I was tempted to begin this blog post series with ‘what is a dragon?’ but was very quickly stopped when I realised that that question is worthy of a book all of it’s own.
So I decided to go for something a bit simpler; why do I have an interest in dragons?
Unlike many people, I didn’t start the Dragon Novel from a prior love of them. Even now I don’t have what one might call a ‘fannish’ attitude towards them. That I didn’t have one before may be because of the sheer ubiquity of the dragon image. In fantasy art, in everyday symbolism, in designs on old buildings, or, to take an Australian, the image of the bank St George, dragons are everywhere, and, seeming to be something that everyone was into, well, that was necessarily off-putting, but not really something I wanted to pursue.
Diverging from a moment, I think that it is this very proflicacy of the dragon image that renders my initial question ‘what is a dragon’ extremely difficult. When something is so widespread, its meaning becomea highly fractured. The European/Western dragon has had a long association with evil, a beast to combat for a righteous cause, but that has been upset in most interesting ways in modern times. From the late 19th century with humourous accounts such as Kenneth Grahame’s The Reluctant Dragon, whose presence terrifies the locals but who personally prefers poetry, to the dragons of Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea books who, while intimidating, are ancient and wise rather than agents of terror. I wonder sometimes if it is this particular interpretation that tends to dominate, at least amongst readers of speculative fiction, who respond to the potential power and awesomeness in the most literal sense of the word, who imagine themselves not so much as dragon-slayer, but as either a rider of a dragon or perhaps the dragon themselves. There are people to better answer these questions out there, I think, and I would be most curious to hear from them.
But for me, the interest came at a very precise and identifiable moment. In a bout of procrastination during my honours year, I found myself on Wikipedia (as you do). I’m not sure precisely how I found myself on a the page about dragons, but there I was, reading away, when I came across the story of Smok Wawelski, the dragon of Krakow. It wasn’t the story itself that intrigued me, though, but rather, how people have remembered it. The article had just two lines on the fact that a statue of the dragon had been built and place at the mouth of the cave it once dwelt in, and that it was constructed to breath fire. Furthermore, tourists to Krakow could buy a whole host of dragon related paraphernalia if they wanted.
My thought on this: hmm, that’s interesting, but imagine how you’d feel if you were the dragon, being reduced to tourist kitsch?
And that was it. The spark of an interest. In many ways it’s an academic one, seeking out meaning and reason rather than basking in the pure joy of them, but I suppose that’s not a bad thing. It’s led me into interesting places. Let’s hope that it long continues.