Dragons But Not Unicorns?

So there I was minding my own business, having merrily written 40,0000 words of a Magical Realism (“low fantasy –a sub-genre of fantasy fiction involving “nonrational happenings that are without causality or rationality because they occur in the rational world where such things are not supposed to occur.” – Brian Stableford – The A to Z of Fantasy Literature – I had to look it up a while ago).

I was quite happy imagining a Game of Thrones type book (I know, very different from the Wycaan Master series) and then one of my characters has to make an innocent quip: “Dragons don’t exist, do they?”

Before I could press save and turn off the laptop, before I could say – well, burn me to a cinder – there he (or she) was flying around, flapping those great wings, swinging that long spiked tail

“There goes my genre shift,” I thought as the next chapter appeared on my screen.

Now I was baptized in the fires of Smaug (actually I’m Jewish but Smaug as a Mohel performing a circumcision is frankly too disturbing), my sons flew in their imagination on the backs of Saphira and Christopher Paolini’s other dragons.

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But there is something about dragons that has kept them alive in our culture that is fascinating. The Chinese have a historic connection that goes back to, well it makes you wonder. In my homeland, Sir George had to slay one to become the patron saint of the Brits, and the dragon is possibly the most common and, dare I say, respected mythical animal in the fantasy genre.

So what is wrong with unicorns, for example? Why have they not become as popular? They can fight, heal, and even create powerful wands (which J.K. Rowlings wizard am I talking about?), but they have not caught our imagination like dragons.

Laying myself at the mercy of Google, I discovered that the dragon myth grew separately in China, Europe, and even the Americas and Australia. The Aussies have a number of animals including the Goanna that lend themselves to the myth. The Nile crocodiles were apparently much bigger than the one we know today and walked in an elevated gait. Whales and dinosaurs also add to the potential creation of the myth.

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But perhaps the most fascinating theory is suggested on the Smithsonian blog. I couldn’t find the author to attribute  – my apologies – but these are his/her words:

In his book An Instinct for Dragons, anthropologist David E. Jones argues that belief in dragons is so widespread among ancient cultures because evolution embedded an innate fear of predators in the human mind. Just as monkeys have been shown to exhibit a fear of snakes and large cats, Jones hypothesizes that the trait of fearing large predators—such as pythons, birds of prey and elephants—has been selected for in hominids. In more recent times, he argues, these universal fears have been frequently combined in folklore and created the myth of the dragon.

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Whatever created it, the myth of the dragon has deepened with the growth in popularity of the genre. Eragon’s relationship with Saphira and the history in the Inheritance Series is far more complex than Tolkien’s Smaug, or those Harry Potter had to deal with. George R.R. Martin skirts around the existence of dragons in his early books. His description of the crypts of Winterfell, and later when Aria is in the bowels of the capital, are almost a reverent tribute to these once majestic beasts.

It is a relationship that has captured the imagination of a generation. My sons, for whom Paolini was so influential, have devoured many books with dragons, without any sign of tiring. For them and others, I found this interesting artistic reflection of the sizes of the various dragons that Paolini creates – Enjoy.

Have a great week.

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth, and five other Wycaan Master books all released by Tourmaline Books. The link above takes you to the Kindle versions. For all other eReaders, please click here.

More at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter).

 

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T is one tough 7th Grader – Tim O’Mara

Elfwriter’s Introduction:

Tim O’Mara is a hero. He is a public school teacher and a man (rare to have male role models in our schools). Like most of these dedicated, hard-working, under-rewarded, and under-recognized teachers, he cares about his students. I am very inspired by him and very grateful as a father and a citizen to all public school teachers.

But Tim is not just an  NYC public middle-school teacher. He is an author. He wrote an adult mystery series about a public schoolteacher who used to be a cop. O’Mara never was a cop, but his brother is. Raymond Donne Book 1, Sacrifice Fly (2012 Minotaur Books), was nominated by Deadly Pleasures Magazine for the 2013 Best First Novel Barry Award.

O’Mara teaches math and special education in a tony area of Manhattan now, but started his career in 1987 in a disadvantaged section of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, the setting for the series. The dichotomy of these two worlds is highlighted in Raymond Donne Book 2, Crooked Numbers, released this past week. More at www.timomara.net and on Facebook (TimOMaraAuthor) and Twitter (@TimOMaraAuthor).

Support a teacher – and read a good mystery book.

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Tim’s Post:

You know the type: hard to reach, easy to annoy, always knows more than the teacher. In this case, me. The kid’s got a wall around him that would make the Chinese envious. But on those rare occasions when he lets me glimpse over that wall, the view is astounding. He can be funny, insightful and a joy to teach.

He mentioned to me last week that he knew I’d written a book, Crooked Numbers. I had given a copy to a friend of his—another of my tougher students—to celebrate a successful session at camp and the birth of his foster mom’s first child. That was pretty much all T said. He knew I wrote a book.

For most of last year, there was a bit of a buzz around school that Mr. O’Mara had published a book and that it was in bookstores and it was even available online and their parents had bought it and liked it. Some kids actually brought copies to school to have me sign, and even though I wrote it with an adult audience in mind, it seemed to strike a chord with many of my middle school students.

If T was impressed, he kept it to himself.

Just last week, T stepped into it again. He earned himself a one-day suspension for creative use of a belt and ended up spending the day in the principal’s office. Shortly after school ended that day, my boss came to me in the Teacher Center. It turns out that during a conversation with the principal, it came out that T was somewhat impressed with my accomplishment and he was even thinking about going to the reading and signing event for my second book this week.

“Maybe you can work with that,” my boss suggested.

Maybe.

The next day, I brought in a personally inscribed copy of the book. I referenced a conversation I had had with him the day of his suspension:

To T,

This story has a lot to do with the choices people make—including the author.

I gave him the book immediately after a particularly positive period with him of one-on-one guidance through a quiz on integers. (Yes, pun intended.) He looked at the inscription and nodded. He didn’t say anything. I said, “You’re welcome,” and went off to do lunch duty.

When I go back to school tomorrow, it will be the first encounter with T since I gave him the book. My fantasy is that he stayed up all weekend reading the book, relating to the characters, and realizing the error of his ways. The reality is the gift of a book—my book—will more than likely not change much of anything. It has taken T thirteen years to build that wall and one present from a teacher is not going to tear it down.

What I’m hoping for is just one little crack.

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth, The First Decree, and Ashbar – Wycaan Master Book3, all released by Tourmaline Books. Shalev is also the author of three social justice-themed novels including Unwanted Heroes. He swears there is a connection. More at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter).