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Archive for February, 2013

No, it’s not like the gold standard! Although, given the reputed size of some dragon hoards, dragons could BE the gold standard. But what I’m referring to here is using the dragon as a battle standard.

Lots of countries and individuals have used the dragon as their personal or military symbol. It’s easy to see why. Western dragons are huge and powerful. Using that as your emblem could certainly give your enemies pause. I’ve previously mentioned that a red dragon was the national symbol of Wales, before it became incorporated into Great Britain.

Eastern dragons, on the other hand, still convey power, but also wisdom and grace. So Bhutan, for instance, uses a white dragon on its flag. The white dragon conveys the beauty and serenity of this Himalayan kingdom.

One of the most fun and interesting dragon symbols I’ve read about is the Dacian draco. In Roman times, Dacia was a region in Eastern Europe between the Black Sea and the Carpathian Mountains. The modern countries of Moldova and Rumania, plus parts of Serbia, Hungary, Solvakia, Poland, Ukraine and Bulgaria, lie within the ancient domain of Dacia.

You’ve probably figured out already that the dragon was Dacia’s battle emblem. What’s fun is that they actually made a dragon that would roar, and they carried it at the front of their armies.

The draco was a metal tube decorated to look like a dragon, although the surviving images look rather more wolf-like than draconic. Behind the head was a fabric covering. The open mouth contained several thin metal strips.

This contraption was mounted on a pole and carried at the head of the Dacian armies by a man on a horse. Once he reached full gallop, the fabric would flow behind him, moving as if alive. Meanwhile, the metal pieces in the dragon’s mouth caught the wind and emitted a piercing shriek, amplified by the tube. Viola — a dragon that roared!

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When you’re on a good meme, you just can’t let go! So here’s my nod to that catchy pop song, and the five dragons I would never, ever, EVER want to meet.

1) Tiamat, of Sumerian myth. Sea monster and chaos incarnate. Need I say more?

2) Hydra, from Greek myth. Nine dragon heads and so poisonous that even stepping into her footprints will kill you!

3) Smaug, from J. R. R. Tolkein’s The Hobbit. The archetypal European dragon: huge, hungry and greedy, with fiery breath and armor plates — but his intellect is what really scares me!

4) Vermithrax, of the movie Dragonslayer. Much like Smaug, though she doesn’t have as much to say.

4) The Copper, E. E. Knight’s Age of Fire. He starts as a runty outcast and works his way up to emperor of dragons, complaining and feeling sorry for himself all the way. I get enough of that from my teenagers, thanks.

Besides the interesting things my choices might reveal about me, I was struck that all my choices in the category of dragons I would want to meet were the creations of 20th Century authors. Like the sparkly vampires and woebegone werewolves of Urban Fantasy genre, dragons are portrayed in a much more sympathetic light these days.

Today’s five is slanted much more to the classic dragons of myth. Even Smaug and Vermithrax, though they spring from modern works, hearken back to the terrifying monsters that have made our ancestors shiver for millennia.

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Last week, my friend David Summers challenged me to name five characters from books or movies that I would most want to meet. It’s part of the “Circle of Five” meme. Now that I’ve tied off the thread about Lindworms, I’m ready to answer him. Since this is a blog about dragons, I here present the five literary and movie dragons I would most want to meet.

1) Mnementh, from the series Dragonriders of Pern. Pern was a huge discovery for me in my teens, and I did a lot of Pern fan writing all through to my late thirties. Mnementh is the first dragon to appear by name in the series, so he formed my impression (Pern fans will get the pun there) of all Pernese dragons: calm, somewhat puzzled by those excitable humans, but with a streak of humor. He was a perfect balance for the driven, intense F’lar.

2)Kazul, from Patricia Wrede’s Talking To Dragons. Kazul is the dragon who has to be talked into letting Princess Cimorene come live with her. She’s a brisk, no-nonsense personality, but loyal once her friendship is given. You’ll cheer at the end when Kazul becomes King of the Dragons.

3) Toothless, from the movie version of How to Train Your Dragon. Toothless is wary at first, but once he comes out of his shell, he’s as feisty and full of fun as a dragon-sized puppy.

4) Haku, from the movie Spirited Away. Haku is a nature spirit co-opted into the service of a wicked witch, yet retains enough goodness to help a human girl who becomes stranded in the spirit world.

5) Fuku Ryu, the luck dragon of Japanese myth. Just being around him brings good fortune, and who doesn’t need a little help at times?

So those are the five dragons I would most like to meet! I’m not going to tag anyone back for this, but do drop me a comment if you decide to carry on the “Circle of Five” meme.

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I’ll be wrapping up — or perhaps tying off — the thread on Lindworms with another Skandinavian folk tale.

Long ago, there was a queen who longed for children but remained barren. In desperation, she summoned a local wise woman, who advised her to eat two onions and this would help her conceive. The queen did as she was instructed, and soon grew great with child.

But when she delivered twin sons, the older one was cursed in the form of a Lindworm. Whether in ignorance or haste, the queen had not peeled one of the onions before eating it. This fatal error had blighted her son.

The other brother grew up normal and healthy. In time he set out to find a bride. But the lindworm, in its spite, demanded that since he was older, he be given a bride first. But when his bride came to him, he could tell she did not love him willingly, and so he devoured her and demanded another. One girl after another met her doom in this way.

The queen despaired of ever having grandchildren, not to mention the horrors her domain would experience with a lindworm on the throne. Perhaps the wise woman felt responsible, for she took matters into her own hands. Unknown to the queen, the wise woman sent for a shepherd’s daughter who was both kind and brave. After instructing the girl in secret, she sent her to the queen as the prince’s bride.

The shepherd’s daughter came to her wedding dressed in every gown she owned. When the couple retired to their chambers, the groom demanded that she strip off her clothes. In return, the bride insisted that he shed one layer of his skin for each gown she took off. They proceeded in this way, each taking off one layer, until the lindworm stood revealed as a handsome prince. By coming to the wedding willingly, the shepherd’s daughter had broken the curse.

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One of the most famous Norse sagas concerns the Viking known as Ragnar Lodbrok. Like King Arthur, Ragnar the character is compilation where true history is impossible to separate from myth. Many tales relate how Ragnar raided all over Northern Europe and attempted to claim the thrones of both Sweden and Denmark. And, yes, you knew it — Ragnar also fought a dragon.

This tale begins with Herradur, the Jarl of Gottaland, who gave his daughter Thora a baby lindworm to be her pet and guardian. Like many owners of exotic animals, Thora found the lindworm increasingly big and dangerous. At full growth, it was large enough to encircle the Jarl’s hall and hold its former mistress hostage. The lindworm demanded an ox each day in ransom to spare Thora’s life.

In his wanderings, Ragnar heard of Thora’s plight. He was looking for a wife of noble birth to further his political ambitions, so off he went to Gottaland. Preparing for the battle, Ragnar coated a set of bear-skin trousers with tar and sand to make them fire-proof. The strategy was successful; he battled the lindworm to its death and claimed Thora as his bride. This exploit gave Ragnar the epithet Lodbrok, or “hairy breeches.”

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sunday_snippets2Somewhat to my own surprise, I have another snippet for the blog hop. Actually, it’s a rework of my previous snippet with input from comments. This makes it longer than 250, though. Sorry!

Again, this is the opening page of a YA novel.
———-
“What is wrong with this town?” Tyne grumbled to herself.

The cottages of Palte loomed over her, beehives built of yellow stone. The muddy earth of the lane between sucked at the rails of her heavy sledge. Tyne was in no mood for trouble, not after the bad news from her customers today. Feeling the resistance, she yanked harder to keep the load of wood moving.

Doing so knocked her scarf askew. She stopped with an irritable sigh and adjusted the knot beneath her raven-wing braid. Tyne didn’t even want to wear the scarf. She hated the way it rubbed against her pointed elfin ears. Tyne didn’t care if people saw her ears, but her mother insisted she cover them whenever she went into town.

Satisfied, Tyne hauled her sledge around a bend and to her next customer’s yard. As she passed through a gap in the fence of woven willow branches, she called out, “Delivery!”

She had just reached the wood shed when the cottage door banged open.

“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 had a good hunch 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, I 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. 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.”
———-
Fellow participants in the blog hop:

http://mermaidssinging.wordpress.com/
http://caitlinsternwrites.wordpress.com/
http://ileandrayoung.com
https://wyrmflight.wordpress.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://threepiecebikini.blogspot.com/
http://itsjennythewren.wordpress.com/
http://writerscrash.blogspot.co.uk/
http://wehrismypen.wordpress.com
http://wordsbreathedupon.wordpress.com/blog/

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Lindworms are a legendary creature unique to Scandinavian lands and those parts of Britain where Vikings once held sway. They are two-legged dragons with forelegs but no wings and long, snake-like bodies. Lindworms have a poisonous bite as opposed to other dragons’s flaming breath.

Although its temperament was typically rapacious, the shed skin of a lindworm was believed to bestow great wisdom in medicine and the ways of nature. They were popular in decorative art, especially in Sweden.

Here is a lindworm legend from Germany in the 13th Century. Near the city of Klagenfurt, travelers were menaced by a river that flooded out of season. This meant there had to be a dragon living in the river — not great news for any community. The Duke of Klagenfurt offered a bounty to whoever captured and killed the lindworm.

A group of young men wanted to get the reward, so they thought up a plan. They tied chains to a bull and led it along the river bank. With a roar, the lindworm burst from the water. It swallowed the bull in one gulp! The young men kept hold of the chain, which still dangled from the monster’s mouth. Working together, they pulled it onto the bank as a fisherman pulls a fish to land, and thus killed it.

Even today, there is a statue in Klagenfurt, Germany, which depicts a lindworm facing off with a man. It’s said the lindworm’s head was modeled after the fossil skull of a wooly rhinoceros, which had been recovered from a stone quarry near Klagenfurt. If true, this statue, which dates to 1590, is the earliest known attempt to reconstruct the appearance of an extinct animal.

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