Hall of Fantasy
- The Spirit of Tolkien
- Types of Fantasy
- The Nine Magics
- I am Ian E.S. Adler
- The Bookshelf
- Hidden Gems
- Triad of Songs
- Riddle Mastery
- Heroes of Light
- Females in Fantasy
- The Role and Proper Usage of Magic Thingamajigs
- GRRM the Anti-Tolkien
- Rumors of the Wheel
- Race in Fantasy
- The Final Lesson
- Artist vs. the Art
- Fantasy Book Tiers
- The History (and Golden Age) of Fantasy
- How to make your own System of Magic
- The Power of Names
- Golden Sun
- Seas Uncharted
- Contact Me?
Saturday, September 18, 2021
Sunday, September 12, 2021
Saturday, September 11, 2021
Now that we know where Dragons came from one can see how the myths and legends they appear in influenced Fantasy literature. An influence which began, as ever, with the great J.R.R. Tolkien. Before I go on, if you, dear reader, have committed the criminal act of not having read The Hobbit then do so now because otherwise you will run into SPOILERS here.Now then, while who does Dragons best in Fantasy is an open and subjective question with no answer, Tolkien set the original standard with Smaug, the greatest fire-breathing Dragon of the Third Age who overran the Dwarves of the Lonely Mountain and the humans of the adjacent realm of Dale, claiming the treasure of the mountain for himself. As one can see from the picture (drawn by Tolkien himself) and his bloody habits, Smaug the Golden is inspired off of European Dragons, yet is far an away smarter per his unforgettable conversation with Bilbo in which the brave Hobbit identifies himself with many riddling, yet not untrue, names.
"This of course is the way to talk to dragons, if you don't want to reveal your proper name which is wise, and don't want to infuriate them by a flat refusal which is also very wise. No dragon can resist the fascination of riddling talk and of wasting time to trying to understand it." - J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit
the description of a classic Western Dragon, none of whom were known
conversationalists, with the single exception of Fafnir from the late
Norse versions of the tale of Sigurd. As said Tolkien, "Fafnir in the late Norse versions of the Sigurd-story is better; and Smaug and his conversation obviously is in debt there."
That being said, Fafnir cannot even be called the exception that proved
the rule of his race since he began his life as one of Dwarf-king
Hreidmar's three sons. I am sure Tolkien appreciated the irony of this
fact, and all the more so since I have little doubt that Fafnir's
behavior may have influenced Thorin's as well to a degree, but then,
Dwarves and European Dragons both suffer from a lust for gold that
Tolkien names the Dragon Sickness. Anyway, the point is that Fafnir was
not a natural-born Dragon and thus hardly counts as an example of an
intelligent Western Dragon. The quintessential member of that
unenlightened species would be the likewise treasure-hoarding one from
Beowulf, who Tolkien was far from fond of: "I find 'dragons' a
fascinating product of imagination. But I don't think the Beowulf one is
frightfully good. But the whole problem of the intrusion of the
'dragon' into northern imagination and its transformation there is one I
do not know enough about." Another irony there, that the man who
claimed little scholarly knowledge of Dragons ended up writing the first
Old Worm in a whole literary genre. Yet while Smaug the Chiefest and
Greatest of Calamities may have been based primarily in Fafnir, from a
strictly Dragon-lore perspective his intelligence is far more in keeping
with an Asian Dragon, though it is naturally soured by typical European
Dragon behavioral characteristics.
Meaning that J.R.R. Tolkien created in effect a whole knew type of
Dragon that, lust for gold notwithstanding, can be succinctly described
as a Dragon with a Western-style physical form and non-Divine nature
coupled with Eastern-style intelligence.
This Fantasy Dragon, as I will call it, began and remains the classic of the genre in books and games alike. Dungeons & Dragons came by its name honestly, and here are a list of books in which Dragons feature as important plot elements/characters:
The Earthsea Cycle by Ursula K. Le Guin
The Inheritance Cycle by Christopher Paolini
The Dark Lord of Derkholm by Diana Wynne Jones
The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien
A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin (as much as I hate to use this as an example, GRRM's usage of Dragons cannot be ignored)
The Seraphina series by Rachel Hartman
The Annals of Drakis by Tracy Hickman
Handbook for Dragon Slayers by Merrie Haskell
The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
The Cygnet Duology by Patricia A. McKillip
And then, of course there all those masterworks that I have somehow not read (yet), such as The Dragonriders of Pern by Anne McCaffrey.
Indeed, Dragons possessing the Eastern Dragon ability to take human form is now almost commonplace, such as Haryman's The Seraphina series, Fire Emblem games, and D&D, and McKillip's The Cygnet Duology. Fire Emblem even takes it a step further by having many of the gods be Dragons. The left is Tiki, princess of the Divine Dragon tribe whose alternate form is a silver-white Dragon. She likes sleeping in, gets lonely easily, treasures her friends above all wealth, and spend most of her time in human form. In all honestly, Fire Emblem's Dragons are some of the finest, deepest, I have ever seen, flawlessly blending Asian-style high-mindedness with Western-style animalism. Such Dragons-in-human-form, saarantras as they are called in the Seraphina books, are absolutely fascinating in that they show their non-human qualities/mindset while in human form, having an outsider's observation and insights into the human condition. The overall point being that, when dealing in Dragons, Fantasy authors seldom simply pick whether follow a more Eastern or Western influence. I have often said that nobody, but nobody, does Dragons like Ursula K. Le Guin, because, in the Archipelago, a dragonlord it is not someone with a mastery of dragons but rather one whom the dragons will speak with, and Le Guin directly said that it took her a while to find her Dragons. Indeed, she stated that she drew influence from Smaug, Pern, and Eastern Dragons.
|Valyrian dragonlords. (Art by Magali Villeneuve)|
Why do I not mention Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time?
Simply put, because there are no Dragons. Rather, "Dragon" and "Dragon
Reborn" are titles for the champion of the Light against the Dark One.
Yes the Dragon Banner depicts an Asian Dragon and Jordan certainly
imbues the title with the critical cosmic importance consistent with
Eastern Dragons, but the Dragon and Dragon Reborn, Lews Therin Telamon
and Rand al'Thor, are human.
Do you understand that you must always fail, as long as your goal is not truth, but guidance? That as long as you seek dragons around you, you will never become the dragon within you? - Sarkhan Vol
Tuesday, September 7, 2021
My father and I just finished reading House of Hollow by Krystal Sutherland.
I am almost not sure what I can say about this book seeing that it describes itself quite well early on, so I will say the phrase I instantly and correctly sensed would characterize the whole story: it is where a fairy-tale meets a nightmare in a fever dream. Beyond that, I could and still cannot tell whether the tale made me feel interested or ill, lines which for me have never been so seamlessly or sickeningly meshed before, and I employ such terms because at times the book made me want to wash myself. Yet it kept me engaged - of that there is no doubt. For a book so stiff with profanity, I actually never wanted to stop reading it, which is no small feat seeing as the last and only other author to accomplish this was George R.R. Martin. I am equally, paradoxically, glad and sorry it is over.
Iris, Vivi, Grey, Cate, and Gabe Hollow, and goodbye Tyler Yang as well.
Remind me never, ever, to say "meet you halfway" to any of you.
Thursday, September 2, 2021
Today, tad later than expected yet no less welcome for it, The Nature of Middle-earth comes out. This could easily be final book by J.R.R. Tolkien to grace us now that his son Christopher has passed, and indeed this book is described as J.R.R. Tolkien’s final writings on Middle-earth. A perfect companion to The Silmarillion and The Book of Unfinished Tales.
Thus it is fitting that it should be published today, for on September 2nd 48 years ago did John Ronald Reuel Tolkien pass himself into the Halls of Mandos, leaving an enduring legacy in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings that inspired a whole genre of literature. A legacy that has kept growing, thanks in no small part to Christopher Tolkien, but also to us: for all Fantasy lovers and authors since have held open the doors to the Fantastic that he, the Founder and Father of Modern Fantasy, first opened. Bilbo's door at Bag End, to be exact, from which the road to adventure goes.
“Tolkien opened up in me a dormant love of lost and misty times, myth and legend…” - Ted Nasmith
Wednesday, August 18, 2021
|Daybreaker by Todd Lockwood|
Joseph Campbell, world-renowned scholar of comparative mythology and comparative religion, author of The Hero with a Thousand Faces, quite eloquently states above part of what Dragons so special in all our hearts, and I say ALL because Dragons belong not to a single literary genre or culture for the simple reason that they are EVERYWHERE. From the West to Far East, these majestic creatures soar over and through myths and legends, and from there glided into Fantasy literature where they are given life anew a thousand times a thousand times over, for if ANY creature personifies not only Fantasy but mythical/legendary creatures it is beyond all doubt the mighty Dragon. This is part one of a series of three posts in which we explore first where and how they appear in real-world mytho-historical accounts and then their role in Fantasy literature coupled with a description of all different types of Dragons. However, do not expect me to cover everything because that is, in a word and as we all know, is quite impossible - for the human who knows all there is to know of Dragons has stuck a knife in the heart of wonder.
"If the sky could dream, it would dream of dragons." - Ilona Andrews
Dragons in myths & legends
To start, Dragons are no more, and indeed arguably far less, universal in World Mythology than in Fantasy since beliefs regarding them vary greatly depending on the culture. However, since this is not a scholarly dissertation in purpose or length, I can for simplicity's sake safely divide Dragons into two 'species': European/Western and Asian/Eastern. (I apologize to every Asian reading this for lumping your cultures together, as I am well aware that distinct differences exist between, for example, Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, and Japanese Dragons, but this is a blog page, not a book, and Eastern Dragons share more similarities than differences.)
Beginning with the former, since the High Middle Ages European Dragons have generally been depicted as winged, horned, four-legged, and capable of breathing fire. The image to the left is the oldest recognizable image of a Western Dragon as we today would recognize it and comes from medieval bestiary dating from approximately 1260 AD. Recall that tired old trope of Knights in Shining Armor rescuing Damsels-in-Distress from the evil Dragon, and liberating helpless villages paying tribute to the evil Dragon? That is a European Dragon. Indeed, the whole Dragon Slayer concept was born from and evolved around European Dragons, the common theme being that these Dragons were in effect predators who ranked above humans in the local food chain but could be taken out by bold knights. Predator being the key world, because these quaint medieval-style Dragons were not credited with the intelligence Fantasy literature and gaming grants them today. No one would call a tiger stupid, for instance, but neither are they capable of discussing current events with humans. Such were these original European Dragons. In sum, Western Dragons were portrayed as monsters to be tamed or overcome, usually by saints or culture heroes, as in the unaccountably popular legend of Saint George and the Dragon, and typically have ravenous appetites and to live in caves where they hoard treasure. Sound familiar? Aye, we owe the Dragon's Hoard concept to European Dragons, and with it the trope of the great hero slaying the Dragon both for the treasure and to protect their people from further attacks; the Norse epic Beowulf is a perfect example of this, as is the tale of Sigurd from the Nibelungenlied, the Völsunga saga, and the Poetic Edda.
for Asian Dragons which, I might add, are far more civilized than their
Western counterparts and look quite different as well – typically
being depicted as large, wingless, serpentine creatures with clawed
feet. The image to the right shows two such imperial Dragons on the Nine-Dragon Wall in Beijing's Beihai Park. Note the word imperial, for
in Imperial China, the Emperor near-always used the dragon as a symbol
of his imperial strength and power, since in the East Dragons
traditionally personified righteous, potent, power and were
symbols of strength and good fortune. Meaning that that whole Dragon
Slayer trope is generally absent in Asian lore since, to put in
succinctly, Eastern Dragons did not look at humans and think of dinner.
That said, they were higher on the metaphysical food-chain because,
rather than mere creatures, Dragons were gods (or demigods depending).
Shenlong, for example, is a spiritual Dragon from Chinese mythology who
is the master of storms a bringer of rain, which makes him fairly
typical as Asian Dragons were water-deities, rulers of seas and rivers
as well as the makers of weather. The Dragon Kings of the Four Seas (the
Sihai Longwang) were the masters of key bodies of water in Ancient
China and were revered by those living near them. Note how the two
imperial Dragons above are flying over a vast sea, while most depictions
of European Dragons are of them coiled around towers (or princesses),
in caves guarding treasure, or trying to toast a would-be Dragon Slayer
with fire-breath. Not so with Asian Dragons who, in addition to not
viewing humans as lunch, could not breath fire. Why would a water-deity
breath fire, anyway? Furthermore and given their benevolent Divine
status, Asian Dragons are far more intelligent and thus, again, infinity more civilized than their
Western counterparts. Indeed, in Asian mythology they are often the key protagonists. One of my favorites is The Four Dragons
myth, where the Long Dragon, Yellow Dragon, Black Dragon and Pearl
Dragon save humanity from a crippling drought, ultimately sacrificing
themselves to become the four great rivers of China. Which brings up the
final key difference between Asian and European Dragons: Eastern
Dragons could shape-shift, taking on various forms both human and
animal. Tis no accident that various images of the Dragon Kings depict
them as human.
“I do not care what comes after; I have seen the dragons on the wind of morning.” - Ursula Le Guin