2021 A to Z: Letter D…Weird Holidays

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2021 A to Z: Letter D

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Appreciate a Dragon Day (January 16)

Ursula K. Le Guin, The Wave in the Mind (2004)

Appreciate A Dragon Day has been celebrated since the year 2004. Author Donita K. Paul, celebrating the release of her book, DragonSpell, established this special Day as to appreciate the dragons that are living in the literature and imagination, as well as those that are real.

Eastern versus Western Dragons

History shows us dragons in virtually every form, and every culture. East Asian dragons are generally depicted as benevolent, wise and lucky; Western or European dragons are more commonly evil, aggressive, and fearsome. The style of Eastern dragons can be seen depicted by Gyarados from Pokemon, Azulongmon from Digimon, or Haku from Spirited Away. Western dragons can be seen depicted by Smaug in Lord of the Rings or Drogon of Game of Thrones.

The Uroboros (alt spelling: Ouroboros), or tail-biting dragon, symbolizes the eternal circle of life. It is also an important symbol for medieval alchemists.

Theodoros Pelecanos‘s manuscript of an alchemical tract attributed to Synesius, in Codex Parisinus graecus 2327 in the Bibliothèque Nationale, France, mentioned s.v. ‘alchemy’, The Oxford Classical Dictionary, Oxford University Press, 2012. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

Here be Dragons

Literature is awash in dragons and dragon lore. Who doesn’t know one of the most famous dragons, Smaug from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. Centuries-old, cunning, and fearsome, Smaug guarded a wealth of unimaginable riches, and had lain there so long that some of the treasure had been enveloped by his flesh and become a part of his already impressive armor. He was one of the last surviving great dragons of Middle-earth and had seen it all, forcing dwarves and others alike into exile. 

One of my earliest dragons I can recall loving is in the Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch. Girl Power. I even saw the play at the American Theater Wing in New York with my aunt.

When the fiercest dragon in the whole world smashes Princess Elizabeth’s castle, burns all her clothes, and captures her fiancé, Prince Ronald, Elizabeth takes matters into her own hands.

With her wits alone and nothing but a paper bag to wear, the princess challenges the dragon to show his strength in the hopes of saving the prince. But is it worth all that trouble?

My favorite line that shows me that girls can do anything is in the end, when Elizabeth uses her wits and outsmarts the dragon, all excited to see Ronald again, perfectly coiffed, and she realizes that he is more into looks when he complains,“Elizabeth, you are a mess! You smell like ashes, your hair is all tangled and you are wearing a dirty old paper bag. Come back when you are dressed like a real princess.” And Elizabeth kicks Ronald to the curb: “Ronald,” said Elizabeth, “your clothes are really pretty and your hair is very neat. You look like a real prince, but you are a bum.”

Other dragons in literature that have stayed with me for various reasons include Norbert/a, Hagrid’s dragon in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Hatched from an egg, the half-giant falls in love with the tiny Norwegian Ridgeback, but it becomes too dangerous to keep, so Charlie Weasley takes it to Romania for safekeeping.

Then there’s Saphira, the friendly and wise dragon in Christopher Paolini’s Eragon. Eragon first mistakes the dragon egg for a blue stone of great value. A few days later, Saphira hatched. When Eragon first touches the newborn dragon, his right palm suddenly burns and sends an icy feeling throughout him. This gave Eragon the gedwëy ignasia, the mark of a Dragon Rider. Their minds were linked mentally and almost immediately they were able to communicate with images and feelings.

For more dragons, I recommend: Toothless in Cressida Cowell’s How to Train Your Dragon series; The Jabberwock, eponymous dragon of Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky” nonsense poem; Firedrake from Cornelia Funke’s Dragon Rider series; and Falkor, a luckdragon who plays a major role in Michael Ende’s 1979 The Neverending Story. 

I can’t talk about dragons in literature if I don’t mention Edward Branley’s YA “The Blood Bound” series: Dragon’s Danger is the first of the trilogy, and Dragon’s Discovery the second. I have a very special place in my heart for this series and especially Eleni, the red dragon is a force. If you are looking for a great story for your kid, put this on your list. We are currently working on Book 3 (Dragon’s Defiance), so you can catch up on all the fun before the new one comes out.

Women Authors and Dragons

Literary depictions of dragons changed when two SFF authors, Anne McCaffrey and Ursula K. Le Guin, become ascendant in the 1960s. McCaffrey’s science fiction Dragonriders of Pern series set on the planet of Pern, they play an altogether different role from that of your usual dragon, showing the world that a dragon didn’t need to be evil just because it was a dragon. Small reptiles known as fire lizards were native to Pern, and possessed the unique ability to chew certain rocks and subsequently breathe fire, destroying the deadly Threadfall. The human scientists of Pern genetically modified fire lizards into larger, full-grown dragons, and those dragons become crucial to human survival on the planet.

Ursula K. LeGuin totally changed the landscape writing about four magnificent dragons, in A Wizard of Earthsea in 1968. Yevaud, Orm Embar, Kalessin, and Orm Irian are towering examples of all that dragons can be. As Hugo-nominated fantasy writer Max Gladstone said over at The Ranting Dragon:

Le Guin’s dragons set the gold standard. Ancient, wise, capricious, beautiful, mighty, and sometimes sad, she salts Tolkien’s profoundly Western dragons—for all his majesty, Smaug the Terrible is a clear descendant of the “St. George” and the species of dragon—with elements of the Chinese demigod. […] While Le Guin’s fingerprints on the genre are subtler than Tolkien’s, I don’t think we would have the modern fantasy dragon—subtle, cunning, alien, wrathful and compassionate all at once—without her work.  Seraphina and Temeraire owe a great deal to Orm Embar.

If you could meet any literary dragon, which one would it be?

Read More:

Yvonne Shiau’s The Evolution of Dragons in Western Literature: A History and
A History of Dragons Throughout Western LIterature

Asian vs. Western Dragons: What’s the Difference

Top 10 Dragons in Literature

Featured image: “D is for Doughnut” from Digital Synopsis, created by UK based graphic designers Liam + Jord

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