of an animal or creature with the same characters as the king (Bates, 76).

It has never been proved whether these so-called dragons exist. Most of their evolutionary theories, stories and histories are a mere fantasy and fiction. Other scholars believe that they were developed as a form of entertainment. In this respect, Bates (65) also believes that the evolution of dragons was developed to discourage uncouth behavior. He brings this out when he states that the reason as to why the dragons started existing was to stop some people from colonizing others. In his narration, the Anglo-Saxon invaders were happy when they landed in Roman Empire as they thought they were going to be rich. One day, when they went to swim, the monsters appeared to scare them away from a land that had grabbed (Berman 53).

Most of these stories and myths are fantasies with a lot of fiction in them. None of these stories are real and no one has ever seen a dragon. It is narrated in these stories that different continents have different types of dragons. Because of all these fantasy. Gust narrates how a movie or a story regarding a dragon develops. In essence, he narrates how he believes the dragon started being in the earth tales. In the process of existence, there is always a quest for a hero and his journey. The hero may have done tremendous deeds of annoying and exploitative deeds. This calls for explanation of the hero’s journey he or she took to be a hero. This leads to an adventure into fantasy (Gust 64).

The fantasy may be heroic or epic after which a person who wants to use the dragon issue to bring out the story develops a theme. This is the message to relay to the audience. Since the main character is non-existent, there is step of forming the fantasy land so that the audience will feel as if they are in real world when they are not (Berman 54). This aids in effective passing of the theme to the audience. It is followed by setting the surrounding of the scene locations to bring out the picture of reality even when it is of fantasy (Gust 65). In the process of staging the fantasy, the characters will be crafted of which the main character will be either a dragon or someone depending on the theme.

For instance, if the author or director wants to pass a theme of selfishness of the majority, the dragon will act as bloodthirsty and selfish creature but later on be killed to pass the desired message. Plotting the path and wording the wonders will follow with sketching the scenes and starting the story coming immediately before trimming the tale. These stories are evolved in different aspects and are very influential especially to the young people (Loy 92).

However, no one has ever proved the existence of such creatures and therefore any story revolving around them is a mere fantasy coupled with fiction in the entertainment and educational world.

Works Cited

Bates, Brian. The Real Middle Earth: Exploring the Magic and Mystery of the Middle Ages, J. R. R. Tolkien, And 'The Lord Of The Rings. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003: Pp 58-76.

Berman, Ruth. "Dragons for Tolkien And Lewis." Myth lore: A Journal of J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, Charles Williams, and the Genres of Myth and Fantasy. 1984: Pp 53-58.

Gust, John. Adventures in fantasy: Lessons and Activities in Narrative and Descriptive Writing. California: John Wiley & Sons Publishers, 2007: Pp 64-65

John, Judith A. "From Death to Rebirth: A Short History of Dragons and Their Presence in Modern Fantasy." Flashes of The Fantastic. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2004: Pp 219-228.

Loy, David R., Linda Goodhew, & Jane Hirshfield. The Dharma Buddhist Themes in Modern Fantasy. Boston, Massachusetts: Wisdom, 2004: Pp 92.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Welcome to "Dragons Afoot"

This central purpose of this blog is to discuss the evolution of dragons in fantasy fiction.  Some of the literary works discussed will be J.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit, C.S. Lewis's The Chronicles of Narnia, Anne McCaffrey's Harper Hall Trilogy, and J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series.

It is my hope that this blog will become a reference-point for teachers, students and fantasy fiction fans alike who are interested in exploring the current resources available on this topic and discovering paths to further research through engaging conversation with others.