Posts Tagged ‘dragons’

This tale of The Lady of Langho (a.k.a. The Daughter of Hippocrates) is a really interesting exercise in distinguishing fact from fiction — if that could apply in the case of a mythical beast like dragons. The tale comes from a 14th-Century book, The Travels of Sir John Mandeville, which itself has uncertain origins. Allegedly it details the adventures of an English knight, Sir John Mandeville, who traveled through exotic lands like India and China.

However, records show there never was a Sir John Mandeville. In some ways, the book resembles Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, which is also a collection of stories framed as a travelogue. It seems that The Travels was widely distributed and translated, since copies have been preserved through the centuries in a number of languages.

One fun part of this origin is to pick out some of the anachronisms that “Sir John” wrote into it. Hippocrates lived in the 4th Century B.C.E., after all. There’s no way there were knights running around in that era. The Knights of the Hospital, referred to in the tale, wouldn’t even be founded until the 12th Century. You could as well expect pirates yelling “Arrr” or gangsters with tommy guns.

The Lady of Langho legend could be viewed as a proto-horror story, in which a hapless young woman is transformed against her will and everyone who might help runs from the sight of her. Some, however, have interpreted the story in a more sophisticated way. The Hospitaller attempts a rescue on his own but is killed due to lack of preparation. The common sailor who impersonates a knight shows his true colors when he flees from the lady in her cursed form.

It’s suggested that perhaps the Lady of Langho was better off in the shape of a dragon than if she had bound her fate to either of these two.

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Long ago, in ancient Greece, the physician Hippocrates (originator of the Hippocratic Oath), had a daughter who was so lovely that she rivaled the denizens of Olympus itself. The goddess Diana became jealous and transformed the daughter into a terrible dragon. The girl’s curse could only be lifted if she found a knight who was brave enough to kiss her in her horrifying state. Even then, it was foretold that she would live only a short time longer.

Shunned by all, the unfortunate young lady retreated to the island of Langho. There she was regarded as a sovereign ruler, but languished alone and hopeless. An old castle was her dwelling. She could reclaim her human form just three days each year, and as a dragon never harmed anyone who didn’t attack her first.

As word of the lady’s condition got out, a few knights turned up hoping to save her and become lord of Langho. First was a Knight of the Hospital from nearby Rhodes. Alas, before this knight had a chance to approach, his horse caught sight of the dragon. It bolted in panic and carried him right over a cliff.

The second to attempt wasn’t a knight at all, but a sailor whose ship had stopped to get supplies on Langho. While on shore leave, he wandered into the lady’s castle and was struck by the sight of her in her dressing room, surrounded by a hoard of treasure. Not knowing of the legend, he for some reason assumed she was a prostitute and, um… asked to be her lover.

Remembering the terms of her curse, the lady demanded to know if he was a knight. He admitted that he wasn’t, so she told him he must go and be knighted before he could kiss her. Returning to his ship, the sailor persuaded his captain to “knight” him and came back the next day. Alas, the lady’s one day as a human was over. When the sailor saw her true form, he fled from her. Wailing in despair, the lady pursued him, but he reached his ship and sailed away, leaving her forlorn.

So, we are told, the Lady of Langho remains trapped in her bestial form until this very day. If only a true and noble knight would be brave enough to kiss a dragon, she might be freed from eternal torment.

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Legend tells that a dragon named Blue Ben once lived in the county of Somerset, on the west coast of England. He dwelt in shale caves near the sea, so if his fiery breath over-heated him he could dip into the waves and refresh himself.

Blue Ben was huge, as all dragons are. Due to his great size, he sometimes got stuck in the mud flats along the Somerset coast. The legend says that, in order to save himself, the dragon built a limestone causeway so he could reach solid ground without becoming trapped.

Ben seems to have been a mild-mannered dragon. There’s little mention of him ravaging the countryside or devouring livestock. Alas, being a good neighbor did not spare the mighty beast. The Devil himself happened to spy the dragon frolicking in the waves. He cast a spell that chained Blue Ben’s will. Poor Ben became the Devil’s steed for a wild ride all through the fires of Hell.

No one knows how long this went on. The dragon ultimately freed himself and escaped back to Somerset. Desperately hot and tired, he flung himself into the water to cool off as he usually did. Alas, he had chosen a spot far from his causeway. As he emerged from the sea, Blue Ben became stuck in the mire. No matter how he struggled, he couldn’t get free. In the end, he succumbed to his exhaustion and was entombed in the mud. A sad end for such a magnificent creature.

True fact #1: Blue Ben’s “causeway” is a naturally occurring limestone formation that resembles a paved road. Several sections can be seen along the coast, near the town of Kilve.

True fact #2: In the 19th Century, a shale quarry outside Kilve yielded the fossil skull of an ichthyosaur. The local people immediately proclaimed that this was the skull of Blue Ben. The fossil can still be seen in a Somerset museum.

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Here’s a teasing video from YouTube. “Do you believe this baby dragon is real?” the videographer asks.

I believe it is a real resin casting with lovely paint, and I wish he’d said where you can buy these!

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Fairy dragons are a relatively modern iteration of the legendary dragon. The difference between fairy dragons and traditional dragons are obvious. Instead of being huge and dangerous, these dragons are little and cute. Fairy dragons are small enough to ride on wrists and shoulders. Rather than menacing people, they prefer to cuddle.

Miniature dragons first appeared in SF and fantasy fiction during the early 1970s. For example, Anne McCaffrey created “fire lizards” in her second Pern novel, Dragonquest, published in 1971. Alan Dean Foster introduced his “mini-dragon” Flinx, half of the Pip and Flinx duo, in 1972’s The Tar-Aiym Krang. 

Smaller dragons began to appear in wider circles. Advanced Dungeons and Dragons included “faerie dragons” in a 1982 issue of Dragon Magazine. By now these small dragons are part of many games, including World of Warcraft, and have become a perennial subject in fantasy art.

Most versions of a fairy dragons do have some powers. Flinx carries a deadly poison, while faerie dragons have the power to charm and confuse. This makes them more useful pets and companions than your typical dogs and cats. Still, I have to admit, something in me balks at turning the magnificent dragon into a mere plaything.

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I can’t resist sharing this dragon poem by my good friend, Kenn Nesbitt. It’s from his collection, The Biggest Burp Ever. Kenn is a former Children’s Poet Laureate who has built his life around making kids laugh out loud. Check out his web site, poetry4kids.com. You won’t regret it!

by Kenn Nesbitt

I have an invisible dragon.
She’s such a remarkable flyer.
She soars through the sky on invisible wings
exhaling invisible fire.

Read the rest here…

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One thing that distinguishes Asian and European dragons, aside from their obvious physical differences, is the underlying concept that Asian dragons have a life cycle. In European lore, dragons tend to be individuals. Think Fafnir and Hydra. Each dragon is unique, it lives in one place (as Hydra does at Lake Lerna) until it encounters a hero who vanquishes it.

By contrast, Asian dragons are a species widely distributed across China, Korea, Tibet, Japan, Thailand, and into the islands of Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines. These dragons, collectively known as Lung dragons, are born, grow, and gain power. Human beings will not know of one single dragon, which they can avoid if it is dangerous. Lung dragons can be encountered near any body of water and in some mountain ranges or even large towns.

Lung dragons are hatched out of eggs, laid on the banks of rivers and streams. They may appear as beautiful stones, and will remain for thousands of years before hatching. Possibly there needs to be some sort of spiritual imbalance that “tells” the embryonic Lung it is needed in the world. When they emerge, they have long, fish-like bodies and various appendages depending on who is telling the story. Cat whiskers, eagle talons and tiger legs are among the possibilities. According to some lore, Lung are born without horns and cannot yet fly.

The young Lung will take up residence in the water where it is born. It protects the environment there and people living nearby know it as a helpful and lucky spirit. The larger the body of water, the faster and more powerful the Lung will grow. However, if the water is diverted or drained, the dragon will be forced to move on and all the luck of the community will turn bad.

At about 500 years old, it will transform into a Kioh-Lung. Now more powerful, the Lung dragon gains stag horns and the power of flight. This allows it to extend its protection over a much wider area. Kioh-lung can personally bring rain to areas where it is needed. They gain more powers of transformation and can become as small as a silk worm or large enough to blot out the sun. Kioh-lung can even take human form to move among the populace. It pays to show kindness to strangers, for you never know who is a dragon in disguise!

During this phase, Kioh-lung can assume specific responsibilities, as described in my last post. Chulong, Fucanglong and Shenlong are all examples of the niche a Kioh-lung may fill.

After 1,000 years in all, the Lung again transforms to become a Yinglong. These dragons grow wings in addition to their other features and can move freely among the gods themselves. Like the gods, dragons are immortal unless somehow killed. Asian people believe that these friendly spirits have watched over them through the ages. They hope the dragons will always be there for them.

A few of my other books:

Aunt Ursula’s Atlas, Lucy D. Ford’s short story collection and Masters of Air & Fire, her middle-grade novel.

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

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