Monday, February 29, 2016

Dragons

Why do so many people love to read about dragons? Dragons are purely mythological, but have appeared as both European and Asian symbols for centuries, possibly in Asia as far back as 3000 BC. Most of the myths don't encompass a story but rather an image. St. George and the Dragon is a exception, a medieval tale about killing a dragon to save a princess. Today dragons still inspire stories. Many current novels feature dragons, notably Irish novelist Anne McCaffrey's stories of Pern, which is a science fiction series involving star travel and biology, and might have impelled current interest. Even more recently, dragon shape-shifters have been chronicled in Shanna Abe's series about dr├íkon (Greek word for dragon, draco is the Latin word) beginning with The Smoke Thief which takes place in the 18th century. Another recent series on dragon shifters is Donna Grant’s Dragon King Series. I just finished reading another novel about dragon shape-shifters in the humorous beginning of an urban fantasy series, I Dream of Dragons by Ashlyn Chase. So whatever the pull of the dragon, it remains with us.

Today dragons are envisioned as Tyrannosaurus Rex sized winged lizards living in caves and often guarding a hoard of golden treasure. As mentioned above, they are often crossed with werewolf shape-shifting legends, the humans involved change into dragons. While dragons have often been portrayed as a lizard of some type, in ancient times they were portrayed as water creatures or snake-like creatures slithering across the land. Some claim the Leviathan of the Bible was a dragon. In Chinese lore they are symbols of good luck and power, often associated with the ruler. In Europe, they were seen as more malevolent creatures.

Throughout all the legends and stories, dragons represent a powerful advisory, and killing the dragon indicates courageously attempting a dangerous endeavor. If you felt fear in the movie Jurassic Park, you can understand how the legend of such a creature affected ancient audiences: dragons were formidable and terrifying.

Where did the ideas for these creatures come from? Certainly the legend creators didn't see them in reality. Yet, perhaps ancients came across dinosaur bones at some point in time and recognized the enormous bones as legs of some creature, perhaps even wings, spawning the rumors of such creatures. More likely they enlarged upon fearsome creatures they saw or heard about like pythons, alligators, crocodiles, or other large lizard or water species. In the Far East it might have been creatures like seahorses or lion fish that helped inaugurated the legend. You can see from these photos of lion fish on the National Geographic site how these beautiful but poisonous fish might have inspired such beliefs.

At the website Whats Your Sign dragons are seen as symbols of the need for strength and courage during times of trouble. They are magical creatures who are masters of all the primal elements of land, sea, air, and fire.

Joseph Campbell in his book The Hero With A Thousand Faces, in the section on Atonement with the Father, says, “Atonement (at-one-ment) [Campbell's implied emphasis presumably points out this mean the conclusion of the action 'at one'] consists in no more than the abandonment of that self-generated monster—the dragon Sin (repressed id). But this requires an abandonment of the attachment to ego itself, and that is what is difficult.” Certainly it has been proven by Campbell, Jung and others, that folklore and mythology often have psychological aspects, so perhaps the creatures of myth do to. Perhaps our fascination with dragons is because one exists within each of us. Something we must either learn to accept, or something we must destroy in order to become our true selves. Something to think about.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Bad Boys, Wicked Women


“Bad bad, bad, bad boy, you make me feel so good” (Bad Boy lyrics, Gloria Estefan song).

Have you ever wondered why bad boys (and men) are so prevalent in romance novels, and conversely, why bad girls are so often reviled?

Well, presumably this theme developed because the predominately female audience buys these stories—lots of them. Matter of fact, woman often drive the market. They read more fiction than men in general. An NPR article on books states “Men account for only 20 percent of the fiction market, according to surveys conducted in the U.S., Canada and Britain.” This may well explain why romance has become so large a part of other genres since they began crossing and melding first in e-books. Now mixed-genres have become standard in major publishing house novels

One reason to read is to escape day-to-day life. Romance is a constant and reoccurring aspect of life driving the marriage industry, and romances let readers escape back into the anguish and doubt filled, heady, hormonal, crazy, first moments of love. This might also explain why bad girls are reviled. They are inevitably the seductive, experience, unethical competition the heroine, with whom the reader most closely identifies, must overcome. (We are all good girls at heart, aren’t we? Who roots for the competition? However, a caveat: even a 'bad' woman's story could be very interesting.)

But what is the allure of the bad boy? In most ‘bad boy’ narratives, the at-first wary female changes the roguish male into the love-match of her dreams, but much of the charm depends on how the ‘bad boy’ is defined. The more noxious the author makes the male, the harder it is for love to convincingly convert him. Promiscuity is most often serial monogamy and fairly easy to overcome. (But even that is changing with the expansion of erotic moments in basic romances.) Yet the male finds something so special in the female that he must have her, and only her. When she resists because of his reputation, his love forces him to change. This knowledge builds the heroine’s, and the reader’s, feeling of self-worth.

Maryanne Fisher, in a Psychology Today post, claims that romances let the woman reader experience the emotional roller-coaster of a love affair without the physical betrayal of whoever she is involved with or damage to that real-life relationship. I’ve also read (albeit, a long time ago) where claims have been made that all characters in a book reflect the mental merging of all aspects of a single personality. Hmm; could this mean we must all learn to love our bad sides? Maybe that was philosophical based novels; interesting, but too much psychobabble for me. Certainly all types of fiction can have profound effect on the reader from helping them learn about themselves or humanity, to learning how to ‘fit-in’ or deal with society. And if the reader does take on aspects of the character they identify with, I’m sure all women readers like to share the feeling that they are so ‘special.’

Certainly life experiences, and idioms like tigers can’t change their stripes, or leopard don't change their spots, give fair warning that these type of pairings often lead to future disaster. But that is real life and this is fiction—or make believe. Nonetheless, when audiences hear Danny and Sandy singing “You’re the One That I Want” in the movie Grease (another story form), they understand that both characters have substantially changed. Maybe that’s the message: hope makes all thing possible.

For more takes on the bad-boy phenomena, check out the following Round-Robin blog posts.
Skye Taylor
Helena Fairfax
Rachael Kosinski
Anne Stenhouse
Connie Vines
Fiona McGier