The Science of Dragons

In the Memoirs of Lady Trent series, Marie Brennan does something somewhat unique with her dragons: she attempts to ground them in science. She explains why in an essay posted over at io9.

Maybe we should blame dinosaurs. Giant reptilian creatures did exist once upon a time; why couldn’t giant reptilian creatures with wings exist? Well, because physics — but the inner eight-year-old, the wide-eyed child who shelves books about dinosaurs right alongside fantasy stories with no regard for boundaries, doesn’t care about the equations. (One wonders what the long-term effect will be of the realization that dinosaurs actually had feathers. Will we see more feathered dragons cropping up in genre fiction, a la the Aztec quetzalcoatl?)

Or maybe it’s the sheer nerdy challenge of it. The same impulse that makes people build working computers in Minecraft or postulate the likely outcome of a battle between Alexander the Great and Genghis Khan might lead you to wonder whether dragons couldwork, and if so, how. I know from personal experience that there’s nothing like application to make a dry and tedious topic interesting; no doubt generations of biology students have entertained themselves by fiddling around with matters like bone structure and oxygen exchange, trying to find a way to make dragons fly.

Then, of course, there’s the amusement factor. NORAD — the North American Aerospace Defense Command — tracks Santa’s progress around the world every Christmas. Why? Because in 1955, a Sears ad gave children Santa’s phone number . . . but the number they gave accidentally went to the duty commander at NORAD’s operations center. (Oops.) Utter silliness, but the point isn’t to be serious; it’s just a chance for adults to kick back and enjoy some imaginative play. We’re more willing to allow that to grown-ups now than we used to be, so I think you get more intersections of adult knowledge with childish whimsy as a result.

I love this kind of world-building, having worked out something of the science of both unicorns and griffins—and hoping eventually to work it into my Into the Wonder series in some way. I also know a fair bit more about the physiology and evolution of dwarves than I’ve tipped my hand to so far…

At any rate, I will definitely have to put the Memoirs of Lady Trent series on my wish list!


Tolkien’s Dragons

Anne Marie Gazzolo, guest author at Mythic Scribes, has written a very informative article on dragons in the imagination and writings of J. R. R. Tolkien. Here is a sample:

The great worms will ever live in the world of Faërie, and we can enjoy them from the safety of our favorite reading place. But as we shiver in delighted terror, let us not forget what they can also teach us.

In presenting Smaug as the personification of the destructiveness of avarice, Tolkien shows us the ugliness of materialistic greed. The dragon jealously guards his treasure but does not enjoy it, cannot possibly use it, and does not even know what has true value and what is just a trinket. Even so, he does not wish to share his amassed wealth with anyone. His overreaction after discovering that the cup Bilbo stole is missing is almost as bad as Gollum’s regarding the Ring, and it grows much worse.