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Archive for January, 2013

I blogged last week about “Tales of the Frog Princess” and its second volume, Dragon’s Breath. The series continues with Once Upon A Curse, wherein Emma travels back in time to prevent an evil spell being cast upon her forebearers. A vial of dragon’s breath, left over from the previous book, powers her up for the time travel.

A number of fun switch-arounds occur as the wonderful, heroic ancestor Emma had always heard about turns out to be vain and selfish. Emma also helps to establish the dragon colony she had visited in the previous book, by persuading a marauding dragon to move to the Purple Mountains instead of ravaging her homeland.

Perhaps more interesting, Emma discovers that being a Dragon Friend is more than just a title. Being around so many dragons is changing her magic — mostly to Emma’s advantage.

Though she fails to stop the original curse, at least she finds out the terms to break it. Returning home, Emma must confront the wicked tricks of her Aunt Grassina, a good woman turned evil by the curse. Almost by accident, Emma finds the strength she needs to defend her home when she turns into a dragon herself!

Again, I won’t spoil the fun by giving away whether the curse is broken or how. The books are a quick, easy read for kids 12-14 and adults who are looking for a pleasant break from reality.

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**This is an updated post, to thank everyone who commented during the Blog Hop. You were all so kind, I’m getting spoiled! Though I know that prospective editors will bring me down to earth soon enough. This experience has inspired me to take “Curse of the Dark Elf” out of its box and do the serious finish work it needs to prepare for submission. Again, thanks!**

sunday_snippets2Today is a special post for me. I’m taking part in the Sunday Snippets Blog Hop, organized by Jennifer Eaton. Our goal? Post and share 250 words from a work in progress.

If you want to find out more about the Sunday Snippets Blog Hop, click the button right up there. It should take you to the site.

My snippet is from “Curse of the Dark Elf,” a high fantasy at the cusp between middle-grade and YA, so for kids between 10 and 14. All comments and critiques welcome.

*****
“Tyne! Hold on there.”

Tyne froze in the act of undoing the straps that held the wood on her sledge. Her heart sank as old Hildr trotted toward her, but she tried to answer politely, the way her father would have.

“Well met, goodman Hildr.”

Hildr planted himself between Tyne and his wood shed. He cleared his throat and a sickening weight dropped into her stomach. This was the third time today one of her customers wanted to talk to her. She already knew what he was going to say.

“The thing is,” Hildr faltered. He ran a nervous hand over his balding head. Pale eyes darted to the ground, then to the fence behind her, looking everywhere but at Tyne. “The thing is, we won’t be needing you any more.”

“May I ask why?” Tyne gritted between her teeth. “My father supplied you wood for many years. I’m trying to carry on the work he left unfinished.”

At last the man looked at her. Everyone in Palte had known Tyne’s father, Willem. They all knew he was but five months dead, ambushed by bandits as he cut trees in the mountains south of the village. A momentary softening of Hildr’s expression let her hope he would change his mind.

“Is it a problem with my work?” Tyne pressed.

Hildr glanced toward his house, a kind of flinch. Tyne glimpsed movement there, curtains parting behind a window in the low, round cottage. Griffa, his wife, peered out. She scowled meaningfully. Resolution replaced the pity in Hildr’s eyes. He squared his shoulders as if bracing to lift something heavy.

“I just can’t use you,” he said. “Be off, elf.”
*****

Check out the other authors who are taking part in the blog hop:

http://mermaidssinging.wordpress.com/

http://caitlinsternwrites.wordpress.com/

http://ileandrayoung.com

http://www.mandyevebarnett.com

http://womanbitesdog.wordpress.com/

http://jennykellerford.wordpress.com

http://jennifermeaton.com/

http://richardleonard.wordpress.com

http://jordannaeast.com

http://letscutthecrap.wordpress.com

http://ileandrayoung.com

 

 

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This is the second book in a humorous fantasy series aimed at the younger end of YA (12-14). The whole is titled Tales of the Frog Princess, and I believe it’s up to 6 books now. My reportage will focus on the books which feature dragons in prominent roles.

The set up is that Emma, the title princess, kisses a frog — but instead of restoring Eadric to human form, Emma becomes a frog, too! From this you can tell the tone is light and comic. After several adventures learning to be a frog and then escaping an inept wanna-be witch, Emma and Eadric do resume their natural shapes.

Book 2, Dragon’s Breath, carries on the fantasy fun while broadening the world. Emma’s aunt, Grassina the Green Witch, loves a man who has been turned into an otter by her spiteful mother, Olivene. One of the items Emma needs to restore Grassina’s beloved is a vial of dragon’s breath, hence the title.

Emma and Eadric are helped in their quest by a young dragon named Ralf, who they rescue from the web of a giant spider. Ralf is a fun character, charmingly earnest, who acts about 8 years old. With his help Emma and her beau get into the dragon stronghold. There they come up against a couple of big problems. First, dragons don’t like humans; they are only accepted because Emma accidentally turns them into frogs again. Second, the curse calls for “breath of a dragon green,” and all the dragons in the stronghold are either dark blue or some shade of red.

I won’t spoil the ending by telling how little blue Ralf managed to provide the “breath of a dragon green.” The dragon society here is ordered, but light. The dragons are all rather dog-like, from the puppy-friendly Ralf to the watchdog-fierce elders. If you’re into magnificent, malevolent dragons, this may bother you, but for me it fit with the over-all tone of the series.

Another, very slight, drawback is the broad characterization, including many adults who act a bit dumber than they really need to. Also, the realm of Greater Greensward is very girl-centric, with the top political figures being all women, and that could be a bit of a turn-off for boys. Even with these caveats, I enjoy this series and I hope you will, too.

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Q: Do dragons like Dwarves?
A: No. They are too tough and chewy. Plus, the beard gets stuck between your teeth.

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I’ve been posting about dragons and virgins, the role of human sacrifice in ancient times and the high status of virgins in society. It does seem like these were elite women in cultures that often denied rights to females in general.

And there’s the catch: that these cultures didn’t actually value women, whether virgin or not. Several months ago, I touched on the tale of Andromeda, famously tied to a rock for the sea dragon Cetus to devour. Much is made of her being a virgin princess, therefore a valuable sacrifice. Yet women were accorded few rights in ancient Greece. She wouldn’t have inherited the kingdom and ruled it on her own; all that was for her future husband to have.

Likewise, in the tale of Saint George fighting the dragon of Libya, it’s not a prince who is sent out to be dragon food. It’s another princess. Because women and girls were expendable in a way boys and men were not.

It strikes me also that the kings are doing a kind of end-run here. They’re sacrificing a child, but not one of the important ones. If a son died, now that would be calamitous.

You’d think the dragons in these stories would be a little peeved. They’re being shorted in the value of their sacrifices, and they don’t even know it! The dragon goes for the sacrifice and falls to the hero’s sword every time. Alas, it seems they are not only ultimately evil, but ultimately dumb.

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Continuing my thread on why the traditional sacrifice to dragons is a virgin. Cultures all over the world accorded special honor and attributed magical powers to people who voluntarily abstained from sex. Priestesses of Artemis and Vesta, to name two, were expected to be virgins. They enjoyed high status in society as long as they maintained their purity.

Although our common image of a virgin is a woman dressed in white, men were also virgins (Catholic priesthood, anyone?). But in our modern age of promiscuity, we may be wondering why virginity was so important.

Part of it is political. Through the ages, at least in Western societies, there has been great concern that women be virgins when they marry and remain faithful to their husbands afterward. It wasn’t so much the emotional betrayal, because marriage then wasn’t the romantic institution it is to us; they didn’t want money and property passing into the hands of some interloper.

Part of it is physical. The sex drive is intense, deeply ingrained. It requires great commitment to give that up. This ties in with the mythical and magical, that virgins have special powers not available to those who are sexually active. One of the most common beliefs was that virgins could tame wild beasts, like unicorns.

Obviously, Christian mythology gives a key role to the Virgin Mary, who was worthy to bear a god’s child because of her purity. Even though she lived out her life as a married woman, she had special status to intercede with God. Devotion to the Virgin Mary rivalled and sometimes seemed to surpass that of Jesus.

The thread of virgin power comes down in many modern fantasy novels. Two well known series are Andre Norton’s Witch World, where the wise women of Estcarp lost their powers if they lost their virginity; and Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Darkover, where women enjoyed more freedom as chaste Keepers than ordinary women, who were treated as property.

So to conclude, the virgin’s special magic made her an unusually valuable person, and therefore a worthy sacrifice to the dragon.

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After my last post, M. Q. Allen asked the fascinating question (paraphrasing here) “What’s with dragons’s predilection for virgins?” This is a complicated question that shows how folklore can blend across nations and ages, growing new meaning with the passage of time.

Among the threads that I believe weave into this tapestry are human sacrifice, virginity, and how justice was carried out. Each of these has a long history in folk belief, so we’ll go one at a time.

In ancient times, people believed their gods wanted concrete proof of devotion. That proof was in the form of a sacrifice. Sacrifices could be wine poured out on an altar, gifts of food and coin to a temple, or the slaughter of animals. Well, for the highest devotion or when praying for something especially important, the sacrifice would be a human life.

So if a human life is required, then the absolutely ultimate sacrifice would be one’s own child. All the parent’s love of their child and hopes for the future given up in an instant, to please the Gods.

This seems horrible to us, but it was practiced all over the world for thousands of years. Europeans sank victims in bogs or burned captives in a “wicker man.” Altars thoughout Central America were drenched in blood and there was a mummified child or girl on many mountaintops in South America. Even the Bible relates, in Genesis 22, that Abraham would have sacrificed his son, Jacob, if God hadn’t sent an angel to intervene at the last moment.

In story after story, a king’s virgin daughter is set to be sacrificed to a dragon — buying security for a kingdom at the expense of her life. It’s such a powerful image, perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that dragons came to be connected with it.

Next time, I’ll delve into why being a virgin was such a big deal.

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