I don’t know if anyone has ever told you, but in case you didn’t know – dragons are real. As in: they exist. OK, you may not be able to see them in quite the same way that you’ve seen a fox or a rabbit, but they’re there all right, living in what psychoanalyst D W Winnicott called transitional space – that space between the inner and outer worlds where art and magic and imagination live. And that of course is their function. They are intermediaries between worlds, creatures of birth and death, and they appear to us at significant times in our lives. Dragons inhabit each of the four elements – earth, air, fire and water – and they inhabit us, if we let them.
I’ve been acquainted with dragons for a long time and written several dragon stories. Here are some of the things you should know about them:
- Dragons will only reveal themselves when the time is right. You may search and search but you will never find your dragons until they, not you, are ready.
- Dragons are to be respected for the power that resides within them. It is a power of healing and destruction, death and life.
- You must approach a dragon with awe but not fear. If you are afraid of it, you will not find it even if it consumes you with its flame.
- Dragons are inconceivably ancient and carry secrets as old as time. And in each moment they make themselves new, beyond your imagining.
- The treasure that dragons guard is so precious that you are afraid to find it. They will not give it up to you unless you can prove you are its rightful owner.
- Some dragons have lain hidden deep in the earth for thousands of ages. You can only discover their power by entering the dark cave where you are not.
- Some dragons live in the depths of the ocean.You must plunge deep to find them and not fear drowning. When they rise to the surface, you will know that their fire has not been quenched.
- There are some dragons whose element is the air.They fly high above the world, seeing everything. If you meet one, you must soar with it wherever it takes you or lose the vision that you have.
- Above all the element of dragons is fire. When you meet it, you must be prepared to die from its light and heat. Otherwise you will never know what it is to be fully alive.
- The language of dragons speaks their ancient power. Dragon speech spurts out in tongues of flame, scorching and purifying all it finds
- You cannot expect to escape the dragons and you cannot expect to meet them. When you meet one, you will always have known it and will never have seen anything like it.
These days, of course, it’s hard to think of dragons without thinking of Harry Potter. There are some rather splendid – and frightening – dragons in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, but they’re not really given a chance to be everything that dragons can be. The most important thing about a dragon is that when you meet it, either it destroys you or else you become it and take on something of its power. If you do, you will find your secret wings and claws and learn to breathe out flame. Becoming a dragon is not necessarily an easy process, though. This is what it may be like:
Its talons clutch at my guts, folded wing-points pinion my diaphragm, arrow-head tail flails my entrails, razor-toothed jaw jams into my throat. Its hunger leaves me no room for food. Its breath scorches into my lungs, its heat broils and roils in all my body’s passages. Already I hardly know air from fire. My insides melt, are smelted into scales; my skin is sucked within their emerging armour; my joints are turned inside-out in clawed limbs. Wings unfurling thrust through my shoulder blades, shudder open with a thunder-rush that frightens the sky. My lengthening neck twists and gyrates in its armour plates until my head blazes free. Opening my mouth to its embered depths I fling out my first roar of flame.
I wrote the piece above for the prose poem prompt from the online poetry group 52. I’m not sure whether it’s poetry of any sort, but it’s certainly dragon – a dragon you wouldn’t mess with. And there’s no question that it’s fire and heat.
In the late 1990s I put together a collection of writings (not published or publishable) called Meeting the Dragon. It started as a project for a personal development course and though it contained many other strands of writing, pieces about finding, meeting and becoming the dragon were the thread that held it together. After that I stopped writing about dragons, though they never quite went away. Just recently they’ve been around again. When I told my writing group about the dragon book, they suggested I write another dragon story – mainly as a way of getting back my confidence in writing fiction. I immediately said yes. I have a sense that dragons are moving again in my life, I’m not sure how or when. I haven’t flown or scorched anyone yet, but you’d better be careful…