Monday, 11 November 2013

Guest Post | "The Once and Future Dragon" by James Maxey

Last week, the Dragon Apocalypse trilogy by James Maxey — comprising Greatshadow, Hush and Witchbreaker — was released as a DRM-free download. Ever since, several Solaris sorts have been celebrating its long-awaited liberation over on When Gravity Falls by reflecting on their favourite dragons in film and literature.

I figured I'd go one further and ask the man himself how and why dragons came to fascinate him.

Take it away, James!


I’m a little obsessed with dragons. They’ve played major roles in seven of my novels to date, and should you ever visit my house, you’ll find dragons watching over the driveway, climbing on my shelves, and peeking out from among my books. Why do they fascinate me so?

There’s the mythic element, of course. Dragons are found in the legends and artwork of many cultures around the world. They often symbolize nature as the embodiment of storms, oceans, or forests. Even today, who can look at a volcano belching fire and smoke, shaking the earth  with powerful rumbles, and not imagine some great slumbering beast stirring to life?

Of course, in Christian mythology, volcanoes are forever tied to images of Hell, a landscape of flowing lava and unbearable heat, reeking of sulfur. Perhaps this is why Satan himself is portrayed in Revelations as “that old great dragon.” The mythical reptile becomes not just an efficient predator, but the eternal foe of God himself, the avatar of destruction waiting to wipe out all life and goodness.

I play a lot with these ideas in my books. In my dragon apocalypse series, Greatshadow is the living manifestation of all flame. His malignant intelligence spies upon mankind through every candle flame, watching for one moment of carelessness to leap out and devour entire villages. The Church of the Book has decided to rid mankind of Greatshadow’s menace, and assemble a team of twelve powerful warriors to slay the ancient beast once and for all. Among all the carnage that follows once the team begins their quest, I try to explore the larger question of whether the human desire to tame and control nature is always beneficial. Are there times when it’s best to learn to live in harmony with these dangerous forces?

While the symbolic nature of dragons is valuable to me as a writer, I still ponder the universal appeal of dragons. For this, I turn not to myth, but to science. Evolutionary biology has left us with relics of ancestors that have outlived their usefulness, like the goose bumps that rise on our skin when we’re frightened, attempting to bristle fur that we no longer possess. What if some of these relics exist within our brains? Our tiny, tree-dwelling, lemur-like forebears had good reason to be instinctively skittish of a whole range of predators. They had to watch out for large birds swooping down from above, beware of snakes slithering among the branches where they lived, and worry about large cats skulking in the shadows, ready to pounce. Early primates with an inborn fear of hawks, snakes, and tigers had a better chance of passing on their genes than primates without this fear. Is it so odd to think that, millions of years later, our fear of these primeval predators still lurks within us?

If you blend together the wings of an eagle, the scales of a serpent, and the claws and musculature of a lion, you get a creature looking very much like a dragon. They are the sum of our natural predators.

The possibility that dragons have their roots in biological realities raises interesting possibilities. Were there ever creatures that existed in nature that could pass for dragons? Archaeopteryx is a good candidate with its wings, long next, and toothy jaws. Of course, its fearsomeness is somewhat diminished by the fact it was little larger than a blue jay.  Still, there’s no reason to think that a winged creature big enough to qualify as a dragon couldn’t fly. Some fossils of Quetzalcoatlus show that it had a wingspan of fifty feet. Within the relatively short span of time that men have been upon the earth, there have still been birds with wingspans in the twenty feet range. I imagine it would be quite thrilling to look at an animal the size of a small plane soaring overhead, but, alas, large birds went the way of most megafauna, driven to extinction partly by the advance of mankind. But, if our ancestors proved ruthlessly effective at wiping out large animals, modern man is on the verge of bringing some of these lost species back via cloning. It’s not wild fantasy to dream that we’ll one day visit wildlife parks populated by wooly mammoths, Tasmanian tigers, or dodos. 

Some would argue that we shouldn’t play God in resurrecting dead species. But, giving our increasing proficiency at manipulating DNA, I would say the more intriguing question is whether  we should give birth to species that have never before existed. Would it really be so difficult to mix a little goat DNA with a horse and wind up with something very much like a unicorn? Would it be such a stretch to tinker with a turkey until it once more had teeth? The day will come when a kid sitting at a computer will be able to tweak and edit a strand of DNA into all sorts of fantastical creations. Biological printers will be able to assemble the double helix gene by gene. Mankind collectively has contributed to the mass extinction of millions of species. Once we perfect the technology, might we give birth to just as many new species? The days when knights ride out to test their mettle against dragons might not be a vision of our mythic past. It just may be what waits in our future.

(If I may slip in one last shameless plug, the idea that men may one day be the ancestors of dragons is the foundational premise of my Dragon Age fantasy series. The first book, Bitterwood, is now available a free download on Smashwords, Kobo, Amazon, and many other fine ebook outlets. Bitterwood was also recently released in audio format, available from Audible, Amazon, and iTunes.)


Thank you, James, for stopping off at The Speculative Scotsman to talk a bit about your continuing fascination with dragons. I'm entirely glad I asked.

Now why don't you all go read Greatshadow? It's bloody good fun, AND it has dragons.

1 comment:

  1. Awesome. I have some catching up to do with the rest of the series, but Greatshadow was indeed "bloody good fun" and the dragons were amazing.