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Archive for June, 2017

Long ago in Japan, the emperor was beset by a mysterious affliction. He was troubled in his mind and could not sleep at night. As soon as he fell asleep, he had terrible nightmares. The whole court was dismayed. A few faithful courtiers resolved to keep watch and discover what was causing this malady. Some stationed themselves just outside his quarters, while others watched the gardens around the emperor’s window.

To their horror, a black cloud appeared in the sky just after sunset. It swooped and swirled and came to rest on the roof above the emperor’s chamber. The courtiers inside heard the scratching of great claws on the roof. Then the hapless monarch cried out as a nightmare took hold. Something dreadful must be hidden within the vapors! Archers fired many arrows into the cloud, but they had no effect. The black cloud hovered over the roof until dawn, when it moved off toward the east and vanished.

As weeks of insomnia dragged on, the emperor grew very weak and ill. Nobody knew how to help him. They decided to send for a samurai named Yorimasa, whose skill with the bow was widely known. His charge was to discover what creature was attacking the emperor, and put an end to it.

Yorimasa came at once, bringing his bow and arrows and a single retainer. Alas, the weather was very bad that day. Savage winds and driving rain blocked the sky. How could Yorimasa even see the black cloud through this storm? But the samurai was not discouraged. At dusk, he and his retainer positioned themselves where they would have as good a view of the roof as possible, given the conditions. And they waited.

Hours passed and the storm did not let up, but eventually the emperor’s wail of terror told them the nightmares had begun. Yorimasa kept a steady eye on the peak of the roof. At last, luck favored him. A flash of lightning outlined the shape of a terrible dragon hidden within the cloud. As it faded, the samurai saw the evil glint of its eyes.

He raised his bow and shot for the eyes.  A howl, a crash! Something writhed on the ground, wrecking the emperor’s lovely garden. Wasting no time, the samurai drew his sword and leapt to attack. The evil dragon struggled and howled, but Yorimasa and his retainer slashed the monster nine times together. Soon all was quiet. The emperor slept peacefully for the first time in months.

The fearful courtiers emerged with lanterns to see what had been troubling the emperor. The dragon was a large as a horse, with a tiger’s body covered in scales, an ape-like head, wings of a bird, and a serpent’s tail. When the emperor awoke, he ordered the dragon skinned and kept as a trophy. As for Yorimasa, he was presented with a sword called Shishiwo (“King of Lions”) and promoted to the imperial court. There he met a noble woman named Ayame, and was granted her hand in marriage.

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The T.V. show Merlin (2008-2012 on BBC America) featured many legendary characters and creatures, but also created some of its own mythos as well. In the background of this saga is the Great Purge, carried out by King Uther of Albion. Uther’s wife, Queen Ygraine, was unable to have children, so Uther made a hasty bargain with Nimueh, leader of the Old Religion. Similar to Arthur’s experience with the Questing Beast, Nimueh would only create a life if another was taken. When Arthur was born but Ygraine died, Uther was enraged and embarked on a year-long campaign to destroy or drive out all sorcery from Albion.

Among the targets of his purge were dragons and a group of human warlocks called dragonlords. These magi (it seems they were all or mostly men) had an innate gift for connecting with dragons on an almost spiritual level. As the series developed, Merlin himself was revealed to be the son of a dragonlord. His friend and mentor was the last dragon alive in Albion, Kilgharrah.

The Great Dragon, as he was called, was incredibly powerful even before Merlin’s arrival on the scene. He claimed to have lived for over 1,000 years and had the gift of prophecy. All other dragons had been killed, but Uther kept Kilgharrah chained in a small cavern beneath Camelot. This was to be an example to other magical beasts and sorcerers that even such a mighty creature could not escape Uther’s decree.

Years passed, but one day the prisoner sensed a new opportunity. Merlin had arrived at Camelot to train in secret with a sorcerer named Gaius. Kilgharrah was able to draw Merlin to him. They connected, and the dragon became Merlin’s teacher as much as Gaius was. Through many adventures, Merlin sought Kilgharrah’s advice, though it often came in the form of riddles that forced the mage to solve his own problems.

However, Kilgharrah had his own needs and goals, which included revenge on King Uther. The dragon began to remind Merlin how much their association had benefited him. Merlin promised to free him one day, but the time kept being pushed off. In the Second Season closer, The Last Dragonlord, Merlin kept his promise to release Kilgharrah from his prison. The dragon immediately turned on Camelot and attacked the countryside. However, Merlin’s growing power allowed him to overcome his mentor. He banished Kilgharrah from Albion.

Although their trust had been damaged, Merlin and Kilgharrah continued to have a deep friendship. The mage called upon his dragon companion many times more before the series ended.

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I’ve been talking about the Questing Beast, a dragon-like monster from Arthurian lore. This creature continues to feature in modern works, as well.

In The Once and Future King, T. H. White created his own legend of King Pellinore and the Questing Beast. Here, Pellinore is more of a comic figure who never finds more of the dragon than its droppings. A friend persuades Pellinore to give up his hopeless pursuit. After a while, though, Pellinore learns that the Beast is pining away from loneliness now that the chase is over. The hunter nurses his former nemesis back to health and gives it a head start before once again setting off on his eternal quest.

The Questing Beast has also been featured in T.V. shows such as Merlin. In this telling, the Beast is associated with the Old Religion, a faction opposed to Merlin and Arthur. The dragon’s venom is so powerful that nothing can cure it. Once bitten, death is assured. In the first-season finale, Le Morte d’Arthur, Arthur is bitten and Merlin desperately seeks aid from Nimueh,  leader of the Old Religion. Turns out, there is one way to save the Questing Beast’s prey. The victim can be spared if another person is willing to sacrifice their own life. There’s a lot of hot-potatoing as the price for Arthur’s salvation gets passed from person to person. You can read a full synopsis here.

All these events take place in a mythical version of Britain, but it seems the Questing Beast may even have made its way to the Americas. Residents of the Republic of Molossia, a self-declared micronation located in Nevada, USA, claim to have found fossil evidence of the Questing Beast. There is a hoofprint-shaped indentation on their landmark, Helicopter Rock. The residents claim this is a track left by the Questing Beast as it leapt to escape King Pellinore.

It just goes to show, you can’t keep a good dragon down.

 

 


A few of my other books:

Aunt Ursula’s Atlas, Lucy D. Ford’s short story collection

Masters of Air & Fire, Lucy D. Ford’s middle-grade novel

The Grimhold Wolf, my Gothic werewolf fantasy, and my epic fantasy, The Seven Exalted Orders.

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The best known dragon of Arthurian lore, the Questing Beast is a creature that contradicts itself. It is described as a hideous mongrel with a snake’s head and neck, leopard’s body, hindquarters of a lion, and deer hooves instead of paws. Even stranger is the noise that accompanies the Questing Beast wherever it goes. When it is nearby, you can hear a constant growling and barking as of many hunting hounds. Some legends say that the Beast actually did swallow a pack of hounds and they are still barking inside its belly!

In the Middle Ages, questing was another word for the cry of hounds following a scent. Indeed, its name in French is the Beast Glatisant, which refers to the baying of a pack of hounds. So, calling it a Questing Beast is something of a joke. For further irony, the Questing Beast doesn’t seem to be questing for anything. Instead, various characters take it as their quest to slay the Questing Beast.

This dragon’s initial appearance in Arthurian lore is when King Arthur wakes from a nightmare and beholds this bizarre animal with its noisy ambiance. It seems Arthur had spent a night of passion with a woman named Morgause (a.k.a. Morgan Le Fey), not knowing she was his sister. Their son, Mordred, was destined to destroy everything Arthur tried to build. The Questing Beast’s arrival is believed to be harbinger of this doom.

Arthur chose not to pursue the Beast, but soon after he was approached by another knight. King Pellinore explained that it was his family’s curse to endlessly pursue the Questing Beast. Arthur consulted his wizard, Merlin, who divined the dragon’s origins. A princess had once been tempted by the Devil to lust after her own brother. Through Satan’s machinations, the brother was killed, and their child was born twisted by his mother’s crimes. Perhaps King Pellinore was descended from the same royal family. This could explain his oath to destroy the Beast.

A separate story describes the Questing Beast quite differently. In this version, Sir Percival encounters the Beast while searching for the Holy Grail. What Percival sees is a small animal, pure white and beautiful to behold. The barking still accompanies it, except when the Beast pauses to drink from a pool. Some have suggested the Questing Beast represents Christ guiding Sir Percival on his quest. However, evil forces are tearing the Beast apart from inside. This could refer to Jews, who follow the Old Testament instead of Christ’s teachings, or it could just mean all those rude people who insist on talking during mass.

In yet another variation, the Questing Beast is hunted by Sir Palmades, a Saracen knight who wants to win the affection of Queen Isolde of Cornwall. I was kind of surprised to learn there had been a Saracen knight in Arthurian lore. Ultimately Sir Palmades converts to Christianity and puts his hopeless love aside.

And those are just the Medieval variations on the Questing Beast! Check back on Saturday for the more contemporary versions of this ancient dragon.


A few of my other books:

Aunt Ursula’s Atlas, Lucy D. Ford’s short story collection

Masters of Air & Fire, Lucy D. Ford’s middle-grade novel

The Grimhold Wolf, my Gothic werewolf fantasy, and my epic fantasy, The Seven Exalted Orders.

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My featured book for May and June is Too Many Princes, published in 2007 by Dragon Moon Press. Of all my novels to date, Too Many Princes features dragons in the most prominent role.

These dragons are long-lived, though not truly immortal. In addition to their terrifying physical attributes as dragons, they have great magical powers. Among the most important to the story, they can change their shape at will. However, there’s a catch.

The dragons’ curving horns are the seat of their power, so they can’t change the horns without risking their power. Thus, although they can impersonate humans, there must be some way to hide their horns or their true identity as dragons will be plain to see.

Some dragons regard humans as friends, to be nurtured. Others view them as chattel to be conquered. You’ll meet both sorts in Too Many Princes.

At ten years old, this book is out of print. However, I have a few copies in my personal inventory if you’re interested. To whet your appetite, here’s a brief excerpt that introduces one of the principal dragon characters, Yriatt.

She seemed to be another Urulai, clad in a brown leather dress, but her garment was stitched with some shiny stuff, and she wore a fabulous head-dress of two great, twisted dragon horns. Sheer veils fell behind it and passed beneath her chin. Those horns and her night-dark hair were draped with beads and fine chains that winked as she moved. She had an angular face, not beautiful but arresting. Her eyes were the deep gray of wet slate. 

“Welcome.” Her voice was deep for a woman’s and her Cruthan was perfect. Like her attendants, she gave no smile of greeting, but remained stern and calm. “I am Yriatt, mistress of Hawkwing House.”

Eagerly, Lottres began, “I am Lottres of Crutham, and…”

The woman interrupted his fawning. “I know.”


A few of my other books:

Aunt Ursula’s Atlas, Lucy D. Ford’s short story collection

Masters of Air & Fire, Lucy D. Ford’s middle-grade novel

The Grimhold Wolf, my Gothic werewolf fantasy, and my epic fantasy, The Seven Exalted Orders.

 

 

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Many of us will remember Serendipity Books. We may have read them as kids, or we may have read them to our own kids. This long series, written by Stephen Cosgrove, has a distinctive look thanks to the soft and charming illustration by Robin James. In these books, a variety of animals both natural and mythical have adventures that end with a clear moral or lesson.

The success of this series carries a really interesting lesson all its own. The author struggled to find books he believer were appropriate for his young daughter. Standard publishers offered hardback books that were fairly expensive, and (he felt) lacked a moral center. Dissatisfied, Cosgrove set out to write his own book. His goal was to offer inexpensive paperbacks with the wholesome tone he was looking for.

Cosgrove did write his book. He found his own illustrator and began to approach traditional publishers. However, editors still wanted to publish in hardback, and Cosgrove was determined to bring out modestly priced paperbacks. Ultimately he decided to publish on his own. The first four books appeared in 1974. They were Serendipity, Wheedle on the Needle, The Dream Tree, and The Muffin Muncher (since revised as The Muffin Dragon) with a series title of Serendipity Books.

Self-publishing was extremely rare in the 1970s. The stigma of vanity presses was strong. But Cosgrove did what every successful self-published author has to do. He identified his audience (Christian families with young children). He decided how to reach them (gentle fables with sweet illustration). He aimed at family budgets with his inexpensive paperbacks.

It all paid off. Serendipity Books were a great success. Cosgrove and James expanded the series with many more volumes. All were independent of each other, although a few characters like Morgan the unicorn and Lop the rabbit starred in more than one book. In fact, the series was such a success that Cosgrove merged his company with Price/Stern/Sloan in order to focus on his writing.

Among the many characters, my favorites are the dragons. Some that come to mind are Creole, who learned that true beauty is within, Trafalgar True, who stepped in to stop a senseless war, the Muffin Muncher, who learned not to be so greedy, and of course Serendipity, the pink sea serpent who searched the world to find out who or what she was.

In all honesty, the Serendipity books seem fairly dated to a 21st Century children’s writer. Telling a story with a moral is not how we approach our audience these days. I find, also, that Cosgrove’s vocabulary is much too difficult for a young reader to handle. So these texts seem more directed at the adult who is reading than the child who is listening.

Nevertheless, the messages still ring true. In classrooms where students struggle with social behavior, Serendipity Books can be a way to help learn about friendship, equality, and respect for the environment.


A few of my other books:

Aunt Ursula’s Atlas, Lucy D. Ford’s short story collection

Masters of Air & Fire, Lucy D. Ford’s middle-grade novel

The Grimhold Wolf, my Gothic werewolf fantasy, and my epic fantasy, The Seven Exalted Orders.

 

 

 

 

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The hundred-headed dragon, Ladon, had been ordered to lurk in the Garden of the Hesperides by Hera, queen of the Greek gods. His task: prevent any intruders from stealing the golden apples, which bestowed immortality. However, during these days, the demi-god Hercules had offended Hera and been assigned to do ten great labors as penance. The arbiter of the labors was Eurystheus, a devout follower of Hera. In order to delay Hercules completing his penance, Eurystheus declared that two of the ten tasks (killing the Hydra and cleaning the Augean Stables) were void. Hercules would have to do two more.

As the eleventh task, Eurystheus demanded that Hercules bring him the golden apples of the Hesperides. That’s right — in order to appease Hera, Hercules had to steal something from her garden! (What a great idea. Thanks so much, Eurystheus.)

Hercules set off on his journey. After several trials just to find the Garden of the Hesperides, Hercules received advice from the tortured god Prometheus. Prometheus said that the Hesperides were daughters of the god Atlas, who held up the Earth and sky. Because of this, Ladon would not challenge him if he went to pick the apples.

Hercules traveled on and found Atlas, groaning under the weight of his immense burden. He offered to hold the Earth if Atlas would do him this favor. Atlas immediately agreed. He went to the garden, probably had a nice visit with his daughters, and came back with the golden apples.

However, Atlas enjoyed being free. He wanted to extend the time a little longer. So, Atlas offered to take the golden apples to Eurystheus in Hercules’s place. Hercules knew that Eurystheus probably wouldn’t count this task if someone else brought him the prize. He pretended to agree, but asked that Atlas take his burden back long enough for Hercules to fold his cloak and make a pad for his shoulders. Atlas put the apples down and lifted up the Earth. Whereupon, Hercules grabbed the apples and ran off, leaving Atlas with his original task of holding up the earth and sky.

All of this means that Ladon has a great distinction. He is the only magical beast to have survived an encounter with Hercules!


A few of my other books:

Aunt Ursula’s Atlas, Lucy D. Ford’s short story collection

Masters of Air & Fire, Lucy D. Ford’s middle-grade novel

The Grimhold Wolf, my Gothic werewolf fantasy, and my epic fantasy, The Seven Exalted Orders.

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