Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The windings of the dragon track...

Or perhaps that should be 'windlings' rather than 'windings'?!  Terri Windling has begun a new 'Moveable Feast' on her blog, and asked the question, "The Desire for Dragons: What Brings us to Myth & Fantasy? 

What brought me?  It's hard to say.  I could mention the books I read in those most impressionable and permeable years between age 10 and 17, most particularly C.S. Lewis' Narnia books and Tolkien's 'The Hobbit', both of which did indeed feature dragons (though poor old Eustace was only temporarily winged and scaled), and Susan Cooper's 'The Dark is Rising', which featured the Pendragon, which was something to do with dragons, I knew that much even then.  But these books seemed more like a recognition, a remembering, than a true discovering (though they were that, and more).  A remembering of something that had always been there, I'd always known it...though 'knowing' is not really the right word.  It's more a visceral feeling, right there in your gut...and in your heart.  The feeling you get when you've been away for a long time and you open your front door and walk in, drop your bags, shuffle your shoes off, and sit down in your very own comfy chair.  Of being home.

As Terri mentions, the title of the Feast comes from J.R.R. Tolkien.  He wrote, regarding his life-long taste for myth and tales of magic, "I desired dragons with a profound desire.  Of course, I in my timid body did not wish to have them in the neighborhood. But the world that contained even the imagination of F√°fnir was richer and more beautiful, at whatever the cost of peril."

When I first encountered Herne the Hunter at age 13, in Susan Cooper's 'The Dark is Rising', I felt my heart pound as if a long forgotten question had been answered.  I am very sure I had never encountered the Wild Hunt, not as a child then, nor in the years since I read the book, and like Tolkien, I probably don't really want to.  But the sudden joy in knowing he was out there was so palpable, that I can feel it now just thinking about it.  The thought of him was enough.  Knowing that Merlin existed, even as an idea, a figment of someone else's imagination, a possibility, was enough.  Well, almost enough.  Like it is enough for me to know that Polar Bears still exist.  I'd like to see one (not too close...a little like the Wild Hunt!), but if I never do, just knowing they are there is enough to lift my soul and make my world brighter and more beautiful.  Something we would do well to understand quickly, before there aren't any.

Dragons have come to mean this to me, more than as actual, physical, winged, fire-breathing beasts.  The unseen, hidden, veiled magic and mystery that abounds if only we open our eyes (and our hearts) enough to see it.  And yet, we don't need to see it, for we feel it and know it is real.  At 15 I saw 'Excalibur', everything my fledgling interest in Arthurian and Celtic myth could wish for.  And there I encountered a dragon who was everywhere at once, all around us, in the land we walk, but never seen.  The dragon's breath was real enough to ride across a chasm on, yet it remained hidden.  Mysterious.  Magical.

Gorgeous dragon found using image search...I think the signature is 'R. Esselton'.  If anyone knows for sure, please let me know so I can attribute correctly.

And at the age of 16, a chance hearing on a radio program of this...

...but let us sing the skill of the master builders long ago
for it was no peasantry plodding after scrawny cows 
who raised the hollow hills and the henge stones
but calm and cunning wizards worked these wonders
continuing the snail line, dod flat at ring stand
ruling scribing and pegging out in granite
the windings of the dragon track
that writhes unhewn
in sward and marsh and moss and meadowland
that twines in stellar gravity among the eaves of the cubic sky...
'Five Denials on Merlin's Grave' by Robin Williamson

The 'calm and cunning' Merlin, by the incomparable Alan Lee.

Now there's a dragon.  'The windings of the dragon track'...it still gives me delicious shivers just saying it in my head.  The path of the unseen embedded in the landscape, the mysterious, the beautiful and terrible, of truth that is more than facts, of story that is more true than truth, the path of the wise fool, the path of white stones dropped so that someone might follow, the road that leads ever on and on, the road less travelled...

And so we follow the dragon track, overgrown as it might well be through neglect in this last century of facts and rationalism.  Because the dragon is worth following.  It has great wisdom to bestow.  It is dangerous to know, certainly (though, I've never felt that dragons were evil...just, wild), and we might not be able to see it...but if we listen carefully, we might hear it singing as it passes.

And once you've heard a dragon singing, there's no going back!

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