What’s New for the 19th of November: Of Dragons and Other Matters


I am Jomungand, the Last Dinosaur, destroyer, devourer, ravager of kingdoms and epochs, all greed and covetness, brooding loneliness. Once I was Dragon, but in this scientific age that is no longer stylish. The flames I kept for high drama. Now I, who was once Behemoth, am only pieced-together bones, first believed to belong to biblical giants, fresh-dug by nearsighted archaeologists, given flesh by faint intellects, made poorer by lack of imagination. — James Stoddard’s The High House, volume one of the Evenmere trilogy.

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There are no Dragons here on the Kinrowan Estate save the hidden stone one in The Wild Wood and a de Vinci style drawing of one such creature that appears every so often on the bulletin board near the Green Man Pub. Now Dragons in fiction are quite common, be it le Guin’s Earthsea series, Stoddard’s Evenmere trilogy, Tolkien”s The Hobbit, Yolen and  Ming’s Merlin and The Dragon or the Vald Taltos stories of Steven Brust (although those are a different order of dragon, to be sure). There’s even a touching story of a dragon in Beagle’s The Last Unicorn.

Now there are definitely impressive looking dragons to be found in the Charles Vess illustrated edition of the Earthsea trilogy that Saga Press will be publishing early next year. As the article on the Tor website notes: ‘In 2018, Saga Press will publish all six of Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea novels in one volume, to mark the 50th anniversary of her landmark fantasy series. What’s more, The Books of Earthsea will be the first fully illustrated edition, with the cover and both color and black-and-white interior illustrations (including chapter headings, full-page illustrations, and smaller pictures) by Charles Vess.’  Oh that’s impressive!

Of course there’s a connection to Dragons this time, as you should expect. So let’s see what is here…

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Drawing Down The Moon: The Art of Charles Vess is is an exhibition catalogue for a show that should’ve been for someone who’s illustrated such works as Seven Wild Sisters and The Cats of Tanglewood Forest, a favourite of mine. Let’s have Charles explain why I believe this: ‘All you need to do is flip through the book to realize that when it comes to traditional fairy, folk tale and fantasy art, there are few artists who do it better than Vess.’

Gary looks at a novel that has a very prominent dragon in it, to wit R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit as illustrated by Jemima Catlin: ‘This is a handsome book, green cloth over board with a color-and-gilt illustration of Bilbo resting against a vine-covered tree on the cover. It’s a perfect size for reading aloud, its illustrations just right to be seen when held up by the reader or the book is sturdy enough to be passed around. Those illustrations, as befits this rather gentle adventure tale, are humorous or mildly scary as appropriate. As a bonus, you can read it in just about the same amount of time that it would take you to watch all three installments of the overblown and misguided movie adaptation.’

A book by Stephen Ekman that takes its title from the mythology of these creatures gets reviewed by me: ‘Now we have a really detailed look at the role of fantasy maps and the settings they help create in fantasy literature. (Though weirdly enough, Here Be Dragons has only three such maps in it suggesting the author either had trouble getting permission to use more such maps or the use of them was deemed too costly.) It is not the usual collection of edited articles but appears an actual cohesive look at this fascinating subject.‘

Robert looks at an old favourite: ‘The Forgotten Beasts of Eld was the first book by Patricia A. McKillip that I ever read. Two things struck me about it: it was different than any other fantasy I had read to that point, most of which were in the high-minded, seriously heroic mode, but written in “realistic” prose; and it was funny. I didn’t know fantasy could be funny.’ (Dragon? Of course there’s a dragon.)

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Cat notes of Hellboy: Sword of Storms that ‘If you’re looking for a fix as you wait for the long might be Hellboy film, this animated film along with the other animated film, Hellyboy: Blood and Iron, will hopefully tide you over. They certainly fulfilled my Hellboy jones!‘ Read his review to see how Dragons figure into this tale.

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Soup is a comfort food here on the Kinrowan Estate once cold weather arrives to drag on far too long, so Mrs. Ware and her staff do such things as a roasted pumpkin soup served with a generous dollop of Riverrun sour cream on each bowl when it’s served. The trick is to roast chunks of pumpkin in the wood fired oven until they acquire a bit of char which brings out the rich flavour of the pumpkin… So let’s have Gus tell you the tale of the always simmering stockpots.

Robert lucked out and got to review a Super-Dark Mexican-Style Stone-Ground chocolate from Taza: ‘I have to admit I was somewhat surprised at this one: the strongest chocolate I’ve ever had was 70% cacao, and I was thinking that 85% was really pushing it, but quite frankly, for us certified chocoholics, this is a real treat. The texture is somewhat exotic because of the graininess, but rather than being a drawback, it sort of made me wonder what I’d been missing all these years.’

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The Winter Holidays are fast approaching, so are you looking for that perfect gift for your lover of English folk rock? Oh, do I have a gift that’s perfect! EMI has recently served up A Parcel of Steeleye Span. This triple disc set contains the entirety of their first five albums for Chrysalis, from 1972’s Below The Salt to 1975’s All Around My Hat with A Parcel of Rogues, Commoners Crown, and Now We Are Six being the recordings in between. This completely remastered collection has 46 tracks in all, including a number of very tasty bonus tracks.

Kim notes ‘This is the album that got the Hedningarna phenomenon going, a richly textured, darkly fascinating instrumental album by the “core” trio of Björn Tollin (frame drum, string drum, hurdy-gurdy, moraharpa), Anders Norudde (fiddle, hardanger fiddle, moraharpa, swedish bagpipe, bowed harp, jews harp, wooden and pvc bass flutes) and Hållbus Totte Mattsson (lute, baroque guitar, hurdy gurdy). On more recent albums, the group has expanded to include other players and some dynamite vocalists, most recently exploring the roots of Swedish folk traditions in Russia on Karelia Visa.’

Another take on Swedish folk traditions (among others) is Fylgja’s Strå. Robert notes: ‘“Fylgja” in Scandinavian folklore is a guardian spirit that appears in dreams, often seen as female. Fylgja in contemporary music is a group composed of three Danes and two Swedes, with strong roots in traditional Scandinavian music and a tendency to draw upon whatever tradition looks interesting.’

In that vein, Robert had some thoughts on tradition in music while he was listening to Mozaik’s Changing Trains: ‘What I’m noticing in my journey through “traditional” music is, first of all, tradition is what you make of it (in other words, anyone who works with traditional music is negotiating with the past), and second, there are lots of traditions (which is to say, everyone who works with traditional music is also negotiating with everyone else).’

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Our What Not is not unexpectedly of a Dragonish manner, and let’s have Camille explain for us: ‘Like every Folkmanis puppet I’ve so far seen, the Baby Dragon Puppet is a marvel of workmanship for the price: carefully stitched seams, articulated wings, darts along the inside of the limbs and belly to allow for movement and keep shape. The tag tells us it’s made in China, so we know who to thank.’

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No dragons in our Coda for this week, but a nice little dance by Andrew York that seems to defy time and place — Sharon Isbin plays ’Andecy’, which is also featured on her album Journey to the New World. Give a listen — it will certainly lighten your mood.

About Iain Nicholas Mackenzie

I'm the Librarian for the Kinrowan Estate. I do love fresh brewed teas, curling, English mysteries and will often be playing Scandinavian or Celtic  music here in the Library here in Kinrowan Hall if the Neverending Session is elsewhere. I'm a violinist too, so you'll me playing in various contradance band such as Chasing Fireflies and Mouse in the Cupboard as well as backing my wife Catherine up on yearly Christmas season tours in the Nordic countries.
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