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Archive for February, 2017

Lately I’ve been pondering this question. Are the dragons of legend and folklore beings of this Earth or beings of the spirit? Of course, there are so many legends that it’s hard to make general statements. And then you add in the ones authors create for our own stories! Still, it’s something I wonder about.

Based on many tales, it does seem that dragons are fairly physical. They have an animal form, usually terrifying. Dragons do battle with knights and other challengers. They have physical appetites. Dragons hunger for food, whether that be human virgins, milk, or saki. For some writers, they consume the metals of their hoards in order to strengthen their scales. Dragons need to sleep. It’s the lucky thief or knight who enters the dragon’s lair while it’s wrapped in dreams. Dragons are shown to care for nests and eggs, so they must have a drive to reproduce.

At the same time, mythological dragons often have a higher purpose. Hydra, for example, guarded an entrance to the Greek netherworld. Many of the Asian dragons act as nature spirits and either protect nature or help nature to function. Both the African deity Aido-Hwedo and the Norse Jurmundandr were believed to loop around the world and keep it all together. These types of dragons are not shown to eat or sleep, but maintain a ceaseless vigil.

Dragons often are depicted as having great magical powers. They live a long time, and accumulate much knowledge during their lives. In many games, the most dangerous opponents are ancient dragons with spell-casting powers far beyond a lowly adventurer.

To bring this all together, perhaps dragons are like humans in that we are born with great energy, grow into our strength, and strive to make our mark in the world. As time moves on we learn wisdom and often become more spiritual. So perhaps the wisest dragons are those which survive beyond the fury of their youth and become truly mystical beings.

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One of my big finds in 2016 was Enchanted Conversation: A Fairy Tale Magazine. It’s part small press, part blog, part art catalog, and all-around fantasy paradise.

Editor Kate Wolford does an amazing job of collecting contemporary short stories for her bi-monthly electronic magazine. There’s a theme list, with each issue always based on a traditional fairy tale. Those of you who write should definitely take a look at her submission guidelines. I always enjoy the stories and look forward to new issues.

Once or twice a week, her blog highlights classic 20th Century artists whose work shaped the popular image of fairy tales. This is something I especially enjoy, because the visual aspect has been a key driver of the genre. These days, we might think of fairy tales and music, since Disney’s approach of doing fairy tale musicals has become dominant. However, it’s the artists of 100 years ago who really brought fairy tales into the form we most think of. I enjoy seeing the less common images Wolford discovers.

Although the emphasis isn’t specifically on dragons, they do often turn up in fairy tales. So if you enjoy traditional folk stories and fairy lore, take a look at Enchanted Conversations. I know you’ll enjoy what you find there.

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I couldn’t resist  sharing this funny bit from BuzzFeed, back in August of 2014. 44 Medieval Beasts That Cannot Even Handle It Right Now is full of silly cartoons, and quite a few of them feature dragons.

If you’ve ever seen illuminated manuscripts from the Middle Ages, you know that the scribes liked to decorate every bit of the page. Major illustrations would show whatever the text was about. Extra spaces would be filled with little people and animals, some of them quite fantastic.

Like the ancient Egyptians, these Medieval scribes had certain conventions about how people were posed. Especially about faces. Everyone has kind of a somber expression. Even the Virgin Mary, during the Annunciation, looks kind of bummed out. Likewise, it was customary that every animal be shown snarling and fierce.

The thing is, not every artist was that good. Sometimes they were in a hurry. Sometimes they hadn’t actually seen what they were trying to draw. The result is unintentionally-funny pieces like the ones shared above.

The first time I read this, it made me giggle for hours. Enjoy!

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Recently I came across an interesting blog about The Technical Aspects of Writing Dragons. How could I resist such a topic? It was written by Whitney Carter and published on The Writer’s Path. You should check it out. I’ll wait…

Doo dee doo doo, doo dee doo… (That’s the Jeopardy theme, if you couldn’t tell.)

Carter does a good job of breaking down the variety of dragons found in legend in her section on dragons, drakes, wyrms and wyverns. If you’ve been following Wyrmflight for a while, you probably know the sub-categories of dragons go even farther than that. Sea serpents, for instance, are aquatic rather than flying. Drakainas and Nagas are human/serpent hybrids. And then there are the mundane creatures that are just named after dragons: Komodo dragons, leafy sea dragons, dragon salamanders and dragon trees. Dragon space ships. Dragon sunglasses. You get the idea.

I do quibble a bit with her mention of colored dragons being evil and metallic dragons being good. This, actually, is not from traditional folklore at all. It comes from Dungeons and Dragons, the role-playing game. Obviously D&D was a huge success and its trappings have had a lot of influence in entertainment. Still, to me, D&D just doesn’t have the stature of myth where so many dragons were born.

Carter goes on to talk about life cycles (breeding, growth, aging) but I think you should read her blog and see where you agree or disagree. Any number of creative writers can take the same subject matter and all end up someplace really different. That’s the fun of it.

What stuck with me, as far as the technicality of writing dragons, is that your basic decision is between a) choosing a legend and basing your dragons on that, or b) totally making it up for yourself. Both options have their advantages. In choosing an existing legend or mythology, your potential readers may already know the tale and are likely to be comfortable with it. You can get on with the rest of your story, knowing the readers are with you on who or what a dragon is.

There isn’t a lot of surprise, though, since the underlying legend is already known. By making up your own variety of dragons, you have the option to surprise your readers and keep them intrigued. There is a bit more work involved, but if a story catches on, you might even add a new scale to the body of dragon lore.

Personally, I have used both approaches depending on the story. In my middle-grade novel, Masters of Air & Fire, I created a new type of dragon, complete with family structure and life cycles. But in my short story collection, Aunt Ursula’s Atlas, I have different dragons in different stories. “The Dragon King” and “The Dragon’s Ghost” feature fairly typical European dragons, while the sea dragon from “The Dragon Stone” is more unique.

When you’re writing dragons, do you adapt from legends or make up your own? I’m interested to hear what you think.

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In modern times, there’s an award called the Order of the Dragon. It’s granted by the Chemical Corps Regimental Association to honor current and former Dragon Soldiers — the members of the US Army’s Chemical Corps.

The idea to use chemical weapons in warfare had been thrown around as early as the American Civil War, and was taken seriously enough that a section of the Hague Convention forbade it. Nevertheless, German forces in World War I used chlorine and mustard gas, while the French used a form of tear gas. The Chemical Warfare Service was formed both to develop chemical weapons for the US and to create and test counter-measures.

The specialized unit languished between wars, but was reinvigorated as it became clear more trouble was brewing overseas. Among the weapons developed by the Chemical Warfare Service were flame throwers fueled by napalm (probably the reason they are called Dragon Soldiers) and smoke bombs. Chemical smoke generation was among the most important tactics of the CWS, since it created cover for troop movements and protected stationary targets like cities and bridges from aerial attack.

This branch of service again languished after World War II, but the world remained restless through the Twentieth Century. Renamed the Chemical Corps, they were called into service many more times. Perhaps their most notorious operation was the deployment of agent orange in the jungles of Viet Nam. The “tunnel rats” of that same war were also members of the Chemical Corps.

After the Viet Nam war ended with public controversy about the use of napalm and agent orange, the Chemical Corps’ mission changed significantly. The service no longer creates new chemical weapons, but instead is focused on protecting soldiers from such weapons. They develop and test gas masks, hazmat suits, and similar gear, and train soldiers in their use. Still active today, their mission includes chemical, biological, radioactive and nuclear threats (CBRN). Their recruitment and training center is located at Fort Leonard Wood, MO. The Regimental Association’s museum is also located there.

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A reader named Marek clued me into this topic, so thanks, Marek!

The Order of the Dragon was a faux-chivalric order of knighthood active in Eastern Europe during the early 1400s. I say a faux order because the Age of Chivalry was pretty well over by then. Orders of Knighthood had been most active during the Crusades (roughly 1095-1291). Founding a chivalric order in 1408 was akin to modern Americans organizing ourselves according to the legends of the Wild West.

And here I shall refrain from snarky comments about the current political affairs of the United States.

The Order of the Dragon was founded by Sigismund, King of Hungary and Croatia. Like the European political leaders during the Crusades, Sigismund was under threat by the expansion of the Ottoman Turks into Eastern Europe. His reign (1387-1437) was turbulent with both internal and external strife. The Order of the Dragon allowed him to identify a core of supporters who he could count on in his various battles.

Members got the status boost of being in a chivalric order. They earned the rank of baron, if they didn’t already have it. (Many were princes of smaller territories within Hungary and Croatia.) There were twenty-one initial members at its founding. More were admitted in 1418 and again in 1431.

The purpose of the Order, set forth in founding documents, was to “crush the pernicious deeds of the same perfidious Enemy, and of the followers of the ancient Dragon, and of the pagan knights, schismatics, and other nations of the Orthodox faith, and those envious of the Cross of Christ, and of our kingdoms, and of his holy and saving religion of faith…” So, basically, they were out to destroy the Turks, Eastern Orthodox Christians, and anyone else they considered a heretic.

The Order of the Dragon had two main symbols. One was an ouroboros (a dragon eating its own tail) and the other a red equal-armed cross with flames at all four ends. Not surprisingly, St. George was their patron saint. Even after Sigismund’s death, several notable families kept these symbols in their personal arms. Among these were the Dracul family of Wallachia and the Bathory family of Hungary.

It does not appear that the Order of the Dragon took part in any actual battles, either with the Turks or with purely political opponents. Simply having an order stocked with Sigismund’s supporters may have been enough to create a deterrent. However, being so strongly linked to Sigismund, the order faded away once he died. The few relics of the Order of the Dragon are preserved at the University of Budapest.

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Enjoy this guest blog by my friend and fellow editor, David Lee Summers.

Dragons have a long association with the sea.  Examples from mythology include Scylla, the many-headed sea monster from The Odyssey or Jörmungandr, the sea serpent who circles the globe in Norse mythology.  There are many examples of ancient maps depicting sea serpents cavorting in the most mysterious ocean realms.  Although we often think of the line “Here be dragons” being printed in the ocean on ancient maps, it only actually appears on two globes — and on land!

For me, perhaps the most iconic image of a sea monster is the octopus-like kraken reaching up from the depths of the sea to pull a hapless sailing ship to its doom.  The kraken might not seem very dragon-like until you consider its serpent-like tentacles, which lend it more than a passing resemblance to a many-headed sea dragon like Scylla.

When Steve Howell, head of the Space Sciences and Astrobiology Division at the NASA Ames Research Center, suggested we compile a follow-up to A Kepler’s Dozen, our 2013 anthology of short stories set on real exoplanets discovered by the Kepler Space Telescope, I knew I wanted to do a story featuring my space pirate Captain Firebrandt and his crew.  One of the exciting discoveries of the Kepler mission has been a whole new type of world we don’t see in our solar system — a water world.

We tend to think of Earth a water world, but in fact, it’s a rocky planet with a thin veneer of water on much of the surface.  A true water world is mostly water all the way through.  Putting Captain Firebrandt on a water world opened up the possibility of a science fictional meeting of pirates and a kraken!  Perhaps this kraken could be an alien being, or perhaps even a giant squid from Earth raised on a water world colony.  After all, it’s thought possible that stories of krakens originated from sightings of giant squid or colossal octopi.

The next challenge came from the anthology’s theme.  Steve and I are both fans of western-inspired space operas such as Firefly and Cowboy Bebop.  As a tribute to the genre, we called the new anthology Kepler’s Cowboys.  So, how did I cowboy up this meeting of pirates and a futuristic kraken?  I decided that on this futuristic water world, the inhabitants held water rodeos with the giant squid they raised and the good captain saw a way to make some easy money.  Of course, being a pirate, he plans to cheat.  keplers-cowboys-displayTo find out how that works for him, you’ll have to read the story!

You’ll find “Calamari Rodeo” alongside thirteen other short stories and five poems about real planets discovered by NASA’s Kepler mission in Kepler’s Cowboys, which will be released on March 1 and may be preordered at:

 

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