Monthly Archives: July 2012

Ogden Nash and Dragons

Today I’m pondering poetry (yes, poetry can deal with dragons!), but a quick note first:

I’ve learned that in the blogging world, as anywhere, you shouldn’t make promises you can’t keep. Last week, I promised I would be back on Monday, but it’s not Monday—it’s already Tuesday. Not only that, when I started this blog, I said I would post every Monday and Wednesday—yet some weeks I post on Tuesday or Friday or some other day instead. My new goal? Instead of promising that my posts will appear on certain days and then feeling guilty when life happens and I don’t make it, I’ll aim for Monday/Wednesday posts yet promise nothing more than to stay as close to two posts a week as I humanly can. Deal?

Now on to the poetry:

I was thinking about Ogden Nash yesterday. Have you heard of him? He’s the poet (1902-1971) who wrote wonderfully catchy little rhymes like God in His wisdom made the fly / and then forgot to tell us why or The trouble with a kitten is that / eventually it becomes a cat. A lot of his poems showed up in various beloved anthologies from my childhood, and I still remember poems like these two:

Ogden Nash photo

This guy wrote some entertaining stuff.
Image borrowed from Wikipedia.

The Centipede
I objurgate the centipede,
A bug we do not really need.
At sleepy-time he beats a path
Straight to the bedroom or the bath.
You always wallop where he’s not,
Or, if he is, he makes a spot.”

Experiment Degustatory
A gourmet challenged me to eat
A tiny bit of rattlesnake meat,
Remarking, ‘Don’t look horror-stricken.
You’ll find it tastes a lot like chicken.’
It did.
Now chicken I cannot eat,
Because it tastes like rattlesnake meat.”

 

To this day, I still swear by the truth of his statements on centipedes, and I’m terribly curious to know what rattlesnake tastes like. On my to-read-someday list is a collection of Nash’s work—I’ve only ever read a few scattered pieces in varying anthologies.

Yes, one of those was about a dragon: Custard the Cowardly Dragon, to be exact. When I was looking it up online to share with you, I discovered that The Tale of Custard the Cowardly Dragon was even made into an illustrated children’s book. Who knew? I had only ever seen it in poem-form in an anthology. It’s definitely meant for children, but I still think it’s really cute. It begins:

The Tale of Custard the Cowardly Dragon (cover image)

Don’t the illustrations look cute? I want to find this book!
Image borrowed from goodreads.com

Belinda lived in a little white house,
With a little black kitten and a little gray mouse,
And a little yellow dog and a little red wagon,
And a realio, trulio, little pet dragon.

Now the name of the little black kitten was Ink,
And the little gray mouse, she called her Blink,
And the little yellow dog was sharp as Mustard,
But the dragon was a coward, and she called him Custard.

It goes on to explain:

Belinda was as brave as a barrel full of bears,
And Ink and Blink chased lions down the stairs,
Mustard was as brave as a tiger in a rage,
But Custard cried for a nice safe cage.

 

Want a hint about what happens next when a nasty pirate shows up? Let’s just say that even a cowardly dragon can be brave and save the day. You can find the full poem online here; I still haven’t found the book for myself, so I can’t comment on the illustrated form of the story.

Have you read The Tale of Custard the Cowardly Dragon or any other poems by Ogden Nash? What about other dragon poems? Maybe you aren’t into poetry, but Custard’s story is still worth checking out! 😉 I’d love to hear what you thought of it.

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This week isn’t about dragons.

If you’ve noticed the lack of posts this week, I apologize for not leaving a warning first. I thought I would have time to keep up the dragons while I was out of town this week, but it didn’t happen. Instead of dragons, this week was about visiting cousins and working with kids. I’ll get back to blogging on Monday.

Some things in life are better than dragons. Agreed?

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The Dragon Quintet–5 unique dragon tales

I hit gold on my last library trip—there on the shelf in the science fiction/fantasy section was a book with five dragon-themed short novels by renowned science fiction and fantasy authors. I’ve always thought that the short novel was an awkward length for a story, but the authors featured in The Dragon Quintet (ed. Marvin Kaye) did a decent job of making it work (I just wish the characters could have been more developed in these plot-focused stories). What I really loved about this collection wasthat all five stories have extremely unique takes on dragons. Here are some of my thoughts after reading:

1.       “In the Dragon House”—Orson Scott Card

This was a good story with enjoyable characters, but I had one problem—I didn’t understand what happened! I loved how the story was written, but what, exactly, was the dragon? Was it related to the dragon gargoyle? The cranky former homeowner? The unexplained train set hidden in the attic? All I can safely tell you about this story (other than that it’s good and you should read it) is that when young Michael encounters the dragon in his Granny’s Victorian house, he will never be the same again. The preface to the book says that Card might turn this into a full-length novel someday; maybe that will clear up the points I’m still confused on.

2.       “Judgment”—Elizabeth Moon

I really liked this fantasy village-set story, even though the main character fit the stereotype of “character who is young and honest and suffers for it.” Even if Ker was a bit predictable in that way, I still appreciated that he did the right thing even though it cost him nearly everything. In the end, his decision to go against his future father-in-law’s wishes to try to save his village saved the lives of him and his mother and earned him approval and a gift from a dragon. I enjoyed the unique take on the form and properties of dragon eggs—and dragons—as well as the value placed on wisdom in the story.

3.       “Love in a Time of Dragons”—Tanith Lee

Spoiler alert: It was nifty how part one leads you to believe that Graynne has fallen for the dragon-hunting champion, when in reality she loves the dragon, as we find out abruptly in part two. I liked how the dragons in this story migrate when winter comes (rather than hibernating) and how we see a human dragon wife with a dragon son. However, I wasn’t convinced by the way the young dragon comes to be, and I don’t appreciate reading sexual content and foul language like that found in this story.

4.       “Joust”—Mercedes Lackey

Besides “Judgment,” this was my favorite of the five stories, so I was excited to find out that it has been expanded into a full novel with three sequels. Vetch is a conquered serf boy with a cruel master until he by chance finds a kinder master in the dragon-riding Jouster Ari. After caring for Ari’s dragon (his job reminded me of a horse groom), Vetch gets a chance to secretly acquire his own dragon egg. I definitely got caught up in this story, wondering if he would be discovered or manage to hatch a dragon and secure his freedom. I’m sure I’ll be reading the novels.

5.       “King Dragon”—Michael Swanwick

This story was weird. The characters weren’t exactly mortal, and the dragons were living machines—have you ever heard of sentient creatures with built-in bombs and jet engines? When an enemy dragon takes over his village, Will is forced to become his lieutenant, speaking to and against his one-time friends on behalf of the metal beast. I was worried that he had given in too easily, but the ending (though not surprising for a quite plot-driven story) saves his character a bit. Note that this story is another one with some rough language and sexual references.

I know I didn’t say much about each story, so feel free to ask for any clarification or further details on any that interested you! If you enjoy dragons but get tired of seeing the same basic portrayals repeated, I definitely recommend that you check out The Dragon Quintet.

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My Father’s Dragon

When my sister and I were small, we loved nightly bedtime stories with Daddy. He spent many a night on books like The Hobbit, The Chronicles of Narnia, or others from his own childhood favorites. One wonderful year, he pulled out My Father’s Dragon and its two sequels, written by Ruth Stiles Gannet between 1948 and 1951. We loved the stories of Elmer and the baby dragon, and while some parts are cheesier than I remembered them being, I love them still. Here’s a peek at three books you should definitely consider for the small child in your life (or in yourself!):

My Father's Dragon cover image

How to get past a lion: braid his hair.
Image borrowed from Wikipedia.

MY FATHER’S DRAGON

“As my father and the dragon passed over the Ocean Rocks they heard a tiny excited voice scream, ‘Bum cack Bum cack! We dreed our nagon! I mean, we need our dragon!’”

Years later, my sister and I still quote the flustered mouse that screamed our favorite line. “Bum cack!” we teasingly call, whenever we don’t want the other to leave. We couldn’t forget those words any more than we could forget Elmer Elevator (the title “father” in his childhood) and his adventure to rescue a baby dragon from the island where cruel animals had tied him up, forcing him to fly them across the river. It’s a cute, silly story about a resourceful little boy, some fierce but easily-distracted animals, and one of the most adorable little dragons you could ever meet.

A takeaway: Always be well-prepared for anything when you travel, and don’t forget to be kind to stray cats.

 

Elmer and the Dragon cover image

Who knew that “The Bear Went over the Mountain” could make a canary weep?
Image borrowed from Wikipedia.

ELMER AND THE DRAGON

“‘Does he eat canaries?’
‘I should say not!’ snorted the dragon. ‘Only fruits and vegetables and lollipops.’”

The abovementioned vegetables look largely like tangerine peels, skunk cabbages, and marsh ferns; and the young dragon looks largely like the product of a child’s imagination. He has blue and yellow stripes, gold wings, and a red horn and hooves. This second adventure picks up right where the first leaves off, relating what happens when Elmer and the dragon stop at an island of freed canaries on their way home. The plot has more to do with the birds than the dragon, but it’s still pretty cute.

A takeaway: They say curiosity killed the cat, but in reality, it killed ten generation of canaries.

 

THE DRAGONS OF BLUELAND

Cover Image: The Dragons of Blueland

How do those tiny wings fly such a tubby little guy?
Image borrowed from Wikipedia.

“‘Boris! Is that your name?’
‘Yes,’ said Boris uncomfortably. ‘I was embarrassed to tell you before.’
‘It’s no worse than Elmer,’ said Elmer.

‘I suppose not, and it’s certainly not so bad as some in my family. I might as well tell you the rest. My sisters are Ingeborg, Eustacia, Gertrude, Bertha, Mildred and Hildegarde. And my brothers are Emil, Horatio, Conrad, Jerome, Wilhelm and Dagobert. Can you imagine!’”

At last, we find out more about the dragon! What does his family look like, where do they live, and what happens when humans discover them? We finally find out the answers to these questions, along with his name. Though the final book is just as short and simple as the first two, it always seemed more intense to me in terms of how scary the humans are—not only must Boris the dragon avoid being seen by people such as guards or an armed farmer, he and Elmer must somehow save the rest of the dragons before they get locked up and sent to zoos. The worst thing about the book: it ends with no proof that the boy and dragon will ever get to see each other again. If I were Elmer, I would miss my dragon buddy forever!

A takeaway: Dragons apparently don’t breathe fire, but they exercise daily and are quite frightening when they blow on horns and whistles in unison.

Categories: Children's | Tags: , , , , , , | 5 Comments

How the Orange Dragon Found His Cook (Part Two)

Yesterday, I promised two things: the rest of my story, and the theme of the 24 words that made up the original prompt. As promised, here they are:

The theme: Brown (it was a children’s word search book, I think; the categories were goofy like that!).

The rest of the story:

How the Orange Dragon Found His Cook (Part Two)

As they approached the palace after entering the city, Collin began to feel nervous. What if the Orange Dragon wasn’t interested in trying new foods? Worse, what if the guards were lying to him and only meant for him to become the dragon ruler’s next meal? He needed to come up with a plan.
“What are you going to do with me?” he asked his escorts.
The younger guard glanced at him. “We will bring you before His Highness, and you will state your case. If he likes it, we’ll have a chance to change things.”
The other guard snorted. “But if he doesn’t agree, which is more likely, then you’re his next meal on charges of insulting him.” He paused, and wrinkled his face. Collin noticed for the first time that he looked rather like a gorilla when he scowled. “Maybe we should just save time and charge you with treason ourselves, so we don’t get in trouble for bringing you here.”
The younger guard elbowed his colleague. “Don’t talk like that! We will do right by this man, and he may make things better for a great deal of people.”
Right about then, they reached the palace gates. Collin had never seen such a huge structure up close before—his excursions into the city kept him far from the royal district. It only made sense that a creature as large as a dragon would require a large space, but that didn’t keep him from staring at the wide, tapestry-hung hallways and high, gilded ceilings they passed.
Too soon, they reached the great hall. There, Collin found himself before a dragon for the first time in his life. He knelt before the Orange Dragon as the guard whispered something in the great creature’s ear.
After a moment that felt too long, a deep voice said, “You may rise.” Collin slowly stood and looked his ruler in the eye. The Orange Dragon was huge. Where some countries had throne rooms with a raised platform for the throne and advisory seats, this raised platform was completely filled by the scaled form of the dragon. Collin had heard that the wisdom of a dragon was obvious in its eyes, but all he could see now was a creature who might eat him if he didn’t think fast.
“Your Highness,” he said, “I have heard of your strong, ah, taste for justice, and that there is growing to be a shortage in the criminal numbers that you require. I have heard some suggest war as a way to restock, but I have a solution that would save many lives.”
He hoped he hadn’t been too bold in getting to the point, but there it was. The Orange Dragon just looked at him.
“Go on,” it said.
Collin could do nothing but just spit it out. “I’m a cook, and I think I can help you find a new favorite dish.” The silence in the hall lasted a full two minutes. Finally, the Orange Dragon spoke.
“Very well. You have one month.”
So began the most stressful month of Collin’s life. He assumed that he needed to find a new meat to replace the Orange Dragon’s diet of human flesh, so he started  by fixing raw and cooked versions of some animals common to that region: beaver, armadillo, and (naturally) horse.  The Orange Dragon sent them back untouched, with a message—Too common! I hate the very stench of these creatures! I hope this isn’t the best you can do!
The second week, Collin had a live lion and bear brought in. Perhaps the taste of a predator would appeal to the strong nature of the dragon. But the Orange Dragon, upon testing these dishes, shook his head and demanded something less tough. Collin was running out of options, so at the end of the third week, he had a monkey population and even a kangaroo shipped in from neighboring countries. Could it not be that something new and exotic would please the dragon?
Get this out of here!” bellowed the dragon after both of these dishes had been sampled. So Collin’s last hope had failed after all. “You bring me all this meat! It is sickening me—there is no meat like human flesh. None!” He lowered his voice, and narrowed his dark eyes into slits. “Now find something different, or this experiment will be over. And so might you.”
Too soon, it was the final week of Collin’s trial month. He would die soon; he knew it. One afternoon near the end, he prepared his favorite treats for himself and went to sit in the palace courtyard and eat through his despair. When he heard the Orange Dragon (who often wandered outside) approaching, he didn’t even turn until he heard the ruler stop right behind him.
“What is that?”
“My… lunch?”
“I require a taste.” With that, the Orange Dragon cleaned the bowl and cup, looked Collin in the face, and said, “You are hired—permanently.”
Confused but hopeful, Collin hurried back into the palace and made a larger version of his snack, which he immediately sent to the Orange Dragon. The word that he got back was simply “Good.”
In this way, Collin became the official palace cook. Furthermore, humans breathed more easily at night knowing that only the very worst crime would prompt the death sentence in the future, and the Orange Dragon discovered his immense love of coconut pudding with chocolate cola. Collin still missed his tree house from time to time, but otherwise, everyone lived reasonably happily ever after.
THE END.

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How the Orange Dragon Found His Cook (Part One) AND your story results!

Thank you to those who submitted a dragon story following last week’s prompt! I realized afterward that my readers in the United States might have trouble finding time to write in the days leading up to the Fourth of July, but I did receive a few stories that I’m excited to tell you about.

  • Untitled Dragon Story comes from a reader who definitely had the holiday on his mind. My favorite part of this story is how he was able to use all 24 words in such a short piece yet still have a complete story.
  • Out Here was submitted by another reader who said he added one more rule for himself in using the 24 words. Can you see what he did? I thought it was interesting that this story, like mine, has a protagonist who lives in the forest.
  • Finally, we have The Dragon Show, written by  Anna Stroven who blogs at Where Morning Dawns. I love the animal town, as well as how the character of Mrs. Macgregory feels like one of those old ladies who seems nutty but is absolutely loveable.

Thank you to the few who got a chance to write, and I hope the rest of you get a chance to read the above stories!

As I was writing my story, it got to be pretty long, so I decided to split it into two parts. You don’t have to wait for Monday to read Part Two, though—I’ll make sure I get it up tomorrow. Tomorrow, I’ll also tell you what the theme of the word search was that provided these goofy 24 words.

Without further ado, here is Part One of “How the Orange Dragon Found His Cook”:

A long time ago, there was a prospering kingdom that stretched from the rolling seaside to the towering mountains. At that time, humans were ruled by dragons. This arrangement usually meant comfort and great hoards of riches (for the dragons) and wise leadership and protection from other humans (for the humans). Everyone was satisfied, and there was peace.
In this country, however, an old tradition associated with dragon rule went terribly wrong when the Orange Dragon took the throne (orange dragons were known for their irrational and slightly unhinged behavior; people rested most safely when a mellow blue or calm green dragon ruled). This particular tradition dictated that the dragon ruler, who was normally limited to a vegetarian diet with the exception of the occasional sheep or deer, could devour all criminals, enemies, and otherwise who earned the death sentence. For the dragons, this meant a delicacy that was normally off-limits; for the humans, this meant an incentive to keep crime rates down.
The Orange Dragon wasn’t satisfied with only getting one criminal every few months. He so enjoyed the taste of human flesh that he encouraged the death sentence more and more frequently—first, every month or so, and later, every week. It wasn’t good enough to merely avoid being a murder; soon, even the commonest of thieves were being sentenced to death just to keep up with the Orange Dragon’s demands. Something had to be done before there was nobody left to eat, but what could they do? Their ruler was wise and good in every other aspect, and besides that, he was far more powerful than any of his human subjects.
Around this same time, there was a young man who lived alone in the Deep Nut Wood. Content to live in a tree house in the branches of a walnut tree, he happily lived alone, conversing with the birds and creating food masterpieces that he largely enjoyed by himself, but would sometimes bring into the city to share with his few acquaintances there. He knew about and was bothered by the Orange Dragon’s taste for humans, but as he lived far from the castle and never did anything wrong, he didn’t worry too much about it.
One day, as he made his way through the trees carrying a basket of almonds freshly gathered just that morning, he heard some people coming past. He stepped away from the path to watch and listen. There was a pair of the palace guards, looking very far from home and very irritated.
“We’d better find someone tonight,” one was saying to the other, “or we’ll be the next victims, punished for not bringing him his weekly prisoner.”
“I still don’t think it’s fair.”
The first guard chuckled. “We don’t have fair happening here, sonny.” He suddenly cried out as his left boot went into a mud puddle. Shaking the mud off his foot, he also shook his head. “No, it’s not fair we have. It’s a hungry dragon.”
Our young man, whose name was Collin, spoke up from the side of the road against his better judgment. “Perhaps you could find something he likes better than humans.”
The guards started, and both turned toward him.
“Who’s that, then?”
“My name is Collin, sir, and I live here.”
The first guard looked around with wary eyes. “I see no home.”
Collin patted the bark of a nearby tree. “The trees are my home. I prefer the solitude.”
The guards exchanged glances and lowered their spears toward him. “Or maybe,” the second one suggested, “you’re a criminal who is hiding from the justice we’re looking to provide.”
Collin shook his head. “No sir—I’ve caused no trouble. The people in the nearby city can vouch for me.”
The first guard moved a step closer. “You’ve caused no trouble—yet. If you don’t do as I say, I can arrest you on charge of resisting authority. Do you know what the penalty is for that?”
“I can guess.”
The guard grinned wickedly. “It’s death.”
Collin, naturally, wanted anything but to be eaten by the Orange Dragon, so he complied in showing the guards his home, explaining again that he loved living outdoors, and admitting that yes, he knew a thing or two about food, which is why he had suggested the idea of finding a different food source. But then they said something he was hoping not to hear.
“Come with us.”
“What, sir?”
“You heard me,” said the guard. “You clearly know about food, and if you think the Orange Dragon can be satisfied by some other meal, then you must be the one to come and try. If you don’t—“
“If I don’t, I’ll be his next meal,” said Collin wearily. “You don’t leave me much of a choice.”
“At this point, it’s either you or us, and I choose you.”
And so, dusting the dirt off his knapsack and filling it with his most necessary belongings and the spare mushroom or potato that only grew in the soil of the Deep Nut Wood (you never know when such a thing may come in handy while cooking), Collin bid his walnut tree a reluctant farewell and turned with the guards back toward the city.
TO BE CONCLUDED.

Categories: Writing Projects | Tags: , , , , | 3 Comments

Ruthless Dragons: teaching heroes teamwork since 2020

Reign of Fire poster image

Reign of Fire movie poster–Image borrowed from Wikipedia.

Only one species is getting out of this alive.

So writes one of the few surviving humans after a worldwide dragon apocalypse in the 2002 film Reign of Fire. The movie may just be another cheap fantasy/action movie without too much going for it (unless you get as much of a kick out of Matthew McConaughey playing a mean, bald Marine as I do), but there are elements that make this movie worth pulling out as “junk food” once in a while.

 

THE HEROES:

Having clashing protagonists is a common enough story device, but Reign of Fire did well in showing two very different sides of the leadership coin.

Quinn (played by Christian Bale) is the leader of a group of Brits holed up in a castle north of London. He saw his mother die when the first dragon woke up, and he has been working hard to keep his people alive ever since.
Leadership style: quiet, gentle, and caring—unwilling that any life under his command be risked unnecessarily.
Method: stay safe; stay alive; outlast the dragons.

Van Zan (played by Matthew McConaughey) is an American marine who shows up in England with tanks, a helicopter, and a daring mission. He is hard-natured and difficult to get along with, but he and his Americans have done what Quinn thought impossible—killing dragons.
Leadership style: strong, harsh, and military minded—willing to use (rather than suffer from) the knowledge of the lives that must be sacrificed to get the job done.
Method: take risks in battle to win the war.

Says Van Zan to Quinn after both men make mistakes and catastrophe strikes: “We have paid a terrible price, and now we’ve got a chance to make a difference. We will.”

 

THE DRAGONS:

These dragons weren’t meant to be intelligent, sentient beings—they’re monsters. In a book to be passed on to future leaders, Quinn writes,

“I saw the first, but soon the world saw millions. No one knew how they spawned so fast. They swarmed like locusts, burning everything in their path, driven by one purpose… to feed. Even then, we couldn’t believe they were real. Ancient man had made them into myths, but nature had made something far more terrible. Too late, our scientists discovered their true identity… a species which had burned the dinosaurs to dust, whose ash had brought on ice ages, who, in eons past, had scorched the world clean of life. Then starved, then slept, waiting for the earth to replenish itself, waiting to start their cycle anew…”

If dragons are monsters, these are the scary ones. My one complaint? A bit of a size inconsistency in a couple of places. If you’re going to make a dragon big and epic, make sure it stays big and epic in other scenes, okay?

 

It’s true that the plot is an old, simple one: when evil is accidentally awakened and takes over the world, two good guys must put aside their differences to fight the monsters in win-or-die action scenes, therein saving the world. Still, simple isn’t always bad—I’m sure I’ll keep pulling this movie out every year or two to see again. You don’t have to love it, but it’s worth watching at least once, just for fun—tell me what you think!

Categories: Film Dragons | Tags: , , , , , | 11 Comments

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