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Mt. Pilatus rises among the Swiss Alps, not far from the city of Lucerne. From ancient times, local people have believed this peak was an abode of dragons. Climbing it was forbidden, both for the dangerous climb and the fear of provoking an attack on the city below.

But one fall day, it is told, a young cooper* set out to collect wood for his trade. It was so beautiful on the slopes of Mr. Pilatus that he lost track of where he was. At dusk, he discovered to his dismay that he had climbed all the way to the summit! He turned to hurry down, but his heavy load made him stumble. Down, down, down he fell, thinking each moment would be his last, until suddenly he plunged into darkness.

When he regained his senses, the cooper had a huge lump on his head but otherwise he was unhurt. Alas, that was the extent of his good news. He had fallen into a deep cavern. Only a small patch of sky showed high above him. He was trapped!

Worse, he heard strange noises behind him. The cooper was horrified to find two great, scaly dragons sharing his prison. With fiery eyes and snorting sparks, they approached. Once again the cooper thought he must be doomed, but the dragons merely sniffed him over and turned away. Farther back, the cooper spied a vein of moonmilk** oozing from the cracks. The dragons lapped at it hungrily. Once they had eaten their fill, the cooper tried it himself. The moonmilk was soft, like cream cheese, and he ate to his heart’s content.

Days turned into weeks, and winter snows covered the cavern entrance. The cooper snuggled up with his tolerant dragon friends and passed a warm, comfortable winter. Eventually, spring sun melted the snows and bird songs echoed down into the dragons’ lair. The great beasts stirred and stretched their wings. One of them took off, soaring easily through the exit far above.

Then the cooper was afraid, for he still could not escape. But the second dragon nudged him and offered its tail. The cooper held on for dear life as the dragon carried him out of his prison. He whooped and laughed as they soared through the sky, until at last the dragon glided into a meadow of flowers. The cooper dropped off and the dragon flew on its way.

After he spent some time rolling in the grass and smelling the flowers, the cooper returned to the city of Lucerne. His family and friends were overjoyed, since he had been thought dead. Over and over, the cooper told the tale of his miraculous rescue by the dragons on Mt. Pilatus. Now the people knew the dragons were kindly rather than fierce. Seeing one became a mark of good luck. However, they still stayed off the mountain out of respect for their good deeds.

*A cooper is a barrel-maker.

**Moonmilk is a real thing found in caves. Since it’s mostly calcium, it probably wouldn’t be a nutritious food, but this is a folk story.

This anthology caught my eye with its juxtaposition of modern (Steampunk) with ancient (folk tales). Traditional stories have a way of drawing new authors and artists to re-create and re-examine, so it’s no surprise an editor would give them a Steampunk twist. The combination could have been almost too cute, but these stories worked for me.

Of particular interest is David Lee Summers’ “The Steam-Powered Dragon,” which adapts one of the less known Grim Brothers stories, “The Devil and His Grandmother.” Summers brings the deserting soldiers to life with gently pointed humor, and succeeds in convincing us that even a steam-powered monstrosity can still love its Grandma.

I also enjoyed “From the Horse’s Mouth,” by Bernie Mojzes, which is based on “The Goose Girl,” and “The Clockwork Nightingale” by Jean-Marie Ward, inspired by Andersen’s “The Nightingale.”

If you like a good fairy tale and a swashbuckling Steampunk good time, you’ll enjoy Gaslight & Grimm.

Summer Repeat 3

Here’s another reblog from July of 2012, when the London Summer Olympics were in full swing.

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Fantasy Olympics

Swept up in Olympic Fever, I here offer what the Olympics might be like if fantasy creatures were real.

Marksmanship would have two categories. Dragons and other fire-breathers would compete in the Heavy Weapons category, while magi with magic wands would make up the Light Weapons category.

Wizards and witches also would compete in transforming objects or themselves. Transforming other beings is not allowed.

Aerobatic events would include precision flying by dragon formations. Giant eagles would dominate aerial speed racing. Magic carpets and flying brooms would have their own category.

Gymnastics: Gnomes and fairies are heavy favorites, although flyers must somehow contain their wings to avoid having an unfair advantage.

Aquatics: Sea serpents would compete in swimming races and also have their own water polo team. Naiads and water hags would be heavily favored in swimming and diving events.

Equestrian events would be dominated by centaurs and would include physical combat.

Archery: Although humans try hard, elves own the field. It’s only a question whether dark, light or woodland elves take the medals.

Weight lifting is the pride of dwarves. However, they refuse to take part in boxing because nobody bleeds.

So tell me, friends, what fantasy Olympic events would you like to see?

Here’s my newest dragon friend, Hafzilla.

Hafzilla

Hafzilla


Hafzilla is a foundling dragon. I was riding my bike and stopped to pick up a water bottle from the curb, when I noticed something bright green in a parking lot. Turns out it was part of a Godzilla toy. You know, the wind-up kind. It had been crushed by a car. What I salvaged was the largest piece.

Normally I hate litter, but who could resist poor little Hafzilla?

Here we are in what are traditionally called the “dog days of summer.” From this we all imagine sweltering weather with both people and dogs flopped in the shade.

The phrase comes to us from Roman times, when the bright star Sirius rose along with the sun. (Sirius was part of the constellation Canis Major and was known as the Dog Star.) Thus the rising of Sirius became associated with the hottest days of the summer in late July and early August.

So the Dog Days and their constellation made me think about the constellation Draco. If we had “dragon days,” what would they be?

1) Ironically, this really sounds like a sales event to me. Can’t you just see some auto showroom decked out for a Dragon Days Clearance Sale?

2) Draco is a fixed constellation in the northern sky. It doesn’t rise or set the way Canis Major does, so you couldn’t base anything on that. However, there is a meteor shower that appears to originate with Draco. Dragon Days could be held to honor the Draconid meteor shower, in early to mid-October.

3) Chinese New Year, a.k.a. the Lunar New Year, occurs in late January. Certainly there could be a Dragon Days associated with this world-wide festival.

4) An international competition of fire dancers or pyrotechnicians could be designated as Dragon Days.

5) In a fantasy setting, where dragons were real, Dragon Days might be the season when their eggs hatch.

Well, what do you think? What should Dragon Days be about?

Summer Repeats

I’m reblogging the legend of Hydra, first posted in October 2012. Here’s the second half.

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The Legend of Hydra, Part 2

No one knows when the ancient Greeks began telling stories about Hercules, but the saga of the Twelve Labors was pretty much in the form we know by 600 BCE. As the story goes, Hercules had suffered a fit of madness and murdered his own children. To atone, he had to perform ten great tasks, assigned by King Eurystheus of Tiryns. Since Eurystheus was a devout follower of Hera, the queen of the gods and Hercules’s enemy, all his choices were either deadly or deeply humiliating.

As his second task, Eurystheus ordered Hercules to go to Lake Lerna and kill the terrible Hydra. Hercules and his nephew, Iolaus, proceeded to the spring of Amymone, where Hydra lived in a cave filled with noxious vapors. Hercules covered his mouth and nose with cloth to protect himself and fired flaming arrows into the cave to get her attention.

Hydra charged out, her nine dragon heads spewing poisoned gasses, and they did battle. Hercules cut off some of her heads with a sword, but discovered to his horror that two heads grew back in the place of each one he cut off.

The task seemed hopeless, but Iolaus had an idea. Each time Hercules cut off one of Hydra’s heads, Iolaus ran up and cauterized the stump with a torch. This prevented any more heads growing in. The tide of battle turned.

Hera was watching from Mount Olympus. When she saw that Hercules was winning, she sent a giant crab to attack his feet. Hercules stomped on the crab and killed it. Working together, he and Iolaus were able to defeat the vicious Hydra.

They could not kill her, however. Hydra’s last head was immortal. Legends diverge slightly at this point. One version says that Hercules switched to his favorite weapon, a club, and thus killed Hydra without cutting her head off. The other version is that he did cut off her last head, and Iolaus cauterized the stump, effectively killing Hydra’s body. Her final head remained alive. Hercules buried it under a large rock, rendering it harmless.

Afterward, Hercules dipped his arrows in Hydra’s venomous blood. These poisoned arrows figure significantly in later parts of his history. Hera, meanwhile, rewarded Hydra and the giant crab by placing them in the night sky as the constellations Hydra and Cancer respectively.

Summer Repeats

Yes, it’s summer — re-run season. So here’s a reblog of an early post from October, 2012.

*****

The Legend of Hydra

We often tell tales of dragons as a variety or species with numerous members sharing common attributes. Well, Hydra wasn’t like that. She was an individual with a story of her own.

Hydra was born into a star-studded monster clan. Her parents were Typhon (a hideous deity imprisoned beneath Mt. Aetna by Zeus) and Echidna (a drakaina, or beautiful nymph with the tail of a serpent). Cerberus, Chimera, and Ladon (the dragon who guarded the golden apples of the Hesperides) were her siblings.

Legend describes Hydra as a gigantic water snake. Her most famous feature, of course, was that she had several heads. Accounts vary wildly, but nine heads is the number most commonly given. If that wasn’t bad enough, when one head was cut off, two more would grow in its place. And that’s not all! (chanelling Billy Mays here) Hydra was so poisonous that if her breath didn’t kill you, a stray drop of her blood would finish the job. Even stepping into her footprint could be fatal.

Like her brothers, Cerberus and Ladon, Hydra was a guardian beast. She lived at Lake Lerna, where an entrance to the Underworld was located. Hydra’s job was to be its guardian. Mostly she stayed at her post, but occasionally she did emerge to terrorize the countryside.

Hydra’s legend is part of a much longer myth cycle, the Twelve Labors of Hercules. I’ll tell her tale in my next blog post.

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