Monday, September 9, 2013

Mythical Monday (25)

It seems there are many books based on or influenced by Myths and Mythological Beings.

There are so many different Mythology and Mythological Beings recorded. Some are very popular and well known, others not so much. There are many similar beings, yet different depending on the culture it’s based in.  The definition of Myth covers about anything in the Urban Fantasy/Fantasy realm to me.

I’ve invited authors to share briefly the Mythological being or Myth that influenced their character(s) or story, or what their character(s) are based on influencing their books.  Hosting here, one author and being or myth per week.

This week we have:
Fantasy author Rachel Neumeier
Talking of Dragons.

"Dragon Family" in Varna, Belgaria

Why are dragons everybody’s favorite mythological creature?

Maybe the enduring popularity of dragons arises – at least in part – from the many different kinds of dragons that have been pictured by many different cultures.  True, historically, European dragons, as well as those of the Near East, were pictured as the embodiment of chaos and the enemy of civilized order.  It was a dragon, Nidhoggr, who lay beneath the World Tree and gnawed its roots.  Before the Babylonian god Marduk could impose order on the world, he had to slay the chaotic dragon Tiamat.  Persian soldiers carried huge figures of dragons into battle, and the Romans painted red dragons on their battle standards, which were called dracones.

We certainly encounter this kind of dragon in fantasy:  think of Tolkien’s Smaug, whom Gandalf was determined to destroy before the great battles with Sauron could really get underway, lest the dark lord should use him as a terrible weapon against the armies of the west.  There is a great example of the dragon as it was originally pictured:  a force for chaos that must be destroyed so that the world of men can thrive.
But of course, not all cultures associated chaos and death with dragons.  The celestial dragons of China protected the heavens, but even lesser Chinese dragons, though powerful and capricious, were far from evil.  Instead, Chinese dragons governed the weather, ruled the rivers, and guarded the treasures of the earth – including the pearl of wisdom.

Naturally, none of this was specifically in my mind when I created my own dragons.  In fact, the direct inspiration for the sky dragons in The Floating Islands was the feathered serpent Quetzalcoatl, and he was a god, not a dragon.  But I loved the idea of a feathered dragon, so very different from the way dragon are usually pictured.  The plumed serpent was the image I had in mind when I described the dragons whose  magic keeps the Floating Islands aloft.

Of course, my feathered dragons don’t look a great deal like Quetzalcoatl, even in the god’s serpent form.  In fact, most of my Islanders can barely see the transparent sky dragons.  But those who have been touched by dragon magic can see them clearly, and hear them, too:  great heads as fine boned and delicate as a bird’s, chatoyant eyes glimmering with pale opalescent colors, feathers of spun glass, barbs of crystal dusted with powdered pearl, voices like the ringing of chimes – the wind dragons of The Floating Islands are not well understood even by the Islanders who depend upon them, but they are appreciated and admired.

And you can hardly think of Quetzalcoatl without thinking of quetzals, which may be the most beautiful birds ever to inhabit the jungles of the real world.  I set quetzals flying among the Floating Islands as the highly valued Quei, which symbolize the Islands and are thought to bring good luck.  It’s just a perk that in our world, quetzals symbolize the desire for flight.  That could hardly be more appropriate for the protagonist of The Floating Islands if I’d made it up myself.

But the sky dragons that inhabit the Floating Islands aren’t the only kind of dragons that have appeared in my books.  There’s a dragon in House of Shadows as well.  That one is an entirely different sort of dragon!  Nor can I easily describe that dragon, without giving away elements of the plot.  I will say, though, that the dragon in House of Shadows was inspired by all my favorite dragons in fantasy:  Morkeleb the Black in Barbara Hambly’s Dragon’sbane, for example. 

I’ve always loved the ambiguity of this dragon.  Is he going to eat that woman, or is he protecting her?  The ambiguity in this image is true to the story, too, because Morkeleb really is dangerous and unpredictable and powerful, but certainly not evil.  And how about the dragon – if he is a dragon? – in RA MacAvoy’s Tea With the Black Dragon.  There’s a Chinese dragon no fan of SFF should miss!

But probably my favorite dragon of all time is the one that appears in Patricia McKillip’s The Cygnet and the Firebird.  That right there should tell you that I like my dragons ancient and powerful, dangerous and wise, and that’s what I had in mind when I created the dragon in House of Shadows.

Author Biography

Rachel Neumeier started writing fiction to relax when she was a graduate student and needed a hobby unrelated to her research. Prior to selling her first fantasy novel, she had published only a few articles in venues such as The American Journal of Botany. However, finding that her interests did not lie in research, Rachel left academia and began to let her hobbies take over her life instead.

She now raises and shows dogs, gardens, cooks, and occasionally finds time to read. She works part-time for a tutoring program, though she tutors far more students in Math and Chemistry than in English Composition.

Find Rachel Neumeier:
Blog:   Rachel Neumeier
Twitter:  @RachelNeumeier


  1. I LOVE dragons!! Thanks for sharing this interesting and great post with us!

  2. yay dragons! It's always so interesting to read about them! love them!

  3. Love the sound of this dragon and the ones she mentioned. Oh I'm so going to have to read them all. Also love the ambiguity of that dragon!

    1. Melissa (B&T) Yes, I'm loving the sounds of it as well. :) Thank you!

  4. How can anyone not adore dragons. I think every child, at one point in time or another, has been fascinated by them.

    1. Yes Ryan! And Puff the Magic Dragon helps with that, as a child. ;) Thank you!!!

  5. Oooh, I love dragons! Thanks for your comments on how cool they are. Here's a blog post where I explain why I think dragons are everybody's favorite mythological creature:


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