Snarkling Clean

Snarkling Clean- because you don't have to cuss to make fun of stuff. Two dedicated readers discuss romance novels- from what made us weep with joy to what made us want to poke pencils through our eyeballs.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Here Be Dragons

Don't you just love it when you write out a post, finish tweaking it and are just about to hit the publish button, and the squall line of a thunderstorm comes through and knocks out the power and you lose the whole thing and you're so busy the next two days you can't get back to it? I know I do. ~sigh~ Here goes.

I saw a fascinating special on the History Channel (Yes! I'm a geek! Shut up!) about dragons. Specifically, about how they changed in literature and oral tradition from a simple monster to the embodiment of the devil himself. The earliest recorded dragons are from the Norse; Viking ships used them on the prow of their longboats, presumably to scare waiting soldiers on the shore so they'd have less opponents to fight. If you're familiar with Wagner's Ring operas, you know the story of Fafnir, the dragon whom Sigfried killed. Another Viking tale you were surely taught about in school as one of the most Important Pieces of Literature ever written: Beowulf.

(Interesting side note- we almost lost Beowulf in the 1800's. The only surviving copy, probably done by a monk many years after it was originally written, was nearly destroyed in a fire. Later, by the 1930's, scholars had begun to believe it wasn't worth serious scrutiny because it had monsters in it. A paper by a young Oxford man helped convince the Powers That Be that it was deserving of study even though dragons and Grendel ran amok through its pages. His name- J.R.R. Tolkien.)

I thought it was interesting how the dragon evolved from a simple, though terrifying, creature to evil incarnate. Yes, you guessed it, the church was involved. What better boogeyman than a giant, winged fire-breathing monster? Anyway, sociologists who have way more time than I do (knew I should have changed my major when my soc professor asked me to) discovered the ways dragons played on the fears and mindsets of medieval Europe.

1- Dragons destroyed crops and decimated villages. Agrarian societies lived with a very real fear that the crops would fail. And whether it was due to war or disease, death was a constant visitor to towns.
2- Dragons always kidnapped a young woman. Never a man, never an old woman, but a maid. This is where the damsel in distress comes in. The deep-thought thinkers on the special said these stories played into the consciousness of the people, because young women meant one thing: child bearing. The future of the next generation, indeed the whole species, rested with her. She was also usually a princess; a member of the ruling class and as such, represented the monarchy. There was a lot of throne-grabbing going on, and the wars brought on by the power shifts made for an unstable life, to say the least.
3- Dragons always guarded a horde of treasure. It seems money has been important from the dawn of time. Who knew? Sarcasm aside, medieval people had to work even harder many times to ransom back an errant king who should have been smart enough to stay home in the first place. Like the old saying goes, whether it be single peasant or entire government: I've been rich and I've been poor. Rich is better.

The point to this deep middle ages angst? Simple. A good, noble, brave, strong, Christian knight will always ride in to defeat the foul beast, saving the villages, rescuing the princess, marrying her and preserving the monarchy and the bloodline, and pouring the dragon's money into the country's coffers. No wonder St. George is the patron saint of England.

By defeating the dragon, people were able to vicariously defeat their own fears. That got me thinking. What dragons do we write about today? Serial killers and the like, I guess. Terrorists. Aliens. And there's still a yeti or a sasquatch or a chupucabra around to spice things up. I personally think dragons are the things we can't control. No matter how good our technology, how wide our knowledge, how sophisticated our weaponry, there are still things beyond our control. In the end only our resolve, a prayer, and some good luck brings us through.


Anonymous Michelle said...

I actually saw a history special (Geeks R Us) where they revealed how Vikings had created a flame thrower attached to their ships. They could set their enemy ships on fire. It was very cool. :)

4:31 PM  
Blogger Bernita said...

Maiden-eating dragons, treasure-guarding dragons and royal ancestor dragons all do seem to represent something we strive to defeat and eliminate, if only symbolically.

4:00 AM  
Anonymous Doug Hoffman said...

Ever read Grendel? Beowulf told from the monster's POV.

As for blogger munching your posts, now you know why I thumbed my nose at blogger ;)

9:59 PM  
Anonymous Sharon said...

Im a card carrying member of the tv nerd crowd. I couldn't tell you what was on the networks prime time, but I can tell you all about cool documentaries airing on discovery, discovery HD, history, science etc hehe

My newest addictions are the IMAX movies that air on discovery's High Definition theater. Im hooked.

12:00 PM  
Blogger Carla said...

Interestingly, the dragon in China is a benevolent power and a good-luck symbol, rather than the unremittingly evil monster of Western tradition. I often wonder if the two traditions are independent or if they both derive from some common ancestor - and if so, if the European dragon also used to have good aspects at one time.

Geek note: I think dragons in Europe go back earlier than the Vikings. It depends on the date assumed for Beowulf. Some scholars argue that the poem dates from the 8th century, drawing on much earlier oral poems that might date back to the 4th or 5th century (or even earlier), and if they are right then the dragon fight in Beowulf predates the Vikings by a century or more. There's also a beast that could be a dragon on the shield from the early English ('Anglo-Saxon') Sutton Hoo ship burial, which dates from around 620 AD, about a century before the Vikings start to make big waves in Europe - though from a closely related culture.

3:46 AM  

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