Sylvester and Beowulf a Note on the Alignment of Dragons

For those of you who did not get enough Christmas at Christmas Day, let me remind you that today, 31 December, is the Sixth Day of Christmas, when it is tradition to give your true love six geese a-laying. It is also the day called Leave-Taking, and the feast of Saint Sylvester.

Sylvester was the Pope during the days when Constantine converted, and, with him, the Empire, and the Christian faith, which had been illegal throughout the civilized world for a period longer than the lifespan of the American republic, and had been the target of inhuman persecutions, became not only legal, but celebrated. This was before the first Nicene Council, before the schism of the Coptics and Nestorians, and long before the schism of the Eastern Church. At that time, we were all one.

It was also a time of legend. Here is the Medieval account from the Golden Legends or Lives of the Saints, of the tale of St Sylvester and the Dragon.

In this time it happed that there was at Rome a dragon in a pit, which every day slew with his breath more than three hundred men. Then came the bishops of the idols unto the emperor and said unto him: O thou most holy emperor, sith the time that thou hast received christian faith the dragon which is in yonder fosse or pit slayeth every day with his breath more than three hundred men. Then sent the emperor for Saint Silvester and asked counsel of him of this matter.

Saint Silvester answered that by the might of God he promised to make him cease of his hurt and blessure of this people. Then S Silvester put himself to prayer, and Saint Peter appeared to him and said: Go surely to the dragon and the two priests that be with thee take in thy company, and when thou shalt come to him thou shalt say to him in this manner: Our Lord Jesu Christ which was born of the Virgin Mary, crucified, buried and arose, and now sitteth on the right side of the Father, this is he that shall come to deem and judge the living and the dead, I commend thee Sathanas that thou abide him in this place till he come. Then thou shalt bind his mouth with a thread, and seal it with thy seal , wherein is the imprint of the cross. Then thou and the two priests shall come to me whole and safe, and such bread as I shall make ready for you ye shall eat. Thus as Saint Peter had said, Saint Silvester did.

And when he came to the pit, he descended down one hundred and fifty steps, bearing with him two lanterns, and found the dragon, and said the words that Saint Peter had said to him, and bound his mouth with the thread, and sealed it, and after returned, and as he came upward again he met with two enchanters which followed him for to see if he descended, which were almost dead of the stench of the dragon, whom he brought with him whole and sound, which anon were baptized, with a great multitude of people with them. Thus was the city of Rome delivered from double death, that was from the culture and worshiping of false idols, and from the venom of the dragon.

For those of you lacking an archaic vocabulary, “Blessure” means “wound.” “Hap” means “It so happened.” “Sith” means “while” and also refers to evil Jedi with red lightsabers.

Pope St Silvester joins St George, St Michael, St Mercurialis (the first bishop of Forni), St Theodore of Tyro (the first patron saint of Venice), St Margaret of Antioch as dragon-slayers. Never let is be said that Christian lore lacks for local color and that strange touch of the supernatural which fantasy stories can only fantasize about.

For those of you who only read modern fantasy, it will come as a shock to you that, before Anne McCaffrey and Ursula K LeGuin, in Western literature and song, dragons were bad guys. There were no lawful, good dragons, no friendly dragons, any more than there were friendly monsters.

Dragons in those far off days were the hellish creatures described in BEOWULF, who sit watchfully on the horded and piled gold robbed from dead and forgotten kings, and, what is more offensive to the ancient Norse mind, never gave a groat of the wealth away as a reward for valor.

Here is a snippet from Seamus Heaney’s masterful translation:

Then an old harrower of the dark
Happened to find the hoard open,
The burning one who hunts out barrows,
The slick-skinned dragon, threatening the night sky
With streamers of fire.  People on the farms
Are in dread of him.  He is driven to hunt out
Hoards under ground, to guard heathen gold
Through age-long vigils, though to little avail.
For three centuries, this scourge of the people
Had stood guard on that stoutly protected
Underground treasury, until the intruder
Unleashed its fury  …

The rage of the dragon is caused because one man stole into the barrow while he slept, and stole a single golden cup, a minuscule loss in the midst of the wealth. Those of you who have read Tolkien’s THE HOBBIT will recognize the deadly worm immediately, and recognize the towering rage which sent the monster out on a fiery rampage.

Pouring forth
In a hot battle-fume, the breath of the monster
Burst from the rock.  There was a rumble underground.
Down there in the barrow, Beowulf the warrior
Lifted his shield: the outlandish thing
Writhed and convulsed and viciously
Turned on the king, whose keen-edged-sword,
And heirloom inherited by ancient right,
Was already in his hand.  Roused to a fury,
Each antagonist struck terror in the other.
Unyielding, the lord of his people loomed
By his tall shield, sure of his ground,
While the serpent looped and unleashed itself.
Swaddled in flames, it came gliding and flexing
And racing toward its fate.Yet his shield defended
The renowned leader’s life and limb
For a shorter time than he meant it to:
That final day was the first time
When Beowulf fought and fate denied him
Glory in battle.So the king of the Geats
Raised his hand and struck hard
At the enameled scales, but hardly cut through:
The blade flashed and slashed yet the blow
Was far less powerful than the hard-pressed king
Had need of at the moment.The hoard-keeper
Went into a spasm and spouted deadly flames:
When he felt the stroke, battle-fire
Billowed and spewed.  Beowulf was foiled
Of a glorious victory.The glittering sword,
Infallible before that day,
Failed when he unsheathed it, as it never should have.
For the son of Ecgtheow, it was no easy thing
To have to give ground like that and go
Unwillingly to inhabit another home
In a place beyond; so every man must yield
The leasehold of his days.

Not to spoil the surprise ending, but Beowulf does not survive the fight.

For those of you would saw the computer-animated movie written by Neil Gaiman, I am sad to report that in the original poem there is no scene where Beowulf throws an ax connected to a harpoon line into the dragon, and does a Spiderman-leap onto its back, riding it through the air like Slim Pickens riding an A-bomb into a Russian base at Kodlosk, nor is there a scene where the hero plunges his hand to the dragon’s open chest wound in a vain attempt to reach its pulsating heart with a knife. Nor does the hero have an extramarital affair with Grendel’s Mother, nor does he usurp the throne of his host Hrothgar, nor is he a liar and a fool.

You see, in older poems, written before the Politically Correct Tyranny-of-Relativism Culture of Death (also called the Culture of Excruciating Tedium) sucked all the oxygen out of the intellectual atmosphere of our civilization, not only were dragons bad guys, but heroes, by and large, were good guys.

Some of them were good enough to be saints, and were able to do with a thread what warlords could not do with a sword.

Farewell, 2012! Happy Leave-Taking!

40 Comments

  1. Comment by David_Marcoe:

    The modern reinterpretation of dragons, as such, doesn’t bother me, as it can be the basis of a valuable lesson at least as old as Odysseus in his rags: appearances can be deceiving. The problem is not when it is a superversive activity to teach judgement by deeds, but a subversive activity to indoctrinate a habit against any judgement.

  2. Comment by Tom Simon:

    Funny you should mention the alignment of dragons, and the relationship between Smaug and old Beowulf’s worm. I have just finished one of my essais on that very subject (and things close allied). Instead of posting this one online, I am saving it to be the title piece for a collection of my (mostly) older ruminations: Writing Down the Dragon, coming soon from an electron shop near you. I should be very happy to send you a review copy; and even happier if it pleased you to help spread the word that this little book is coming out.

  3. Comment by Mary:

    Merry Christmas!

  4. Comment by minutiae:

    You might be interested in Maureen O’Brien’s work tracking down good dragons in scripture, liturgy and the fathers of the church: http://suburbanbanshee.wordpress.com/2012/08/29/more-good-dragons-in-christianity/

  5. Comment by Fabio Paolo Barbieri:

    You forget St.Gildas of Great Britain, who slew a Dragon during a pilgrimage to Italy, and St.Euflamm of Little Brittany, who dealt with a beast who had been baffling none other than King Arthur. (Note for heroes: to build up a rep, nothing is better than dealing with a beast that was baffling an already famous hero. That is what Beowulf did too.) The Victorian biographer of St.Gildas, Williams, had an interesting suggestion that dragons in these stories stood for the powers behind pestilences, which would explain why it was their breath that slew their victims.

    Dragon revisionism is only one aspect of a constant feature of modern fantasy: the special pleading in favour of each and every traditional kind of evil creature. We have had cute vampires (“Mona the vampire”), heroic werewolves, wise old dragons, benevolent witches, and so on and so forth and so following. It seems that modern writers cannot see an evil figure without wanting to whitewash it. I don’t have to tell you what this means.

    • Comment by Mary:

      Eh, heroic werewolves are older than that. Chivalric romance held a good number, starting as far back as Marie de France’s Bisclavert. (I mentioned that once in a pre-NaNoWriMo discussion and got squeaks of surprised glee at how old the notion of a werewolf that can keep his own mind is.)

      And, come to think of it, there were plenty of women wielding magic in Le Morte d’Arthur. Not all malicious.

      • Comment by deiseach:

        And the Catholic Irish werewolves of Ossory, as Gerald of Wales describes in his Topography of Ireland, who were under a curse by St. Natalis to assume the form of wolves for seven years (a male and a female) and, if they were still alive at the end of that period, would resume their human shapes and be replaced by another pair.

        Sometime around 1180-82, a priest travelling to Ulster from Meath stopped to spend the night camped in a wood. He was visited by the male werewolf who, the female werewolf being on the point of death, asked a priest to give her the last rites and even viaticum and Gerald relates that around two years later he was asked by the bishop of Meath for advice in this case (i.e. giving the Blessed Sacrament to a wolf), which ended up with the priest being told to visit the pope with letters setting out the case and abiding his decision.

    • Comment by Stephen J.:

      The pendulum may have swung too far into revisionism, but refusing to deem someone or something evil merely because of what someone else says about its nature is not necessarily a bad thing.

      We Christians spent our first few decades being vilified as a horrendous cult dedicated to undermining the social order through all kinds of blasphemous rites, after all — and much of that vilification was advanced for purely political reasons by Roman rulers who cared not at all if it was true, and believed by perfectly ordinary folk not out of inherent malice but for no better reason than that they had never met a Christian themselves to know the difference. The Jews are still vilified today in exactly the same way in all too many quarters of the world.

      Much modern fantasy overlaps with the Progressivist ideal not of whitewashing the self-caused stains of genuine evil (as many a writer would vigorously refuse to do if they were asked to depict, say, Catholic priests or American Evangelical Christians more generously) but of cleansing the inflicted stains of injustice, to reveal that the monster is not after all a monster but was only said to be one. This is not in itself a bad thing to want to do — if you are certain that you are trying to clean off external stains and not whitewash internal ones — and it is a legitimate dramatic and thematic arc in narrative.

      But once you get to the point where you value the reward of being seen to do this noble thing over any concern with whether you are actually doing what you present yourself as doing, then the revisionism has gone too far. More pragmatically, once that particular thematic arc has been used so often that it becomes predictable and stale, then it tends to be counterproductive.

  6. Comment by gray mouser:

    Sadly, the traditional symbolism used in western literature and mythology has been largely subverted over the last several decades. Michael O’Brien (author of Father Elijah) traces this development and gives many exampels in his book A Landscape With Dragons. His book is quite excellent, though I think that he is a bit harsh on Lewis’ use of Merlin in That Hideous Strength. Sometimes when we hit upon a legitimate insight we can take it a bit far even in good faith.

    While your point about there being no Lawful Good dragons (or friendly monsters) in the western tradition, historically speaking, as an old time gamer I do have to point out that Gary Gygax did have a host of evil dragons in his game while at the same time making the good version of those monsters unabashedly more powerful than their evil counterparts. While perhaps not the best development at least there were ample creatures who were evil through and through with which players could contend while at the same time upholding the superiority of good over evil. Maybe that is the best that can be hoped for these days, but I personally enjoy stories in which the monster is actually evil, not simply misunderstood (when did that come to be considered “cutting edge” anyway?).

    Can anyone truly compare Stoker’s Dracula with the plethora of teen heart throb vampires currently popular? And don’t get me started on zombies all being the result of a virus.

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      “as an old time gamer I do have to point out that Gary Gygax did have a host of evil dragons in his game …”

      Agreed. I always thought is useful that Black Dragons are chaotic evil, and blue dragons are lawful evil, with their morality colored coded for your convenience, and so on. Gold Dragons are strict constuctionists, Teal dragons are Ghibelline, White Dragons are White Guelph, and Red States are Republican.

      In order to subvert the traditional role of dragons as symbols of evil, all one need do is introduce that some, like Casper the Friendly Ghost, are friendly; or, like the monsters on Sesame Street, are friendly monsters, or like the Vampires of Twilight, are friendly vampires, or, like every wizards from Hogwarts are friendly wizards, or, like Samantha Stevens and Gillian Holyroyd and Egalatine Price and the four Halliwell Sisters and Glinda, are friendly witches.

      So having some dragons be evil and others be good and others be in favor of Keynesianism and others be supporters of Pelagesianism or Calvinism, merely having the Wicked Witch of the West be evil, or the Slytherin Death-Eaters be evil, or Casper’s nasty cousins be naughty, does not undo the subversive effect of Bowdlerizing the traditionally evil monsters. If anything, it increases the effect: it makes the symbol no longer useful as a symbol. A dragon is now a science fiction concept, not a mythic one — it is an intelligence being who flies and vomits liquid gasoline. As a science fiction writer, I do not object, but as a fantasy writer, it is one more tool removed from my toolbox of shared cultural images and archetypes.

      While I understand, and, as a science fiction guy, can almost sympathize with the idea of making goods guys out of bad guys (after all, the Batman and The Shadow dress like Snidley Whiplash, black cape and all) I regret the loss of the shared culture vocabulary.

      I have both friends and readers from the generations younger than I, and they do not know of any evil dragons except for Smaug. They rarely or never come across them. Evil dragons these days are as rare as ugly old evil witches, and wicked vampires.

      • Comment by DGDDavidson:

        In a way, it’s a kind of inertia. Once he makes the monster a character and not just a prop, the author needs to give the monster some believable motives, as Milton did with Satan, and once the author gives the monster believable motives, it becomes possible for the reader to sympathize with the monster. Once monsters become sympathetic, it becomes easier to make them even more sympathetic until somebody wants to be “cutting edge” by making the monster the good guy.

        Since now every monster has been made the good guy over and over again, you would think that, by this time, there would have been more backlash, and that more authors would go back to depicting monsters as straight-up monsters, since good guy monsters have to get boring after a while. It is strange to me that this doesn’t seem to be happening in very many instances.

        I admit I’m rather fond of friendly dragons myself, but I’m about ready to see them going back to being wicked and greedy.

      • Comment by gray mouser:

        If anything, it increases the effect: it makes the symbol no longer useful as a symbol. A dragon is now a science fiction concept, not a mythic one — it is an intelligence being who flies and vomits liquid gasoline. As a science fiction writer, I do not object, but as a fantasy writer, it is one more tool removed from my toolbox of shared cultural images and archetypes.

        In Gary’s case there might well be something to the idea that dragons have moved from fantasy to science fiction. His list of influences on the development of D&D include not a few works of science fiction. His original campaign also had quite a few sci-fi cross-overs with at least one player’s character ending up on Barsoom and another investigating a way to travel to the moon (an endeavor which eventually came to naught). Then, of course, there is the classic Expedition to the Barrier Peaks module which is completely based on the mixing of fantasy and science fiction.

        Since Gary passed away a few years ago specific answers would be hard to come by, but the early influence of science fiction on his game is there.

    • Comment by Mary:

      The irony is that zombies were not in original mythos evil — or even dangerous. The horror of the zombie was the horror of there really, truly, completely being no escape from slavery. It was the prospect of becoming, not meeting, a zombie that was so horrible.

      • Comment by John C Wright:

        I am pleased to hear you say so, because that is my take on zombies as well: the idea of horror was the idea that in the next life, you would still have to work in the fields.

        People who are afraid of mobs of stupid people are the ones, I think, afraid of zombies. I am more afraid of a person like a vampire or a politician, someone as smooth and well spoken as Bela Lugosi’s or Anne Rice’s portrayal, who ends up sucking your blood. I am also afraid of men who cannot control their anger or lust and who turn into ravening wolves — or, at least, I understand what the appeal of the story is. I just don’t “get” the appeal of the zombie story, and don’t want to get it.

        • Comment by idontknowbut@gmail.com:

          I’m worried about the appeal of the modern zombie story too. There’s an odor of race war about it. A few years ago I thought the myth was tapping into a pervasive worry about the future after the economic/political collapse, but I’ve heard “zombie apocalypse” come out of some unexpected mouths since then.

          • Comment by John C Wright:

            Race war…? Myself, I tend to be intensely skeptical of claims of racism, especially ever since the day I said that Leftwingers ignore any science that does not fit into their political agenda, and for that I was called a racist.

            On that ground, let me ask you this. If one were to remove all allegedly race war elements from a zombie apocalypse story, what if anything in the story would remain? If the answer is that nothing would remain, then your theory is nondisprovable, or, in other words, you could say any story was racist on the same basis: KUNG FU is racist because it portrayed the Chinese as ruthlessly hunting an innocent Shaolin monk; WAR OF THE WORLDS is racist because it involves a Martian invasion, and this represents fear of the Other; THE TIME MACHINE is racist because it involves the degeneration of the species, and this represents a fear of miscegenation; COUNT DRACULA is racist because the blood-sucking European aristocrat represents Antisemitic fears; THE MUMMY is racist because it represents the fear of the ancient, swarthy, dark skinned people; BEOWULF is racists because Grendel is of the exiled lineage of Cain, and this represents the hated Negroes (a race the Gaets and Swedes fought frequently in the countless wars between Iceland and Ethiopia); A PRINCESS OF MARS is racist because the Green-skinned Martians represent the hated Redskins; THE HOBBIT is racist, because the Dwarves exiled from the Lonely Mountain are portrayed as grasping, greedy, hated Jews, and the Orcs are filthy Irishmen; STAR TREK is racist because it has Green-skinned Orion slavegirls in it, and we all know Green-skin is a symbol for black skin; STAR WARS is racist because it has clones in it, who represent mind-controlled Mexican wetbacks; BATMAN is racist, because he is called ‘The Caped Crusader’ and the crusades were racially-motivated outbreaks of race-hatred against the Muslims, who are not members of a religion, but a race sharing physical characteristics. And BRAVEHEART is racist because the Scots represent the Englishmen and the Englishmen represent the Scots; and THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST is racist because portraying Romans as killing a Jew named Jesus Christ is antisemitic. Somehow. BEAUTY AND THE BEAST is racist because the ‘Beast’ represents some lower race like hirsute non-vegetarian troglodytes and the prince turns into a White Guy at the end, thus implying white supremacy. And the candlestick has an outrageous French accent, but is shown to be subservient to the clock, who has an English accent.

            Do you see the problem? One can accuse any story of being racist merely by pretending that the bad guy, whoever he is, represents a race of some sort, or represents a group that reminds one of a race, such as a religion or a culture. It says more about the accuser’s attitude toward race than it says about the storyteller’s or filmmaker’s.

            • Comment by Tom Simon:

              Reminds me of the one about the psychiatrist who showed a new patient a series of pictures. Each picture was of a clock face (an old-fashioned analogue clock with hands — remember those?), without any numbers on it.

              First he showed him a picture with the hands at six o’clock. ‘What does this picture remind you of?’ asked the psychiatrist.

              ‘Oh, that’s easy, Doc. It’s a naked woman.’

              The doctor raised an eyebrow and showed the patient the next picture, with the hands at three o’clock. ‘And what does this remind you of?’

              ‘Wow! That’s a naked woman sitting down!’

              The doctor raised the other eyebrow, scribbled some notes on his pad, and then turned up the third picture, with the hands showing 9:15. ‘And this one?’

              ‘Whoa, this is really getting good! That’s a naked woman lying down!’

              The psychiatrist put the pictures away. ‘Mr. Jones,’ he said, ‘your problem is simple and I can diagnose it in one sentence. You’re hopelessly obsessed with sex.’

              ‘What do you mean, I’m obsessed? You’re the one who keeps showing all the dirty pictures!’

            • Comment by deiseach:

              My zombies are the zombies of “I Walked With A Zombie” and the older tales; the modern ‘braaaaaains’ zombies are not my monster and I have been as tired of the recent craze for them as the vampire craze has tired others.

              Hey, I thought the Dunlendings were filthy Irishmen, not the Orcs! When at the Battle of Helm’s Deep, they yelled at the Rohirrim “Death to the Forgoil! Death to the Strawheads!”, I went “My people!” because for both the Irish and the Scots (if I may quote this site):

              “The Viking gall are well-documented in historical sources including the Annals of Ulster and the Annals of the Four Masters, where they are often subdivided into two groups, with the Norwegians designated as the fionn gall ‘fair strangers’ and the Danes as the dubh gall ‘dark strangers’. Fionn gall is the original of the Gaelic personal name Fingal, and similarly dubh gall has evolved into the modern personal name and surname Dougal.”

              “Foirgoil” for fair-haired incomers based on Anglo-Saxon culture and “Fionn gall” for fair-haired incomers from a Scandinavian culture don’t – to me – sound so very far apart (and entirely possible along the lines of a small personal in-joke for Tolkien, who studied Old Irish as part of his linguistic studies, but much preferred Welsh and found Irish “a mushy language”).

              Also, the standing stone and tombs of the Dwimorberg remind me of passage graves and Newgrange (this is how it looked before excavation and restoration).

              • Comment by Suburbanbanshee:

                Actually, I have a horrid suspicion that “forgoil” is a play on “fior gael”.

                But then, this is the same Tolkien who came up with that horrid Atalante wordplay, so maybe it’s not a suspicion. :)

            • Comment by idontknowbut@gmail.com:

              You misunderstand: I must not have been clear.

              I do not accuse the authors/actors/whathaveyou of racism. I do not know them, and have no reason to suspect anything of the sort.

              What I _do_ suspect is that the theme of “look-like-people-but-aren’t” who are out to get us is popular in part because of our social polarization, and one lively source of that is racial. (See Rev Wright, etc)

              Or perhaps I should minimize the claim even farther and say that some people are using the language and symbols of zombies to express fears they can’t mention otherwise. As I said, I’ve heard unexpected people use the phrases. And if I’m getting that sort of “vibe” in ultra-PC Madison, I wonder what the rest of the country is like.

              • Comment by John C Wright:

                I did not think you were accusing the actors of racism; I thought you were reading base motives into an innocent pleasure. I was trying to caution you not to be hasty.

                I have met exactly one racist in my life, a man who unambiguously thought the advantages of the Western culture came not from Christendom or form Geographical accident but from Aryan bloodlines. He was never called a racist in my hearing.

                On the other hand, in my life, absolutely every decent and fairminded person I have ever known, including those who adopted or married to form multiracial families, has been called racist. They have been called racist for objecting to high taxes; for objecting to racism; for saying that Liberals ignor the finding of science, particularly climatology (that one was me); for disliking loud noises; for judging men on the content of their character rather than the color of their skin; for being patriots; for believing in justice; for objecting to illegal aliens who break the law; for objecting to Muslim desecrating the memory of those slain by Muslims; for naming a baseball team after an admired and brave group of people; for saluting the warlike spirit of aborigines; for penning a fantasy story; and, in general, for any reason and every reason aside from enmity between the races.

                In other words, I have never once, NOT ONCE, ever heard the accusation be made in a way that was even remotely fair, or had the slightest color of rationality to it.

                Your accusation sounds like one more baseless and vile bit of gossip, hysteria on your part. You should be slower to level this accusation, and should not make it unless you are sure and certain of your facts, such as when a man says his motive is the enslavement or destruction of races not his own, which he hates and holds to be inferior. If he does not say it, you should not think that you are a mindreader, and know what he means.

                • Comment by idontknowbut@gmail.com:

                  Then please forgive me one more clarification: I regret any confusion. Racism is not the same as recognizing and fearing racial conflict. I do not need to suppose Hutus to be superior to Tutsis to notice that they have learned to hate each other.

                  We don’t talk about some conflicts in this country (certainly not in the PC lands), precisely because any conversation is quickly drowned in cries of racism. For example, a requirement that bar patrons show a driver’s license before entering (a successful effort to reduce violence at some bars) ran aground because of “disparate impact.”

                  Perhaps we could use an additional word or two: tribal hatreds don’t need an ideology of superiority. I’ve met people who hated members of some other race but I can’t remember any who held to any particular theory of why. (When they hated _me_ I didn’t generally engage to find out why.) And I’ve been told of others who hold all non-Chinese in benign disdain but don’t seem to actively hate anybody. Noblesse oblige or some equivalent, I suppose. It seems sloppy to use the same word for all these attitudes.

                  Anyhow, this is far afield from the subject of dragons, on which I agree that the excessive number of friendly dragons leaves us poorer. After everybody has exploited the novelty, we have little power left in the original myth. I suppose it is hard to make a mark without a gimmick, but after a while we’ll run out of “twists.”

                  I can’t call their use sloppy, since some fine writers have used these kinds of twists. (And since I’m neither a professional writer nor a critic I’m perhaps more of a practitioner than a judge of sloppy writing.) I enjoy _The Dragon and the George_, for example, and would still recommend it if I could remember who I loaned my copy to. But I could skip _Green Smoke_.

        • Comment by Nate Winchester:

          I believe this is the cracked article you are looking for, John. (though I don’t buy all of it, there’s just a bit of some confirmation bias in it)

          • Comment by John C Wright:

            One could make the same argument going the other way, by claiming that Leftist fear vampires because ‘Venture Capitalists’ are bloodsuckers, and that Rightists fear zombie because we fear brain-eating mobs of college-indoctrinated morons who all repeat the same bumper stickers and all hate the Men of the Mind, the capitalists and nonconformists.

            The Cracked article is stupid, and the guy writing it is a Leftwing brain-eating zombie repeating bigoted brain-eaten stereotypes. For example: the RIGHT are the ones afraid of foreigners? Really? Which side is so afraid of the Oil Sheiks that they preach preemptive surrender, and speaks as if the war is already lost? When I was in China, adopting a “furriener”, everyone in my group was a Christian conservative, and most of them were ex-military. Military folk spend time posted overseas, and get to know other nations, you see.

            • Comment by Robert Mitchell Jr:

              Ah, that is easily explained. The Right is so scared of foreigners that you seek to destroy them by turning them into Americans. “Cultural Genocide”, don’t you know. That’s worth an essay when you get some free time……

      • Comment by Nate Winchester:

        It is further irony (or is it?) that one of the latest magic:tg sets, they returned to that motif for the story behind it.

        Here’s one card that conveys the idea pretty well (see the flavor text – the italics at the bottom).

  7. Comment by Nate Winchester:

    Dragons… my favorite topic…

    Of course, I don’t want to be so crass as to shill my own work (where dragons are both hero & villain…) but I do have an article in a magazine I was subscribed to that talked with Neil Gaiman on writing the Beowulf movie and where those ideas of his came from. John, would you be interested in me sending you a scan of it so you can get what the author was thinking when he wrote the script?

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      No, unfortunately, I just read part of Mr Gaiman’s short story about Susan Pevensy, where he depicts Aslan having oral sex with the White Witch before decapitating Susan and Lucy, so I fear my curiosity about the man has fallen very sharply. I am reminded of the time I discovered Alan Moore, for whom my admiration until then had no parallel, had become a child pornographer, depicting Wendy Darling, Dorothy Gale, and Alice Liddle in their sexual and bisexual adventures, copulating with the Tin Woodman, or Peter Pan and Captain Hook having a penis duel. In both writers the intent was the same: to take some beloved and innocent childhood image and besmirch and degrade it as offensively as possible.

      So, no thanks. I could not care less what Mr Gaiman was thinking when he wrote the script to offend the memory of Beowulf, and turn him from a hero into an antihero.

      • Comment by Nate Winchester:

        Ugh, don’t remind me. I couldn’t even read the story, just hearing ABOUT it soured me so much I forswore the man (I’m sure he’s heartbroken). Ended up giving away what little I had started collecting from him (including my copy of Stardust).

        Heh, how’s that for irony? The Stardust original story is pretty conservative as far as fairy tales go, it was the movie that took the story and “liberalized” it (sort of like he did to Beowulf).

        Ok, going back to other authors (spoiler warning if either of my fans happen across this comment) which do value your opinion:
        So I have two treatments of dragons in two worlds. One has a conflict where they are evil, and one of them tries to overcome their nature. The second they are just like any other race – some good, some bad, some rather “normal” (do good and bad things like people do). Do you think such treatments are acceptable?

      • Comment by David_Marcoe:

        I’m sorry to hear that. Gaiman actually credits Chesterton as a major influence on his work, along with Terry Pratchett, surprisingly enough.

  8. Comment by Suburbanbanshee:

    The point is that, if St. Isidore and a good chunk of the Eastern side of Christianity are occasionally willing (among many other images and titles) to portray Jesus Christ as the Real Dragon/Wyrm that defeats fakey wannabe dragons like Lucifer, it’s not some kind of bowdlerization. Turning the monster into a good monster upon God’s command is part of the monster, not foreign to it.

    “Ego autem sum vermis et non homo.” Heh. Blame it on the Christological interpretation of the Psalms, if none of the other sources will do.

  9. Comment by Bobby Trosclair:

    St. Marcellus of Paris, who died circa 430 A.D., is reported to have killed either a dragon, or possibly a vampire (accounts differ) on the outskirts of Paris. Thomas Craughwell, in his “This Saint Will Save Your Life” identifies him as the Patron Saint of Vampire Hunters (he’s right there in Craughwell’s book between the patron saints for Unmarried Women and Vegetarians), but I’m not sure if his patronage is officially recognized by the Church. As Craughwell relates,

    According to legend, there once was a cemetery outside Paris that was home to a female vampire. In life, she had been a notorious adulteress; in death, she fed on the people of Paris and turned some into members of the undead. To protect his flock, Bishop Marcellus entered the woman’s tomb, confronted the vampire, and killed her. Though dozens of saints had encounters with the devil and his evil legions, St. Marcellus is the only one said to have gone up against a vampire.

    St. Marcellus’s remains are maintained as relics in the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris, so his mortal life was just full of genre references, as any Lon Chaney, Sr. fan can attest. His feast day is, perhaps fittingly, on the day after Hallowe’en, as he was martyred on November 1 (also All Saints Day).

    (There is another St. Marcellus, aka St. Marcellus of Tangier or St. Marcellus the Centurion, who was martyred for refusing to bear arms for the Emperor or celebrate pagan observances after his conversion. His relics are also in Notre Dame, but the one in South Bend, Illinois. I can’t be the first one to have noticed this.)

    Other accounts, such as Butler’s “Lives of the Saints,” describe his opponent as a giant serpent (possibly a lamia, from the description) which preyed on the people of Paris, and which inhabited the crypt of an adultress. (Butler notes, with a trace of xenophobic condescension, “But the circumstances of this action depend upon the authority of one who wrote near two hundred years after the time, and who, being a foreigner, took them upon trust, and probably upon popular reports.”)

    Just thought I’d add to the list of saints who took down dragons, or possibly vampires. Doesn’t sound like St. Marcellus’s antagonist sparkled in the sunlight.

  10. Comment by Boggy Man:

    To ramble a bit;

    *I think the idea of zombies representing humanity/mobs/’fill in the blank minority’ is valid for most modern zombie films, and thus the reason most are so tiresome. (Romero long ago became drunk on his own reputation; his films are now political dross.) The best of the modern films explore what it is to lose one’s soul and the fear of humanity breaking down alongside superficial civilization.
    Even still, I find the zombie works best when it’s a supernatural creature. Being turned into a mindless beast isn’t quite as gripping on the mind as the prospect of being drug from a peaceful grave.

    I usually find the modern reinterpretations of monsters is ankle-deep Freudian rubbish. Sexy vampires annoy me, and even Dracula while a treasured character isn’t truly frightening. The most disturbing vampire stories I’ve ever read are the “true” accounts of New England revenants like Mercy Brown. Again, the suggestion of an unfathomable twilight state between life and death chills me a lot deeper than ‘neck bites=STDs’ or whatever. (But horror is my genre so I could go on all day.)

    *I think you know my opinion of nihilism. :) Gaiman however does hold some regard with me as he is capable of producing beautiful work along with his muck. (Moore has yet to produce anything I’ve read that is not Parisian absinthe; masterfully crafted but leaving me feeling much worse for having taken it in.) If I was feeling foolish I might try to equate Neil’s creepy snuff-ship as a woefully misunderstood meditation on Aslan not being tame. However I left my whitewash brush is the same long-lost box I also stored my faith in humanity and my bottle cap collection. (I think my capacity for brevity was in there too.)

    *The orcs are supposed to be Irish now? I remember someone bellyaching that they were Moorish years ago. Oh well, it would explain a lot about my appearance. Erin go WAAAGH!!!!!!!

    * Spike is best friendly dragon.

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      Orcs are not Irish. I was kidding. They are goblins. Everyone except a politically correct doof knows what a goblin is.

      My favorite friendly dragon is Nigihayami Kohakunushi (god of the swift amber river) who is Sen’s friend in SPIRITED AWAY. He makes me wish I were a girl, so I could squeal with delight.

      Second favorite friendly dragon is Zok the laser-ray dragon from THE HERCULOIDS.

      In keeping with the rules set by Pern and Earthsea, Haku is ‘lung’ or Chinese Dragon, and Zok is a space alien who just looks like a dragon. How come the Thread never tried to land on Zandor’s planet, eh?

      • Comment by Boggy Man:

        Parking fees?

        Believe it or not, I have seen politically correct doofs make the Orcs/Irish comparison in earnest! (“Academics” could never quite agree amongst themselves what ethnicity Orcs were; only that Tolkien was terribly prejudiced against ‘X’. Sad what pc can do to the mind.)

        I need to find some old Herculoids cartoons on Youtube, it’s been awhile.

  11. Comment by Clibanarius:

    Perhaps there was a conversion among the Dragons? Similar to what happened with the Canocephali in Eastern Roman Folklore ;)

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