Thursday, July 10, 2014

Throwback Thursday: Dragons

Dragons are my second favorite mythical creature, after unicorns. However, my first dragon experience was not a good one: I was about 6 years old when I first saw Disney's Sleeping Beauty and was terrified when Maleficent turned into a dragon. Even though the dragon got less than 2 minutes worth of screen time, that was 2 minutes of screen time I would never forget. The scene still impresses me!

(by the way, my version of Throwback Thursday is where I share a thing or two and a picture from my past, and somehow (probably not very expertly) tie it to a book I've read in the past that's worthy of getting the spotlight again for a moment).

Next I met Smaug, from the Hobbit, who terrified me as well, but also made me smile a few times.

It wasn't until I was a teenager and read the third book in the Earthsea series, The Farthest Shore by Ursula LeGuin, that I encountered a story where dragons could be considered (not exactly safe) but at least wise and even helpful. I was utterly captivated.
“And though I came to forget or regret all I have ever done, yet would I remember that once I saw the dragons aloft on the wind at sunset above the western isles; and I would be content.”
Then I found Anne McCaffery's Dragonflight and fell even more under the dragon-trance.

Since then I have discovered many more fascinating dragons like Draco, Toothless, Temeraire, and Orma from Seraphina. By the way, if you happen to be a Seraphina fan, take a look at the Italian book cover for Seraphina - is that not cool, or what???

When I was writing my first manuscript (about unicorns) it seemed inevitable that dragons ought to be in the story, too. Someday, maybe, I shall let my first dragon creation, Endruin, loose out in the fictional world.

Since this is Throwback Thursday, I dug up a picture of my first computer, upon which I wrote that rambling first draft back in the early 1990's (that's the original MacIntosh computer, with my old kitty Jennie).

Though I've already mentioned quite a few dragon books, the one I haven't blogged about yet that gets the spotlight today is Dragohaven, by Robin McKinley. Judging by other reviews on Goodreads, you're either going to love this book, or hate it enormously. It is extremely rambling, told from the viewpoint of fifteen year old boy who lives on a wildlife refuge for dragons (complete with a force field sort of dome to keep them from flying out). But the problem is, no one has ever been able to get close to the dragons to study them: so far they've only been accessible from a distance. For obvious reasons (unless you haven't realized that you can get incinerated if you get too close).

So Jake tells you all sorts of things about Smokehill National Park, which, if I have the geography figured out correctly, is located in Wyoming!!!! yay! my home state! - or at least Robin Mckinley's version of some place west of Nebraska.

Jake also tells you lots about the history and politics of a world very similar to our own, but in which dragons are slightly more real than mythical creatures but not even half as understood. And, he also tells you about the people he lives with and myriads of other minuscule but oddly entertaining things (there's a lot of telling in this book. Not much showing. It worked for me, because of Jake's great voice and excellent quirky observations, but I could see how some might hate it).  Jake also tells about some of the other, smaller, not-quite-dragon species that are on display at the park, my favorite being this fellow:
Madagascariensis, I swear, likes celery because the sound it makes slowly crunching it up reminds it of the crack of small bones, without any of the effort of hunting something. You'd think carrots would be even better, but no. Maybe it only hunts things with osteoporosis
But it takes a while to get to the point where he encounters the REAL dragons, the big giant fire-breathing ones that are so elusive. And the first one he discovers is dying, having been mortally wounded by a poacher before she was able to incinerate him. Here's Jake's first encounter with a dragon: 
Never mind the fire risk, being stared at by a dragon – by an eye the size of a wheel on a tour bus – is scary. The pupil goes on and onto the end of the universe and then around to the beginning too, and there are landscapes in the iris. Or cavescapes. Wild, dreamy, magical caves, full of curlicue mazes where you could get lost and never come out and not mind. And it's hot. I was sweating. Maybe with fear, but with the heat of her staring too.
Jake rescues and raises one of her dragonlets, Lois, and the whole middle part of the book is about how to raise a baby dragon, which is infinitely more complicated than raising a human baby (just imagine the heat factor!) especially since Jake has to keep Lois a complete secret from all but a handful of allies. Otherwise the government would take her way from him, and before the mother died, she somehow communicated her trust in Jake - so he can't let her down. 

The story really began to pick up when Jake meets another dragon - whom he lovingly names "Gulp" (Gulp was my personal favorite)- in a very dramatic fashion. Another dragon, "Bud", also gets a very dramatic scene. But don't expect a lot of action or dramatic scenes in this book. It's mostly like a diary of a young scientist learning about dragons, and also a little bit about people (Eleanor was my favorite human character, but I also loved the Arkhola natives) and how the world works. The neat thing about this book is you learn so many details about dragons and how they live and communicate that you're nearly convinced they're real by the end, and I just have to say a big gusty THANK YOU to Robin McKinley for putting so much THOUGHT into just every dragonish detail. Right down to dragon ghosts, how cool is that!

If you've made it this far in my post, you must have some measure of fondness for dragons. Who is your favorite fire-breather?


  1. Dragons are awesome! My favorite mythical creature is the mermaid, but dragons are second. My favorite dragon is Kazul from the Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Patricia C. Wrede. One of my favorite books is The Eyes of the Dragon by Stephen King. It's not about dragons at all, but one is veeerrry very important. I also liked Saphira in the Eragon series by Christopher Paolini. And of course, Tolkien's Smaug! The dragons and dragon history in George R.R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire series are really cool too. And I really like the How to Train Your Dragon movies. Love dragons!!

    Happy reading and writing! from Laura Marcella @ Wavy Lines

    1. I have heard for Wrede's Dragon books - need to start reading!! I did try Game of Thrones, but it was too bloodthirsty for me. I'd love to know more about the draogns, though. Thanks for sharing your dragons!

  2. Margo, your memories of what you read never cease to amaze me. As you mentioned them, I could remember reading the books at some time or other.

    Favorite Dragon. While I enjoy them, including Yasmine Galenorn's take on them, my favorite McCaffrey book is "Restoree", which was one of her earlier books and not as well crafted as her Pern books.

  3. I loved seeing your old Macintosh picture! :)
    I don't read a lot of dragon books, but my favorites are both by Gail Carson Levine:
    The Two Princesses of Bamarre and The Tale of Two Castles.
    Thanks for sharing your reading memories!

  4. I'd reverse the order. Unicorns are second, but those dragons always get my vote as number one mythical creature.

  5. Dragonflight made me fall in love with them!! I love the Pern novels. Temeraire and Toothless are also among my faves. :)

  6. I do love dragons. In fact, my 2nd book features them. But it has never seen the light of day, either. Perhaps one day . . .

    I haven't read Dragonhaven by Robin McKinley. It's probably one of the few of hers I haven't. I think I looked up reviews, too, and from those as well as your description, I don't know if I will read it. But I love seeing what fascinates you and why you liked it. :)

    I think my favorite dragons are those in Dragon Slippers by Jessica Day George. Not as detailed as Robin McKinley's, but a fun read.



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