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Archive for March, 2012

The legend of Saint George and the Dragon comes to us from the time of the Crusades, when Middle-Eastern countries such as Libya were in the (European) public mind as dens of heathen wickedness. In other words, it is an artifact of its times.

The basic version comes to us from Golden Legends, a Catholic compilation of the lives of the saints, although artists have created more embroidered versions over the centuries.

According to the tale, Saint George was a knight from Cappadocia who was traveling in Libya. When he came to the city of Silene, the people were lamenting. It seems there was a pond near Silene where a dragon lived. Its poisoned breath killed anyone who came near it. To pacify the dragon, the king of Silene had declared it should be given two sheep every day. But when the sheep ran out, they were forced to give the dragon their children. The king of Silene had instituted a lottery to choose the victims fairly.

Alas, the king’s own daughter drew the fatal lot. He tried to wiggle out of it, but the citizens who had already sacrificed their own children wouldn’t hear of it. Still the king delayed for a week, until the dragon returned and began to poison all the citizens. Grieving deeply, the king dressed his daughter in her wedding finery and sent her to meet her fate.

Saint George arrived in time to see the princess departing for her doom. He asked why she was weeping, and when she explained the circumstances, he vowed to help her. She begged him to save himself, but he said that Christ would save them all.

While they were talking, the dragon saw them and attacked. George drew his sword, made the sign of the cross, and then charged the dragon. He injured it severely with his spear, and while it was helpless, instructed the princess to tie her belt around its neck. When she did this, the dragon became meek and obedient.

George and the princess then led the dragon back to Silene, where the people fled before the dragon. Finally the king came out and asked how he could reward the knight for saving his daughter. “Be baptized and saved by Christ,” said Saint George. “Then I will slay the dragon.”

As usual, the king hedged and offered other treasures, but Saint George didn’t want anything else. So the king and all his citizens were baptized. Fifteen thousand people converted to Christianity. Saint George kept his word and struck off the dragon’s head. Four ox carts were required to remove its body from the city.

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I’ve been posting about Asian dragons lately, so here’s a trivia question about them. (Don’t worry, it’s super easy!)

What is an Asian dragon’s favorite treasure?

a) gold, b) jade, c) silver, d) pearls?

Yep, it’s d) pearls! You knew that, right?

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The wyrmlings wing their way to you in Episode 11 of 16, either on Podbean or my web site.

In this episode, Orlik figures out Taksepu’s plan to capture and domesticate the wyrmlings, while Yazka reveals her own scheme to take over the Ram People. Includes chapters 21 and 22 of the novel.

Next eposide will post on April 1 — no kidding! — and I’d love to receive your feedback on the story to date.

Time Notes: Chapter 21, 1:08; Chapter Break, 7:15; Chapter 22, 7:40; End Credits, 15:05; Total run time, 16:35.

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To follow up my last post about Asian dragons, here is a folk story featuring them. It not only describes the power and nobility of sacrificing for others, but also shows the importance of taking action for what you believe in.

Long ago in China, there were no rivers or lakes in all the land. Only the Eastern Sea, where four dragons lived. They were the Long Dragon, the Yellow Dragon, the Black Dragon, and the Pearl Dragon. One day, the four dragons soared up from the ocean to frolick among the clouds.

Suddenly the Pearl Dragon cried, “Come look at this!”

“What’s the matter?” the other three dragons asked, and they came to join their friend.

People had gathered on the earth below, burning incense and laying out offerings of fruit and cakes. When they got closer, the dragons heard that the people were praying desperately.

An old woman with a skinny child on her back knelt down and cried, “God in Heaven, please send rain! Our children have no rice to eat!”

When the four dragons looked around, they could see that it hadn’t rained in a very long time. The grass had turned yellow and crops were withering in fields that were cracked and dry.

“How sad they are,” said the Yellow Dragon. The Black Dragon said, “They will all die soon if no rain comes.” The Long Dragon told them, “We should go to the Jade Emperor and ask him to make it rain.” The Pearl Dragon also agreed, and so they all flew up to the Heavenly Palace, where the Jade Emperor lived.

The Jade Emperor was very busy, since he ruled over all of Heaven, Earth and Hell. He was angry when the four dragons burst into his palace. “What are you doing here, when you should be in the sea?”

“Your majesty,” said the Long Dragon, “please send rain to the Earth right away. The crops have shriveled and the people will starve!”

“Oh, very well. Return to your places, and I will send the rain tomorrow,” the Jade Emperor said. But he wasn’t really paying attention them, as he watched some fairies sing and dance.

“Thank you, o mighty Emperor.”

The dragons were happy and returned to the sea, but as soon as they were gone, the Emperor forgot his promise. Ten days passed, and still not a drop of rain fell on the land. The people were so hungry that they ate bark, or the roots of grass, or even clay.

The four dragons came to visit and were very upset by what they saw. “How sad that the Jade Emperor cares more for his own pleasure than for people who need him,” the Pearl Dragon said.

“If only there was a way that we could help them,” said the Black Dragon.

Then the Long Dragon looked back at the vast sea, and he said, “I have an idea.”

“Out with it!” cried the other dragons.

“There’s plenty of water in the sea, where we live,” said the Long Dragon. “If we spray it into the sky, surely it will fall down like rain. The people and the crops will be saved.”

“Very good!” said the others.

“But if the Jade Emperor finds out, he might be angry,” the Long Dragon warned. “He will think we took too much upon ourselves.”

“The people need us,” said the Yellow Dragon resolutely. “I will do anything to help them.”

“We will never regret it,” said the Black Dragon, and the Pearl Dragon said, “Let’s begin.”

So the four dragons scooped up water from the sea in their mouths, and they flew over the land, spraying it everywhere. Back and forth they went, until the clouds were dark and the sea water fell onto the earth as rain. The withered crops began to straighten up and grow green again.

People down below cheered and leapt with joy. “It’s raining, it’s raining! We are saved!”

But the sea god didn’t like them taking his water away. When he figured out what they had done, he went and told the Jade Emperor.

“How dare those four dragons give rain without my permission! ” The Jade Emperor was very angry. He sent his armies and all his heavenly generals to arrest them. The four dragons were out-numbered and couldn’t defend themselves. Soon they were dragged back to the heavenly palace.

“Bring me four mountains,” the Jade Emperor ordered the Mountain God. “Lay them upon these dragons so that they can never escape.”

The Mountain God used his magic to summon four mountains, and so the four dragons were imprisoned forever. But even then, they did not give up their love for the people. They turned themselves into rivers that flowed out of the mountains, through valleys and fields, and finally returned to the sea.

And this was the creation of China’s four great rivers — the Heilongjian (Black Dragon) in the north; the Huanghe (Yellow Dragon) in central China, the Changjiang (Yangtze, or Long River) farther south, and the Zhujiang (Pearl River) in the very far south.

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In pictures of Asian dragons, you often see the dragon holding or chasing after a round object covered in flames. Is this some strange draconic sport? Not at all.

From ancient times, dragons in Asia were associated with nature and particularly the weather. In the oldest depictions, the dragon is holding the sun — a red, flaming ball. As time passed, artists started to show the sun as white rather than red, which is actually more accurate if you’ve ever looked at the sun. (But don’t look too long; you can damage your vision.) Legend then said that the dragon was seeking the Night Shining Pearl. This pearl is what we see most often in Asian art.

The pearl itself has strong meaning in Asian folklore. Both Taoism and Buddhism use pearls as symbols of wisdom or enlightenment. Buddhism particularly depicts the pearl in the center of a lotus blossom as the ultimate wisdom in life. Since dragons were believed to be supernaturally wise, perhaps it is only natural that they should seek or hold such a treasure.

In addition, pearls resemble the round, white form of the full moon. Many legends state that dragons and other spirits of the sea preferred pearls over all other treasure. Dragons, being associated with rain and the seas, easily fell into this category.

Since dragons appear in Chinese, Korean, Tibetan, Japanese, and so many other Asian cultures, it’s nearly impossible to pin down where and when dragons and the sun were first linked in folklore. That would be a quest as endless as the dragon’s pursuit of the pearl. Yet that very search for wisdom is something that links all humans — to the ancient past, and to the magical creatures we call dragons.

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Episode 11 of my podcast is now online. You can find it at Podbean or my web site.

In episode 10, the wyrmlings quarrel about whether to stay with the Ram People, and Orlik makes a deal with two human slaves. This is number 10 of 16, and includes chapters 19 and 20.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my podcast. All comments are welcome.

Look for episode 11 on March 25th.

Time notes: Chapter 19, 1:07; Chapter Break, 9:17; Chapter 20, 9:46; End Credits, 16:00; Total run time, 17:15.

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Continuing in the vein of miniature dragons, I have to mention Cressida Cowell’s funny series about Vikings and dragons, How to Train Your Dragon, which is up to nine or ten volumes now. They’re the basis of the movie by the same name, but connected only loosely. Which is fine, because the books themselves have a loose flow where you feel that anything can happen at any time and the characters aren’t too tied down by continuity.

The main human is Hiccup, a small and average boy surrounded (often overwhelmed) by his huge, loud Viking community. Allegedly the Vikings are all pirates, though they’re mostly so hopeless that nobody ever gets hurt.

 Teamed with Hiccup is his pet dragon, Toothless. In the books, Toothless is as cute and fiesty as in the movie but a bit more self-centered. He tends to bicker with Hiccup, although his loyalty comes through when the chips are down.

Most of the dragons in these books are small enough to sit on shoulders; some, the nanodragons, are truly tiny. They seem a lot like young kids who react rather than plan things out. Of course, most of the humans aren’t all that bright, either, which is why Hiccup has to keep saving the day.

All the characters are drawn very broadly, even stereotyped. The plot features lots of slapstick and potty jokes, with an endless supply of one-liners from the author. If they’re not the kind of books that leave you thinking deeply, that’s okay. Just hold on and enjoy the ride.

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