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Archive for January, 2015

For those you who are overdosing on testosterone during the run-up to the Superbowl, here are some very cute stuffed dragons I encountered in a pet shop. I think they’re supposed to be dog toys.

Stuffed dragon toys at a pet shop; photo by Deby Fredericks, Jan. 2015

Stuffed dragon toys at a pet shop; photo by Deby Fredericks, Jan. 2015

Those of you who aren’t in the US and overdosing on testosterone — consider yourselves lucky!

But, however, dragon doctors state that testosterone is an essential nutrient. All dragons should consume at least one warrior a month in order to maintain a vigorous flame.

<snicker>

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Let me start with some exciting news. #1 – Yesterday I visited the blog of Shannon Thompson, a talented new-adult writer. She graciously allowed me to reprise my Inner Dragons thread. Check it out here. #2 – I got word of a short story acceptance in an anthology called Dragon’s Hoard, from my publisher, Sky Warrior Books. Yaaayy!

Now here’s a myth from China connecting the origins of night and day to a single mighty creature — a dragon!

The Candle Dragon
Why do seasons change, and why does day give way to night? It’s all due to the powerful Candle Dragon.

In the land of the Chishui River, over the Northwest Sea, is a magical place called Zhangwei Mountain. There dwells a mountain god who has a human face atop the long serpentine body of a dragon. This mountain dragon is 1000 li (about 310.7 miles) in length! It is fiery red, with blazing eyes that pour light over the whole earth. These eyes are not like people’s eyes, but like two olives aligned vertically on his face, and when he closes them they turn to two dark slits.

The Zhangwei dragon is so powerful that when he closes his eyes, night falls over the earth. When he opens them, daylight floods the world. By blinking, he causes the succession of night and day. He has no need to eat, drink or sleep, but keeps watch eternally.

When the mountain god breathes out, it causes strong winds and storms of rain. If he blows harder, winter fills the sky with dark clouds and heavy snow. After he breathes in, summer comes with hot sun to wither the crops and even melt stones!

The long scarlet body of the mountain god shines with divine light. It brightens even the deepest underground caverns. As part of his mission, the dragon guards the Gate of Heaven in the farthest north. A candle he holds in his mouth lights the way for those who are worthy. This is why he is called the Candle Dragon, or Candle Yin.

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Here’s another of the summer dragon movies that I didn’t get around to seeing in theaters. Maybe I was hesitant because the first one was so good and I didn’t want to spoil the buzz. Also, I ended up traveling more than expected during the summer.

How to Train Your Dragon 2 does a lot of things right. It brings in some specific quotes and flavor from the book, which I welcome. Hiccup and Toothless have been exploring more of Burk’s surroundings, so we see a map that greatly resembles the one from the books. We also get quite a bit of feisty byplay with Toothless that’s typical of his book personality. Some side characters may or may not spring from the books. I’m not sure because I didn’t read the entire How to Train Your Dragon series.

However, the plot does follow movie continuity, with continued flirtation between Hiccup and Astrid. Questions are raised about the ultimate destiny for Toothless and his human pal, only some of which are answered. There’s a new bad-guy, Drago, who has been gathering a dragon riding army. Guess where he’s coming next? Drago’s scary domination contrasts nicely with Hiccup’s earnest caring.

Another positive is the new ideas about dragon society. They live in nests, which usually are ruled by a vast queen dragon. In the new nest, though, there is a king dragon, equally monumental, who rules over dragonkind with compassionate solidity. Evidently this “alpha” dragon is essential to all the dragons of his or her nest, and the alpha’s character determines their own. This would explain why all the Berk dragons became so friendly once their original Mean Queen was out of the picture.

Unfortunately, Drago’s plan hinges on displacing the Good King Dragon with his own Mean King Dragon. It was sad and a little disturbing to see how quickly the Berk characters’s beloved companions could be taken over by this malevolent personality.

There’s also a surprise return by a character who had been thought dead, and I won’t spoil it by saying more. All in all the screenplay is well put together, though with few surprises. The look of the bizarre and intensely colorful dragons remains consistent, and the music is also quite fine. (Not as much bagpipe, to my disappointment.)

I do recommend this movie to buy, rent, or borrow from the library. Especially if all those heavy Oscar movies are weighing on your soul these days. You can’t go wrong with crazy Vikings and their dragons.

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Forgive my tardiness. My computer has become very slothful of late. However, I do have a consolation prize: the trailer for my latest novel, Masters of Air & Fire! I can’t wait to share it with all of you first.

Just click here, and enjoy!

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Here is a folk tale from Korea, in honor of the approaching Chinese New Year.

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The Rabbit and the Dragon King

Long, long ago, there was a Dragon King who ruled a kingdom beneath the Southern Sea. Mighty though he was, this monarch was laid low by a lingering illness. All his physicians consulted together and determined that only the liver of a rabbit could cure him.

The Dragon King summoned all his followers: the whales, squids, fishes and crabs. He asked who would go and fetch a rabbit’s liver. Now the surface of the land was as mysterious and forbidding to these denizens of the deep as the undersea is to land dwellers. Everyone was afraid to go. After much hemming and hawing, a lowly turtle stepped forward.

“Majesty, I can breathe the air and my shell protects me. Allow me to go in search of the rabbit.”

The Dragon King agreed at once. So the turtle swam up, up, up, from the Dragon King’s palace at the bottom of the sea. He came to a place where gentle waves washed a sandy shore. Emerging, he looked around, blinking in the bright daylight. Soon a furry animal came hopping along.

The turtle called, “Pardon me, good sir, but do you know where I can find a rabbit?”

“Why, I am a rabbit.”

“Good sir, I am an emissary of the Dragon King. He requests the honor of such a guest in his marvelous palace beneath the southern waves. Would you kindly come along with me?”

“I would love to visit such an honorable person,” said the rabbit, “and relax in a marvelous palace. Alas, I cannot swim, and anyway, how can a creature from the land breathe under water?”

“I will carry you on my shell, good sir. And because the Dragon King is eager to meet a remarkable animal like yourself, his magic will allow you to breathe water just like air.”

“Wonderful!” cried the rabbit. “I look forward to such an adventure.”

So he hopped on the turtle’s back and they swam down, down, down to the bottom of the Southern Sea. The rabbit delighted in strange sights all around: coral reefs teeming with brilliant fishes, eels that glowed in the dark, forests of seaweed waving in the currents. Most of all, he marveled at the Dragon King’s power that allowed him to see these things. But when they arrived at the undersea palace, the rabbit soon realized he had been deceived.

“Thank you for coming, good rabbit,” said the Dragon King. “You see, I am very sick. If I do not eat your liver, I shall never recover. So accept my deepest thanks, and please go with my doctors now.”

The rabbit was terrified, but he was a clever beast. He quickly bowed and cried, “Majesty, it would be a great honor to sacrifice my life for yours. If only I had known that you needed my liver! For it is very valuable, you see. I keep it hidden deep in the forest, and I didn’t bring it here with me. Please allow the turtle to take me back to the shore. I will run and get my liver right away, for your need exceeds my own.”

The Dragon King was disappointed, but pleased to know of the rabbit’s devotion. He agreed to let the rabbit return home and fetch his liver. Up, up, up the turtle swam until they reached exactly the same beach where he first met the rabbit. Of course, the rabbit immediately sprinted away.

As he ran, he called back, “Thanks for the ride, but I must get home now.”

“You said you would bring your liver for the Dragon King,” the turtle protested.

“Old turtle, did you really believe I keep my liver hidden in the forest?” laughed the rabbit. “And why would I give up my life for your spoiled king?”

So he disappeared into the forest. The turtle was ashamed and never went back to the Dragon King’s palace. As for the Dragon King, his fate is unknown.

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This will be the last of my Favorites Flashbacks, and the only legend of European origin to make the top five. It concerns a very famous dragon of Norse and Germanic tradition.

Fafnir
Fafnir is a dragon who comes to us from Icelandic and Germanic folk tales, a character who really defines what dragons are in European lore: greedy, murdering, poisonous.

The older tale is Iceland’s Volsunga Saga, from the 13th Century. In this tale, Fafnir was a dwarf . His father was Hreidmar, and he had two brothers, Otr and Regin. Odin and Loki killed an otter, not knowing it was Otr in disguise. Hreidmar then held Odin hostage until Loki brought the otter’s skin filled with gold, as a fine for the killing. To get his revenge, Loki made sure to include several pieces that had been cursed to ensure the death of the owner.

Sure enough, Fafnir killed Hreidmar to get the gold for himself. He took it into the wilderness and assumed the form of a dragon to guard it better. He also breathed poison into the surrounding countryside, to keep outsiders away.

Regin, who apparently was just as greedy but not as brave, bided his time. He had a foster-son named Sigurd who he tempted with tales of the dragon’s gold. Regin showed Sigurd how to hide in a pit or trench under a trail where Fafnir would pass, and stab him from below. Regin said he only wanted Fafnir’s heart, cooked, and Sigurd could have the gold. But as Fafnir lay dying, he told Sigurd that Regin would betray him.

Sigurd didn’t believe it, but as he cooked Fafnir’s heart, he ate a few bites. This allowed him to understand the language of birds, and can you guess what the birds were gossiping about? Right! Sigurd and Regin fought, and Sigurd killed Regin with the same sword that had ended Fafnir’s life. Thus Fafnir was avenged on his brother.

Cooking and eating a dragon heart? And people say soap operas are over-the-top!

Incidentally, another version of this story is in Rickard Wagner’s opera, The Ring of the Nibelungen. Some names have changed there (Fafnir is spelled Fafner) and he was a giant rather than a dwarf. As part of the ransom, Loki brought a magic helmet called Tarnhelm, and this is what Fafner used to transform himself into a dragon.

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Before I get to my next Favorites Flashback, I have a request for help. My middle-grade high fantasy, Masters of Air & Fire, will be out February 1, 2015, and I’m looking for friends who will give honest reviews on Amazon, B&N, Goodreads, blogs and any other places of your choice. If you can help, please e-mail me, CAT09tales at hotmail.com, and let me know what formats you prefer. (It’s e-book only, at this point.)

Now to another of my most popular posts, “Eight Immortals Cross The Sea,” from October, 2013.

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The Eight Immortals were a legendary a group of Taoist sorcerers from Chinese mythology. This group traveled ancient China defeating monsters and helping the needy. Eventually their good deeds came to the attention of Xi Wangmu (Queen Mother of the West) an ancient deity who considerably predates Tao but was incorporated into Tao teaching.

Xi Wangmu was celebrating her birthday with a banquet on Mount Kunlun, a paradise of Chinese foklore. As part of the festivities, she would bestow Peaches of Immortality on the guests. Although the Eight had already achieved immortality on their own, this was a great honor and they set out at once to attend the banquet.

Soon they came to the Eastern Sea. The usual mode of transport for divine beings in Chinese myth was to summon a cloud and ride on it, but Lu Tung-pin cried out that they should challenge themselves to cross together, using all their diverse talents. So each of the Eight threw down their personal tools/talismans and transformed them. Chiang Kuo used his paper mule, Li T’ieh-kuai used his iron crutch, and so on. Together they set off across the sea.

Unknown to them, the son of the Dragon King of the Eastern Sea was watching from the deeps. He saw Lan Ts’ai-ho, the jester/minstrel, crossing the sea with his/her flute. (Lan is sometimes depicted as a woman, sometimes as a teenaged boy, and sometimes as hermaphrodite. Cultural concepts can be difficult to translate.) The Dragon King’s son was overcome by greed. He seized Lan T’sai-ho and his/her flute, and swept them down to his father’s kingdom.

The stories don’t say if the son was infatuated with Lan or desired the flute’s power. In either case, the remaining Immortals were outraged. They descended into the sea and attacked the Eastern Dragon King’s palace. It was a long war, full of twists and turns. Several sources I’ve read say the details are recounted in many songs and stories, but I couldn’t find any. And here I thought you could find absolutely anything on the Internet!

In the end, the Eastern Dragon King’s forces were defeated. Lan was freed, the flute recovered, and the re-united Eight Immortals continued on their way to the banquet.

As with every such legend, there are variations. The principal one is that the Eight had too much wine and just decided to explore the deep sea. Lan accidentally dropped his flute, which was found by the Dragon King’s sons, and the tale went on from there.

Two main metaphors come to us from the legend of the Eight Immortals Crossing the Sea. One is the shrimp and crabs who serve as the Dragon King’s army. Today they are symbols of any bumbling military force. More important is that the Eight Immortals combine their skills and work together for a common goal.

In modern China, and wherever in the world the Chinese have migrated, the Eight Immortals remain one of the most beloved myths. They appear in books and manga, in art of all sorts, in video games, and much more. Because they are a diverse group (old and young, male and female, noble and peasant, rich and poor) they offer the essential Taoist message that anyone can aspire to wisdom.

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