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Archive for December, 2013

Recently I posted about Avatar the Last Airbender, a show where, as part of the series background, dragons were hunted to extinction. I mentioned how odd this seemed, that mere humans would be able to wipe out such a mighty race of creatures.

After all, these are very large animals, with heavy scale armor and terrible breath weapons. Fire breath is the current archetype, but poison breath was also widely ascribed to dragons in ancient times. Further, depending on the storyteller, dragons may also be very smart and long-lived, with the cunning and experience this entails. In some legends, dragons could change shapes and disguise themselves. Some writers even give dragons magic and spell-casting powers!

But, as I think about it, there are many books and stories where dragons have nearly been eradicated. This is especially true in children’s books, where a kind-hearted child character will take it upon him/herself to save the last dragon. In books for adults, hunting out dragons may be a way to switch around the stereotype of the rapacious dragon and create “sympathy for the devil,” if you will.

The question remains, how would some relatively puny humans manage to hunt and kill dragons? Or, as I quipped in my Avatar post, why wouldn’t the dragons just fly away?

So this will be my topic as we close out 2013 and start 2014. Any ideas and suggestions from you, my readers, will be gladly accepted. Especially if you can give examples (preferably author and title) where dragons are successfully battled to the death.

Also, since my next post won’t be until New Year’s Day, let me take this opportunity to thank everyone who’s followed my draconic flights of fancy. I so enjoy this community of writers and fantasy fans we’ve built on WordPress. Happy new year to all of you. May your muses be kind in 2014!

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I’ll be travelling tomorrow, so here’s an early dragon joke. Whatever your holiday, I hope you have a wonderful day tomorrow.

Q: What is a dragon’s favorite holiday decoration?
A: The Yule Log!

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Babymouse is another popular graphic novel series for young readers, similar to Ursula Vernon’s Dragonbreath series, which I mentioned earlier this fall. The creators here are a brother-sister team, Jennifer Holm and Matthew Holm, who have won multiple awards and sold zillions of copies all over the world.

Babymouse, the title character, is an excitable and dramatic young girl who copes with school and peer relationships through her vivid imagination. She reminds me a lot of Ramona the Pest, a first grader who stars in her own series of early readers. The cover copy says Babymouse in junior high, but she reads a around 5th grade to me. This is mostly because the books I’ve seen deal with issues of popularity but not dating. Also, she has only one teacher, and by junior high, kids go from class to class.

Dragonslayer is book #11 in the series. We find Babymouse day-dreaming in school, imagining herself confronting a terrifying dragon — only to have the dragon turn into her teacher, who is handing back a math test. Are we surprised that the grade is equally terrifying? After a few snickers from bullying classmates, Babymouse is presented an even more grueling quest. Her teacher assigns her to join the Mathletes team!

Babymouse dutifully goes to meetings and even makes a few new friends. She goes through fantasy sequences quoting Lord of the Rings, Naria, and more. Does her math improve? Well…

This was actually an issue for me. Babymouse doesn’t solve her problems by learning the math. And why would any teacher assign a failing student to the Mathletes? I’d think some other form of tutoring would be preferable. The other issue is that we only see the titular dragon for a few pages and it isn’t a real character in the story. But that’s just me.

I’ve enjoyed the Babymouse books I read, although they are definitely graphic novels on the lighter side. Don’t look for deep exploration of meaty issues here. Just relax and enjoy this silly and sweet graphic series.

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The death of Avatar Roku, as mentioned in my past post, left Fire Lord Souzen free to pursue his ambitions. He gathered his troops and began a war against the Air Nation, where the next Avatar was destined to be born. But, worse, Souzen abandoned the Fire Nation’s long alliance with the mystical dragons. No longer wise companions, dragons became victims hunted by the elite.

(Personally, I wonder about this. Couldn’t the dragons just fly away? But, that’s what the story says.)

So popular was this sport, the mystical dragons were completely wiped out. Or so it was believed…

Another major character in Avatar, the Last Airbender is Iroh, a once-mighty Fire Prince who retired from public life after the death of his beloved son, Lu Ten, who fell in the war for world conquest. Iroh wears a lot of hats — sage, general, royal heir, resistance leader — but the one we care about here is “Dragon of the West.” Iroh, like all Fire Princes, went hunting for dragons to prove his prowess. He returned claiming to have slain the very last dragon in the world.

Throughout the series, Iroh is a mentor to the tormented Fire Prince Zuhko. Once Zuhko gives up on rage as a source of his firebending, he has to find another path. By this point Iroh is in prison, but Zuhko goes with Aang to search the retreats where the last dragons lived in hopes of gaining insight. To their surprise, they encounter a secret cult of Sun Warriors who are protecting… the last two dragons!

These are Ran and Sha, two ancient spirits who test Aang and Zuhko both in body and spirit. Ran and Sha are red and blue, a yin/yang pair similar to the two carp Tui and La who embody the moon and sea in waterbending lore. They are much larger than other dragons, perhaps due to their age, and seem much more powerful than other dragons depicted in the series.

After finding the Zuhko and Aang worthy, they impart the true meaning of Fire, which is the sun’s life-giving heat. With this knowledge, Zuhko is able to face his terrifying older sister, Azula, in personal combat. As for Iroh, once the 100-year-long war ends, the “Dragon of the West” opens a tea shop and lives out his life in peace.

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I mentioned in my last post that red and blue dragons represent honor and compassion vs. greed and hatred in the animated series Avatar, the Last Airbender. This contrast appears in a dream sequence involving Zuhko, the exiled Fire Prince, but is explored more deeply in the life story of Avatar Roku.

Roku was born to the Fire Nation, where he trained alongside Souzen, heir to the throne. The two young men grew up together and seem to have been close friends. Each of them had a dragon companion. Roku’s was the red dragon, Fang. Souzen commanded a blue dragon (not named in the series). However, as Roku devoted himself more fully to the duties of Avatar, this friendship was strained. Souzen had designs that the Fire Nation should dominate the world. Roku was forced to stand against him. Although Roku won the debate, Souzen never forgave what he saw as a betrayal.

Roku lived for many years on a small island, where he had a wife and family. But one day a volcano erupted on a nearby island. Roku and Souzen both rushed to the scene. Together the two old friends saved a group of villagers from certain death. But, alas, Souzen remembered his old grudge. Before the volcano was under control, he left abruptly. Roku alone was not strong enough; he and Fang died together.

Despite their tragic deaths, Fang and Roku play an important role in the animated series. Nor is Fang merely a pet obeying Roku’s instructions. When Aang stumbles into the spirit world, it’s Fang who first greets him. Fang brings Aang to Roku. Several times, he facilitates spiritual journeys or revelations that warn Aang of danger and help him develop his skills as Avatar.

Next time, I’ll continue the tale of Avatar’s firebending dragons.

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One of my favorite American animated series was Avatar, the Last Airbender, which aired on Nickelodeon from 2005 to 2008. The show is a children’s adventure set in a quirky, Asian-influenced fantasy world. By turns hilarious and dramatic, it presents the struggle of Aang, last of his tribe, to fight off the rapacious Fire Nation. He’s joined by many friends, chief of whom are Katarra and Sakka from the Southern Water Tribe and Zuhko, a Fire Nation prince who (late in the series) becomes Aang’s comrade in arms.

In Avatar, magic takes the form of “bending.” Through moves similar to a martial art, bending allows people to control one of four elements — Earth, Water, Air and Fire. In charge of it all is the Avatar, the only person who can command all four elements simultaneously. He’s responsible for maintaining the balance of nature and negotiating between spirits and people.

In this series, dragons play a small but important role. As in Asian myth, the dragons are long and thin, with elegant manes and whiskers. Dragons exist in both the physical and spirit worlds. They are wise guardians and advisors to all humans, but especially to the Fire Nation. Dragons were the original┬ásource of firebending, although it can’t be said they willingly taught this skill. An enterprising man named Wan watched a white dragon swooping gracefully through the sky. By copying its movements, he was able to master his new element.

Wan taught others what he had learned, and eventually his followers grew to become the Fire Nation. Centuries passed, and it became a tradition that the most powerful Firebenders had dragons as┬ácompanions. Not pets, mind you — companions who help and protect them but also seem to provide a moral compass.

Throughout the series, there’s a dichotomy of dragons representing yin/yang or good vs. evil. Red dragons are virtuous beings who accompany the most enlightened characters. Blue dragons are vicious creatures who join with forces of hate and greed. It’s a striking way to show who some of the characters really are.

In my next blog, I’ll get into some of the specific dragon characters in Avatar.

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I know that dragons are very popular, but it still surprises me where dragons will pop up. Last month, when I was subbing at Ridgeview Elementary school, I looked up and there it was!

Ridgeview Dragon

This dragon is part of a large array of various creatures and things like rockets heading for the moon. They are all wooden and look hand crafted. Unfortunately, I don’t know the identity of the artist.

It’s a really cute and fun way to liven up a school atrium. See, this is why it’s a good thing to include art installations in public places like schools, parks, and fire houses.

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