Den Patrick, Kristina Perez and Samantha Shannon are three of the finest fantasy writers in the UK, having published books through major publishers, for both adult and young adult markets. Hillingdon Libraries is delighted to bring them together in the Great Barn, Ruislip, on St George’s Day, April 23rd, 2019 to speak about their rich new versions of mythical tales. I’m very pleased to be chairing the event (Here Be Dragons…) so I thought I’d take this opportunity to tell you a bit more about these writers, as well as about St George himself. We’ll get onto what links these writers to the legendary and historical figure of St George in just a second.
Our Here Be Dragons… event is free to attend, but places are limited. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to register your attendance. You can view the full event listing on the Hillingdon website.
“My nightly craft is winged in white, a dragon of night dark sea.
Swift born, dream bound and rudderless, her captain and crew are me.
We’ve sailed a hundred sleeping tides where no seaman’s ever been
And only my white-winged craft and I know the wonders we have seen.”
― Anne McCaffrey, Dragonsong
As I’m sure you know, St George is the patron saint of England and you will see St George’s cross on the flag of this country as well as forming part of the Union Jack. It’s also found on the flag of Barcelona and other places who acknowledge St George. It’s likely that St George was a soldier from the Roman Province of Syria Palaestina or a region of Turkey, of Greek origins and a member of the Praetorian Guard for Roman emperor Diocletian. The story goes that St George was sentenced to death for refusing to recant his Christian faith.
“He was no dragon, Dany thought, curiously calm. Fire cannot kill a dragon”
― George R.R. Martin, A Game of Thrones
There is little doubt that he existed, but beyond this, his life passed into legend. In his recent book St George and the Dragons Michael Collins explains that there are nineteen “separate and distinctly different legends of St George in England.” The English literary tradition of St George begins in 1483 with The Golden Legend, a collection of saint’s biographies (a “ hagiography”), published by William Caxton. But there are two much earlier versions of the story, in Greek and Latin, which can be traced to the 5th or 6th centuries. The saint’s veneration dates to the 5th century with some certainty, and possibly back to the 4th. So, it’s a global story with many nations and institutions around the world acknowledging him as a patron.
But there’s an important part of this story that I haven’t mentioned yet: dragons! Den Patrick, Kristina Perez and Samantha Shannon are all writers who tell tales of our favourite, winged beasts and of romance, chivalry and magic. For example, Samantha’s latest book The Priory of the Orange Tree retells the story of St George and the Dragon for a modern, feminist audience. (It’s a Sunday Times and New York Times bestseller that’s been compared to George R.R. Martin, and Samantha’s work is tipped to be the next big thing in fantasy!) The addition of the dragon legend to St George’s story dates to the 11th century, but “It was The Golden Legend that popularized the legend in the West”. The legend of Saint George and the Dragon describes the saint taming and slaying a dragon that demanded human sacrifices. The saint thereby rescues the princess chosen as the next offering.
Dragons are among humanity’s oldest myths. A similar kind of creature appears in Mesopotamian artwork from the Akkadian Period over 4,000 years ago. But they’re now more familiar from major modern works of fantasy fiction such as JRR Tolkien’s Middle Earth (Smaug the Despoiler!), J.K. Rowling (the Norweigan Ridgeback or the Chinese Fireball) and George RR Martin’s Westeros stories (Viserion, Drogon, Balerion, etc.).
Often dragons are believed to have died out or banished. In Den Patrick’s latest novel Witchsign, Kimi, a dragon-speaker and princess, must seek her father’s court and win the support of his armies before news of her escape dooms her people. And the long-banished dragons are free! In Ursula le Guin’s classic stories set in Earthsea the dragons haven’t died out, but merely keep to themselves far away. In A Wizard of Earthsea, the young wizard Ged learns the true name of a dragon and stops it attacking people.
“People who deny the existence of dragons are often eaten by dragons. From within.”
― Ursula K. Le Guin, The Wave in the Mind: Talks and Essays on the Writer, the Reader and the Imagination
Sometimes they sit upon piles of gold and treasure, as in Tolkein’s The Hobbit or in the Viking myths that inspired him. Or, as with the St George legend, they tend to get slain by heroic knights, like Lancelot of Camelot. Lancelot was a precursor to the Cornish knight Tristan whose love for Isolde famously turns to tragedy. Kristina Perez’s first novel Sweet Black Waves is a contemporary take on Tristan and Isolde, one of our oldest and most popular romances. As a medieval scholar Kristina’s book combines plenty of loving period detail with a storyteller’s art for drama and characterization, redrawing the developing Isolde – daughter of King Anguish of Ireland and Queen Iseult the Elder – as a fierce, defiant young woman who wishes to respect her culture traditions whilst righting its wrongs.
“My armor is like tenfold shields, my teeth are swords, my claws spears, the shock of my tail a thunderbolt, my wings a hurricane, and my breath death!”
― The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien
So Here Be Dragons… (Though as it turns out, there may well not have actually been any ancient maps marking the presence of our scaled friends in this manner, as this article in The Atlantic points out. But the Hunt-Lennox globe from 1510, owned by the New York Public Library, does indeed warn travelers to the South Coast of Asia that Here be dragons… Just in case you wanted to know.)
I hope this has rekindled the fire of your love of dragons. If you’re interested in hearing more from our three draconis quaesitor on April 23rd, don’t forget to register a free place at: email@example.com. I hope to see you there!
A post by Joe Norman, Library Assistant at Manor Farm Library, Visiting Lecturer at Brunel University London, professional nerd and hairless headbanger.
All quotes from Michael Collins, St George and the Dragons (England: Fonthill Media Limited, 2018) unless otherwise stated.