Archive for September, 2014

If a dragon wrote the book… (This one is tricky!)

A luck dragon wandering through snowbound Tokyo happens upon a miserly old man whose heart has been frozen by the disappointments of life. She recruits a rain dragon and a mischievous kitsune to show him visions of past, present and future. The reluctant miser is restored to spiritual health.

…Which book is it?


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If a dragon wrote the screenplay…

A colony of dragons is oppressed by a vicious draconic tyrant, until a spunky youngster makes a daring alliance with a Viking boy to restore justice for all. A touching friendship across racial lines is all that can save both dragons and Vikings… if only the Viking boy would quit making jokes about the dragon’s teeth, which are perfectly fine, thank you!

…can you guess which movie it is?

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If a dragon wrote the book…

An elderly dragon enjoys retirement in his underground domain, won from the dwarves in fair and open combat. One day a draft carries strange odors into his treasury. Small items are pilfered. He’ll get to the bottom of this, or his name isn’t Smaug the Magnificent!

…Can you guess which book it is?

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Another fascinating and important member of the dracaena (dragon plant) family is Dracacaena cinnabari, the Dragon Blood Tree. These trees grow only on arid peaks of the Socotra Islands, in the Indian Ocean. Like all members of the dracaena clan, they have a distinctive appearance: straight, relatively smooth trunk with all the leaves in a spiky cluster at the very top. Those who live in the American Southwest might think they resemble Joshua Trees or large specimens of the Yucca family.

What gives them their name and economic importance is their sap, a brilliant red resin that can be collected in much the same way as maple sap is gathered. This visually striking substance had numerous uses in ancient times and was exported as far away as the Mediterranean Sea.

Dragon’s Blood was a dye for fabrics and especially prized as varnish on violins. Perhaps due to its impressive name, it was used in folk magic and rituals. Like all sap, it is sticky and can be used as a glue.

In medicine, Dragon’s Blood was used to treat gas/farting. An astringent, its ability to ease swelling and irritation soothed sore throats and rheumatic hands. A stimulant, it had the unpleasant side effect of causing abortions.

Resin from the root could be chewed like gum. It freshened breath, was used in toothpaste, and also colored lipsticks. Watered-down versions were gargled to ward off infections of the mouth. Some of these uses are still practiced even today.

Though Dragon Blood Trees remain widespread in their original range, concern about their future is growing. Habitats are fragmented by human activity, and it appears that fewer young trees have sprouted in recent decades. Continuing climatic change is expected to worsen these challenges. If Dragon Blood Trees cannot be stabilized, the species may simply age out of existence — a sad fate for the noble and dramatic Dragon Blood Tree.

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I recently blogged about a radish variety called Dragon, and that got me thinking about other plants that might be identified with our favorite mythical beasts. In fact, there is one very common “dragon plant” displayed in homes and offices all over the world.

Dracaena is actually a plant family composed of desert succulents and shrubs. Their name comes from Greek drakaina, a female dragon. Botanists have had some confusion about how dracaenas are related to other plants, but the current conclusion is that they are members of the Asparagus family. There are 40 species in this group, most originating in Africa.

The best known is D. marginata, which appears like a palm tree with a narrow trunk and thin, stiff, straight leaves. The basic dragon plant has dark green leaves, although cultivated varieties have stripes of red or lighter green. Dragon plants can be grown singly in pots, in clusters of two or three, or even tied together or braided to help support each other.

This is a hardy plant that can take a bit of neglect. It’s fine if you forget to water for a few days, because they are adapted to arid conditions. Don’t let them stand in water, however. They grow slowly, so don’t have to be re-potted very often. The only real maintenance is to trim off dead leaves and keep it looking tidy.

As you can probably tell, I love dragon plants. I would have them all over my house, except that I also have two cats who insist on mowing down any plant with skinny leaves. I love my cats, too. Thus, I am not able to have dragon plants at home. If I ever get an office of my own, you can bet there will be dragon plants in it.

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This movie, released in 2011, has the distinct feel of an independent film. The director, Anne K. Black, also produced and wrote, while the other two producers shared writing chores. None of the actors are anyone you’ll have heard of.

It’s a very typical dragon-hunting adventure in a quasi-Renaissance setting, with a light sprinkling of magic and romance. Young Will and his father are shepherds struggling to make ends meet when a dragon moves into the neighborhood and starts picking off their flock. Will convinces his Dad to go hunting for the creature, but Dad is killed. Will heads down the mountain to beg for work from grouchy Lord Sterling. There’s a spirited daughter, a scoundrel knight, and several fellow servants who have it in for Will just because he’s new.

The good? Lovely scenery in Ireland. Nice costuming, too. Special effects were decent. I enjoyed their design for the dragon, which combined elements of a snake and a Siamese cat. Unfortunately, the dragon has no personality and plays exactly the role you’d expect of it.

The not so good? You could tell the script was written by a committee, with every character a cliché and every plot twist predictable. They only surprised me with one character, Lady Spriggs, who is introduced as a terrible harridan but turns out to be witty and wise. The actors didn’t do much with the script, and the editing is very choppy.

In other words, it’s a solid B Movie. Don’t expect deep thought or great special effects, and you can have a good time watching Dawn of the Dragonslayer. Director Black has also completed another fantasy movie, The Crown and the Dragon (2013). I plan to look for it.

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This is a novelty book, published in 1982, by Paul and Karin Johnsgard. They are a father and daughter team who wrote just this one book together. Paul is a zoology professor (now retired) who penned numerous books on ornithology and similar wildlife topics. Evidently he decided to take a walk on the fun side and do a what-if book with his daughter, Karin. Paul also created the illustrations, which are pen and ink and very much natural-history style.

The premise is to treat mythical beasts the way they would real ones. So they posit that dragons are cryptids (unknown creatures) descended from dinosaurs. There are breakdowns of several varieties, distinguishing lake dragons from flying dragons and flightless dragons. Interesting ideas are presented about dragon habitats and behaviors, and reasons for the age-old conflict with humans. They weave in as many traditional folk beliefs about dragons as they can.

Perhaps most interesting is the explanation they offer for fire-breath. According to the Johnsgards, this is the result of dragons being mostly vegetarian. Dragons digest greenery through fermentation, which generates methane gas. To prevent painful bloating, the methane is isolated in a secondary stomach. It can be expelled slowly while breathing or in bursts for self-defense.

This book is fun, in a dry and reserved way that is appropriate for a faux nature documentary. I don’t recommend it for kids because of the sparse illustration, but teens and adults with a wry sense of humor should get a smile out of Dragons and Unicorns, A Natural History.

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