The mythsterhood loves exploring all forms of mythology: literature, art, games, even song. What brought us together was the love of a good myth. So in addition to our own dragon content, we wanted to pass on some modern myths to our listeners. In our Dragon Tails blog series, you’ll find reviews of stories collected from a variety of media.
These week, Anike will take you through 21st Century Dragonslayer’s Lament, by Susan E. Connolly, which you can find here.
There is so much to unpack in such a short story that I’ve been staring at a blank page for days, trying to figure out what to include in my review. And I’m not joking. I must have read 21st Century Dragonslayer’s Lament a dozen times before I got these words out. I’m still in awe of the power the story holds. Utterly in awe.
From the get-go, we’re cast into a fantastic world. And it’s a mirage that’s quickly shattered by the second paragraph. We have dragons and a dragonslayer. Then we have academia and medicine. So we’re torn between two vastly different worlds smashed together brutally, and yet harmonious in delivery. A modern-day dragonslayer with tools of humane inclination, especially so compared to those of the fantasy Medieval times.
Though this story shows anything but humane treatment from people. While, simultaneously, showing humanity. Something lacking in “traditional” dragonslayer stories.
Unlayering This Onion
Let’s start with the first layer, because this story is layers upon layers. Like an onion. And I’m going to attempt to be an Onion Knight.
The skin of 21st Century Dragonslayer’s Lament is an evolution of what we generally consider dragonslayers to be. Instead of a knight clad in plate and mail, with gambeson under the armour for added protection against blunt force trauma, we have scrubs and a lab coat. There are no halberds and spears to distance the slayer from the dragon, thereby removing not only close hits but also, psychologically, removing consideration. Empathy for the beast that must be brought down. What we have instead is a syringe, bringing the slayer within a breath’s distance from the dragon. This close, the slayer has no choice but to have an intimate view of the beast, physically and emotionally.
If you think this story is as simple as that, you’re in for a wonderfully ambivalent surprise. The second layer, the mantle of the story strikes a stark contrast to our current affairs. Pets, specifically, and how we as humans have sought them for their aesthetic factor only to abandon or neglect the animals when that factor changes in a way that does not suit the person’s standard of said aesthetic. It is a striking critique, hitting social and political issues regarding responsible pet-keeping. It shows us the real-world consequences of holding such a view of animals, of seeing them as objects to possess and flaunt and decorate for our leisure.
Like any great science-fiction tale, 21st Century Dragonslayer’s Lament delves into the what-ifs of advancing technology. This is the third layer of the story, the inner core of the onion. And inside of it is a question. A question Connolly asks and answers as one of the myriad probabilities branching from this thought train. What if we were able to and allowed to create designer pets? The story unpacks a possible scenario of the uses of genetic engineering, a topic covered in science-fiction since the 70s. And like the SF stories of old, 21st Century Dragonslayer’s Lament doesn’t focus on the wrongness or rightness of using genetic engineering, but rather it looks at the human condition and all the messiness being human comes with and affects.
Anike lives in the dead centre of South africa, an area called the Bo-Karoo, where she looks for spiders for fun. She is a writer, illustrator, mother, wife, and nerd-geek hybrid. Anike enjoys all forms of science fiction, fantasy, and horror. Well, almost all forms. Not romance. And loves stories from her home country. She is also one of the Mythster voices who may or may not go off the rails about something or another.
You can check out the Susan Connolly’s twitter and website by following these links: