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Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Appreciate A Dragon Day 2018

Last year I was a bit late. This time I will do it on time, although I might have to insert the book covers later, from my laptop, as you can’t do it on an iPad.

I believe Appreciate A Dragon Day is really aimed at the primary school classroom, but what the heck! Even if I was a primary teacher there are no classes at this time of year in Australia. And I would be sorry to miss out.

Anyway, let’s think about dragons! There is a big difference beteeen the western and eastern varieties. The Asian dragon is a more or less benign being. The western one is connected with evil. Which hasn’t stopped people from creating their own amazing dragons, presented the way they want them.

One of my creative writing students wrote a piece about a vegetarian dragon who makes an arrangement with the knight who comes to the cave to slay him. It was inspired by a cartoon of a dragon holding a knight in its claws.

There are a lot of them in fiction - here are just a few I’m fond of., that I didn’t mention in last year’s post. In R.A McAvoy’s Tea With The Black Dragon, a middle-aged folk musician, Martha McNamara, is searching for her missing daughter with the help of Mayland Long, a Chinese gentleman who is... well, a dragon. One who has turned into a human. I liked the gentleness of this one, plus the fact that the protagonists were not young. (She’s middle-aged, he is quite a lot older, being a dragon)

Then there’s Smaug in The Hobbit. Smaug is a typical western dragon, representing greed. He sits on a hoard. Tolkien tells us that he doesn’t appreciate the beauty of the stuff he is sitting on, but has an excellent idea of its market value. Goodness, a capitalist dragon! Because of him, an entire dwarf colony has lost its home. Also, there is something called dragon sickness, which you can catch if you’re not careful, an obsession with the treasure - “Mine! You can’t have any of it!” It affects Thorin Oakenshield, leader of the group of dwarves with whom Bilbo Baggins is travelling. So sad!

 Barbara Hambly’s Dragonsbane was another favourite when I read it many years ago. In it, you can’t kill a dragon in the standard fairy tale manner. They are tough critters and, in fact, only one man has ever succeeded, and he did it with poisoned harpoons. He didn’t want to - it was a beautiful creature - but he had to. Now another dragon is menacing a kingdom to the south, and then you find out it’s sentient ...

How about Norbert - later discovered to be a female - in the Harry Potter series? We all know Hagrid the Hogwarts gamekeeper has always wanted a pet dragon. He manages to get hold of a dragon egg, which he hatches in his little hut, but those things grow! Before long it outgrows the hut and Harry and his friends have to arrange for Norbert to go to Albania to be looked after by Ron’s brother Charlie. We see dragons again in the fourth book, Goblet Of Fire, when Harry and the other champions have to get golden eggs away from them. During the final book, our heroes encounter the dragon under Gringott’s bank, a sad, badly treated animal that is there to get rid of potential thieves. And that’s the thing: dragons in this series are just animals. You really can’t keep them as pets, but they’re animals.

Beowulf, slayer of Grendel and his Mum, finally slays a dragon from which some idiot hsx pinched a cup, but dies himself. A classic poem!

There are plenty more dragons in literature, but let’s keep some for next time. I just want to mention some short fiction. Edwina Harvey’s children’s story “Rocket And Sparky”, in the Fablecroft anthology Worlds Next Door, featured a dragon, Sparky, found in the Australian desert as an egg, by a girl who wanted a pony but got a camel instead. Like Norbert, this dragon grows way too quickly. It gets through a lot of barbecued chickens. The girl makes money offering dragon rides, but never gives up on her dream of having a pony.

When I was writing fan fiction, many years ago, a friend and I created our own planet, New Wales, settled by the last of Arthur’s followers after the battle of Camlann. There are shaggy little Shetland pony unicorns which wandered through the teleport gate with the humans. And there are dragons. We were inspired by a throwaway line about “Berengaria dragons,” mentioned in Star Trek. our dragons were about human size, more like small tyrannosaurs than the typical dragon of fairy tale. They do breathe the occasional flame. And they’re not only sentient, they have jobs. The head of the New Wales space fleet, created by my friend, was a female dragon called Admiral Kirilli, who appears in several of the stories. My dragon was Rhisiart, a University lecturer who affects a pipe because he has probably read too many Earth books with pipe smoking professors in them.

I know, silly! But we enjoyed writing them and people enjoyed reading them. I was planning to try my hand at a New Wales novel without the Trek universe, but Patricia Keneally Morrison got in before me with a series of novels set on a New Wales type world, only she was terribly  serious; my stories were humorous.

Oh, well... So that’s a few of my dragons - do you have any favourites?

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