Here there be dragons — Guivre: The Embarrassed Dragon

Lots of towns in medieval France were bedevilled with a particularly nasty species of wingless, serpent-like dragon called ‘Guivre.’ But now they’re extinct. So what happened?

Guivres had toxic breath that poisoned everything, devastating entire villages, taking out fields, costing farmers their crops. They also carried disease. One breath could cause a plague that could kill thousands.

As it turns out, guivres have a fatal flaw. Which one young farmer discovered in a unique way. By taking a swim.

It was a hot day and no one was around, so our hero stripped off his clothes and jumped in the nearest river to cool off. When he stepped out of the river, naked as the day he was born, he heard something big coming through the woods. He froze in terror; normally a fatal mistake, this time it saved his life.

The huge ugly head of a guivre popped out from between the trees.

The dragon took one look at the naked human and, amazingly, blushed. Instead of attacking, the guivre drew back and slithered away.

The astonished farmer dressed quickly and got back to his village, where he spread the news of his adventure. At last, the people knew how to defeat their worst enemy–the guivre, for all its poison breath, was embarrassed by humans without their clothes on… which lead to some very interesting fights between humans and guivres. In the end, naked humans extinct-ifed the guivres.

Here there be dragons: The Lambton Worm

In Germanic countries, and in England (because the English just took everything from everywhere), there was a kind of dragon called a ‘worm’ or ‘wurm.’

On Easter Sunday, 1420, John Lambton, the degenerate heir of Lambton Castle, skipped church to go fishing in the River Weir. He didn’t catch anything for a long time, so just to add to his wickedness, he started to swear.

Now, at this point, some versions of the legend include an old man passing by warning John he’d better watch himself. This seems unlikely, since any old man who could warn John without being a bit of a hypocrite would be in church himself. It’s a good addition to the legend, though, since it forms a nice parallel with the witch that comes later.

After spewing some good curses, he felt a tug on the line. Not a fish. The slimy black thing, three feet long, had nine sets of gills, huge eyes, and the face of a devil. Suddenly not so hungry for seafood, Lambton threw it down the nearest well. And off he went to the crusades, some say to make up for his rebellious youth.

A few years later, the locals started to notice their chickens going missing. Then their pigs. Then their cattle. Then, one day, some observant fellow said, “Hey, what’s that big black thing wrapped around that hill over there?” (The hill was either Penshaw Hill or the more aptly named Worm Hill.)

Well, as it turns out, the worm had grown, Jörmungandr-like, big enough to wrap around the hill seven times.

Some brave local youths try their luck at slaying the thing, but the worm is luckier. The only thing the locals can do to save their sheep is offer the worm a troughful of milk every morning in the courtyard of Lambton Castle.

When John Lambton gets back from the crusades, he recognizes the leech he pulled out of the river. Horrified, he also recognizes his responsibility. His sin created it. He’s got to deal with it. But before he does, he consults the local wise woman (See how he’s grown as a person? Before he ignored the old man, now he seeks out aged advice.). She tells him if he has to win, he must wear a suit of spiky armor and confront the worm while standing in the river.

If he does succeed, she tells him, he’s got to kill the first living thing he encounters after the fight or his family will be cursed for nine generations.

After a truly epic battle, John kills the worm. But instead of heading out to the nearest field and slaughtering the first bull that walks up to him, like a sensible person would have done, the moron heads home. His own father comes running out to meet him.

Now soft-hearted John can’t kill his own dad, so he puts the family dog to death hoping it’ll be a good substitute.

Of course this didn’t work. The next nine generations of Lambtons die tragic deaths. Thanks, Grandpa John!

But the Lambton family outlived the curse, and four hundred years later, John’s namesake John George (The name of another famous dragonslayer) Lambton became the first Governor of the Province of Canada. What’s really interesting is where they built the monument to the second John Lambton.

Penshaw Hill.

Here There be Dragons — Jörmungandr: The last dragon

In the last… er… previous installment of our dragon feature, I told you about Tiamat, the first dragon, slain by Marduk, who made the world out of her body.

Note the cow's head and the fishing line in this picture.


Today, I’ll talk about the last dragon, Jörmungandr. He’s not a Babylonian dragon, like Tiamat. He’s as Viking as they come, the son of Loki, the (sometimes) evil Norse god of mischief, and Angrboda, a giantess.

So… technically, Jörmungandr isn’t a dragon. He’s a giant serpent (Angrboda must have been thrilled at that one. Then again, the other two kids that pair had were a giant wolf and the first lady of the Norse underworld, so maybe a serpent ain’t so bad.).

Jörmungandr started out as just a little guy. But he grew. Oh man, did he grow. Wasn’t long Odin got tired of Jörmungandr lying around Midgard (and I do mean “around” Midgard) and hurled Jörmungandr into the sea.

Jörmungandr just didn’t stop growing. Presumably fuelled by all that fish, he got so big that he encircles the earth, hanging out in the ocean with his tail in his mouth. The big guy isn’t inherently evil, but he’s definitely got some bad tendencies, including the habit of getting into epic battles with Thor, the god of thunder.

Really, the first one happened when Thor went to visit this king in his hall, and the king thought he’d use his magic to play a little practical joke on the god. He challenged Thor to three tests. One of them was a dare to lift the king’s cat. As hard as he tried, Thor couldn’t get the cat all the way off the ground for more than a second. The king seemed pretty impressed, which confused Thor.

After the meal, Thor left, humiliated (he couldn’t do the other tasks, either). The king showed up and bragged about his magic trick–Thor hadn’t been attempting to lift a scrawny old cat, but the Midgard serpent. (Thor killed the king, of course.)

The next contest between Jörmungandr and Thor came on a fishing expedition. Thor got Jörmungandr on the line (using a cow’s head as bait) and fought with him for three days and three nights. Just as Thor was about to get the serpent in the boat (right, like that would have worked), his companion freaked out and cut the line.

Thor and Jörmungandr will face off one more time. At the end of the world. That’s why I called Jörmungandr the last dragon. His death, at the hands of Thor, will herald the end of Ragnarok, the battle that will end the age, making him the last dragon. The gods win over the forces of darkness. And the major gods all die.

Though Thor kills him, Jörmungandr also kills Thor. Thor falls prey to the giant serpent’s venom and dies a painful death. Götterdämmerung, baby. The twilight of the gods. All because of a dragon.

Tiamat: The First Dragon

How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is to have a thankless child.
– King Lear Act 1, Scene 4, William Shakespeare

The great Babylonian mother of gods, Tiamat, would have agreed with Shakespeare on that one, on a bunch of levels.

You see, once upon a Babylonian time, Tiamat, the spirit of salt water and chaos, and her husband Apsu, the spirit of fresh water and emptiness, were the only things that existed. They got along pretty good, and since there wasn’t much else to do, they ended up having a bunch of kids, and those kids were gods.

Apparently gods are noisy folk, and they riled Apsu, who was used to his peace and quiet. Apsu told his wife he was going to kill the kids. Tiamat plead with him not to, that they were all right in their own way, but he didn’t listen.

Ea, one of the loud offspring, had the gift of seeing the future. I don’t know if it’s a ‘gift’ to have a premonition your own father will kill you, but there you have it. Ea decided he wouldn’t put up with that kind of thing and in a preliminary strike, killed dear old dad.

This pissed mom right the crap off. She transformed herself into a dragon so she could kill Ea (who didn’t see that one coming, I guess).

All the gods got together and asked Marduk to kill Tiamat. He said okay, so long as he got to be the boss of everyone when he was done. His brothers and sisters decided he probably wouldn’t live anyway, and agreed.

Huge battle. Marduk and his siblings on one side. Tiamat and the monsters she’d given birth to on the other.

Marduk makes a hurricane and shoves it down Mom’s throat. While her jaw is stuck open, Marduk fired an arrow down in right into her heart.

Tiamat is dead.

Marduk slays the rest of the horde and finds the TABLETS OF DESTINY inside one of them. For fun, Marduk goes on to create the earth and the sky out of the cut-in-half body of his dead mother. As a topping for the sundae, he makes people out of her blood so they can serve the gods and the gods ‘may be at ease.’

The other gods decide okay, the guy who killed the huge dragon, made the sky and the earth, plus people, and has something called the TABLETS OF DESTINY, we’re all right with him being the king of gods.

Next time: Jörmungandr: The last dragon

Here there be Dragons: So what’s a dragon anyway?

Before we get into our new Demon of the Week category, Here there be Dragons, I’d better define what’s a dragon anyway.

Short answer: Anything I say it is.

Here’s why (Well, besides the fact they don’t exist). The word “dragon” originated in early 13th Century France, from the Latin “draconem” (nom. draco) “serpent, dragon,” by way of the Greek “drakon” (gen. drakontos) “serpent, seafish,” from drak-, strong aorist stem of derkesthai “to see clearly.” (Thank you, Online Etymology dictionary.)

So the word “dragon” is Greek/Latin/French. And English, by extension.

Because we have this word, we look at a serpent creature from Ancient China, and say “dragon.” But a Chinese “Dragon” is actually called “Lung.” Does Lung equal Dragon? Sure, a Lung is serpent-like, with legs, and sometimes they can fly. So far, that’s like a dragon. But the Lung is has the head of a camel, the eyes of a demon, antlers like a stag and the belly of a clam. They’re wise, benevolent deities, totally unlike the dumb, bent on destruction animal-brained 13th Century French “dragons.”

But we have this word. “Dragon.” And we use it for the German Wurm, the Chinese Lung… In the end, it’s okay. We can interpret the word the way we want to. Just bear in mind as you’re reading: Sometimes a dragon isn’t exactly a dragon.

On Saturday, I’ll introduce you to Tiamat, the first dragon. Also could be categorized under “Bad Girls”!

An announcement, and some (non-technical) difficulties.

Hello Demon of the Week Readers:

There will be no demonic post this week. Because I forgot my flashdrive somewhere I can’t get to it and I’m starting a new series that I wanted to start today! So, I’ll announce it today and you’ll get the first post on Monday.

Ladies and gentlemen, submitted for your approval…

A couple weeks ago, I was in Alberta visiting friends and family. My six-year-old niece handed me a book while we were sitting in the back of the van. (You might remember my nieces.) This one:

One of Erin's favorite books

Honesty, I had no clue there were so many different kinds of dragons in the world. (Of course ‘dragon’ is a catch-all term, but more about that later).

Not to mention that there’s A NEW TEMERAIRE BOOK THIS MONTH. THANK YOU NAOMI NOVIK.

So, gentle (and not so gentle) readers, July will be all dragons, all the time. But the dragon series will be an ongoing one.

If any of you have any dragon stories, links, suggestions, to share, please email me at teresawilde at gmail dot com or leave me a comment. I promise due credit.

Thanks for your patience, and please return on Monday, when I’ll answer the question “What’s a dragon?”

tcw