Thursday, 27 April 2017

Here Be Dragons

 As Sunday was St. George's Day, it brought to mind two very interesting books on dragons that I read last year, both being started at the same time.  'British Dragons', from 1980 by renowned folklorist Jacqueline Wilson had me annoyed at the beginning, with the scepticism (of any at all ever existing) and unnecessary theories in the opening chapter; especially since learning about the actual descriptions of dragons in the Old Testament of the Holy Bible, which she did not seem to credit, but I do. Getting past that though, the book is quite in-depth and full of interest, containing such chapters and sections on:
Serpents and Sea-monsters in Classical Myths; The Northern Dragons; Treasure Guardians; The Cockatrice; Saints as Heroes; Heroes From Medieval Romances; Village Heroes; Heroic Combats; Dragons In Plays and Pageants, etc...  There is also a very funny tale of 'The Knucker of Lyminster', where a greedy dragon gets his comeuppance via a big pudding or "pudden" from a clever peasant. 
Here's a bit of the book description from the inner jacket: 
"Over 70 villages and towns in Britain still have a tale or a song about a dragon.  The Lambton Worm, the Dragon of Wantley, the Knucker of Lyminster and the Muckle Mester Stoor Worm are among the most celebrated, but there are many others, ranging in form and temperament from the benevolent King Snake in Wales to the voracious monster with a taste for maidens at Cnoc-na-Cnoimh.  Most dragon tales involve a dragon slayer.  It might be a saint, a knight or a local lad who saves the day by despatching the dragon, either, like St. George, in a straight fight, or by an underhand trick: a piece of treacle gingerbread put an end to the dragon at Filey."
From a humourous old Sussex tale:  Thisyer ole dragon, you know, he uster go spanneling (traipsing) about the Brooks by night to see what he could pick up for supper, like- few horses, or cows maybe- he'd snap 'em up as soon as look at 'em.  Then bimeby (by-and-by) he took to sitting atop o' Causeway, and anybody come along there, he'd lick 'em up, like a toad licking flies off a stone.
This book made a great addition to the other Jacqueline Wilson books I've collected.
The other book is 'Here Be Dragons' by Ralph Whitlock, a prolific writer on country life and folklore.  This one, from 1983,  also went into the history and wild, fanciful tales of lore and legend, but a large section of the book is a Gazetteer of nearly 200 places, mentioning sites all over Britain, giving the historical insight into carvings, sculptures, and monuments. 
A bit from the inner jacket:
"Dragons are everywhere in the British countryside!  They are woven into the folk history of villages and hamlets, they snarl from church decorations and they survive in mumming plays and other pageants.  Tracing their remains, in whatever form they are to be found, is not only a fascinating pastime but a glimpse into how our rural forefathers thought and behaved, for dragons played the vital role of representing evil and destruction in the pantheon of the country dweller."
Both books are quite good and worth looking for for anyone interested in folklore and legendary beasts!

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