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Posts Tagged ‘folklore’

One of the great heroes of Persian lore is the mighty warrior Rostam. He is part of several legends, but the most substantial of these is the epic poem Shahnameh, recorded by Ferdowsi around 1010 C.E.

Rostam dwelt in Sistan, part of modern-day Iran, where he stood high in the favor of King Kay Kaus. Unfortunately, the king undertook an ill-fated invasion of neighboring Mazandaran. He was defeated and captured. Learning of this, Rostam rode to the rescue on his faithful stallion, Rakhsh. The hero endured several trials. He was lost in the dessert and battled a lion, several demons — and a dragon.

Rostam was asleep one night when Rakhsh heard a noise near the camp. A dragon was lurking in the bushes! The horse whinnied and stamped on the ground, making such noise that the hero woke up. He also forced the dragon to retreat, so that Rostam saw no danger and was highly annoyed with his steed.

He lay down to sleep again, but a short time later the dragon returned. Again, Rakhsh sounded the alarm and woke his master. Rostam was furious and threatened to kill the horse, but then he spotted the dragon! The battle was joined, the monster was defeated, and all was well. One hopes that faithful Rakhsh got a good brushing as reward for his help.


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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Legends from all over the world tell glorious tales of heroes who kill mighty dragons. (It seems unfair to the dragons, but there you go.) Here are my picks for the five best known dragon slayers.

5. Beowulf, the epitome of the Norse warrior. He’s most famous for killing the monster Grendel, but in his old age he still had enough courage to take on a dragon that was attacking his people. (They both died.)

4. Saint George, a Medieval English knight, killed a dragon in Libya and converted the populace to Christianity. (This could be a bit of wishful thinking, since modern day Libya is a Muslim majority country.)

3. Hercules, from Greece, defeated the dreaded Hydra in order to win  forgiveness from the goddess Hera. (It didn’t work.) Later, he used trickery to steal golden apples from their guardian dragon, Ladon.

2. Tokoyo, from Japan. She took the place of a maiden who was about to be sacrificed, and killed the dragon Yofune-Nushi. This healed an emperor’s curse. In gratitude, he released her father from prison.

1. Sigurd, a.k.a. Siegfried, killed the dragon Fafnir. Then he bathed in his blood to become invulnerable. He was also able to understand the language of birds, which allowed him to overcome a treacherous attack. Finally, Sigurd roasted and ate Fafnir’s heart! From this he gained powers of prophecy.

Perhaps you disagree with my choices? Comment away! I’d love to hear who you think are the most famous dragonslayers! Also, check out this Top-Five Dragonslayers list that’s more focused on media and video games.


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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Back in 2007, the American Museum of Natural History, in New York City, featured a group of linked events around legendary and mythical beasts. Collectively known as Mythic Creatures, the exhibit included beasts of the sea (mermaids, sea serpents), earth (giants, griffins), sky (phoenix and roc) and of course, many tales of dragons!

Though the exhibits are long over, you can still see a great overview on their web site. Check it out!

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In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, here is an Irish dragon tale.

Long ago, a great serpent lived in the sea off Ireland. They called him Master Stoorworm. Of course, such a mighty beast had a mighty appetite. He ate so much fish that the poor fishermen could hardly catch a one, but was that enough? Oh, no! Every morning, he rose up near a town and he yawned seven times. His yawn was so mighty that his tongue lashed out and seized seven things from the town. People, cattle, you name it.

The people cried out to their king for relief against Master Stoorworm. Some of them wanted to put out sacrifices, hoping to appease the monster, but the king would not hear of it. Instead, he proclaimed that anyone who could slay Master Stoorworm would be given his daughter’s hand in marriage and a prized sword as well. No fewer than thirty-six warriors took up this challenge, but alas! When they actually saw the beast, they all fled in terror.

In this town there was a young man named Jamie. He was so small that everyone laughed when he said he would take up the challenge. Undaunted, young Jamie gathered an iron pot with some coals, and some peat. He stole a boat and paddled out to the place where Master Stoorworm usually surfaced.

As soon as the creature appeared, his mighty yawn sucked poor Jamie down his gullet. Instead of trying to escape, Jamie paddled deeper until he reached the beast’s belly. Soon he saw the monster’s liver pulsing above him. The brave lad used the coals to light a peat fire. With this he set the liver on fire. Master Stoorworm writhed in agony! He lashed the sea into foam, but Jamie kept the fire burning hot.

As the sea dragon struggled, pieces of his body flew off. First some teeth fell and created the Orkney Islands. Then more teeth created the Shetland Islands. Finally he lost the rest of his teeth and created the Faroe Islands. Once the dragon’s teeth were gone, Jamie let go of the liver and paddled back out the way he came.

But Master Stoorworm had reached his end. Dying, he curled up in a ball, and his body became Iceland. Even to this day, the fire Jamie lit still burns deep under the ground in Iceland.

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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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This, to me, is the movie of the year. Certainly it’s the best animated movie — sorry, Zootopia fans — and possibly the best movie over all. Kubo has a terrific story, great imagination and a respectful depiction of Japanese folklore. It was made by Laika, the studio that specializes in a distinctive animation/stop motion hybrid. Previous films from Laika include Neil Gaiman’s Coraline and ParaNorman.

The lead character is Kubo, a one-eyed young boy who struggles to care for his mother, who is very ill. In the daytime, Sariatu exists in a daze, while at night she is cheerful and loving. Kubo gets money by telling stories in the markeplace, using an instrument called the shamisen to bring his origami figures to magical life. The stories he tell involve a powerful samurai, Hanzo, who dared gather enchanted weapons and armor that would allow him to take on the terrible Moon King. Kubo doesn’t tell the villagers that Hanzo, in fact, was his own father.

Sariatu makes Kubo promise that he will never venture outside at night, because the Moon King is still hunting him. He’s the one who stole Kubo’s eye, and he wants the second one, too. Of course, it wouldn’t be much of a story if Kubo kept his promise. Grieving for his lost father, he attends a lamp-lighting ceremony that is interrupted by his vicious aunts, Sariatu’s sisters. Sariatu appears, sacrificing her own life so that Kubo can escape.

I can’t say much more without spoiling things. There are chases, races, funny moments and amazing battles. There’s also an awesome dragon, very like the Asian-style dragon kite I mentioned in a post last year. Raiden, the Moon King, assumes this form for the final confrontation. It’s a dragon like you’ve never seen before.

If you’ve heard that Kubo and the Two Strings is a great movie, you’ve heard right. Beg, borrow or rent this movie. You won’t regret it.

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A travel writer comes to a secluded island, searching for his next great story. Blessed Island is at the center of many rumors. There might be a lost Viking burial site, or perhaps a secret fountain of youth. The native orchid, Little Blessed Dragon, is either poisonous or rejuvenating depending on how it’s brewed. Eric Seven has an open mind about all of this, though perhaps he’s become jaded after visiting so many paradises-on-Earth in his career. What he actually finds is the last thing he expected: love at first sight.

Even while entranced by the lovely Merle, Eric knows there is something amiss. This paradise does seem lost, at least to technology. Electronic devices mysteriously lose charge, and there is no electricity to restore them. The residents, led by Tor, are nothing but helpful, and yet they pop up to intervene whenever he tries to research his article. Soon he begins to forget why he came, or that there was ever a life before Blessed Island.

On the brief adventure when he escapes surveillance, Eric stumbles into enigmatic terrain of eyes painted on rocks and the weirdly beautiful orchids. There’s a huge old house, or maybe a church, crumbling away on a headland. Inside it, a massive painting depicts the chaotic ritual sacrifice of a Neolithic king. And then things get bad…

This award-winning fantasy spins a complicated tale of love and destiny. In some parts horror, in some parts angsty YA fantasy, it moves from ancient to modern times, spiraling in a way that draws the story together slowly. The text itself is complicated. There’s no single plot arc, but a series of 7 short stories, each with multiple chapters, which weave together to reveal the mysterious connection between Eric and Merle.

Although the book has been described as horror,  I didn’t find it especially horrifying. The atmosphere is creepy rather than gory, which is appropriate for the YA audience. I did find myself questioning if this is the right audience, though. It takes a patient reader to follow the threads of this story.

The writing is really excellent. Midwinterblood won the 2014 Printz Award. It is a good read if you’re up for a challenge.

 

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