To launch National Share-a-Story Month, Literacy Consultant, Prue Goodwin explores the different ways in which dragons have been represented in stories throughout the ages, using the painting of Saint George and the Dragon by Paolo Uccello as her starting point. It seems perfectly fitting to start the month with a story, and hopefully some of you will enjoying sharing this one with the younger members of your Children’s Book Groups. Perhaps they in turn will be inspired to draw their own illustrations. We’d love to see them if they do!
I was talking to a dragon the other day.
‘Good morning,’ he said to me.
‘Good morning, Dragon,’ I said. ‘Why the glum face?’
‘Oh, just a little tired of having to pretend to be ferocious, frightening and fiery all the time.’
‘But you are a dragon,’ I pointed out. ‘Surely dragons are supposed to be a bit terrifying? It’s your job.’
‘My job? What do you mean? How many dragons do you know, anyway?’
‘I know about St George and the dragon. Here’s a picture, look.’ I held out a picture which I happened to have in my pocket.
‘Oh yes; the famous painting by Paolo Uccello. And what happens next?’
‘Well, St George kills the dragon, rescues the princess and saves the surrounding population from a merciless, marauding monster.’
‘So nobody actually gets hurt then? Apart from the dragon?
I looked more closely at the picture. St George looked half asleep on his horse. The pathetic princess is standing there looking drippy holding a bit of string. The dragon, on the other end of the string, had been stabbed through the neck.
‘I suppose not,’ I admitted.
‘Exactly! Not hurting a fly! Viciously stabbed in the neck. And why? Because,’ the dragon continued, ‘some storyteller needed something scary in a story. So unfair! We dragons have been subject to the whim of storytellers for generations. We have been made out to be monstrous when in reality we are mythical, metaphorical and a little bit magical.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘Let me explain: First, mythical – from ancient tales which helped people understand the world but were really, at best, only half true. Next, metaphorical – using a fictional beast in an explanation of an event to represent something dreadful (like a famine or flood, for example) that may have afflicted people’s lives. And lastly, magical – well, I think flying and breathing fire are magic, don’t you?’
‘But that’s not true is it? There aren’t really any creatures that can breathe fire like in stories.’
‘Aha! You’ve got it. You are not as stupid as it seems. Dragons exist in stories – we are a narrative device. We can defy the laws of nature in any way that a storyteller wants us to. And that is why I think it is unfair. Anyone creating a story with a dragon in it decides how that dragon will behave. For centuries, the shamans, bards, authors, tale tellers, fibbers and fabricators have told stories about cruel, wicked, fire breathing dragons.’
‘But,’ I said, realising I had some good news for the dragon, ‘all that has changed recently. There are loads of stories now about good dragons, funny dragons, dragons who don’t want to fight anyone. It is very popular among children’s writers in the 21st century to turn traditional tales upside-down and change archetypical characters – like dragons – into individuals with feelings and aspirations ’
‘Really?’ I saw a weak smile begin on the dragons face.
‘And I am going to do something to help. I am going to do a new picture of St George sharing an ice cream with the dragon while the princess feeds the horse. And, I’m going to read as many books about nice, kind and gentle dragons as I can.’
A single tear rolled down the dragon’s cheek. This was getting embarrassing. ‘Great chatting to you dragon. Must go. I’m late for a Federation meeting about Share a Story Month. Goodbye.’
I scurried away.
Prue Goodwin shares stories with whoever will listen as often as possible. She enjoys reading, singing and confronting dragons.
This guest post was provided by Prue Goodwin. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the Federation of Children’s Book Groups.