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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

HARRIET WADHAM: Here be dragons

Normally on old maps you can sometimes come across the occasional ‘Here be Dragons’ or a picture of a scary-looking dragon. Don’t get all excited because there’s a 95% chance that the map-maker just put it there to fill a boring space. Cartographers used to decorate their maps with pictures of fantastical things, such as gods, dragons, harpies and beasts like that just to make it look more attractive.

There are so many types of dragons that if you were to go on an expedition to hunt one down you may not know where to start! But be warned - there are such things as false dragons! Take, for instance, the Jenny Haniver. The Jenny Haniver is an ugly creature that has been made out of bits of other dead animals, such as chickens, mice and other small things. It is given a dragonish look by using a fish tail, then curling it into coils and curling the side fins over its back.

There are many stories about dragons, and usually they end up with the dragon getting killed and the hero returning triumphant to the cheering on-lookers. However, some stories have a different ending, like the hero dying after he has slain his enemy, or the hero and dragon staying alive. A good example is the story, The Laidly Worm of Spindlestone Heugh.

What happens is an old king (King Ida) is sad and lonely because his wife has just died and his son, The Childe of Wynd is abroad in a war againt the Gauls. Therefore he only has his daughter Margaret for company. After a while Ida decides to go to distant lands to find a new wife. While he is gone he leaves Margaret in charge of his castle and travels far away where lots of women try to get his interest but as they remind him of his wife too much, he ignores them. An evil sorceress noticed that he was rich and powerful, so uses all her charms and spells to make the king love her, and think of nothing but her, so eventually King Ida marries the sorceress and delightedly returns home to Margaret, who is ecstatic and dresses up beautifully before running out to meet her stepmother. A knight who is accompanying the queen exclaims that Margaret is the most beautiful girl he had ever seen. Subsequently the queen is vexed and that night she casts a wicked curse upon Margaret, turning her into a laidly (loathsome) worm until her brother returns from his battle; and she is certain he has already been killed. In the morning the maids go to wake her up and upon finding an ugly worm curled up in Margaret’s bed, flee, giving the creature a moment to slip unseen into the countryside, where she cannot see anyone because her breath is so poisonous it kills the land for miles around. Eventually news of the terror of his father’s kingdom reaches The Childe of Wynd, who fearlessly returns and defeating the witch-queen’s obstacles, goes to slay this monstrous entity. Margaret is fearful of her brother also, and try as she might, cannot drive him away. She retreats to her lair in Spindlestone Heugh and coiled around a rock, waits for the prince. When he finds her he lifts his sword and prepares to strike - and the worm lowers her head and says in a small, beautiful voice: "O quit thy sword, unbend thy bow, and give me kisses three, for though I be a poisonous Worme, no harm I’ll do to thee." Wynd is astonished to hear the creature talk but being the bold type, bends and kisses the monster three times. Margaret’s scales fall off and the worm’s body withers away to reveal the pulchritudinous princess. The prince covers her with his mantle and carries her back to the castle where the king is over-joyed at seeing Margaret again. When the witch hears that Childe Wynd has triumphed she runs to her bedchamber but using a rowan twig, the prince counteracts all the witch’s spells back onto her, so she transforms into a large, spitting, warty toad.

I was intrigued to write a blog about dragons because I have a book called The Dragon Hunter’s handbook, which I got for my 10th birthday:

Do you like our hallway? :) Anyway, the next blog I’m doing will probably be about Greek mythological monsters (which I hope you’ll enjoy!!) So that pretty much sums up dragons!


Neil A said...

Great stuff, keep the blogs coming Harriet.

Syd said...

Well done Harriet.
Richard F's job is under serious threat.

Kara said...

I believe she gets all her talent from her mother...

Lily said...

I do not!!!
I get it from me...
(By Harriet, I just went on here and it's my sister's name ut oh well)