Friday, 18 May 2012


Scribble City Central's twelfth in the Fantabulous Friday A-Z series is from a truly wonderful illustrator, Jackie Morris.  Jackie has one of the best and most beautiful imaginations I know - and she is one of the few people who is as good with words as she is at pictures. I've known and loved her work for years, but I think my favourite of all her books is Tell Me a Dragon.

It's a gem of a book, a book to make the imagination of a child soar - and not only that of a child.  What I hadn't realised till recently is that Jackie has also done the exquisite covers for one of my very favourite fantasy series - Robin Hobb's Rain Wild Chronicles, the latest of which has just appeared.  You can see just how beautiful they are here.

All in all, Jackie seemed to be the perfect person to hand you over to to talk about
D for Dragons
Invisible Realities of the Air

Why, she even has a dragonmobile to ride around in, not to mention that she lives in Wales, where dragons are at the heart of everything!

 JM:  I am often asked, usually by children ( adults think they know the answer) whether dragons exist.

“Look around the world,” I say, “ around the world then back through time. Ever since people walked upright and drew images there have been dragons. Primitive man drew dragons on cave walls, carved dragons in rock, decorated pottery with dragon images. All around the wide wonderful world in every human culture there is some form of dragon species, scattered through myth there are stories of dragons, in Japan and China, Africa and Australia, Europe and America. Japan has dragons that control the weather, hide pearls beneath the oceans, in South America there are dragon spirits, in England there are dragons that shake the foundations of castles so that stones tumble and fall. Dragons live in wells, beneath the sea, make snow fall on mountains.

We take for granted the speed of communication now. A dragon could flap its wings in South America and a tidal wave of tweeting information could spread around the world until it was the most watched piece of film on YouTube. But when dragons began their lives with mankind information moved at a slow pace. Stories spread along trade routes, the Salt Road, The Silk Road, along the sea lanes. Before writing these tales of dragons would spread slow wings around the world with traveling story tellers, and yet they did. People in one town were plagued by a dragon demon and a knight had come to rescue them and the tale would travel and grow.

How fascinating then, that in these cultures that grew up for centuries independent of each other--until one discovered another, as exploration by sea became more commonplace--how fascinating that all had dragons of one kind or another.”

So, all around the world, in all cultures, this creature is present. In the history of the planet mankind is a relatively recent arrival. In the history of mankind books are even more recent. People take literacy for granted and yet the phenomena of the spread of knowledge through the written word is so recent a historical form as to be the blink of an eye in time. This makes it even more astonishing to me that the dragon creature is so very strong in the human imagination.

Most dragons are born from eggs. Little is known of where dragons lay their eggs, whether they make good parents or whether a young dragon, once hatched, grows into the world on its own. Most times they only come to human attention as fully grown, fully formed creatures.

Most dragons can fly. Some do this by using their wings, others have magical powers to lift them into the air, and the Luck Dragon Falcor, who lives in The Never Ending Story of Michael Ende flies on the power of happy thoughts. Some bring storms in their wake, some stir the sea bed to powerful storms.

It is said that dragons, like many humans, are attracted to gold. In Beowulf, one of the most ancient of our northern stories, the hero slays a dragon and claims the dragon’s hoard as his.

For me dragons are magical. As a child I would dream of riding across star-filled skies on a dragon’s back. I would have no worries and no cares as my dragon would deal with all my troubles. There was a painting that I loved and loathed, painted by Uccello in 1470 it showed a princess, a dragon and a knight. It was supposed to show St George and the dragon but I read the painting in a different way. To me it looked as if a princess was out walking with her dragon one day, enjoying the blue sky, the air and the views when along came a knight so full of himself. Seeing her there he decided to ‘rescue’ her, so ran the dragon through with his lance. In Tell Me A Dragon there is a painting inspired by this. The words read
My dragon eats sweet perfumed flowers. When she laughs petals ride on her breath.” 
The picture shows the princess from the Uccello painting and her dragon, much older now, and larger. He is eating a bunch of flowers the knight has brought as a gift for the princess. Next he will eat the knight.

I have never seen a dragon. I have heard one. Lying on my back on a high hill top, on a bed of heather, with the blue sky above me, I was thinking about the words for a book called Little Dragon Small and the Search for Story. I heard a fierce rush of wings and felt a rush of wind wash over me. I sat up, blinded by sunlight and a moment later looked around to see, but the dragon had passed on swift wings.

As I get older I realize more and more that although I know many things there are so very many things that I do not know, do not understand. The sheer depth of my ignorance is astonishing to me, but also exciting. So much to learn. I have never seen a dragon. But then I have never seen a blue whale, a wild polar bear, a Siberean tiger, a wild snow leopard, a Scottish wildcat. I have never seen them but I know that they exist. Knowing they exist makes the world a richer place for me. Perhaps that is how it is with dragons also.

Some time ago I was asked to do a piece of work for a DiscWorld calendar. During the research ( reading The Colour of Magic by Terry Pratchett) I discovered a whole new world, a world where magic was real and dragons could be summoned by the power of thought. This was a spark that lit the kindling of my imagination and led to the book Tell Me a Dragon. ( The kindling was the desire to have a book that I could use to stimulate the imagination of children to make working in schools much easier. Children, well, most children, love dragons, and the idea that they could have their own, describe it, draw and paint it was a powerful catalyst for working with them.) Very late on in the project I painted the small dragon who lives on the title page. From the moment he was born he stomped around in my imagination demanding his own book. He didn’t want to be a bit part player in a book about dragons, no! He wanted a book all to himself. And so Little Dragon Small and the Search for Story was born.

It begins:

On a blue sky day Little Dragon Small hatched out into the bright and wonderful world. With a stretch and a yawn and the blink of an eye he set off on an adventure to search for Story.

He didn’t know much. He was new. He was young. But he knew very well that every dragon needs a story.

We all need stories. They are what make us what we are. Maybe we all need dragons too.

SCC:  I have never been lucky enough to hear (or see) a dragon, Jackie - but I don't need to.  I too know they exist, along with fairies, perhaps in a space that most of us no longer have eyes strong or fast enough to comprehend.  As usual, you've set my imagination on fire - and I can't wait to read more about Little Dragon Small.  Thank you so much for a fascinating and illuminating piece.

If you'd like to find out more about Jackie, you can do so at the following links:
Some of her signed books are available from:

Next week: Meg Rosoff talks about E for Eck, a new but irresistible creature (keep your fridges locked).  See you then!


catdownunder said...

Ah, I have been rather fond of dragons ever since I read "Green Smoke" at about age six or seven.
There are, I believe, "Imperial" dragons in China - or so my godson tells me!They apparently have five toes rather than three - to better grasp the imperial pearls.

Katherine Langrish said...

I read that too, Cat! Yes, and Kenneth Grahame's 'The Reluctant Dragon'. Seens there have always been people who suspected that the dragons might be more civilized than the knights...

What a lovely post!

Lucy Coats said...

Goodness - Green Smoke - that takes me back, as does the Kenneth Grahame. My favourite dragon book as a child was Ajax, Last of the Dragons by A de Quincey, illustrated by Brian Robb. I've never found another soul who has read or even heard of it, though. A more modern dragon, who is also fun, is Temeraire from Naomi Novik's series. He's an Imperial, but I can't remember how many toes he has.

Lynne Garner said...

Lovely post and fantastic images.

When I used to teach ceramics my favourite thing to teach was how to make a dragon hatching out of an egg.

madwippitt said...

What beautiful dragons! And you did those luscious ones on the Robin Hobb books too - coincidentally I was just admiring the cover of the latest today and the way it stands out against the iridescent background (a bit of dragon scale?)
So lovely to see some proper ones that look as though they can fly rather than grumpy looking top heavy lumbering lizards

Paeony Lewis said...

Glorious illustrations. I wonder if several hundred years ago people reported seeing real dragons (in the same way people now see aliens). Have their been old records of 'sightings'?

Book Maven said...

I believe in dragons. Also unicorns. Also Jackie Morris.

jackie said...

I have never seen one but have heard them fly over in a whir of wings.

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