Posts Tagged ‘Lucy Ford’

One of my favorite American animated series was Avatar, the Last Airbender, which aired on Nickelodeon from 2005 to 2008. The show is a children’s adventure set in a quirky, Asian-influenced fantasy world. By turns hilarious and dramatic, it presents the struggle of Aang, last of his tribe, to fight off the rapacious Fire Nation. He’s joined by many friends, chief of whom are Katarra and Sakka from the Southern Water Tribe and Zuhko, a Fire Nation prince who (late in the series) becomes Aang’s comrade in arms.

In Avatar, magic takes the form of “bending.” Through moves similar to a martial art, bending allows people to control one of four elements — Earth, Water, Air and Fire. In charge of it all is the Avatar, the only person who can command all four elements simultaneously. He’s responsible for maintaining the balance of nature and negotiating between spirits and people.

In this series, dragons play a small but important role. As in Asian myth, the dragons are long and thin, with elegant manes and whiskers. Dragons exist in both the physical and spirit worlds. They are wise guardians and advisors to all humans, but especially to the Fire Nation. Dragons were the original source of firebending, although it can’t be said they willingly taught this skill. An enterprising man named Wan watched a white dragon swooping gracefully through the sky. By copying its movements, he was able to master his new element.

Wan taught others what he had learned, and eventually his followers grew to become the Fire Nation. Centuries passed, and it became a tradition that the most powerful Firebenders had dragons as companions. Not pets, mind you — companions who help and protect them but also seem to provide a moral compass.

Throughout the series, there’s a dichotomy of dragons representing yin/yang or good vs. evil. Red dragons are virtuous beings who accompany the most enlightened characters. Blue dragons are vicious creatures who join with forces of hate and greed. It’s a striking way to show who some of the characters really are.

In my next blog, I’ll get into some of the specific dragon characters in Avatar.

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In ancient times, the kingdom of Ethiopia was ruled by King Cepheus and Queen Cassiopeia. The queen was  beautiful, but proud. She bragged that both she and her daughter, Andromeda, were more lovely even than the Nereids. These sea nymphs were famed for their dazzling beauty and served in the court of the sea god, Poseidon.

Upon hearing Cassiopeia’s boast, Poseidon became very angry. He sent a sea monster named Cetus to ravage the coast of Ethiopia as punishment for her vanity. Descriptions of Cetus vary, from a dragon-like monster to a whale with a dog’s head and massive tusks. Whatever its true form, Cetus caused tremendous flooding and devoured anyone he could catch.

Cepheus and Cassiopeia consulted an oracle of Apollo, who informed them that Poseidon’s wrath could only be soothed by the death of Cassiopeia’s much-boasted daughter. Thus Andromeda was chained to a rock near the sea to await her death-date with Cetus. Fortunately for Andromeda, a hero named Perseus found her before the dragon did.

Perseus was a son of Zeus, returning to Greece after slaying the dreaded Medusa. He had quite the gear on: a Sword of Adamant, loaned by Zeus himself; a Helm of Darkness, loaned by Hades, god of the dead; a mirrored shield, loaned by Athena, goddess of wisdom; and winged sandals, loaned by Hermes, messenger of the gods.

With such divine favor, it should be no surprise that Perseus made short work of Cetus. He wooed the beautiful Andromeda and married her over the objections of her previous betrothed, Phineus. Unlike a lot of the classic heroes, Perseus and Andromeda enjoyed a prosperous marriage. Their children ruled the kingdom of Mycenae, and the great hero Hercules was one of his descendants.

Unfortunately for Cassiopeia, Poseidon still held a grudge. He placed the proud queen in the stars, seated on her throne. But some sources say this chair actually was an ancient torture device, meaning Poseidon had consigned her to eternal agony.

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To recap, we were talking about what we all would like most about being a dragon. The possibilities were a) flight, b) scaly armor, c) fiery breath, d) long life and wisdom, or e) the hoard.

The winner, by a narrow margin, is flight! That sense of freedom just appeals to so many people, including myself.

Number two was fire-breathing. Interestingly, in the classic dragon tales like Fafnir, it’s the breath weapon that was most dreaded. Although Fafnir breathed poisonous gas rather than flame.

Somewhat to my surprise, nobody wanted to be rich or wise. The modern world is so commercial, I figured a lot of people would want the hoard. Perhaps we’re already wise — at least a little.

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I’ve had a few votes in on my informal poll, but not enough to reach a firm concensus. So let me expand on the options and say what I think are some advantages of each.

A) Flight. Besides the incredible fact of flight itself, you could swoop down on unsuspecting enemies. Or, if your enemies weren’t worth your time, you could fly away and let them chase you if they wanted.

B) Scaly armor. Sure, let those little creatures ping their arrows off you. That’s all they’d do — ping!

C) Breath weapons. When you get tired of the pinging, simply breathing out will take care of the problem. That would be pretty handy, you have to admit.

D) Longevity and wisdom. Obviously, nobody wants to die. I believe that wisdom is often overlooked. With long life comes the ability to savor lots of experiences. Wisdom helps you know the difference between idle amusements and significant achievements.

E) Hoard. Money is a big temptation for me. It is, as they say, always the right size.

F) Alien perspective. One comment suggested that dragons having their own priorities and take on life is worth considering, as well.

Anybody else have an opinion of the coolest thing about being a dragon?

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Q: Where does a dragon go to relax?

A: It sits in the sauna.

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Several months ago, I touched on the video game Skyrim, which has a major story line involving dragons. Now that I’ve been able to play it thoroughly, I give the game very high marks. Not that this surprised me; I’ve been a fan of Bethesda’s Elder Scrolls series since Morrowind was released in 2000.

These games feature great graphics, great music, and great voicing. They are what’s called open-world games, where your character can roam anywhere, explore everything, join guilds and decide the fate of worlds (or just track down a stolen necklace). In most video games, you can only play the one story line over and over, with various character classes. With an open-world game, every character is different and the story never unfolds the same way twice.

Another thing I really like about Elder Scrolls games is that you have to play solo. No crowded online worlds where strangers hit on you, or kill your character and steal its equipment. And no tawdry auction houses where people try to turn a fun amusement into a full time career. Thank you, Bethesda!!

Well, what about those dragons? Visually, they are impressive creatures: big and spiky and full of mean. According to the Skyrim lore, dragons were the originators of all magic and brutal masters of the lesser races. When a dragon unleashes its breath weapon, it is essentially shouting its power in dragonese. Beyond that, however, most of the dragons don’t have much to say. They all attack you for no reason, and Alduin himself was a bit of a weenie.

Although the graphics in these games just gets better, the story is not quite as good as in the previous game. There’s no central figure like Martin Septim of Oblivion. However, the storytelling in Skyrim is still vastly superior to most other  fantasy games (don’t get me started on Diablo III…) and the replay value is outstanding. I spent a good six months playing different characters in Oblivion, and I expect to do the same with Skyrim.

Since the game has now been out for a few months, you can get used copies for a reasonable price. But even if you opt to buy new, you still get your money’s worth. I can’t recommend this game highly enough.

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Dragonology was the first of the popular “Ology” series — novelty books that present fantastic subject matter as if it was a science, within a fictional framework. The reader is drawn into exploring folklore through the presentation of incredible “careers.”

It’s easy to see why Dragonology is so popular. The book is big and colorful, jammed with all kinds of great art, and there are lots of fun touches. Pull-out cards with letters from famous dragonologists. Samples of “dragon skin” to touch. Lift-the-flap pieces that show dragon anatomy inside and out. A “dragon script,” which fascinated my daughter endlessly when she was 10. (It looks, to me, an awful lot like Futhark runes of Scandinavian antiquity.)

The material included is part traditional lore (dragon legends from all over the world) and part new fiction (the dragonologist society of the title). There’s even a faux conservation statement about the rarity of dragons in the modern world. This is a great way to introduce kids to dragon lore.

Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find out a lot about The Templar Company. They’re a publisher based in Britain, sure. They credit Wayne Anderson, Douglas Card, and Halen Ward as illustrators, but there’s nothing to say who wrote the text. That’s a bit of a disappointment to me. I guess this is one of those for-hire projects where the authors signed away their right to be recognized.

Dragonology, published in 2003, started the Ology series off with a bang. It’s grown to encompass lots of SF and fantasy adventure, from aliens to pirates to wizards, and more. Even if you’re well over ten, Dragonology is still a pretty fun read.

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