Friday, 23 April 2010

Enter the Dragon


BBC’s Radio 4 programme ‘Here Be Dragons’ yesterday evening reminded us of the complex meanings that attach to this mythological beast, not all of which are by any means as scary as we might think; and the broadcast thus dovetails with the recent 3-D film ‘How to Train Your Dragon’, in which the young would-be Viking dragon-slayer discovers that the creatures can be quite friendly and helpful monsters after all.

Indeed, we have had a whole series of recent literary revaluations in which famous monsters of antiquity or mythology are given a voice and history of their own, and turn out to be relatively amiable (if severely misunderstood) chaps in the process. John Gardner’s fine 1971 novel, Grendel, gives the most famous of Anglo-Saxon monsters a chance to tell his own story; and Stan Nichols’s’s novel series about Orcs attempts the unenviable task of redeeming from contempt the most repulsive of Tolkienian creatures – with some success, one must admit.

It is time, then, surely, that we tried some such revaluation of Morris’s evil dragon Fafnir in Sigurd the Volsung, all the more so in that the poor beast is killed in such a shabby way by Sigurd himself, who simply cowers down in a hole in the ground and then stabs the monster in the belly as it slides by over him – nothing particularly heroic about that, one would think! If Morris himself could write the ‘Defence of Guenevere’, passionately revaluing the guilty wife of Arthurian myth, could we not write for him a ‘Defence of Fafnir’, in which this much-maligned creature might tell its own story and hopefully win our sympathy and respect in the process?

2 comments:

Little Joe said...

But Morris also does dragons in comic as well as tragic mode! See his early story 'Golden Wings': 'the roof flew off, and a great yellow dragon came down on the chapel-floor with a flop, and danced about clumsily, wriggling his fat tail, and saying to a sort of tune, "O the Devil, the Devil, the Devil, O the Devil"'.

linda said...

Morris redeems poor Fafnir a little perhaps when he uses the metaphor of the dragon's teeth growing (ref:Jason/the great potential of the people) in The Pilgrims of Hope. In Naomi Mitchison's 'Travel Light', dragons are seen as creatures of charm, character and with their own ancient and elaborate culture. There are other Morrisian echoes in this novel, as there are in 'The Blood of the Martyrs' which contains a quotation from Morris in part II, 'Hear a word, a word in season...'