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Posts Tagged ‘fairy tales’

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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Levine, author of the Newberry Honor book, Ella Enchanted, brings us a middle grade fantasy full of mystery, magic, and a few tart observations of human nature. For those of you who think she’s strictly a light-weight author, think again!

There’s a classic fairy-tale feel as Elodie, a country girl, sets off to seek her fortune. She heads to the big city, Two Castles, where her parents want her to apprentice as a weaver. Elodie has her own ideas. She wants to be a mansioner (an actress). Almost from the start, fate goes against her. Her money is stolen, and the mansioner doesn’t need any more apprentices. However, someone else has their own ideas about Elodie’s future.

That someone is Meenore, the dragon whose lair is set on the outskirts of Two Castles. Levine gives us an unique, inscrutable dragon here, yet with all the fun touches you’d expect from this author. For example, Elodie doesn’t know if her new “masteress” is a male or female dragon. This information is too personal to be bandied about, so all dragons are referred to as IT. Meenore is shrewd, exacting, fastidious, yet also generous. Relatively young and friendless, IT too has ambitions that have been denied. While Meenore spends ITs days in menial chores such as toasting cheese sandwiches and lighting blacksmith’s forges, ITs dream is to use ITs intellect and become a famous detective.

To say more would give away too much, so let me turn to the setting. Two Castles is so named, because there are two castles. One, in town, belongs to the despicable King Grenville and his daughter, Princess Renn. The other is home to an ogre, Jonty Um. Despite his fearsome reputation, Jonty Um is well mannered and his servants are devoted, while the locals barely hide their hatred for “Greedy Grenny.” Here, to me, was one of the most telling contrast, that the “normal” people in Two Castles are wary, thieving, deceptive, while the so-called monster is honorable and kind to all.

The story features a host of other interesting characters and draws on several traditional fairy tales, most notably “Puss in Boots.” Through it all, Elodie grows confident enough to choose her own path of loyalty and danger. In terms of subject matter, this book is solidly for middle grades (grades 4-6), with all violence occurring off-stage and only a hint of romance. However, I think kids up to 15 can enjoy this book with its fresh ideas and sense of humor. A Tale of Two Castles is highly recommended.

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Fairy rings are one of nature’s weird and cool phenomena, a circular formation of mushrooms growing on the ground. They can occur anywhere, from tundra moss to forest, but are most visible in fields and plains. Formations can be full circles of mushrooms, partial circles or arcs of mushrooms, rings and arcs of darker green growth without mushrooms, and areas with dead growth at the center. Rings start out small and grow outward. They can persist for hundreds of years and reach many yards across.

Modern science explains that fairy rings are caused by mushrooms growing beneath the soil. Over sixty mushroom species have been identified in association with fairy rings. However, because they are so visible and striking, people before the scientific era had all sorts of stories about what caused the mushrooms to grow this way.

The most common name, of course, is fairy ring. They have also been called pixie rings, elf circles, and fairy circles. All over Europe and as far away as the Philippines, fairy rings are associated with tiny spirits. Europeans believed the grass in the middle was dead because fairies had trampled it while dancing. Other cultures blamed witches or the Devil churning butter. Many tales recount the disasters befalling mortals who ventured into fairy rings.

But, in Tyrolia, legend held that these formations were caused by dragons. If a dragon flew by and stopped to rest, wrapping its tail around it, the heat of its body burned the ground. After that, nothing but mushrooms could grow for seven years or more.

Maybe Tyrolian dragons liked mushrooms for their supper?

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Wyverns are a sub-class of dragons known from Medieval European lore. Wyverns have two legs, wings, and long scaly tails. This was an important distinction in Medieval heraldry, where its two legs vs. the four legs of an ordinary dragon would allow or disallow a heraldic figure.

In legends, wyverns were associated with plagues, jealousy, warfare, or as guises of the Devil.

In some arms the wyvern is shown having forelegs, wings, and the long tail. In others, it has wings, back legs, and a shorter tail. The latter typically were used when wyverns supported a crest in some painting or sculpture. There even were sea-wyverns with fish tails instead of serpentine ones.

Probably the most famous wyvern story is the tale of Maud and the Wyvern.

Long ago, in England, there was a girl named Maud. She was an only child who roamed the woods and was familiar with all its creatures, but she was lonely without any playmates. Maud begged her parents to let her have a pet. They agreed, assuming her choice would be a dog or cat.

Little did they know! Maud went roaming as usual and encountered a surprising creature: a tiny baby wyvern fluttering helplessly in a grove. It was the size of a cucumber and bright green, with glittering scales and translucent wings too fragile to lift it into the air. Maud felt sorry for the little creature, which was obviously lost and hungry. She took it home to be her pet.

Maud’s parents were horrified when they saw her choice. For though it was tiny now, they knew it would grow into a dangerous monster. They knew they should kill it, but they didn’t have the heart. Instead, they ordered Maud to return the creature to the forest. If it died, then that was nature’s way.

Come back on Saturday for the next chapter!

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As a quick follow-up to my earlier post on the Liebster Award, I have been nominated a second time by YA author Shannon A Thompson. If you missed the Liebster blog post or want to see it again, go ahead and click on the link up above.

Shannon has an amazing blog and currently is touching on the snobbery of a particular self-appointed “expert” toward YA Lit. Her blog is always interesting, so feel free to take a look. And thanks to Shannon for the nomination.

Now about that movie! I had read reviews on Maleficent that indicated excellent acting and FX but the screenplay is a dog. Particularly, one critic alleged a marked anti-male bias in the script. I don’t agree. Just because the principal villain is male does not make this a man-bashing movie. The script switches around a well known tale in which the very evil antagonist was female. So if the formerly-villain Maleficent becomes the hero in this latest movie, who were you thinking the new antagonist was going to be? (Hint: Not Aurora!)

Certainly, other characters are less developed than Maleficent. If King Stephen is something of a stock character, so are the three fairies, who continue the unfortunate tradition of fairy-ridicule from Sleeping Beauty. Both Aurora and Phillip have almost nothing to do in this script. In addition, Stephen’s evil is more than balanced by the crow, Diablo, a positive male figure in this film.

That’s enough of breaking it down by sexes, I think. I was surprised to enjoy Angelina Jolie’s performance in the title role since she hasn’t impressed me before. Her wardrobe here is excellent and restrained and she brings gravitas to the role. Possibly she’s decided it’s time to play more mature parts rather than just being a hot chick. And, after her well-publicized surgeries, she may have felt revealing attire would have the audience focused on looking for scars rather than watching her performance.

As for the dragons, there are three different varieties during the show. One is an fearsome earth beast made of roots and vines. The second is light and airy, with fluttering, diaphanous fins. Technically these both are Lindworms — long and snaky, without paws or wings. And the third, of course, is the big black dragon breathing fire. I can’t tell you more about this without spoiling one of the surprises.

Should you go see Maleficent? You should. There’s a little warfare but not in a gory way, and brief kissing but no sex scenes, so even young kids won’t be dismayed. Is this the deepest pool in the river? No, but it’s nowhere near as shallow as you may have heard.

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As a follow up to my recent post about the TV show Dragon Tales, I’ve heard there’s also a TV show based on How to Train Your Dragon, the hit dragon movie from a few summers ago. The news came from Princess of Dragons’ blog. I won’t reblog, because that seems like cheating to me, but you can read her post here.

This leads me to a couple more dragons coming out on screen this summer. Actually, some are already out. Movies I haven’t seen yet, but plan to see:

1) Godzilla. Technically not a dragon, but the eleven-year-old in me can’t get enough of guys in rubber suits stomping through cities. Okay, it’s not a rubber suit any more, it’s CGI. But how can I ignore a breath weapon like that?

2) Maleficent. I’m not sure whether Angelina Jolie’s title character turns into a dragon during this movie. I hope so! When Maleficent did her dragon turn at the end of Sleeping Beauty, it really set the place on fire for me. (Ha ha.) Besides, the rest of the fairies in that movie were so inane. Even as a young child, I knew there was something wrong with them.

Fairies and dragons should never be treated as silly!

3) How To Train Your Dragon 2. The first movie was so good (even though some of the dragons were silly) that I’m almost afraid to try the second one. How can a sequel compare? Maybe it doesn’t have to, because there will be dragons. Lots and lots of dragons.

I also still wish to see the latest X-men movie. But that’s a different blog post. What about all of you — got any good dragon movies to recommend?

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Since I write a blog about dragons, you might think I have a few of them in my house. And I do! At least, in the form of artwork. So today I thought I’d share some of the dragons that grace my home.

Starting at the front door, you’ll notice three small stained glass panels by Roberta Rice with blue and green dragons.

In the living room, a larger stained glass design, also by Roberta Rice, hangs in the front window. This is the image I use for some of my online presence. There’s also a small gold rubber dragon attached to one of my hanging plants. I got this at Norwescon years ago, but there’s no signature on it.

In the main floor den are prints by Gail Butler and Quint. (His full name isn’t on his print; artists, let this remind you to always put your contact information on your prints.) There’s more 3D work here. A larger blue rubber dragon hangs above the desk, and a brown stuffed dragon made by our good friend, Mary Albers, perches on the book case. A ceramic mug with a dragon on the side holds pens and pencils. (Again, I can’t read the artist’s name, but it may be Natalie Pitman or Putnam.) There’s also a dragon snow globe (mass market, no artist identified.)

In the corridor between the den and bath, we have prints by Ellisa Mitchell and Susan Van Camp.

Upstairs, art hangs in a sheltered hallway. Prints are by Betsy Mott, Robert Costa, Diana Gallagher Wu, Robert Daniels and Lynne Goodwin. One of my favorites is a 3D piece made with liquid paper that I picked up at MosCon years ago. Unfortunately, I can’t read this artist’s name at all.

In my bedroom, amazingly enough, I only have one little stuffed dragon, a mass market Valentine gift. Awww.

Finally to my office, where I do my creative masterwork and am writing this just now. I have a molded ceramic tile with a dragon and phoenix (unsigned) and a 3D wire sculpture that really gathers dust but looks very cool. Plus a mass-market resin clock with a pair of small blue dragons that “fly” on top. I have a prints by Leslie d’Alessandro Hawes and a small Karen Lee Carmack original watercolor.

There are 22 art pieces in my house with dragons — not counting gaming miniatures, book covers, and my daughter’s stuffed toy collection. Plus the assorted merfolk, fairies, unicorns, knights, Anime characters and space ships. These assure that I’m pretty much surrounded by fantasy all the time. And that’s the way I like it!

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Dragonflies are very noticeable in any environment where they live. They’re big compared to other bugs. They’re fast and acrobatic flyers. So it’s no surprised that dragonflies are a part of legend and myth. Even the name, dragonfly, is a reference to their ferocity as predators.

All over Northern Europe, people believed dragonflies were associated with the supernatural. They were called Teufelsnadel in Germany, L’aiguille du Diable in France (both of which mean “Devil’s needle”), and Devil’s darning needle in England. In Wales, the name was Snake Doctor, in the belief that if a snake was injured the dragonfly would fly over and sew it up. Clearly all of these refer to the dragonfly’s long, thin shape.

In Sweden, people thought dragonflies looked like a scale, and believed the Devil used them to weigh people’s souls. If a dragonfly flew around your head, that was bad luck because the Devil might be coming to get you!

People in Northern Europe also believed that dragonflies were a hazard to the eyes. Thus some dragonflies were called Blindsticka (Sweden), Oyenstikker (Norway) or Augenstecker (Germany). The Norwegian Orsnildra is harder to translate but appears to involve poking holes in one’s eardrums.

More charming is the folk belief that dragonflies could act as steeds for fairies and similar creatures. So we have the Spanish Caballito del Diablo (Devil’s horse), Swedish Trollslanda (Hobgoblin fly) and German Hollenrosse (Goddess’s horse).

Cultures in Asia also have legends about dragonflies. In Japan, the famous samurai warriors took these insects as symbols of agility and power in battle. When they saw dragonflies, they took is as an omen of victory. Dragonflies, or Tonbo, are most visible during summer and fall in Japan. They are an artistic and visual representation of those seasons, in much the same way Americans might use sunflowers or autumn leaves.

In China, meanwhile, Quingting (dragonflies) were thought to foretell harmony, prosperity, and good luck. This makes sense if you consider that dragonflies can’t live without water, a substance that’s also crucial to people, livestock and crops. If there was enough water for dragonflies, everyone would be thriving.

Possibly for similar reasons, there were Native American tribes that believed dragonflies foretold freedom, happiness and purity. Perhaps they couldn’t see that the dragonflies were hunting tiny insects, for they believed the dragonflies fed on the wind. Other tribes thought dragonflies had powers of illusion. Lakota warriors might call upon the spirit of Tannicala Tusweca (Dragonfly) to trick their enemies during a battle.

Because dragonflies, like all insects, go through a metamorphosis, dream reading and other modern spiritual teaching holds them as emblems of change, growth, and the shedding of illusions.

Personally, I like dragonflies because they look cool and they’re exciting to watch. My home is several miles from the nearest river, but every once in a while I get dragonflies cruising through my vegetable garden. I’m thrilled when I see them because I know my garden is healthy and productive for all kinds of life. Besides, how often do you see a dragon on the wing?

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The last stop on our world tour brings us back to Europe for what is not the largest, but surely the most famous dragon statue of all. This is Smok Wawelski, the Dragon of Wawel Hill. Amazingly, there’s a limestone cave right under the former Polish capital, Krakow. Smocza Jama (Polish for dragon’s den) lies inside Wawel Hill, a site rich in legend.

As the story goes, during the reign of King Krakus, a fearsome dragon inhabited Smocza Jama. Each day it rampaged through the countryside, destroying homes and killing the people and their livestock. The people somehow discovered that the dragon liked to eat virgin girls better than anything, so once a month they left a poor girl out for the dragon. Over time, the supply of virgins ran short, so that King Krakus faced the prospect of offering his beloved daughter, Princess Wanda, to fend off the dragon for another month.

King Krakus issued a proclamation that whoever killed the dragon should have his daughter’s hand in marriage. Knights and warriors came from far and wide, but none prevailed… until a humble cobbler’s apprentice stepped forward. Skuba wasn’t noble or famous, but he was a clever lad. Instead of fighting the dragon directly, he used subterfuge.

Skuba stuffed the carcass of a sheep with sulphur and left it between Smocza Jama and the nearby Vistula River. When the dragon next emerged, he devoured this tasty snack at once, but the sulphur gave the dragon an overwhelming thirst. Rushing to the river, he drank and drank but couldn’t be satisfied. Eventually the dragon swallowed so much water that he burst! Skuba married Princess Wanda, and peace returned to the land.

To commemorate this legend, a bronze statue was erected in front of Smocza Jama in 1972. The design, by Bronislaw Chromy, presents a seven-headed monster which stands 18 feet tall including its base on a limestone boulder. What makes the Wawel Dragon statue so amazing is that it is fitted with a natural gas works that causes it to belch fire, much to the delight of onlookers. This used to happen every 5 minutes, but after a recent upgrade, visitors can send text messages to make the dragon breathe flame.

That’s pretty cool! Or should I say hot?

Well, if you could travel to see one of the four, which would it be? The Dragons of London, the Welsh Dragon monolith, the serene dragons of Heaven Gate, or the Polish fire-breather?

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Goblin Quest, by Jim C. Hines, is home to one of the most impressive dragons of modern fiction: Straum. If you notice similarity to another famous dragon, it’s no coincidence. Hines writes funny fantasies that skewer popular stereotypes. His debut trilogy poked lots of fun at D&D and the whole dungeon-delving, treasure-grabbing mythos that goes along with it.

The star of the show is Jig, a little blue goblin who gets captured by a group of typical adventurers. You know… the warrior prince, the mad wizard, the dwarf cleric and the elfin thief. Instead of killing him — although there’s continual debate on that point — they opt to enlist hapless Jig as their native guide. Fortunately for them, Jig is smarter than the average goblin. In fact, in some ways, he’s smarter than the other four put together.

There are laughs and thrills, and some pointed questions along the way. Could an underground labyrinth actually function as an ecosystem? What gives those adventurers the right to come in, kill the “monsters” and steal their treasure? Is it really that easy to shoot an arrow into a giant monster’s eye? I’m sure you’ll all spot favorites from your D&D days.

But the main event is Straum, a black dragon who’s been trapped underground for more than 5,000 years. The greatest wizard in history stuck him down here to guard the Rod of Creation, and only the Rod can set him free… but Straum himself cannot use it. He has to lure in the right group of adventurers if he ever wants to be free.

This is a terrific book with an obvious love for what it lampoons. The sword fights are not handled in a grisly way, making it a safe read for all ages, though younger kids will need an adult’s help with vocabulary. Goblin Quest is highly recommended.

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