Tag Archives: dragons

Where dragons walked

Siegfried and the dragon
Siegried slays the dragon, in an illustration by Arthur Rackham. This is one of the set of illustrations for Wagner’s Ring operas that fascinated C.S. Lewis as a boy.

An article at Wonders and Marvels suggests that the legends of medieval dragons in Germany, most particularly that of Siegfried the Dragonslayer, may arise from fossil tracks still visible in that country.

Notably, conspicuous fossil trackways of two types of massive dinosaurs are found in Germany. In 1941, the German paleontologist H. Kirchner speculated that observations of Triassic dinosaur tracks in sandstone near Siegfriedsburg in the Rhine Valley of western Germany might have been the inspiration for the legend about the dragon Fafnir’s footprints.

I share this, of course, purely for your amusement. All sensible people know that dragons survived in Europe well into the early medieval period, when they were slain by Christian saints.

Hat tip: Mirabilis.

How to bamboozle your viewers

Had to blow snow out of the driveway again tonight. My neighbor, who also has a blower and used to do it himself, tells me his is out of commission right now.

I think I made a good investment.

One of our readers sent me a link to the trailer for an animated movie called How to Train Your Dragon, scheduled to come out next month. He asked me what I thought of it. I’m glad he did, because I’d seen it before, and meant to do a rant, but somehow it slipped my mind.

First, the obvious things. It’s supposed to be a movie about Vikings, and they wear horned helmets. If you’ve been reading this blog for any time at all, you surely know that the Vikings didn’t do that. The horned helmets come from Wagnerian opera.

But I can forgive that. It’s a cartoon.

The main character’s name is Hiccup. I’ve been trying to figure that out. Is that supposed to be a play on words? If so, what word? I don’t know of any Viking name that sounds at all like Hiccup.

But here’s my real objection. The movie’s apparently about a kid who discovers that dragons are JUST MISUNDERSTOOD! NOTHING WE KNOW ABOUT THEM IS TRUE!

This is classic contemporary Hollywood. “Let’s do something transgressive! Overturn a long-standing cultural prejudice! Prove that it’s we who are the monsters, not the mythical creatures!”

First of all, this isn’t creative. The sympathetic dragon has been done. And done, and done. It was a fresh idea back when Kenneth Grahame wrote The Reluctant Dragon, but that was in freaking 1898, for pete’s sake.

I haven’t kept count of the sympathetic treatments of dragons I’ve seen in my lifetime, but it’s been enough to make me tired of them.

I’m not saying it’s impossible to write a good sympathetic dragon story. Grahame’s story, as I recall it, is quite good. But it worked because of the surprise element. Nowadays, sympathetic dragons in movies are as surprising as child-molesting priests, hypocritical Christian fundamentalists, and Government Conspiracies at the Highest Level.

Listen—dragons don’t exist in the real world. They’re what scholars call “fabulous creatures”–creatures of fable. They have symbolic meaning, and that meaning is Powerful Evil (Chinese dragons mean something else, but we’re not in China).

Dragons are powerful. They fly; they have big fangs and claws, and they breathe fire. They’re protected by natural armor.

They’re evil.
They eat livestock and human beings, and sometimes they demand human sacrifices as extortion payments. Theologically, they represent the devil—the serpent of Eden after millennia of good meals and regular exercise.

Modern movie makers (and many modern writers) don’t like this. They believe that people who say, “Dragons are evil,” are only really saying “I fear dragons because I don’t understand them.” For them, hatred of dragons is a symbol of all the bigotry they think they see in our society.

That might be true if there weren’t actually things in the world that deserve hatred. There are things that are not only frightening, but worth being frightened of. When a human being faces such an evil, an evil that can kill him, he is, metaphorically, facing a dragon. And traditional dragon stories help him find courage in that useful activity.

So the real issue is whether you think evil exists. This appears to be a movie for people who think it doesn’t.

I’m fairly sure that the people who produced this movie don’t live in Iran. Or North Korea. Or Somalia.