Posts Tagged ‘podcasts for kids’

I have some exciting news. Masters of Air & Fire, the middle grade fantasy novel I podcasted because I’d give up on selling it, will finally be published! Sky Warrior, the publisher of my fantasy novel The Seven Exalted Orders, will shortly be sending me a contract. If they follow their usual marketing, Masters of Air & Fire will be an e-book first, and a print book if sales warrant.

In essence, Masters of Air & Fire is a family drama where the family happen to be dragons. Three young wyrmlings are orphaned by the eruption of their volcanic home and must struggle to find their place in the world. Not only do they strive against each other, determining which of them is in charge, they also run afoul of some small, hairless, alien creatures called humans.

Some of the humans seem friendly. But do they have dark intentions toward the wyrmlings? Other humans are hostile, until the wyrmlings see them as captives with a shared purpose. Deciding which humans to trust is a major challenge of the book. The question of humans domesticating dragons is a sore point for me, and I enjoyed exploring that.

What makes my dragons different, you may wonder? Besides that I call them ‘wyrms’ rather than dragons, that is. I was really interested in examining the fearsome legendary dragon in a more vulnerable position. As kids who haven’t grown their scales yet and could be lost and scared. I tried to create a credible society among gigantic predators who mostly live alone once they reach adulthood.

I also tried to give them a different physical presence than other stories, with patches of color-changing skin that they use to express emotion and communicate over distances.

Once I have a firm publication date for Masters of Air & Fire, I’ll share that with you. For now, if you want to check out the podcast edition, it’s still up on my web site. I hope you’ll check it out.

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It’s amazing where dragons will turn up. In a class, I was helping a kid look up bio-luminescent animals, and there it was! Yep, I wasn’t even looking, and I found another ocean-going dragon.

Dragonfish are predators of the deep sea who can produce their own light. Some have eye spots that generate light, others can flash rows of lights along their bodies, and still others have bio-luminescent lures similar to angler-fishes’s. Unlike angler fishes, dragonfish have long, skinny bodies rather than with the outsized head we associate with angler fish.

Like many denizens of deep water, dragonfish are mysterious. Do they use their lights to attract mates? To lure in prey? To startle enemies? How long do they live? Scientists aren’t sure. We know adults are found up to 5,000 feet deep. Many animals at this frigid depth can make their own lights. Some dragonfish even have black stomachs, to block the lights of prey they have swallowed. They aren’t very big, only 6″ long, but they sure have a dragon’s-mouth mouth full of cutlery!

If you want to find out more about dragonfish, Sea and Sky is a great web site with information about all kinds of deep-sea monsters. Next time, I’ll talk about a few other fish that are nick-named “dragonfish.”

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I mentioned in my last post that Viking dragon boats came from a family of longboats with great cultural and religious importance. Unfortunately, there is little specific information on Viking religous practices beyond the sagas of Norse mythology. They don’t seem to have had a specific class of priests, or buildings like temples, where such information would have been recorded and preserved.

We do know that Vikings used longboats as part of their burial rites. In fact, most of the best preserved Viking boats archaeologists know of were found in burial mounds, or barrows. This implies there was some belief in “sailing to the afterlife,” to put it crudely.

Well, what about those longboats, then? The family began sometime before 800 AD and included ships in several main categories. The smallest of the clan was the Faering, a vessel with just two sets of oars. One can imagine fishermen and short-distance travelers using such a craft.

The workhorse of the family was the Knorr. These were cargo vessels that crossed open seas, as opposed to the sleek raiders which hugged the coasts. They measured perhaps 54 feet long and 15 feet at the widest (the beam). The crew was 20-30 people. The primary means of propulsion was with a sail, while oars were used for maneuvering in harbors and such. Knorr were used for major expeditions such as the colonization of Greenland.

Karve were another type of cargo ship, slightly larger than Knorr. The beam was 17 feet, so they must have been close to 60 feet in length. The Karve was better for running along coasts than the Knorr. About 900 AD, warriors began to use them for fast raids all around the North Sea.

Viking warriors returned from these raids with fame and fortune, and that created something of a ship-building “arms race.” Successful raiders became chiefs, with many men following their banner. Famous chiefs wanted more impressive ships to hold their larger war bands. They also began to attach ornaments, like the iconic dragon figureheads. In some cases these were so striking that Viking chiefs were requested to take off the figureheads so they didn’t scare away friendly spirits in their home waters.

From 900 AD to the end of the 1200s, Viking longboats grew longer and sleeker. The zenith of the form was the Drekar, literally a “dragon ship.” Numerous historic/folkloric accounts describe ships that seem too big to be real, but archaologists have excavated several specimens in the 90- to 100-foot range.

The largest Drekar ever found was at Skuldelev, Denmark, where a number of sunken Viking ships were excavated in the 1960s. Tree ring analysis indicated they had been built between 1000 and 1070 AD, and some of the wood came from as far away as Dublin, Ireland.

The Big One dates from around 1025 AD, the height of Viking prowess. It measures 113 feet long, with room for 72 oars, and could have held up to 100 men. Yet it rode only 3 feet above the water. It must have been a terrible sight to see coming toward your shores.

For 300 years, the Drekar and its smaller kin were the dominant navy in Europe. These speedy ships allowed their Viking owners to spread and settle all around the North Sea. They were true sea dragons!

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I recently mentioned the dragon standard carried into battle by Dacian troops during the time of the Roman Empire. Did you know that some boats are also known as dragons?

Both the Chinese and Norse cultures had dragon boats. Perhaps it isn’t surprising that these were both long, thin boats, powered by oars. They might have seemed like sea-beasts as they moved swiftly over the water. This was especially significant in ancient China, where dragons have a deep association with rain, storms, and water.

Chinese dragon boat races have been held for over 2,000 years at the festival of Duan Wu, which celebrated the planting of the rice crop. The date of Duan Wu is calculated on a lunar calender, much as Easter and Ramadan are, so the celebration can move around some, but it typically falls close to Midsummer.

The festival of Duan Wu also commemorates the death of a legendary historic figure. According to the tales, Qu Yuan was poet and advisor in the court of Emperor Hui in the kingdom of Chu. He was so successful in his crusade against public corruption that fellow politicians plotted his downfall. The wicked courtiers spread rumors about Qu Yuan, who was first demoted and eventually dismissed from his post.

After this, Qu Yuan traveled, lectured, and wrote. Among his works are are Jui Zhang (The Nine Chapters) and Li Sao (The Lament), classic books that help foreigners understand Chinese culture and history even today. Unfortunately, his beloved Chu Kingdom declined and fell prey to the rising power of Qin Kingdom. In despair, Qu Yuan threw himself into the Miluo River and drowned.

And where do the dragon boats come in? I’ll get to them in my next post.

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Last week, during my holiday break from blogging, I received and enjoyed my first-year report from WordPress. The little fireworks started off tiny, but grew and grew. It’s a fun way to think about how my friendships have grown due to this blog. So I’m starting Year Two with a big THANK YOU to everyone who reads and comments on Wyrmflight. I hope I’ll continue to entertain through the coming year.

This Christmas’s big movie is The Hobbit. As a life-long fantasy lover, I should be way more excited about this than I actually am. The reasons are complicated, and perhaps fodder for a future post. For now, I’ll settle for repeating a blog from February 2012 on the topic of Tolkein and his great dragon, Smaug. Enjoy!
The Hobbit is full of enchantment: Dwarves, Hobbits, dark forests, magic rings found in goblin-infested caverns. Amid all these wonders, Smaug stands out even though he only appears in the final quarter of the book.

He is, in some ways, merely another European dragon lying on a hoard in his dark lair. But Tolkein took that basic form and added something new and remarkable. Something that made Smaug scarier than any dragon before him. Tolkein made Smaug smart.

From the moment he opens his mouth, we know how dangerous Smaug is. Using only words (because riddles are an ancient passtime Tolkein included in his story), he got enough information out of Bilbo to figure out where he came from. He also sowed seeds of doubt about the intentions of Bilbo’s Dwarf companions. These doubts complicated the plot even after Smaug himself was gone.

Like all great villains, Smaug was partly responsible for his own downfall. Bilbo, who wasn’t too dumb himself, managed to flatter Smaug until he rolled over and showed his belly, which was crusted with gems from lying on his hoard so long. The hobbit noted a gap in Smaug’s armor, which was later exploited to bring about Smaug’s death.

Vanity may have been Smaug’s undoing, but he remains a remarkable character. Smaug was nobody’s pet or BFF. He acted for himself, in his own interests, and apologized to no one. In a genre that soon grew crowded with mighty dragons, Smaug stands alone.

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Though they cannot fly or breathe fire, Ouroboros are a dragon breed of great antiquity. These beasts are usually depicted as gigantic snakes, sometimes with two legs or with wings, that circle around to eat their own tails. Egyptian, Greek, Japanese, Norse, Aztec and Indian mythology all include ouroboros. Various cultures call them Lindworms, Rainbow Serpents, and Hoop Snakes.

Ouroboros are found all over the world, especially in creation myths. It is thought that they symbolize the duality of creation and destruction in nature. That beginning and ending are combined in the same place. Yet they often have a protective function, as well. What is inside the snake’s circle is safe from the chaos outside — at least, for a time.

Here is a legend from the Fon people of West Africa.

Long ago, the one god, Nana-Buluku, created the world. Nana-Buluku (who had no gender) created for himself a companion, the rainbow serpent Aido-Hwedo. The droppings of Aido-Hwedo became mountains, and the soil that nourished life on the new Earth. As the dragon wriggled along, the movement of his body carved out rivers and canyons.

The Earth burgeoned, first with plants and then animals and birds that fed on the plants. The world became so full that Nana-Buluku feared it would collapse from all the weight. Aido-Hwedo wanted to help. He turned himself in a circle around the whole world, and took his tail into his mouth. With such a strong dragon on the outside, the world steadied into the shape we all know.

Nana-Buluku knew that Aido-Hwedo couldn’t bear the heat of the sun, so he created a great ocean where the rainbow serpent could seek refuge. That is where Aido-Hwedo lives now. He eats iron bars brought to him by red monkeys who can swim in the deep sea. If the monkeys ever run out of iron, Aido-Hwedo may become so hungry that he starts to eat his own tail. This would hurt, and his lashings in pain would cause the world to turn sideways and fall into the sea. That would be the end of everything.

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I mentioned the movie Dragonslayer in my last post, and that brought to mind another great fantasy movie of the late 20th Century, Willow. Released in 1988, Willow was the brain-child of George Lucas (of Star Wars fame) filmed in collaboration with Ron Howard and a stellar cast.

Like Star Wars, Willow is populated by a set of stock characters who rise above their stereotypes due to enthusiastic performances from the actors. Val Kilmer is perfect as the swashbuckling swordsman; Warwick Davis is the humble dwarf who longs to be a wizard; and Jean Marsh is the wicked queen whose sorcery blazes even through a downpour. I wasn’t so amused by the two bumbling pixies, but who could forget the old wizard, played by Billy Barty, proclaiming “The bones have spoken!”

Did I mention there’s a dragon in there? A mighty nasty one, actually. The twist is that the would-be wizard, Willow, creates this menace himself when a spell goes awry. The dragon is sometimes referred to as “Sisbert” or “Eborsisk” (after a pair of film critics who had given negative reviews to Lucas’s other films). It has two heads, both ugly as sin, and both breathing fire if memory serves. Luckily for Our Heroes, Sisbert can’t fly; it stays in a castle moat and the two heads fight over the body of their victim. Still, it takes an army to keep the dragon busy until Kilmer gets the drop on it.

Willow did not enjoy the enormous commercial success of Star Wars, and was dismissed by critics. In my opinion, it was ahead of its time and thus not fully appreciated. More than 20 years later, this is still a really fun movie. I recommend it for all ages.

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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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Yes, this is the last episode of the series! I hope you’ve enjoyed my tales in the style of the Brothers Grimm. Get ready to switch gears with the Martial Arts fable, “Lady Swallow.”

You can listen to the podcast on Podbean or my web site. Comments are welcome. In fact, I always get a kick out of hearing which story people liked or didn’t like the most, so let me hear from you!

Time notes: Introduction, 0:08; Story, 0:55; Author remarks, 20:11; End credits, 21:30; Total run time, 23:05.

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I am proud to announce that the first episode of my new podcast is now available on Podbean or my web site. The Dragon King collects a series of short stories I wrote in the style of the Brothers Grimm.

Episode 1 features the title story, “The Dragon King.” I hope you’ll enjoy it, and I’d love to hear some comments.

Time notes: Introduction, 0:10; Story, 1:33; Author comments, 15:40; Credits, 16:40; Total run time, 18:05.

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