Hellooo, Mythsters! Welcome to episode 21 (can you believe it?!) where we travel to the British Isles and take a look at the dragons, worms, and serpents in that region. Be warned, there be dragonslayers again. But also some really awesome dragons! And a little something extra.
Without further ado, let’s get into it!
Dragons of the British Isles Pt 1 Transcript
Jaz: Hello, hello, Mythsters, and welcome to episode 21 of The Mythsterhood of the Travelling tales. Hi, Anike, how are you doing today?
Anike: Hey, Jaz. I’m doing a lot better. Had a bit of a sinus infection over the weekend but it’s clearing up. And how are you?
Jaz: I’m fine. I’ve been spending the last few weeks getting manhandled in physical therapy, but the injury in my shoulder is finally, finally finally, easing up so thank… I was going to say thank F for that but let’s not do F-bombs on the podcast. Thank goodness for that.
Jaz: So we’ve got some housekeeping notes to get out of the way. First of all, we want to send a massive, massive, MASSIVE thank-you to Steve; also known as AK or AkSounder to the members of our discord community, to which we will of course include a link to in our show notes. Because he sent us a donation via PayPal and his support, as is the support of our Patrons Lizzy and Andrew, is of course always very, very much appreciated.
We do understand not being able to financially support your favourite creators right now because things are tough for everyone, but there’s lots of ways in which you can help. You can signal boost if you like an episode, share it on social media, tell a friend about it if they’re into dragons as well. But no matter what, we love you guys even if you just listen to us, because let’s face it, we never thought we’d have this many people listening to our voices.
Anike: Ya, right?! I look at the stats you post and I’m floored every time.
Jaz: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. We just hit, like, a thousand downloads which is… it’s modest but it’s more than we hoped for so we’re super excited to have all of you listening along and exploring all these dragons alongside us. Which brings us to point number 2. Anike, do you wanna take it away?
Anike: Okay! I recently completed a dragon art piece that we, the hydra of the Mythsterhood, have been planning for a while for a poster that we’re going to release at the end of the season. And we figured, well, seeing as it’s done so early, we’re going to do a lottery in which we give one lucky Mythster a printed poster of this dragon art. And we’ll link the post of the art and composition so you go check it out.
Jaz: Yeah, absolutely go check it out and see if you can go get your name in there. There’s 3 ways in which you can get a ticket and, you know, just go for it. It’s so worth it because the artwork is as always stunning, absolutely stunning. Anike, you do blow us away every time but this is something special.
Anike: Ya, it took a while to do and I’m really chuffed with how it came out and I’m glad there’s such good reception for it already on the Discord server.
Jaz: Yeah, absolutely. So then, point number 3 on the housekeeping list… boy, we’ve got a lot today. For those of you already familiar with the platform Podchaser; it’s a great way to explore new podcasts, to follow your favourite creators across podcasts if they do an interview or something. But it’s also, for the month of April, a great place to leave reviews. First of all, it makes us happy because we do like getting our egos stroked.
Jaz: But, for the month of April, Podchaser is raising funds, and every review placed on Podchaser will add to the donation they will be making to charity–I believe it will be Meals on Wheels this year–and they’ve found a few partners to match their donation as well, so I know April is almost over but we’ve still got a few days left. So let’s all do our bit and chip in. Not just for the Mythsterhood, but leave reviews for any other podcast you listen to and enjoy. I’m sure the creators will love you for it. And, let’s face it, doing something good it just brings a warm fuzzy feeling deep inside that defrosts the lump of ice I call a heart, so do it, people, leave a review.
Anike: But we should probably get into this episode now.
Jaz: Yeah. Maybe we should. And for once, I’m pretty sure we can safely skip our pronunciation disclaimer. Because, well, let’s face it, that’s because this first episode won’t include the Welsh dragons yet. Because Welsh is… hard. But I think most of the names will not be a problem this time.
Anike: I reckon so, but hang on. You said first episode?
Jaz: Yeah? Especially since we won’t have the option to roll any leftover dragons into a blog post, we definitely cannot get the British dragons into one single post. Because the stories about them are, for once, recorded, often into lush delicious detail, so we’ve got to make the most of it while we can!
Anike: Yay, detail. Okay, alright.So, it’s not like it’s a hardship at all, in any ways.
Jaz: Right? So in our last episodes, we met–other than a few fascinating hybrids–the typical Germanic dragon, the wyrm, either with or without wings or front legs. Well, the British Isles have a few of those as well.
Anike: And one of those dragons is the Lambton Worm, hailing from the region of Sunderland in North East England. The tale begins when John Lambton, heir of the Lambton estate felt like skipping on church–
Jaz: I like him already! Did a good bit of church skipping myself.
Anike: Why am I not surprised? Anyway, John, not much concerned about his eternal soul, decided on a bit of fishing in the river Wear instead of worship. And boy, did something bite.
Jaz: John caught a creature which is described as an eel or lamprey, though opinions are divided as to the creature’s size. John, thinking he’d caught the devil, threw his catch in a local well and soon forgot about it altogether.
Anike: And then he left England to join the Crusades.
Jaz: Ch, concerned about his soul after all then.
Anike: Or more likely the loot he was gonna miss out on.
Jaz: Fair. Fair. But we digress, because it’s the worm we want to talk about. Because as John was off galavanting towards the Holy Land, the worm proceeded to poison the well. And it might have been a baby worm when John Lambton caught it, but it grew to enormous size and escaped the confines of the well. After which, it coiled itself around a hill. I’m not sure what the hill was good for, but yeah. Accounts vary, and point to either Worm Hill or Penshaw Hill.
Anike: Well, as what happens when dragons are loose, livestock began to go missing, and the local population was in a state of panic. Attempts to vanquish the worm remained unsuccessful as it apparently reassembled itself when bits were cut off.
Jaz: Ooh, like the T1000.
Anike: I suppose so, except less metallic. I bet Linda Hamilton would have known what to do with the worm. But since she wasn’t present, the worm found little opposition of note. After a bit of your run-of-the-mill terrorising of townsfolk and what have you, the worm returned to the Wear, where John had caught it in the first place.
Jaz: In the meantime, John had returned–we may assume he was a good bit richer, if not holier, but one can’t have it all–and found out about the worm’s exploits. He asked a local wise woman for advice and the instructions he received included killing the first living thing he saw after slaying the worm. If he failed to follow through, a curse would fall upon his family, and nine generations of Lambtons wouldn’t die in their beds.
Anike: Well, John then fixed a bunch of spearheads to his armor–at least this must have looked more impressive than Ragnar Lodbrok’s frosty breeches–and then he headed down to the river. To make the wise woman’s geas at least somewhat bearable, John instructed his father to release his favourite hound once the battle was over. The animal would run right to John, and he’d be able to kill the hound and fulfill the requirements.
Jaz: With all the details settled–poor doggy though–John faced the worm. When it tried to wrap itself around him, it impaled itself on the spearheads. The worm lost some decent-sized chunks of himself, and since the river washed them away instantly, a terminator-style reassembly was out of the question this time.
Anike: John sounded his horn to let his father know that everything was over, but in his elation, the man forgot to release the hound and instead ran down to congratulate his son.
Jaz: So the hound was saved! Yay!
Anike: Noooo. A horrified John couldn’t bring himself to kill dear old forgetful dad, and killed the dog instead.
Jaz: No fair! I hope the worm ends up eating him after all if it comes back from the dead or something. Ah, a zombie worm! That would be quite the story. Anyway, we digress. So, anyway, this was totally unfair of John and I like him a lot less now, and it was also totally useless too, because the curse took hold anyway. The first three Lambton heirs were out of luck. One drowned, and two died in battle. Whether or not this was caused by the curse, or due to battle just being bloody dangerous, it probably contributed to the story’s popularity. The ninth heir again fell out of luck and kicked the bucket in an accident.
Anike: Now, Durham, home town of the Lambton worm, seems to be a fertile breeding ground for worms. Another worm roamed there, according to stories dating back to the late medieval and early modern periods. The Sockburn Worm.
Jaz: Let me guess. There’s another dragonslaying hero, isn’t there?
Anike: Naturally. Sir John Conyers fought to save the area from a great dragon that had a seven year track record of bad behaviour. He prayed at a nearby chapel.
Jaz: Hey, might not help, but probably won’t hurt either.
Anike: True, true. Anyway, fortified by the prayer, he set out and slew the foul-breathed serpent with his trusty falchion.
Jaz: Trusty what-now?
Anike: A falchion. It’s a single-edged sword of European origin, often with a curve to the blade. Actually really pretty swords, it’s one of my favourites.
Jaz: So it’s an antique machete.
Anike: Yeah. Basically.
Jaz: OK. But let’s get back to the dragon, because you said foul-breathed. Do you think that means it too breathed poison, like the Scandinavian dragons from last episode?
Anike: Ooooh, it doesn’t say specifically but I assume so and that’s a really interesting parallel. Except, despite being called the Sockburn Worm, this dragon was more like a wyvern.
Jaz: So why didn’t they… *sighs* If it’s a wyvern, why did they not call it a wyvern? Sockburn wyvern. Honestly, precision, people. Well, anyway, here’s an interesting tidbit. Some people believe this story formed the inspiration for Lewis Carroll’s poem Jabberwocky.
Anike: Oh, you wrote a series of blog posts on that dragon, didn’t you?
Jaz: I did. And the idea is not unreasonable, because, well of course, the Jabberwock wasn’t a wyvern. According to the original artwork by John Tenniel done as an illustration for the book “Through the Looking Glass”, the dragon had six limbs: four legs and two wings. But the poem has the form of an epic, even if it is decidedly shorter than Beowulf. So, yeah, this sounds like an epic story, it could be.
Anike: To say the least. Now, the Sockburn worm, like the Lambton Worm, is well-remembered in the region. The illustrious falchion is apparently still kept in Durham Cathedral.
Jaz: Of course they’d keep it. I mean, you’ve gotta be prepared in case more dragons show up.
Anike: Well, they also need it for when the diocese of Durham gets a new bishop. A small ceremony is held when the bishop enters the diocese for the first time, as he crosses the river Tees. The Conyers Falchion is presented to him, accompanied by a traditional phrase commemorating the bravery of John Conyers.
Jaz: Heh. Commemorate the slayers of dragons, why don’t you. Meanwhile, did they write down some details about the dragon? Of course they didn’t. Other than the mention of a wyvern with bad breath issues, there’s not much to be found.
Anike: Ha. Well, then, let’s head on down to our next worm, one that we head up the coast, to Spindlestone Heugh in Northumberland for.
Jaz: Some beautiful scenery up there.
Anike: And some dragons.
Jaz: Of course.
Anike: And we’re going to take a look at the Laidly Worm. The legend begins with a king who had two children: Princess Margaret and Childe Wynde. When his wife died, the king left the castle to search for a new bride. Childe Wynde followed his example, except he went searching for adventures and fame, rather than a wife. Margaret stayed behind in Bamburgh Castle until her father returned with the new bride.
Jaz: Uh oh. Considering the way most stepmothers are portrayed in ye olde stories, I’m guessing this means bad news.
Anike: How did you know?
Jaz: No reason.
Anike: The people welcomed their new queen with a grand banquet but did she notice all the effort taken on her behalf? Did she appreciate all the foods laid out before her? The music? The jesters trying to coax a smile or a laugh from her lips?
Jaz: I’m guessing not?
Anike: Uh… no. She only had eyes for the fair princess Margaret. Younger than she herself was, more beautiful, and adored by those around her. She cursed Margaret, predicting that she would be transformed into a laidly worm. The spell could only be broken by the return of Margaret’s brother.
Jaz: Margaret laughed it off, not wanting to spoil the celebration, and went to bed. Now, while she laughed in public, she did find it hard to put the curse out of her mind all the same.
Anike: And in the morning, there was no sign of Princess Margaret. In her room, they encountered a gigantic worm, which fled the castle upon being discovered, and built itself a nest in some caves in the area. According to an extant recorded ballad, the Laidly Worm was so venomous no grass or corn would grow in a seven mile radius.
Jaz: As dragons are wont to do, she plundered the local livestock, though people were able to placate her with generous offerings of milk. News of what had happened spread far and wide across the land, until Childe Wynde himself learned of the worm.
Anike: Though he was afraid of the dragon, he did want to save his sister. The story says he raised his sword, so, perhaps it wasn’t quite clear she’d become a dragon? At least, not that he knew of. Perhaps he believed she was instead being held captive by it. At any rate, his sister’s voice called out to him to sheath the blade and give the dragon three kisses instead.
Jaz: Childe Wynde obeyed, and Princess Margaret was restored to her human form.
Anike: Nice, for once, our misunderstood dragons gets redeemed instead of slain. I like this one. As for the stepmother, again accounts vary, but when the reunited siblings returned to the castle, she begged for mercy. In one version, Childe Wynde condemns her to the fate she visited upon his sister. In the other, he touches her with a sprig of rowan. But she apparently turns into a toad and flees.
Jaz: So, apparently this worm was indeed an actual worm. We found an illustration of Childe Wynde kissing the Laidly Worm, and she clearly has no limbs in this image. Maybe we can Tweet it, or something, so that our Mythsters can see what it looked like.
Anike: Ya, it’s a weird thing.
Jaz: Yeah, yeah. It’s a brave thing to do, you know, wrestle a dragon and try to kiss it while it’s trying to choke you. But yeah.
Anike: Well, this story portrays a common motif in mythology and folklore, where a woman appears either monstrous, old, or otherwise unattractive, until she is transformed–or restored, in this case to be precise–when a man accepts her despite her ugliness. Think of Chaucer’s The Wife of Bath’s Tale, or the Arthurian legend of The Marriage of Sir Gawain. The main difference here is that it is not a romance, but the love between two siblings that breaks the curse.
Jaz: Well, that, and the fact that in most of these tales, the hero’s kindness or consideration is a spontaneous act, because they’re just such nice guys… to everyone who isn’t a dragon. Childe Wynde kissed the dragon only because his sister’s voice instructed him to do so.
Anike: That’s a fair point. Still liking this story a lot better than all the dragon mutilation we’re finding everywhere else.
Jaz: I second that. Our fourth dragon is also from Northumberland, and this time, we’ll get to see an intriguing detail.
Anike: Oooooh, go on.
Jaz: Well, it does have another dragon slayer.
Anike: Ugh. Really?!
Jaz: I know. Let’s just wade through it, okay? This beastie is called the dragon of Longwitton, named after the town of Longwitton. Now, this town had three holy wells. Because some towns don’t even have one holy well and this town had 3. How is that fair? Well, anyway, you’d think they were lucky, wouldn’t you? Well, you’d be wrong, because they couldn’t get to their holy wells, because there was a dragon in the way.
Anike: And lemme guess: no one could defeat it, until a certain hero arrived on the scene.
Jaz: Of course! Sir Guy, Earl of Warwick. For three days, he fought the dragon, and Sir Guy was getting seriously sick of it. Every cut and every stab healed instantly.
Anike: Heeey, that sounds familiar.
Jaz: Does it now? But check this out. On day three, Sir Guy noticed that the dragon always kept the tip of its tail in one of the wells as it fought. He realised that the dragon didn’t naturally possess this regenerative ability, but it was the holy water doing all the heavy lifting–well, heavy healing, actually.
Anike: So all he had to do was lure the dragon away from the wells. Once he did that, it was a piece of cake, apparently.
Jaz: And this time, we get a few more details about the dragon’s appearance, as well. The Longwitton Dragon was gigantic, with a whip-like tail, a black forked tongue, and a green scaly hide. And when spotted, it could make itself disappear.
Anike: Now all we need now is a patch of red hair on its head and we’ve basically got Pete’s Dragon.
Jaz: Right? Oh my god, I used to LOVE Elliott. I wanted an Elliott of my own.
Anike: Ooh, when I was younger I always wanted the dragon that was in… not Braveheart… uh, Dragonheart, ya.
Anike, Ya, I always wanted Draco from Dragonheart because he was awesome!
Jaz: He was, he was. He so was. So I know we are getting close to time, but we’ll already have to split this episode in two, and it still won’t be enough. And when we announced the pause on the blog, we did say we could allow ourselves some leeway in our episode lengths, so…
Anike: Alright alright. Let’s see… OH. If you thought there was something familiar about the Longwitton Dragon, hold on to your hat for this one.
Jaz: Oooh, colour me curious!
Anike: OK, well, close your eyes, and imagine a little grey stone chapel nestled in lush green grass.
Jaz: OK. Imagining… OOOOH, is it pretty?
Anike: Of course, it’s very pretty. And inside it, there’s an ancient tomb, topped by a sleeping, grey stone knight. His legs are crossed. At his feet lies a grey stone dog. His hands seem to clasp a heart. There’s no inscription or name anywhere, but according to a local legend, this is the grave of Peter Loschy.
Jaz: Lemme guess. He’s our dragon slayer?
Jaz: Then karma served him right.
Anike: Well, let’s hop on back in time for a bit. The country around Nunnington was infested by a huge serpent, known for its deadly tongue and teeth that rivalled pitchfork prongs. When Peter heard of the beast, he asked why no one had destroyed it yet.
Jaz: Of course, even the strongest and bravest had already tried.
Anike: Mmhmm. But get this. Whenever someone managed to cut off a piece of the dragon, it reattached the dismembered bits and regenerated.
Jaz: Again? This is giving me a serious deja vu.
Anike: I know. But our Peter, with the help of his faithful dog, took on the challenge. He came prepared, with armor to which sharp razors had been attached. Another slice of deja vu there.
Anike: And whenever he managed to cut off a piece of the dragon, his dog carried away the pieces to a hill off some distance, to prevent the dragon from regenerating.
Jaz: Once victory was theirs, the dog, happy and proud to have served his master well, licked Peter’s face. But since the dragon was poisonous, the dog who was doomed already, condemned Peter to the same fate by transferring some of the poison onto his skin. Both succumbed to it.
Anike: Ha. Yeah, he deserved it. The dog didn’t, but he did.
Jaz: Yeah, totally.
Anike: So the villagers buried the knight in their church, and placed a monument over the tomb to commemorate his bravery.
Jaz: This story is almost completely the twin of that of the Sockburn Not-A-Worm, what with the armour with extra sharp pointy bits, the dog, the regenerative power of the dragon, and the way pieces of the dragon are carried off to prevent it from utilising this power, although this story employs the dog, rather than the river. I have to admit I do like it better than the Sockburn Worm. At least Peter treated his dog like a friend instead of a sacrifice.
Anike: True, true. Peter and his dog worked together like a team.
Jaz: Absolutely. How about one more worm?
Anike: OK. Where does this one live?
Jaz: North. Way north. All the way up in Scotland. The Orkney Islands, to be precise. These islands were settled by Scandinavians, eventually leading to the annexing of the islands for Scandinavian kings. In the Orkneys, we see a lot of crosspollination between Germanic and Celtic cultures, leading to a unique folkloric background. And part of that colourful tapestry of myth and folklore is the Mester Stoor Worm. I have no idea how that’s supposed to sound, but yeah, Mester Stoor Worm. A dragon that carries Orkney DNA in every bone.
Anike: I like the sound of this already.
Jaz: The Mester Stoor Worm was a sea serpent of gigantic proportions, that could wrap itself around the entire world. When it moved, the worm caused earthquakes and other natural disasters.
Anike: Oh my goodness!
Jaz: Right? It also had venomous breath, and enjoyed smashing ships to splinters.
Anike: Aaah. One day, a powerful wizard promised the king, who had failed to motivate his knights sufficiently to take on the serpent, that the beast could be killed if the king gave his daughter up to the wizard.
Jaz: Now, he didn’t really feel like losing his daughter to the wizard–probably because he hoped for a more strategic match, more so than that he was worried about the girl’s feelings on the matter. So he offered his entire kingdom to any warrior who killed the Mester Stoor Worm.
Anike: A most unlikely hero arose to the challenge. A refreshing change from the splendid knights, I must say. Assipattle, a farm boy, slightly lacking in whit, volunteered. He guided a ship into the dragon’s stomach. Then he applied burning peat to the dragon’s liver. This eventually caused an explosion.
Jaz: Not so lacking in whit after all, if you ask me. And so the world was rid of the Mester Stoor Worm, but it left behind a timeless legacy: the blast scattered his teeth in the water, and they became the Orkney Islands.
Anike: So, unless my memory deceives me, we’ve stuck mostly to the north of England and Scotland, right?
Anike: That means, Mythsters, that we’ve got a second episode waiting, in which we’ll look at any dragons we find in the southern half of England, and then of course the Celtic dragons. That will probably include more beasties from Scotland, Ireland, Cornwall, Wales, and I’m curious if the Manx dragons are tailless like their cat counterparts.
Jaz: Great minds do think alike because I was wondering the exact same thing.
Anike: So don’t wander off, Mythsters, since we’ll be sticking around in the British Isles for another episode.
Jaz: And until then, we wish you days like dragons greeting clouds!
Anike: Later, Mythsters!