Saturday, September 18, 2010

Exorcising Dragons: An Addendum to the Literary and Folkloric Precedents for Dragon Subdual

I was re-reading Dunsany's "The Hoard of the Gibbelins" earlier this week and was reminded of a literary precedent for dragon subdual that I thought I should add to supplement my previous post, "Exorcising Dragons."

I don't know how I forgot to mention this one the first time.
Alderic thus decided: he would take no horse down to the river's edge, he would not row along it in a boat, and he would go alone and by way of the Forest Unpassable.

How pass, you may say, the unpassable? This was his plan: there was a dragon he knew of who if peasants' prayers are heeded deserved to die, not alone because of the number of maidens he cruelly slew, but because he was bad for the crops; he ravaged the very land and was the bane of a dukedom.

Now Alderic determined to go up against him. So he took horse and spear and pricked till he met the dragon, and the dragon came out against him breathing bitter smoke. And to him Alderic shouted, "Hath foul dragon ever slain true knight?" And well the dragon knew that this had never been, and he hung his head and was silent, for he was glutted with blood. "Then," said the knight, "if thou would'st ever taste maiden's blood again thou shalt be my trusty steed, and if not, by this spear there shall befall thee all that the troubadours tell of the dooms of thy breed."

And the dragon did not open his ravening mouth, nor rush upon the knight, breathing out fire; for well he knew the fate of those that did these things, but he consented to the terms imposed, and swore to the knight to become his trusty steed.

It was on a saddle upon this dragon's back that Alderic afterwards sailed above the unpassable forest, even above the tops of those measureless trees, children of wonder.


This has it all.

First, as is typical of dragons in the old tales, the thing is a pestilence upon the very land itself, ruining crops with its foul presence. A classic dragon trope.

Second, the dragon knows it cannot defeat the knight and so submits. Indeed, is subdued, acting in servitude to the knight. It does try mightily later in the tale to snap at maidens as it passes, but Aldric holds it under his control. I also like that the dragon knows how these kinds of stories always end -- there's a nice wink to the reader there, an invitation to fellow lovers of wondrous tales to join in recognizing the tropes of the genre, which is not uncommon with Dunsany.

Third, the knight puts a saddle on the dragon and rides it. That's just cool. It was cool in 1912, cool in 1974, cool in 1984, and cool in 2010 and beyond.

Addendum to the addendum: Also, Aldric is a D&D adventurer. He's a real bastard. He just wants to steal from the Gibbelins (who, it should be noted, only keep piles of gold around to attract adventurers for them to eat!). Look at his deal with the dragon, 'Look, if you ever want to taste the sweet, sweet blood of a virgin girl again, you're going to have to work with me on this." He's not fighting dragons to protect fair maidens. He just needs a ride over the Forest Unpassable so he can loot that hoard.