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Archive for June, 2016

Lately I’ve been hanging out with people who like to fish. They can spend hours talking about what bait they use to catch what. So it made me wonder, if dragons were “fishing” to catch humans, what would they use for bait? I’ve consulted a few of the dragons from my short stories for suggestions. *

Carnisha, Queen of the Crawmaw Mountains, said that she spreads out shiny objects, such as coins or gems. This will always attract treasure hunters.

Lythiskar, from Lollitaine, agreed, but he also said humans can’t resist the smell of food. Many dragons like the smell of popcorn, but Lythiskar said that bacon had never failed him.

Cazarluun, the specter of Venge Keep, suggested that sometimes one wishes to attract the most intelligent humans for a quest or challenge. Therefore one should acquire a mythic artifact that only the wisest will seek.

An urban dragon, Rockayn, pointed out that many humans can read, so she posts signs. She’s had great success with “Free Beer,” although in recent years “Free Wi-Fi” seems to work just as well. In certain neighborhoods, “Lap Dancing” can also be quite successful.

Tetheus, from Shoredance Island, offered the opposite approach. Just put out the word that people should NOT go somewhere, and you won’t be able to keep them away.

* Most of these dragons are featured in short stories from my forthcoming collection, Aunt Ursula’s Atlas.

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In this Chinese legend, a magical boy named Bayberry sets off to rescue his sister, who is imprisoned by a wicked dragon.

Bayberry traveled for many miles, deep into the mountains. He came upon a place where a huge boulder has fallen across the roadway. Travelers had to wiggle by, risking a deadly fall down the mountain. Bayberry decided to move the  boulder so that everyone could use the road safely.

He wedged his stick under the boulder, but it broke. Then he pushed with all his might. Finally the boulder rolled free. To his surprise, there was a golden flute in the hollow where the rock had been. He picked it up and played a tune.

Suddenly, little creatures jumped out of the ground and the bushes. Frogs, lizards and mice all danced to his tune. As soon as he stopped, they all ran away. “Now I know how to take care of this dragon,” he said to himself.

Bayberry climbed on until he came to the summit of the highest mountain. There he saw a terrifying dragon lounging in front of a cave. Bones lay all around him. At the back of the cave, a human girl was digging  with her bare hands. When she stopped to wipe her tears away, the dragon whipped her back with its tail.

“Since you refuse to marry me, you’ll dig out this cave for the rest of your life!”

At once, Bayberry realized this must be Little Red. He rushed forward, yelling, “You fiend, how can you do this to my sister?”

Before the dragon could react, Bayberry began to play on his flute. The dragon couldn’t help himself. Side to side, twisting and looping, he started to dance. Bayberry played faster and faster, and though the dragon roared and threatened, he couldn’t break the golden flute’s spell.

Little Red ran to greet her brother, but he just shook his head. He kept playing the flute, and the dragon kept dancing. Soon it  gasped for breath.

“You are stronger! Take your sister and go, just as long as you let me alone.”

Bayberry didn’t believe him. He made the dragon dance down the mountainside, where there was a deep lake. In went the dragon, kersplash! While waves lapped at the shore, the dragon begged for mercy.

“Let me alone and I’ll stay in this pond forever. I’ll never bother anyone again!” So finally Bayberry let his golden flute rest. The dragon sank down into the pond.

Brother and sister embraced, weeping for joy. They turned to walk home, but the lake began to bubble and churn. Out came the dragon, ready to tear with its awful claws!

Little Red told her brother, “He’s been so wicked all this time. Nothing will make him change.”

So Bayberry started to play again. He danced the dragon back to the middle of the lake. No matter how the monster raged or pleaded, Bayberry kept playing. He played all day and all night, for seven days, until the waters went still at last. The evil dragon was dead.

The siblings set off again, dragging the dragon’s body behind them. Their mother was overjoyed to see them both safe. Then the family made a new house with dragon bones for the pillars and roof, and the scaly skin for walls. The dragon’s horns made an excellent plow, so they all had good crops for the rest of their lives.

 

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As we were packing up for the end of the school year, I happened upon this retelling of a Chinese folk tale. So if you were wanting to hear about Mozart’s opera, The Golden Flute, you’ll have to forgive me. The translation here is by Robert Morgan, with illustration by Anik McGrory. I tried to find other versions of this story, to confirm that it actually is of Chinese origin, but I didn’t have any luck. Bear that in mind.

There once was a woman who lived in the mountains along with her daughter, Little Red. But one day a horrible dragon swooped down and snatched Little Red. The mother ran after it, wailing and crying, but she couldn’t keep up. As the dragon vanished into the west, Little Red’s voice floated back to her. “One day my brother will rescue me!”

The grieving mother wept as she went home. Little Red was her only child, so how could a brother save her? She passed close to a bayberry tree growing at the side of the road. Her hair got tangled, and she stopped to free herself. It was then she noticed a bright red berry hanging on the branch. She ate the berry and went on her way.

When the woman got home, she suddenly doubled over in pain. Soon she gave birth to a little boy with red cheeks like the berry she had eaten. She decided to call him Bayberry. Indeed this was a remarkable child, for he grew so quickly that within a few days he looked like a teenager. The mother longed to tell Bayberry about his sister’s plight, but she also feared losing her second child to the dragon, so she said nothing.

But this was a secret too powerful to keep. Bayberry was working in the yard when a crow started scolding him. “Your sister suffers while you live in comfort!” Bayberry went to find his mother. He asked, “Do I have a sister?”

When the woman heard what the crow had said, her eyes filled with tears. “Yes, my son. Your sister is called Little Red, and an evil dragon snatched her away.”

Bayberry picked up a big stick and said, “I’m going to find her and kill that dragon so nobody else has to suffer.” Off he went, while his mother smiled through her tears.

Next time, Bayberry’s adventures begin in earnest!

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Here’s another classic picture book with dragons. It was published in 1980, by the author of Love You Forever and other great picture books. His illustration partner for this book was Michael Martchenko.

The Paper Bag Princess features Princess Elizabeth and her fiance, the prim and proper Prince Ronald. Alas, a terrible dragon appears and destroys Elizabeth’s castle. It snatches Ronald, and flies away! The destitute princess sets off to rescue her fiance, with no weapons and wearing nothing but a paper bag (the dragon burned all her gowns when it attacked the castle). Elizabeth succeeds by using her wits, but Ronald is shocked at her undignified appearance. The engagement is over.

These days, we’re accustomed to female characters who defend their own interests, but in 1980 this was a startling reversal of the tropes. It won lots of accolades, especially from feminist groups such as the National Organization for Women. Because attitudes have changed over time, the story has lost some of its punch. Still, you could do a lot worse than The Paper Bag Princess for your child’s bedtime reading.

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Continuing with the grade-school thread, here’s a sweet and funny dragon story for beginning readers. Good Night, Good Knight was written by Shelley Moore Thomas and illustrated by Jennifer Plecas. Penguin published it in the early 2000s and it is still in print.

The title character is the Good Night, who keeps a faithful watch over his “crumbly, tumbly tower.” But one night he hears a great roar. Tracing the sound, he comes upon a lonely cave where three baby dragons can’t get to sleep. Rather than attacking them, the Good Knight does everything a surrogate parent could possibly do to help them settle down.

This is one of the first books my kids discovered in the library. We read it many times, and it holds a lot of memories. Like I said, it’s sweet and funny. There are two companion books, Get Well, Good Knight and Happy Birthday, Good Night. I recommend them all for a bedtime read or an easy reader.

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I’m traveling today, headed for one of the Barnes & Noble B-Teen events. But I couldn’t resist sharing these cute dragon puppets I spotted on a school wall. I’m glad I took this picture when I did, because it’s the end of the year and teachers have started taking their projects down.

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These look like a fairly easy, fun craft for grade-schoolers. You take two craft sticks (these are tongue depressors, but any size stick will do) and glue one to each end of a 10″ or so piece of ribbon. Again, you can use any size or style, although 1″ or wider probably makes a more striking effect. Then make a dragon head and tail, using construction paper, thin foam, or whatever else you have on hand. Glue them on. Add paint and glitter, and there you go.

Like I said, these are puppets. You hold onto a stick with each hand and make your dragon swoop and glide. Happy flying, everyone!

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Here’s a shot from the hotel at MisCon, two weeks ago. The hotel, a Holiday Inn, had a lovely atrium with all these balconies. The convention organizers didn’t let them go to waste.

Balcony decorations at MisCon 2016

Balcony decorations at MisCon 2016

In this close-up, you can see Shenron (from the Dragon Ball anime) with seven dragon balls. Chewbacca and Iron Man also kept an eye on things.

Next Saturday I’ll be taking part in Barnes & Noble’s teen reading event in Richland, WA. It would be great to see some of you there!

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