The Science of Dragons (and Other Assorted Beasties)

Is “hard fantasy” a thing? Because I love it when there is at least the attempt to ground fantastic beasts, magic, and so forth in known science.

Maddie Stone has enlisted the help of some biology experts to uncover the science behind some of the creatures found in Game of Thrones. She looks at dragons, direwolves, manticores, lizard lions, krakens, and white walkers.

A while back I noted some prehistoric beasts that would make excellent stand-ins for some of the more notable monsters of mythology. One of those, the naked bear (aka the stiff-legged bear) even made its way onto the cover of The Devil’s Due.

The Tuatha Dé Danann

Here’s another excellent, concise summary of an aspect of Irish mythology from Ruth at the Celtic Myth Podshow:

The Tuatha de Danann, the people of the Goddess Danu, were one of the great ancient tribes of Ireland. The important manuscript ‘The Annals of the Four Masters’, records that they ruled Ireland from 1897 B.C. to 1700 B.C.

The daoine sídhe or faeries of Ireland are said to be the descendants of this noble lineage.

In the world of Taylor Smart, the sídhe sometimes swear by saying “Danu!” or “By Danu!” I haven’t gone into any detail how contemporary sídhe remember and/or reverence their distinguished ancestors. Perhaps a bit of that will trickle into the third book of the Into the Wonder series, Oak, Ash, and Thorn.

The Irish Sídhe

Newly posted from Ruth at Celtic Myth Podshow:

Numbers of fairy hills and sepulchral carns are scattered over the country, each with a bright palace deep underneath, ruled by its own chief, the tutelary deity. They are still regarded as fairy haunts, and are held in much superstitious awe by the peasantry.

The fairies possessed great preternatural powers. They could make themselves invisible to some persons standing by, while visible to others: as Pallas showed herself to Achilles, while remaining invisible to the other Greeks (Iliad, 1.). But their powers were exercised much oftener for evil than for good. They were consequently dreaded rather than loved; and whatever worship or respect was paid to them was mainly intended to avert mischief. It is in this sense that they are now often called ‘Good people.’

How Grimms’ Fairy Tales Changed

Hannah Keyser at mental_floss suggests five ways Grimms’ Fairy Tales changed after the first edition. Of particular interest to me (naturally) was how faeries in the first edition got recast:

In the first edition, the harbingers of magic were almost always fairies—unsurprising in the Fairytale genre. But during the time that the Grimms worked, the Napoleonic wars saw French occupation of much of German-speaking Europe. Somewhere along the line, they decided to stop using the French term “fairy”—or sometimes “faerie”—and instead replace each instance with some other vaguely mystical being. For example, in Rapunzal the fairy became a sorceress, and in Briar Rose, better known as Sleeping Beauty, the fairies are changed into wise women.

My guess is the brothers Grimm got a nasty visit from something that told them the word “faery” isn’t exactly PC.

The Wisdom of Fairy Tales

Humeira Kazmi at The Nation conducted an informal survey of parents and children about their opinions of fairy tales. Apparently, the little ones really are paying attention to those old stories, and it seems they’ve got them right.

My best comment came from an eight-year-old:

“Fairy tales are like lessons that tell us about what will happen in the real world so we don’t get lost or killed. Fairy tales use princesses and princes to tell you stuff that can help you guide through the real world. But it doesn’t have to be in a kingdom or a palace, like Little Red Riding Hood doesn’t have a princess but it tells you not to talk to strangers.”

You can’t beat that kind of wisdom.

It’s worth reading the whole thing.