Is That Dragon Really Necessary?

One problem writers sometimes have is when they toss in a story element— such as a dragon in fantasy fiction— that isn’t really integrated with the rest of the story. It’s just something the writer happens to like in fiction, so he throws it in.

But story elements— whether dragons or robots or foreign spies— can’t just stand around looking genre-specific. They must be a part of the story. A dragon may be part of a hero’s quest— he might have to slay the dragon, or trick the dragon, or get the dragon to fall in love with his pet donkey (Shrek reference.)

Sometimes dragons are more than an obstacle for a hero. Think of the Dragon Jousters series by Mercedes Lackey, or the Temeraire series by Naomi Novik, or the Pern series by Anne McCaffrey and son— in all of these, dragons are central to the story. Without dragons, you couldn’t have these stories. Or, at least, they would be utterly different stories.

By now I’m sure I have some writers saying ‘that blogger wants me to take the dragon out and I won’t! I won’t.’ Well, you don’t have to. You just have to know how the dragon fits in to your story and your story’s world.

In some fantasy novels, facing a dragon can be part of a quest. The reader may go through chapters of the quest without knowing for sure there is a dragon in the book— authors don’t have to mention ‘here be dragons’ when they start a fantasy novel in a fantasy world. Now, if the dragon is in contemporary Green Bay, Wisconsin, I’d want to know why. Or if the dragon is a Packers fan. Or something.

Dragons can be central to some stories, as in the three series I mentioned above. Think of these stories as an endless ‘what if’ game. If they had dragons in the Napoleonic wars, how would the dragons be raised? How would they be trained? How would a nation have enough meat to feed hungry war dragons? And so on. Answering all the dragon-questions is almost like a game between author and reader.

Fictional dragons can come in many sorts. The dragons in the Dragon Jouster series are animals, and so cannot speak. Dragons in the Temeraire and Pern series do speak— the Pern dragons telepathically, the Temeraire dragons verbally. The dragons can have different abilities, be different colors, and be at different intelligence levels.

Christian fiction can have a problem with dragons. I have read that some Christians— both Evangelical and Catholic— look on a dragon as a symbol of evil as in the Biblical book of Revelation. But if that is a restriction on a Christian’s ability to write non-evil dragons, then what about writing about nice goats (as in Heidi?) The Bible does speak of the sin goat and separating the sheep from the goats. As a person who has kept actual sheep and actual goats, yeah, sometimes the goats are more ‘sinful,’ or harder to handle. But sheep can be that way, too. And I’ve never heard yet that the Serpent in the Garden of Eden means that a Christian author can’t write a character whose son has a pet snake. So, even though I am a Christian I feel perfectly free to include nice dragons, goats or snakes in a story.

I love dragons. I love stories with dragons. But if the dragon in your fiction doesn’t seem to fit in with the rest of the story, you may have to make a choice— either lose the dragon, or change the story so the dragon bit of it fits in better with the rest. You are the author— it’s up to you to decide how that will happen.  Happy dragoning!

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Goals Bloghop: Winter, Kittens and Despair

Do You Have Goals bannerThis is a post for the ‘Do You Have Goals’ bloghop.

Goals. This is the day I’m supposed to talk about my writing goals and pretend I’m making progress toward them. Or some such. But this is not a good time for that.

You see, there’s winter. Which we wouldn’t have right now if they had listened to my advice and barbequed the groundhog for a Superbowl snack.

And then there’s the kitten thing. My favorite kitten, Therese, died recently. Not a big surprise, she was a dwarf kitten with loads of health problems. But it’s harder to get used to her being gone since I’m so used to checking on her constantly to make sure she was safe and well-fed.

IM001106And then there are my current health problems including hurting my back bad enough that for several days I was counting the minutes until I could take another dose of aspirin.

I have enough writing problems when I don’t have all these other things bringing me down. Talking about my goals would just make me wonder: what’s the point? I mean, I always used to think becoming a published novelist would be a way to stay off government handout programs, but now I’m on disability and Medicaid and food stamps and I’m pretty well trapped. And after so many writing failures I don’t much want to think about the odds of my overcoming my writing blocks to become a productive, commercially viable writer.

So I shall think about something else instead. Like: Jews! Why, in fantasy fiction, are there fantasy-world religions that are really Christianity (both by Christian and anti-Christian writers), and religions that are really Wicca/paganism, and religions that are really Satanic/Antichrist religions, but no fantasy world Jews. Couldn’t Shmuel slay dragons just as well as Erick the Untidy?

Or: recorders. Fantasy worlds are big on harps, lutes and gitterns (faux guitars, is my guess), but never recorders. And, hey, how about this? Recorders are made of wood. Magic wands are made of wood. How about recorders that work as magic wands? But only if you play the right tunes, Or recorders that summon dragons— why not? When I practiced my new garklein recorder for the first time, it summoned two of my cats right into my lap. And most dragons I know have cat-like qualities. Well, at least Vern does. And Bridger. And Bridger’s sister….

I think I am definitely cheering myself up slightly. Perhaps I really shall write a fantasy tale, about the time Shmuel Ragan defied the king’s law and hired three musicians to play music for his daughter Tziporah’s wedding. And one of them was the Whistling girl, who could summon dragons when she played her garklein recorder, whether she wanted them or not. And how the king’s Heraldic Knights burst in on the wedding reception and carried the three musicians off to the capital…..

Perhaps I shall. Or not. But I think it’s good for my mental health to believe that I shall. In spite of evidence to the contrary.

CSFF blog tour day 1: Too Many Dragons?

One RealmIt’s day one of the Christian Science Fiction & Fantasy blog tour, and once again our featured author is Donita K. Paul. And once again, the book, One Realm Beyond in this case, has dragons in it. And for some people, dragons are a problem, and not just because of the smell of dragon poo on your kitchen floor.

In the Biblical book of Revelation, the Dragon is not on our side. He’s a symbol of Satan’s power. And in Catholic churches across the land we can see Biblical representation of St. Michael the Archangel (defend us in battle…) slaying a dragonish-looking Satan.

The question is: are dragons like elves, dwarves, gryphons and other legendary characters, that we can fictionalize at will? Creatures that we can turn into good guys, bad guys, or both?

Or are dragons like demons and Satan himself— evil things that we cannot morally turn into good-guy characters for the sake of a work of fiction?

In the actual text of the Bible, the English word ‘dragon’ isn’t used. Get out your Strong’s Concordance and you’ll see that the Hebrew word is Strong’s # 8577, tanniym (dragon, sea monster), and the Greek word— the one used in Revelation— is 1404, drakon (a fabulous kind of serpent, dragon).

You can see that these words could be used to describe a demonic-dragon. But what about ordinary and natural monsters and sea monsters that many believed existed in those times? They could be described by such words, too. As could dinosaurs of various types.

We all understand that dinosaurs were not demonic creatures. And creatures like whales, sharks and the like that made ancient sailors believe in sea monsters were not demonic creatures.

And both in the Eastern culture and the Western one we have legends of dragons as a mythical or fabulous beast. In the Western world dragons weren’t very nice creatures— no more than the Midgard-serpent of Norse mythology is a creature you’d invite to a nice dinner party— but even the Western dragons weren’t exactly demonish in our folklore.

My own conclusion is that we can have both fictional natural dragons which we can depict as non-demonic creatures, and the Biblical, demonic Dragon. Just as we can believe that there are good angels and fallen angels in the real world.

The important thing is that we not confuse the two types of dragon, and in all the dragonish fiction I’ve read, this doesn’t seem to be done even be clueless non-Christian authors.  If a dragon is nice enough to be your friend, he’s not going to claim to be the book of Revelation dragon, misunderstood.

As a Catholic myself, I’d like to point out that good dragons can be written by faithful and well-informed Catholic authors, such as Vern the Dragon from Greater Treasures by Karina Fabian. So, therefore, when we learn Christian (but non-Catholic) author Donita K. Paul has a habit of writing about dragons, we need not fear. We just need to read, and judge for ourselves.

One Realm Beyond –  http://www.amazon.com/One-Realm-Beyond-Walkers/dp/0310735807/
Author Website http://www.donitakpaul.com/

Blog tour participants (please visit them!)
Julie Bihn
Keanan Brand
Beckie Burnham
Mike Coville
Pauline Creeden
Vicky DealSharingAunt
Carol Gehringer
Rebekah Gyger
Janeen Ippolito
Jason Joyner
Carol Keen
Krystine Kercher
Emileigh Latham
Jennette Mbewe
Shannon McDermott
Meagan @ Blooming with Books
Melanie @ Christian Bookshelf Reviews
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Joan Nienhuis
Nissa Annakindt
Donita K. Paul
Audrey Sauble
Chawna Schroeder
James Somers
Jojo Sutis
Jessica Thomas
Steve Trower
Shane Werlinger
Jill Williamson
Deborah Wilson