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I recently blogged about a radish variety called Dragon, and that got me thinking about other plants that might be identified with our favorite mythical beasts. In fact, there is one very common “dragon plant” displayed in homes and offices all over the world.

Dracaena is actually a plant family composed of desert succulents and shrubs. Their name comes from Greek drakaina, a female dragon. Botanists have had some confusion about how dracaenas are related to other plants, but the current conclusion is that they are members of the Asparagus family. There are 40 species in this group, most originating in Africa.

The best known is D. marginata, which appears like a palm tree with a narrow trunk and thin, stiff, straight leaves. The basic dragon plant has dark green leaves, although cultivated varieties have stripes of red or lighter green. Dragon plants can be grown singly in pots, in clusters of two or three, or even tied together or braided to help support each other.

This is a hardy plant that can take a bit of neglect. It’s fine if you forget to water for a few days, because they are adapted to arid conditions. Don’t let them stand in water, however. They grow slowly, so don’t have to be re-potted very often. The only real maintenance is to trim off dead leaves and keep it looking tidy.

As you can probably tell, I love dragon plants. I would have them all over my house, except that I also have two cats who insist on mowing down any plant with skinny leaves. I love my cats, too. Thus, I am not able to have dragon plants at home. If I ever get an office of my own, you can bet there will be dragon plants in it.

This movie, released in 2011, has the distinct feel of an independent film. The director, Anne K. Black, also produced and wrote, while the other two producers shared writing chores. None of the actors are anyone you’ll have heard of.

It’s a very typical dragon-hunting adventure in a quasi-Renaissance setting, with a light sprinkling of magic and romance. Young Will and his father are shepherds struggling to make ends meet when a dragon moves into the neighborhood and starts picking off their flock. Will convinces his Dad to go hunting for the creature, but Dad is killed. Will heads down the mountain to beg for work from grouchy Lord Sterling. There’s a spirited daughter, a scoundrel knight, and several fellow servants who have it in for Will just because he’s new.

The good? Lovely scenery in Ireland. Nice costuming, too. Special effects were decent. I enjoyed their design for the dragon, which combined elements of a snake and a Siamese cat. Unfortunately, the dragon has no personality and plays exactly the role you’d expect of it.

The not so good? You could tell the script was written by a committee, with every character a cliché and every plot twist predictable. They only surprised me with one character, Lady Spriggs, who is introduced as a terrible harridan but turns out to be witty and wise. The actors didn’t do much with the script, and the editing is very choppy.

In other words, it’s a solid B Movie. Don’t expect deep thought or great special effects, and you can have a good time watching Dawn of the Dragonslayer. Director Black has also completed another fantasy movie, The Crown and the Dragon (2013). I plan to look for it.

This is a novelty book, published in 1982, by Paul and Karin Johnsgard. They are a father and daughter team who wrote just this one book together. Paul is a zoology professor (now retired) who penned numerous books on ornithology and similar wildlife topics. Evidently he decided to take a walk on the fun side and do a what-if book with his daughter, Karin. Paul also created the illustrations, which are pen and ink and very much natural-history style.

The premise is to treat mythical beasts the way they would real ones. So they posit that dragons are cryptids (unknown creatures) descended from dinosaurs. There are breakdowns of several varieties, distinguishing lake dragons from flying dragons and flightless dragons. Interesting ideas are presented about dragon habitats and behaviors, and reasons for the age-old conflict with humans. They weave in as many traditional folk beliefs about dragons as they can.

Perhaps most interesting is the explanation they offer for fire-breath. According to the Johnsgards, this is the result of dragons being mostly vegetarian. Dragons digest greenery through fermentation, which generates methane gas. To prevent painful bloating, the methane is isolated in a secondary stomach. It can be expelled slowly while breathing or in bursts for self-defense.

This book is fun, in a dry and reserved way that is appropriate for a faux nature documentary. I don’t recommend it for kids because of the sparse illustration, but teens and adults with a wry sense of humor should get a smile out of Dragons and Unicorns, A Natural History.

Earlier this year, I was surprised to discover a variety of dragon in a seed catalog. A radish called Dragon, don’t you know. Of course, I had to buy the seeds and plant them in my garden. Now I’m back to report.

My first crop, unfortunately, were infested with maggots. Yes, there are maggots that like to snack on spicy foods like onions and radishes. I had to dig those all out and try again.

Fortunately, my second attempt went better. The radishes weren’t 4″ long, as the package had said. That’s possibly due to my growing conditions, or it could be I didn’t plant deeply enough. They are a nice pink/red outside and bright white inside. The flavor is mildly spicy — perfect for a spice-shy person like me — and the texture is lightly crisp. I enjoyed mine with ranch dip. They would also be great in salads.

This is definitely one seed I plan to plant again next year. One can never have too many dragons in the garden. But, in a different part of my yard to avoid those naughty maggots.

This blog is a day late. Sorry! Yesterday I had the opportunity to join my husband in climbing a mountain and picking huckleberries while sipping wine. You can tell how I chose to spend the day. But I’m back now to gratefully accept the One Lovely Blog Award.

onelovelyblogaward

This is my second time; the first was back in May of 2013. I’d like to thank Princess of Dragons for thinking of me. She’s a young writer in Britain who posts clips and shares fun facts about dragons. I hope you’ll check her out.

Now I give Seven Facts About Me:
1) My day job is as a substitute school secretary. This helps inspire me to…
2) I also write for children as Lucy D. Ford.
3) I have two kids, who are teenagers. They inspire and distract me, sometimes both at the same time.
4) My favorite color is aquamarine.
5) Most days, I need coffee to do my best work.
6) I also like having music on when I’m writing. Movie soundtracks are the best, but I like all sorts of rock, pop, folk and electronica.
7) Biking is my favorite form of physical activity.

And I’m passing the nomination on to three blogs I didn’t nominate last time. These are all independent writers and I want to help them spread their fame. They are:
1) Legends of Windemere, by Charles Yallowitz. He writes heroic fantasy and comments on the writing life.
2) C. N. Faust, by the eponymous author of gothic and urban fantasy.
3) Shannon A. Thompson, who writes urban fantasy/romance and whose blog also covers the writing life.

Please take a look at all these fine blogs, and I’ll see you again on Tuesday!

Dragon Circles

Fairy rings are one of nature’s weird and cool phenomena, a circular formation of mushrooms growing on the ground. They can occur anywhere, from tundra moss to forest, but are most visible in fields and plains. Formations can be full circles of mushrooms, partial circles or arcs of mushrooms, rings and arcs of darker green growth without mushrooms, and areas with dead growth at the center. Rings start out small and grow outward. They can persist for hundreds of years and reach many yards across.

Modern science explains that fairy rings are caused by mushrooms growing beneath the soil. Over sixty mushroom species have been identified in association with fairy rings. However, because they are so visible and striking, people before the scientific era had all sorts of stories about what caused the mushrooms to grow this way.

The most common name, of course, is fairy ring. They have also been called pixie rings, elf circles, and fairy circles. All over Europe and as far away as the Philippines, fairy rings are associated with tiny spirits. Europeans believed the grass in the middle was dead because fairies had trampled it while dancing. Other cultures blamed witches or the Devil churning butter. Many tales recount the disasters befalling mortals who ventured into fairy rings.

But, in Tyrolia, legend held that these formations were caused by dragons. If a dragon flew by and stopped to rest, wrapping its tail around it, the heat of its body burned the ground. After that, nothing but mushrooms could grow for seven years or more.

Maybe Tyrolian dragons liked mushrooms for their supper?

In The Other Wind, Ursula Le Guin brings closure to the longest arc of her Earthsea Books. This arc has to do with death, how people fear it, fight it, and in her world have changed the reality of death itself. In Earthsea, the real world is beautiful, sunny, fertile and bounded by the sea on all sides. Their afterlife is the Dry Land: barren, dusty and dark, where souls forget all they once loved and even parents and children can pass each other without recognition.

In A Wizard of Earthsea, the beast Ged brings into the world is his own knowledge that someday he will die. In The Tombs of Atuan, Arha/Tenar’s life is dedicated to the ancient, evil Nameless Ones who dwell in eternal darkness. In The Farthest Shore, Ged and Arren pursue a wizard named Cob who sought immortality and nearly drained the life out of Earthsea. In The Other Wind, the dead are literally tearing down the wall between Earthsea and the Dry Land. For Lily, the wife of a sorcerer named Alder, retained enough memory to recognize her husband and reach out to him across that wall.

Woven with this are other great changes. In the first three Earthsea novels, Le Guin wrote from a traditional perspective in gender roles. Only men did great magic and carried out great plans. No woman was even allowed to enter the Mage’s School on Roke. Women’s magic was dismissed; phrases like “weak as women’s magic” and “wicked as women’s magic” pervade these books. So great was the separation between men’s magic and women’s magic, wizards were required to be celibate, put away mere fleshly concerns, and devote themselves entirely to magic as a High Art. Ordinary magic and working with village folk was left to lowly witches and sorcerers.

Le Guin must have come to realize the stereotypes she was perpetuating, for the later books explore women’s role in Earthsea. One short story in Tales From Earthsea describes how the School at Roke was founded on equal opportunity for men and women, but once it became successful, prouder men came in and pushed the women out. Another story details what happens when a woman, a magical prodigy, dares ask to study at Roke and the masters split on whether to teach her or turn her away. In Tehanu, Tenar tries to heal an abused girl, only to have her own son come and take away her farm because he is the new master and widows have no property rights.

But the crux of all is the story of Earthsea’s dragons. As I related in a previous post, legends state that in the dawn of the world, there were no humans or dragons, but a single race of immortals with human form but dragon’s wings. All spoke the Language of Making. But some fell in love with things they had made and grew fearful of losing them, while others had no interest in things and wanted only to fly free. This great division led to a magical bargain.

Those who prized flight gave up all things and ownership. However, they retained the Language of Making and their immortality. They went into the west and became dragons. Those who prized material wealth had to give up their magic in return for ownership of things. They went into the east and became humans.

What the humans didn’t understand at first was that they had also chosen to age and eventually die. And so a further split occurred. Some stood by their bargain, believing that when they died their spirits would reincarnate and so they were still immortal. These were the ancestors of the Kargish people, who despise all sorcery. However, the majority betrayed their promise. They studied magic again, eventually invading dragon territory and killing most of the mighty beasts.

Men thought that by living in the magical west, their souls and bodies would go on together, forever. Instead, the conquered land lost all its fertility and turned into the Dry Land. Human souls who went to the Dry land could never reincarnate. What Lily had tried to tell Alder was that the dead were not truly immortal. They were only trapped, cut off from the world and its healing cycles.

Through the final volumes, Tehanu and The Other Wind, Le Guin presents the possibility of renewal. That some humans can become dragons, that the dead can be released by letting go of bodies as the definition of oneself. What does it mean for Earthsea, for Roke with its rigid separation of men from women and high magic from low? That, she doesn’t say. Le Guin presents a seminal moment of change, but not all its consequences. That is for us to speculate upon — at least, until she writes more about Earthsea.

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