September 29th is Dragonese Day and marks the launch of the latest book in Cressida Cowell’s multi-million best selling ‘How to Train Your Dragon’ series. To celebrate Nikki Gamble has news of a great competition for you to enter
I have always had a fascination for dragons. Reptilian, fire-breathing creatures, hoarders of gold and scourges of field and forest. I can’t recall my first encounter with a dragon, but I do remember, age 8 listening to the BBC production of the Hobbit and being both thrilled and a little afraid of Smaug, the last of the great dragons of Middle Earth. Smaug had lain sleeping atop his golden bounty for centuries so that the jewels had become embedded into his soft belly, making his armour virtually impenetrable.
Smaug is the image of a dragon that most quickly comes to my mind. It is an image handed down to Tolkien by the Beowulf poet, whose ‘old-night scather’, the unnamed dragon of great age defeats and kills the hero Beowulf. There are many parallels between these two literary dragons. Smaug seizes The Lonely Mountain from the dwarves and ferociously guards his purloined treasure , Beowulf’s dragon lives in a stolen barrow and avariciously guards his treasure hoard. Both dragons are agitated by theft and take flight to wreak revenge on all the lands about.
In European mythology (with the exception of the Red Welsh Dragon, y ddraig goch) the dragon is usually depicted as powerful and malevolent, The Welsh dragon features in the Celtic Mabinogion story of Ludd and Llefelys. In this tale the red dragon fights an invading white (English) dragon. The pained shrieks of the red dragon are so penetrating and unbearable that Llud seeks advice from his wise brother Llefyelys, who tells him to dig a pit in the centre of Britain and fill it with mead. Thedragons enter the pit, drink the mead, fall asleep and are wrapped in cloth and imprisoned.
The story of the red and white dragon is one of the best known stories, but dragon tales feature in many different parts of the Britain.
In North Essex, where I live, there are tales of dragon sightings from the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. Though unverified, some historians attribute the dragon to a crocodile that Saladin presented as a gift to Richard I. It is suggested that Richard housed the crocodile in his menagerie at the Tower of London. If this is true, then it is conceivable that the beast escaped into the river and found its way to the Essex marshes on one of the recorded occasions when the bulwarks at The Tower were breached
In 1405 Monk John de Trokelowe wrote, ‘Close to the town of Bures… there has lately appeared a dragon vast in body with crested head, teeth like a saw, and tail extending to an enormous length. Having slaughtered the Shepherd, it devoured many sheep. There came forth an order to shoot at him with arrows, to the workman on whose domain he had concealed himself, being Richard de Waldegrave, Knight, but the dragon’s body although struck by archers remained unhurt for those arrows bounced off his back as if it were iron or hard rock. Those arrows that fell upon the spine gave out as they struck it a ringing or tinkling sound just as if they had hit a brazon plate and then flew away by reason of the hide of the great beast being impenetrable. There was an order to destroy him in all the country people assembled. But when the dragon saw again he was to be assaulted he fled away into a marsh or mere and was no more seen.’
Stories of dragons inhabiting the British countryside are numerous so it is not surprising to find place names with dragon connections, Drakelow (dragon’s mound) Drakehill (dragon’s hill). Drakeholes are geographical features where dragons are reported to have lived. Other derivations include Warminster from the Old English for dragon ‘worm ‘or ‘wyrme’. While some places names denote places where treasure was stored like Hudrlow (hoard mound) Hardly (hoard glade) Place names with nicor as in Nicker Wood are named for serpentine like water monsters.
Perhaps you can find a dragon story or place name close to where you live?
Cressida Cowell 'How to Betray a Dragon's Curse': Harlow Playhouse, 6th October, 2.00 pm
Just Imagine has been chosen as one of a select number of venues to host an event with How to Train Your Dragon author Cressida Cowell. We are pleased to be holding our event at the Harlow Playhouse on Sunday 6th October at 2.00pm Get ready to wear your Viking hats and join in the fun.
Name a Dragon Competition
To celebrate Dragonese Day Just Imagine is running a competition open to children from 7 – 11 years.
How to enter
We are hunting for interesting Dragon names. Can you help us?
Here are some names that Cressida Cowell has used int he How to Train Your Dragon series:
We would like you to come up with a great name for a new Dragon. Send your Dragon's name with a short explanation as to why you think it is a good name in an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
Include your name, age school and contact, so that we can inform, if you are one of our lucky winners.
9 winners will receive a signed copy of How to Train Your Dragon.
The overall winner will receive a signed set of all ten books in the How to Train Your Dragon series.
Winners will be notified by email by 30th September