You get a fantastic story, like On the Nature and Origin of Dragons.
Today’s review is particularly special for us, as On the Nature and Origin of Dragons, published by 87 Bedford, was written by our very own Jasmine Arch.
Jaz has a few dragon stories under her belt, all of them a pleasure to read, and this is the first one available to the public. Reading On the Nature and Origin of Dragons I got a good sense of where this Mythsterhood project started. Jaz portrays a deep curiosity about dragons and slowly unwraps little details about their sentience in this charming piece.
Shall we dive in?
Set in a world where dragons are enslaved by humans and used as brute labor and exotic pets, On the Nature and Origin of Dragons follows Jeremy Coleridge, a dragon ornithologist, as he studies some of the last wild dragons in Hawaii. When Jeremy arrives in Hawaii, his hosts don’t trust him. It makes sense as his project is meant to increase the efficiency of captive breeding of dragons. But as he spends time with the dragons, his feelings change, as does his project.
This story is great because it mentions not just a single dragon or a single type of dragon, but several kinds of wild dragons. In that way, it has a bit of a How to Train Your Dragon feel to it. The dragons range in size from huge to parrot-sized, perching on the shoulder of the heroine.
The story touches on various physical aspects of dragons, from the huge, classic European dragon to a small, dog-sized dragon with evolutionary irrelevant wings. Male dragons tend to have bright colors while females are more subdued browns, greens, and grays.
In this world, dragons are thought of as a subspecies of bird, hence Jeremy being a dragon ornithologist. However, Jeremy is working to get dragons recognized as a class separate from birds and start a branch of study dedicated solely to dragons.
Unlike many dragon stories, this one features multiple dragons. Most stories I read have one large dragon or a multitude of small dragons that are in the story but not the focus of the story. Jaz focuses tight on the question of dragons while still bringing in a human question of ethics and emotion.
Speaking of focus, I like that the dragons take center stage. Although they are not speaking characters, they are fully fleshed out as beings that have personality and emotion. This makes me care about their fate as opposed to telling only the story of the hero opposing dragons.
What’s Jaz say?
We have a slight advantage here, because we have Jaz in-house to answer our questions about this story.
Koji: So dragons seem to be one of your “things” between the Mythsterhood project and this story. When did you first develop an interest in dragons?
Jaz: There’s not a word count limit on this answer is there? I don’t remember when it started. Since my brother got me hooked on fantasy stories when I was a kid? When I had to borrow his library card because I’d gone through the good stuff in the children’s library? I loved stories about dragons, though at first the stories I was exposed to fell largely within the traditional sphere of dragons–who, rather than predators, were portrayed as evil.
The first stories that introduced a different concept of what a dragon could be, were The Never Ending Story, and more importantly since they both show dragons as creatures who are misunderstood rather than evil, the movies Dragonheart, and Pete’s Dragon. That’s when I really got hooked, and I’ve always been drawn to stories that paint their dragons with a more nuanced colour palette, rather than a one-dimensional evil hurdle for the hero to overcome.
Koji: This is just one of three stories you have set in this world? Can you give our readers a little hint of what the other two are about?
Jaz: The first story I wrote in this world is Furnace Dreams. It describes the experiences of an adolescent enslaved dragon, as seen through her POV. The other one is called A Long Way to Fall. In this one, told through Melisa’s POV, she and Jeremy undertake a covert mission to rescue a clutch of dragon eggs from a trader.
Koji: I’ve loved learning about dragons from different cultures with you over the past few months. Have you learned anything that might change the way you write dragons in the future?
Jaz: Mostly, seeing how the cultures we’ve visited so far still live with their dragons has given me some more ideas in which non-Westernised cultures could interact with the dragons in my story.
Koji: I love the setting, but I have to ask… why Hawaii?
Jaz: The setting and world were born before I wrote this story, and before Mythsterhood gave me a reason to dig into the dragons as we find them in Hawaiian mythology. I had this idea fully formed in my head of Kona, the dragon in Furnace Dreams. She can breathe fire, and at the beginning of the story we find her chained in an airship engine room where she heats the boilers that drive the ship’s propellers.
But then I needed people who felt differently about dragons. Perhaps from a culture who honored them rather than enslaving them. First of all, I needed an island setting. An enclave where dragons could be safe from hunters trying to capture them or steal eggs. Islands aplenty, of course, but the first cultural tradition that came to mind was Hawaii. According to their creation mythology, the islands were created by Pele, goddess of volcanoes and fire.
So I thought, what if the Hawaiian people revered dragons due to their connection to fire? Perhaps they’d see them as demigods. Children of Pele.
So I created an alternate version of Hawaiian history for my stories, in which the Hawaiians drive off their European visitors once they realise how dragons are treated by these foreigners. This means that Kamehameha I never had the support he needed to conquer and unify the islands. Rather, they form a united front against the west and, with the support of the free dragons inhabiting the islands, they keep themselves free of colonists.
Melisa and her father, along with the crew of the Cazadora, are the only Europeans allowed here, because they too believe dragons should not be imprisoned or enslaved, and they spend as much time as they can liberating dragons and bringing them to safe locations such as Hawaii. There must be some other enclaves like Hawaii, but the earth is as big in this universe as in our own, and I’ve yet to discover them.
Koji: You have a very sympathetic approach to dragons. What inspired this?
Jaz: The second story I ever wrote was about an abused dog, seen through her eyes. It’s quite a challenge to write from the point of view of a non-human, but super rewarding when it works out. And you can use the story to make a reader identify with the pain of a creature they’d otherwise have trouble truly understanding. So when I first saw Kona appear inside my head, I knew that she’d have to be the one to tell her story. She, even more so than the dragons from my childhood, made my heart ache for all the creatures we humans persecute, hunt, kill or otherwise harm–sometimes because we fear them, sometimes because we don’t understand them, but sometimes just because we can.
If you haven’t read the story yet, go check it out. You can always drop Jaz some love here or through her website.
Koji A. Dae
Koji is a dreamer, a mother, and a writer in that order. The first short story she clearly remembers writing involved fairies losing their wings, and ever since then mythology has found different ways to creep into her storytelling.