Let’s start with the lyrics:
When a knight won his spurs in the stories of old
He was gentle and brave he was gallant and bold
With a shield on his arm and a lance in his hand
For God and for valor he rode through the land
No charger have I, and no sword by my side
Yet still to adventure and battle I ride
Though back into storyland giants have fled
And the knights are no more and the dragons are dead
Let faith be my shield and let joy be my steed
Against the dragons of anger the ogres of greed
And let me set free with the sword of my youth
From the castle of darkness the power of the truth.
I loved this song as a child: perfect Junior School Assembly stuff. I sang it in college with my friend Robert, too: a shared memory of school even though we hadn’t known each other. It colours, also, my understanding of fantasy literature: the wistfulness is something of a challenge and full of the pull of nostalgia, and for me (some way from assembly in Harlow), this folksy version by Martin Simpson of it really rings a chord.
I’m not swapping from wolves to dragons as an interest, but just to record, for National Storytelling Day, the wonderful variety of dragons. Here are some of my favourites, drawn, I ought to say, from the European tradition. The song I’ve cited above always reminds me these days of Tomie de Paola’s The Knight and the Dragon, where the luckless knight and dragon come to terms with each other, make peace and live happily. But there is also Eustace in C S Lewis whose encounter with – and transformation into – a dragon are an allegory of sin and redemption; there is Rosemary Manning’s urbane and charming R Dragon, standing for the whole of Cornwall, wistful for the time of Arthur; the urbane and vain dragon defeated by The Paper Bag Princess… And there is Smaug the Stupendous.
It seems to me that dragons are (like wolves) personifications of a certain type of aggression, and that the fire they are often surrounded by is its potent symbol. Michael Martchenko‘s wonderful fire in the Paper Bag Princess has it all: all-consuming but ultimately exhausting. And at an uncertain hour, when anger is rife, maybe storytelling can remind us of this: those dragons of fear and anger (and criticism and self-doubt) are in the end going to burn themselves out.
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