You've probably experienced times like this. You go along, engrossed
in everyday affairs, when a friend mentions something, anything: an
idea, a movie, a place. And you realize that you've heard that same
thing mentioned by someone else the day before. And, come to think of
it, you were pondering the issue yourself just this morning. Strange
These days, it's the dragons that I can't seem to escape.
Now, it's true that I've had an ongoing, although dissonant,
relationship with dragons ever since I was a child. Like many
children, I was entranced by them, but like J. R. R. Tolkien, I wasn't
too keen on having one in the immediate neighborhood. In all but the
most politically correct fairy tales (pace Kenneth Grahame!), dragons
are fearsome beasts. And they are traditionally (in the west) linked
to evil and darkness.
Yet, I seem to have had the same understanding of these beasts and the
same yearnings, as a child, as did Tolkien. He knew that "The dragon
had the trademark of Faerie written plain upon him." And knowing this,
he "desired dragons with a profound desire."
It should be no surprise, then, that as I took up my brush as an
artist, dragons should figure in my work, at least on occasion. But
only in the last month or so have I noticed that "dragons and rumours
of dragons" seem to be swirling around me ever more palpably.
I first noticed it when I took some paintings over to the Little Shop
of Stories in December. The owners assured me that dragons were "real
in". They cited the impending release of the movie "Eragon", and also
the fact that they had ongoing "Harry Potter" reading days that always
benefited from dragon images. Could I bring a lot of dragons with me?
Shortly thereafter, I was deluged by questions from patrons and
friends as to whether I would be showing my work ("especially your
dragons!") at Dragon Con this year in Atlanta. Next came a call by the
Tolkien Society in England for help with their Tolkien Reading Day
campaign. They wanted images that referenced Tolkien, and since I'd
just completed a second "reading dragon" image, I forwarded that.
Then today, I heard from a group in England that is publicizing the
"Dragon Line" or "Dragon Ley" that runs through England...supposedly a
mystical pulse of "power" along which prominent spiritual and
religious landmarks have been built throughout the ages. Could I
provide one of my dragon painting images for them to use in their
I don't pretend to know what all of this means. But it is certainly
true that in unsettled times, we tend to fixate on images and rituals
that we think will help us cope.
And our times are certainly unsettled.
The United States has been at war with one country or another for over
five years now. We've even been at war with "no country"...that is, with
"terrorism," which, it has been pointed out, is a tactic, not an
entity. And that made me wonder at dragons. Are they, too, a tactic?
Are they a symbol for the great Bogey that we are flailing around
trying to vanquish, even while we can't define what it is we're
fighting or why we're fighting it?
G. K. Chesterton once said that the crucial point about fairy tales is
not to frighten children with the prospect of bogies; children already
know about these. But what the fairy tale teaches is the possibility
of defeating the bogey, and not on its own terms.
But, there are always conditions attached to achieving anything in
fairy tales. Chesterton describes it this way: "The note of the fairy
utterance always is, 'You may live in a palace of gold and sapphire,
if you do not say the word `cow''; or 'You may live happily with the
King's daughter, if you do not show her an onion.'" In Faerie, as in
life, we can often only accomplish the things we most desire by not
doing something. All things are given if one small thing is refused.
How, then, does this figure into our obsession with dragons? It
occurred to me that perhaps we're fascinated with these creatures in
dangerous times because, even though they represent chaos and
destruction, we yet admire their strength, their cunning, their
J.R.R. Tolkien worried during his lifetime that war had become the
province of the Machine, and that with automation, the violence was
bound to become ever more horrific. With the Machine, there would be
fewer opportunities for self reflection, for restraint, for humility.
The stakes would become "too high." Solutions other than "might makes
right" would be abandoned.
And in the early years of the 21st century, when our planet seems
awash in violence and when diplomacy is refused as a sign of weakness,
I wonder whether, in fact, we haven't missed the lesson of Faerie. As
we throw more and more military might at every problem we encounter, I
wonder whether we've decided to side with the dragon in order to
defeat the dragon.
And in so doing, are we not running the risk of becoming the very
thing we claim to be fighting? Are we not in danger of gaining the
whole world, yet losing our own souls?
- I've rearranged some items on my website at http://www.JefMurray.com
. I am hoping to have several new sacred/religious pieces online
before Lent begins. I'm also working on a couple of new show venues...
please keep me in your prayers!
- Lorraine will be giving several talks over the next two months, and
I will be going along and bringing prints for folks to see at these.
If you are interested in learning specifics of these talks, please
drop me a note.