Sorry for the recent lack of activity. Been busy with translation gigs, my day job, traveling to Japan, getting engaged, and trying to get my latest book written. As part of my research, I'm reading a book called "Dragons and Dragon Lore: A Worldwide Study of Dragons in History, Art and Legend" In the book the author quotes from Ferdowsi's Shahnameh -- "The Book of Kings", written between 977 and 1010 A.D. about a great dragon:
"Fire sparkles round him; his stupendous bulk
Looks like a mountain. When incensed his roar
Makes the surrounding country shake with fear,
White poison foam drips from his hideous jaws,
Which, yawning wide, display a dismal gulf,
The grave of many a hapless being, lost
Wandering amidst that trackless wilderness"
The poem goes on to portray the struggle between the hero and the dragon. The hero has build a carriage spiked with swords and spears, and to many of the bystanders surprise, he shuts himself inside when the dragon approaches:
"Darkness now is spread around,
No pathway can be traced;
The fiery horses plunge and bound
Amid the dismal waste.
And now the dragon stretches far
His cavern-throat, and soon
Licks the horses and car,
And tries to gulp them down
But sword and javelin sharp and keen,
Wound deep each sinewy jaw;
Midway remains the huge machine
And chokes the monster's maw.
And from his place of ambush leaps
And brandishing his blade,
The weapon in the brain he steeps,
And splits the monster's head.
But the foul venom issuing thence,
Is so o'erpowering found,
Isfendiar, deprived of sense,
Falls staggering to the ground
As for the dragon - In agony he breathes,
A dire convulsion fires his blood,
And, struggling ready to expire,
Ejects a poison flood.
And thus disgorges wain and steeds.
And swords and javelins bright;
Then, as the dreadful dragon bleeds,
Up starts the warrior knight."
Pretty epic, huh? The Asian dragon, however, was depicted as a more benevolent spirit, responsible for the blessing of rain. There were times, of course, when rain storms became less of a blessing:
"Since early times high floods, tempests, and ordinary thunderstorms have been attributed by the Chinese to dragons fighting in the air or in rivers. This is not a blessing to humanity, such as they bestow by peacefully shedding rain on the planted fields, and therefore the threatening 'herds' of dragons advancing to combat were looked at with fright. An account of a dragon-fight in a pool in northern Liang, in 503 B.C., relates that vicious creatures "squirted fog over a distance of some miles." The only way to stop such dreadful duels is by the use of fire, which no water-spirit can endure; therefore heave sends sacred fire (the lightenings) to compel angry demons to cease troubling the clouds or mundane waters and injuring poor farmers, as all-destroying deluges might result. Hence, occasional small or local damage to mankind, as innocent bystanders, from the vigorous quelling of draconic riots, is regarded as cheap payment for security against overwhelming floods."
That's one of the coolest things I've heard about ancient man and their explanations of nature: Storms caused by dragons, with lightening bolts sent by Heaven to stop the drakes from fighting and causing too much flooding -- the lightening is destructive, of course, but it's the only defense against dragon-battles (storms).
Here's a dragon in a more peaceful setting, written by Okakoro Kakuzo in his "Book of Tea" written in 1906:
"The dragon is the spirit of change, therefore of life itself...taking new forms according to its surroundings, yet never seen in final shape. It is the great mystery itself. Hidden in the caverns of inaccessible mountains, or coiled in the unfathomed depth of the sea, he awaits the time when he slowly arouses himself into activity. He unfolds himself in the storm-cloud, he washes his main in the darkness of the seething whirlpools. His claws are the fork of the lightning... His voice is heard in the hurricane... The dragon reveals himself only to vanish."
It's perhaps here that I want to outline my frustration with the new Hobbit movies: the director had a wonderful opportunity to make a powerful scene in the confrontation between the burglar hobbit and the all-mighty Smaug in the caverns....much like the mental battle of wits between Bilbo and Gollum. Instead, much like the barrel scene, it simply becomes this outrageous sequence of dwarves bumbling about with miraculous results (and little actual danger) -- in essence, cheapening much of the built-up tension that J.R.R. Tolkien took more than a hundred pages to formulate.