Monday, August 5, 2013

Divine, Dastardly and Delectable Tales of Dragons

Coming back from San Diego Comic-Con, I found some awesome kids' tales about dragons, and figured what a neat way to end the summer than reading about dragons. This post also has awesome reading suggestions and resource links to learn more about Dragons - their formative myths, cultures, and Dragon-related facts.

According to Wikipedia:
A Dragon is a legendary creature, typically with serpentine or reptilian traits that features in the myths of many cultures...The word dragon entered the English language in the early 13th century from Old French dragon, which in turn comes from Latin draconem (nominative draco) meaning "huge serpent, dragon," from the Greek word δράκων, drakon (genitive drakontos, δράκοντος) "serpent, giant seafish." 
Before getting to some awesome Dragon Tales, here is some background to Dragon lore and  Dragon fun facts [note: most of the facts below come from Joseph Nigg's The Book of Dragons and Other Mythical Beasts (A Quarto Book published by Barrons, 2002)]:
  • Dragons and other first-generation mythical creatures emerged from the world's mythologies, personifying both divine and demonic forces. Some were involved in Creation itself.
    • The Egyptian Benu rose from the primal waters and became identified with the eternal sun;
    • The Babylonian Dragoness, Tiamat, was the saltwater of the ocean of Chaos and mother of a brood of Dragons, demons, scorpion-men and other monsters. When Marduk slew her, her body formed earth.
    • The Greek serpent-woman Echidna also gave birth to monsters including the multiheaded Hydraof Lerna, the Chimera, and the Sphinx.
  • Joseph Nigg classifies three branches of Dragons - Water Dragons (Piasa, Nagas, Chinese Dragon, and Rainbow Serpent); Monstrous Dragons (Tarasque, Western Dragon, Dragon of India, Dragons of Joppa, Hydra, and Cosmic Dragon); and Serpents (Basilisk, Drakon, Salamander, Worm, and Amphisbaena)
  • Wikipedia and others classify dragons as Eastern or Western.
  • Dragons are the oldest and largest of all (mythical) beasts. Dragon is King of the Western earth, Emperor of the Far Eastern Sky, wise guardian, nighmare monster and a force of nature.
Here are some of the more well-known Dragon bios:
  • Western Dragon - Western Dragon known as the greatest of all beasts, and found in myth and the Bible has been described as evil and/or demonic.  The Western Dragons have scaly bodies, broad spiny wings, a barbed tail, claws, a crest on their head and beard under their chin. Their bright eyes see all things, and while all Western Dragons have teeth, many have horns or antlers, and many guard treasure deep in the earth. 
  • The Cosmic Dragon was the Babylonian monster, Tiamat, who originally was saltwater of the dark primal sea who mated with Apsu, the freshwater and produced all manner of monsters to battle the younger gods. Markuk their king ensnared Tiamat, shot an arrow into her heart and made half of her body the earth and the other half the sky. 
  • Chinese Dragon - Unlike the Western Dragon, the Chinese Dragon is a powerful but benevolent ruler of the sky, earth and sea. It is believed to bring good fortune. Only when angered do they sink ships or flood villages.  While it began as a water snake, it evolved a scaly body, four legs, and is often seen to be playing with a ball of light called a "sacred pearl" believed to be the source of the Dragon's power. Emperors trace their ancestry back to the five-toed Imperial Dragon. 
  • Drakon - was the sharp-sighted watchful Dragon of Ancient Greece and guardian of its sacred sights. It possessed the wisdom of the ages and played a role in much of Greek myth. Athena, for example, kept dragon teeth and gave them to Jason for one of his tasks obtaining the Golden Fleece. 
  • Hydra - also from Greek myth, was the multi-headed terror of heaven and earth.  One of the most famous Hydra, the Hydra of Lerna, was the monster King Eurystheus sent Hercules to slay for the second of his Twelve Labors. One of the Hydra's many relatives was the great red Dragon of the Apocalypse - a form of Satan with seven heads and ten horns who St. Michael and his angels fought.
  • Basilisk - was born from the blood of the Gorgon's eyes the deadly stare of its red eyes shrivel any living being who looks upon it. Its toxic breath withers forests into deserts, splits rocks, and poisons streams. According to legend, Basilisks will run from weasels and the crowing of a rooster sends the beast into convulsions. Alexander the Great was believed to have beaten the Basilisk by having a mirror placed between his army and the Basilisk and when seeing its reflected figure, the monster died instantly. St. George also turned his shield to kill a Basilisk, and of course, modern readers know how Harry Potter bested the beast.

Suggested Dragon Tales for kids of all ages:

CLASSIC Dragon Tales - note there are many versions and check with your librarian and bookstore for what is appropriate for your reader.


Beowulf and John Gardner's Grendel (the story of Beowulf told from the monster's perspective)

Hercules

Jason and the Golden Fleece

St. George and the Dragon

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight


FICTION - Prose/poetry

The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch - an empowering tale of a princess who must save her prince (and her realm) from a fire-breathing dragon who has burned all of her kingdom - down to her clothes (hence the paper bag).  It is a wonderfully empowering tale for today's girls of all ages. (ALL ages)

Dragonwings by Laurence Yep - historical fiction. Winner of the Phoenix Award from the Children's Literature Association and runner up for the Newbery Medal. This book relates a story of Chinese immigrants at the turn of the twentieth century in San Francisco. Yep tells a powerful story about assimilation, bigotry, Chinese rail-road workers, the Great Earthquake and much more. (Grade 5+)

Dealing with Dragons and the Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Patricia Wrede - Princess Cimorene is sick of learing etiquette and would like to learn fencing, math and Latin.  As her father refuses to let her learn these skills, an enchanted frog suggests she seek help from the Dragons.  This is the story of how Cimorene gets her wish, how and what she learns from the powerful King of Dragons, how wizards aren't always wise or good, and how interning with the Dragons empowers Cimorene and saves her kingdom. (Grades 4+).

My Father's Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett - a Newbery Honor Book and ALA Notable Book - is about a young boy, Elmer Elevator, who runs away to Wild Island to rescue a baby Dragon. This is the first of a three-book series published in 1948 - but is truly timeless! (Grades 2+)

The Dragonology Handbook: A Practical Course in Dragons by Ernest Drake and Dugald A. Steer. This indispensable workbook teaches everything you need to know to become a dragon expert. (Grades 3+)

The Tale of Custard the Dragon by Ogden Nash; illustrations by Lynn M. Munsinger - humorous poem where Custard the cowardly dragon saves Belinda's pet animals from a dastardly pirate. (All ages)

How to Train Your Dragon - a series by Cressida Cowell - also made into a DreamWorks Animation film. The series  chronicles the adventures of Viking underdog Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III and his dragon, Toothless. (Grade 5+)

FICTION-Graphic Novels

Monster on the Hill by Rob Harrell (Top Shelf, 2013) is an awesome story about a dragon-like monster who's just lost his confidence. His town is embarrassed about him and two unlikely townies - the town cryer and a disbarred scientist must help Rayburn find the monster within him. Harrel relays an outstanding, fun-filled story through prose and enchanting illustration about confidence, friendship, redemption and life's battles. (Please check back in a few weeks for more on this book). For readers of ALL ages.

The Last Dragon by Jane Yolen and Rebecca Guay. Based on Yolen's novella, "Dragonfield" - this graphic novel tells the story of how two hundred years ago the humans drove the dragons from the islands of May. Now, the last dragon egg hatches and only a healer's daughter, Tansy, and a kite-flying would-be hero are there to face it. (Grades 6+)

Reason for Dragons by Chris Northrop and Jeff Stokely (Archaia, 2013) This is a coming of age story about Wendell a lonely high-school outcast who has to come to terms with bullies and his stepfather, Ted. But it's also a coming of age story for Sir Habersham a Medieval Fair worker who's lost himself and his mission.  Their lives cross and each one helps the other find their way. (Please check back for more on this in a few weeks as well).  Also, there is an "Olde Faire" Dragon drawing contest in conjunction with the release of this book- details can be found in the book's inset cover. Click here for some preview pages and background information. (Ages 12+)
Courtesy: The Reason for Dragons by Chris Northrop and Jeff Stokely. Arachaia 2013
NON-FICTION

The Art of How to Train Your Dragon by Tracey Miller-Zameke and Cressida Cowell - features
 artwork, character designs, story sketches and concept paintings from DreamWorks Animation's film How To Train Your Dragon - a film about an unlikely alliance between a young Viking and a deadly dragon - inspired by Cowell's book.

The Truth about Dragons by Rhoda Blumberg - a nonfiction book comparing Eastern and Western dragons with many details on the appearance and habits.


Aside from fantasy and myth, Dragons are even found in the Bible:
"And there appeared another wonder in heaven; and behold a great red dragon, having seven ehads and ten horns and seven crowns upon his heads...And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which decieveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth and his angels were cast out with him" (Revelation 12:3, 9)
Additional Dragon Resources:

In closing one more thought - or question for you: What is it about Dragons that has so enticed readers of all ages and all Ages from Myth to the New Testament and on to Fantasy?

According to Joseph Bigg, we're so enthralled with Dragons and mythical creatures because:
 "...we created them. They are expressions of human fears and of our wonder at the awesome forces of nature. Bestowed with magical qualities, they embody our longings for health, riches, wisdom and immortality...Such creatures are all around us in words and images...Figures of the Far Eastern Dragon enhance the decor of Chinese restaurants. These beasts and others of their kind enliven children's literature, fantasy, fiction, film, and video games and are featured on scores of websites."
What do you think?

As always, thank you for your visit.

Please share your thoughts on why Dragons are still so influential in our culture, myths, logos, games and books, and please leave your favorite Dragon story/book suggestions in the comments.


16 comments:

  1. We have tiny lizards all over here in coastal Florida. My husband calls them dragons. It must be because he somewhat fears them. I must show him this post Happy Ruby Tuesday Too.

    ReplyDelete
  2. really interesting dragon stuff; have a nice Tuesday


    much love...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Meryl! I like your post about dragons. I have often wondered why the Vikings, the Celts and the Maoris had dragons . The Vikings on their ships and later on their churches. The Welsh in their flag. The Maoris as a decoration, though Idon't know much about that. The Australian Aborigines honor their Rainbow Serpent as the creative spirit. Other nations use animals like eagles or lions. All powerful animals. In the bible dragons are representing evil, and so are serpents.

      Delete
  3. Dragons will always be a source of fascination and creativity. It takes us out of the realm of reality and allows a writer to enter a time and place where we will control the actions. More fun when a mere mortal can take down a mythical creature. Or make a valuable friend, or show our individual prowess by saving or slaying the dragon. Oh, what power a write has, esp . one with imagination. Kate, ABC Team

    ReplyDelete
  4. dragons aren't bad, they just get bad press.
    ROG, ABC Wednesday team

    ReplyDelete
  5. My favourite is still "Puff, the Magic Dragon." He seems so friendly! lol

    Leslie
    abcw team

    ReplyDelete
  6. Wow, that is a lot of factual information. Very interesting. "Puff the Magic Dragon" popped in my mine when I saw your title.

    ReplyDelete
  7. I think dragons capture the imagination partly because there are no set rules about them. There are stories of good dragons and bad ones. They also tie in so frequently with the themes of princess and knight/hero, both of which leave so many possibilities to explore. (Questions like if the hero has to be brave in order to be a hero, or if the princess must be passive or not...) I'm going to try to look up some of the books you've mentioned, and as for my recommendations... I did a post about dragon stories a little while ago. http://housefulofchaos.com/top-5-dragon-picture-books-for-the-overly-analytical-parent-to-read-with-her-children/

    ReplyDelete
  8. Wow, so much information about dragons! I'm sure there are several parents who will appreciate this information, to share with their kids. Thanks for linking up to the Hip Homeschool Hop. Please make sure you link to your EXACT post url, and not just the general blog URL. I'd love to include some of your ideas in future round-up posts, but I need the exact url in the linky. Thanks so much!

    ReplyDelete
  9. If so funny because I've always been fascinated by Dragons yet in our house I don't have nothing with a dragon, every time we go out and see things that have dragon images I want to buy it but nothing yet. Thanks for this great post.
    Hope you share them via our hop at www.craftyspices.com

    ReplyDelete
  10. My kids really never got into dragons, but they do love How to Train Your Dragon movies. My oldest daughter liked the dragons in the Harry Potter series also, but that's about the extent of her interest lol.

    ReplyDelete
  11. My nephew likes all things Sci-Fi, just like his auntie LOL. I might have to get one of these books for him for his birthday this month. I need a book for a teen-ager(14). I will bookmark this page and I'm visiting from the wordless Wednesday link-up. Also, I'm a green eyed devil that you got to go to Comic-Con.

    ReplyDelete
  12. How handy! We are on the same page today. Loved reading these wonderful references to dragons and so glad that St George & the Dragon is a part of it. Lovely!

    ReplyDelete
  13. Great informative post!
    I have always loved dragons. One of my favourite movies is "Dragonslayer"

    ReplyDelete
  14. Who knew that there was so much dragonology out there! Thanks for the enlightenment.

    ReplyDelete