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Archive for January, 2014

The last stop on our world tour brings us back to Europe for what is not the largest, but surely the most famous dragon statue of all. This is Smok Wawelski, the Dragon of Wawel Hill. Amazingly, there’s a limestone cave right under the former Polish capital, Krakow. Smocza Jama (Polish for dragon’s den) lies inside Wawel Hill, a site rich in legend.

As the story goes, during the reign of King Krakus, a fearsome dragon inhabited Smocza Jama. Each day it rampaged through the countryside, destroying homes and killing the people and their livestock. The people somehow discovered that the dragon liked to eat virgin girls better than anything, so once a month they left a poor girl out for the dragon. Over time, the supply of virgins ran short, so that King Krakus faced the prospect of offering his beloved daughter, Princess Wanda, to fend off the dragon for another month.

King Krakus issued a proclamation that whoever killed the dragon should have his daughter’s hand in marriage. Knights and warriors came from far and wide, but none prevailed… until a humble cobbler’s apprentice stepped forward. Skuba wasn’t noble or famous, but he was a clever lad. Instead of fighting the dragon directly, he used subterfuge.

Skuba stuffed the carcass of a sheep with sulphur and left it between Smocza Jama and the nearby Vistula River. When the dragon next emerged, he devoured this tasty snack at once, but the sulphur gave the dragon an overwhelming thirst. Rushing to the river, he drank and drank but couldn’t be satisfied. Eventually the dragon swallowed so much water that he burst! Skuba married Princess Wanda, and peace returned to the land.

To commemorate this legend, a bronze statue was erected in front of Smocza Jama in 1972. The design, by Bronislaw Chromy, presents a seven-headed monster which stands 18 feet tall including its base on a limestone boulder. What makes the Wawel Dragon statue so amazing is that it is fitted with a natural gas works that causes it to belch fire, much to the delight of onlookers. This used to happen every 5 minutes, but after a recent upgrade, visitors can send text messages to make the dragon breathe flame.

That’s pretty cool! Or should I say hot?

Well, if you could travel to see one of the four, which would it be? The Dragons of London, the Welsh Dragon monolith, the serene dragons of Heaven Gate, or the Polish fire-breather?

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I mentioned that most of the world’s largest states are Buddhist figures spread around Asia. Perhaps it isn’t surprising that one of the world’s largest dragon statues is also placed on that continent. It is, to me, the most beautiful of them all.

Sanggar Agung is a Chinese style temple constructed as part of the Pantai Ria amusement park, in Surabaya, Indonesia. Yes, another dragon in a retail destination! This one is clearly designed to appeal to Chinese tourists. Despite the location, this is a working temple for followers of Tridharma (a descendant of the ancient Tao faith).

Sanggar Agung Temple is built by the sea and surrounded by mangrove swamps, since Tao emphasizes unity with nature. The grounds act partly as a wildlife sanctuary, and some Buddhist worshippers come there for a Fangshen ritual that includes releasing animals into the wild.

The most prominent feature of this temple is Heaven Gate, which includes a large statue of the Buddhist saint Kwan Yin, several companion sculptures — and two heavenly dragons. The entire gate is either 50 or 60 feet tall, depending on which source you believe. Each dragon is 18 feet long, giving the total gateway a width of perhaps 40 feet including the space between the two dragons.

The dragon figures are extremely impressive, of course. They are bronze, one highlighted with blue and the other with yellow. Between them, a fiery golden pearl is attached to the gate’s lintel. With the sea beyond them and greenery all around, the whole of Heaven Gate is simply stunning. Despite the theme-park setting, it would be just incredible to see.

You can click here for several images of these beautiful dragons and other temple features.

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I mentioned in my last post that a number of dragon statues guard the London city limits. But did you know there are plans for an even larger dragon to inhabit the British Isles?

In Wales, a project is under way to construct a massive dragon statue in the town of Chirk. Chirk has been a crossing point between England and Wales since Roman times, and of course, the red dragon has been the national symbol of Wales even longer.

The statue will be 80 feet tall in a rampant pose (the dragon on the Welsh flag is standing) and placed on a mound that will bring its height to 120 feet. From the web site, I can’t tell what it will be made of, but it will be the largest piece of statuary in the British Isles.

For comparison, the Statue of Liberty is 150 feet tall including her base. However, both of these are dwarfed by a number of Asian statues depicting Buddha. The largest statue of all (at least for now) is The Spring Temple Buddha in Lushan, China, which rises a massive 420 feet.

But, these being modern times, a statue cannot be just a statue. It has to be all touristy. The Welsh Dragon will stand at the center of a complex including more sculptures based on the Mabinogion, an amphitheater, conference center, restaurants and shops. It isn’t just a symbol of Welsh pride, but an investment opportunity!

Click here to see some cool models.

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It shouldn’t be a surprise that dragons are a popular subject for art and sculpture. At any SF convention, you can choose from a wide selection of dragon art for your home. There are also a number of famous dragon statues around the world. Until I started researching, though, I didn’t realize just how amazing some of the public art is that features dragons.

Did you know there are dragon statues in London? They were placed as boundary markers starting in Victorian times. They are cast iron, painted silver with red details, and hold up shields bearing the London city crest.

The earliest of these are 7 feet tall, including their bases. They were made at a local foundry, Dewer, based on designs by architect J. B. Bunning. A pair of these were installed in 1849 in front of the Coal Exchange. More than 100 years later, the Coal Exchange building was demolished, but the dragons were saved. They were re-erected in 1963 near Temple Gardens, on slightly shorter bases. They now stand 6 feet tall, including the bases.

The city fathers decided to expand on this theme. Smaller replicas were made to be distributed around the city limits. Beginning in 1964, ten more dragons began to lurk in London at various major bridges and gates. There’s a site with some really nice images here.

There’s also a separate dragon statue at Temple Bar on Fleet Street, created by C. B. Birch. It’s described as being “fiercer” than the Coal Exchange dragons.

Another dragon statue has been making a splash in Britain recently. I’ll show you that one on Wednesday.

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Here’s another unexpected dragon that popped up — from a seed catalog, of all places!

RadishDragon

Yes, they are radishes. Asian style, according to the Territorial Seed web site. They grow long, like Daikon, but have a smaller diameter, so they take up no more room than a normal, round radish.

Needless to say, I have got to try this. I’ll let you know how they turn out, later this spring.

Dragon radishes! Who would have thought?

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I’m doing a signing today for my latest book, The Seven Exalted Orders, so I’m short of time, but here’s a recap of the ten most-viewed posts from 2013.

10. A Real (Dead) Sea Monster, 10/16/13
09. Quetzalcoatl Part 2, 9/4/13
08. Lindworms Part 3, 2/12/13
07. Legend of Yamata no Orochi, 5/14/13
06. Sheet Metal Dragon, 9/11/13
05. Just For Fun 13, 1/22/13
04. Chicken Naga Curry, 4/30/13
03. Just For Fun 14, 3/28/13
02. Wings of Fire by Tui T. Sutherland, 1/4/13
01. Eight Immortals Cross the Sea, 10/26/13

If you missed some of these, or want to see one again, here’s your chance to check it out. Enjoy!

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Besides using various weapons and artifacts to slay dragons, there’s a time-honored tradition of heroes emerging victorious by some form of happenstance. For instance, someone (I can’t remember who, but I’ll let you take credit if you remind me nicely) commented that they were surprised by how Smaug was slain in The Hobbit. That is, while Bilbo was in Smaug’s lair he saw the sleeping dragon on its back, and there was a gap in the crusting of jewels that armored Smaug’s belly. Later he revealed this to Bard the Bowman, in Laketown. Bard was able to shoot an arrow into that exact spot, thus bringing down the dragon.

However, as is pretty well known, Tolkein was a scholar of Germanic myth, and who’s the most famous dragon of Germanic myth? Fafnir! Well, Fafnir was slain by Sigurd, who lay in a ditch and stabbed upward through his softer belly. I did a post on Fafnir about two years ago. You can read it again here, if you wish.

Actually, this “lucky shot” ploy comes into quite a few dragon adventures (and some non-dragonish ones). In the first episode of Record of Lodoss War, Woodchuck makes a dragon falter by throwing a dagger into its eye. Afterward Parn kills the dragon. In the first Wizard of Oz book, Dorothy accidentally kills the Wicked Witch by throwing water at her.

To me, it’s a little cheap for a hero to battle a dragon and succeed by accident. At the same time, I think we could all name a favorite legend or myth where the mightiest combatant has just one point of weakness. Achilles and his heel. The sorcerer who hid his heart in a box. Werewolves and silver. Vampires and garlic.

When it comes down to it, even the mightiest foe has to have some sort of weakness. A one-sided battle just isn’t a good story, not matter how logical the outcome. The reality is, most readers are not satisfied when the dragon kills the hero. We want our heroes to triumph in the face of great odds. Even if it comes off sort of random and feels like cheating.

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