Of heroes and dragons

We know the imagery. The hero (of any gender) turns up with a bloody great weapon and slaughters the evil beast, and saves the day. There is much rejoicing. From our earliest fairytales onwards we are taught how good it is to put down the bad guys, and that a hero is someone who destroys monsters. In real life, it doesn’t always work out so well.

“I feel so proud of myself for standing up to you.” “I’ve been wanting to say this to you for a long time now.” Two different scenes. Two different furious, self-righteous women who have just taken down a dragon. The dragon in question is evil. It makes awful demands. Its words can be inferred as being critical. It is not happy with how things are and it said so. It is such a selfish dragon! It was long overdue taking down a peg or two, and they pause to take pride in a job well done. They are triumphant. The dragon is crushed.

The dragon in question is not actually dead, but slinks back to its cave and cries, and feels dreadful. It picks over everything it has said and done, testing its perceptions against the accusations and wondering if it really is that awful, and if it really did need taking down. It looks at its dragon face in the mirror and wonders what is so innately wrong with it and why it is so hateful. What has shocked it most is the sense of how pleased the dragon-fighters are. They are so certain that they have done a good thing, bravely taking down its monster self.

Sometimes it pays to try and look at a story from another angle. How much do you have to hate a person, or feel jealous of them in the first place to enjoy crushing someone else’s spirit? Where are we in relationships when landing a punishing blow on our designated dragon feels like such a win and a source of pride? Where are we in our humanity when seeing someone else crawl off, wounded and confused, feels like a victory? How can that possibly be a win?

We don’t have stories about negotiation. No one says ‘maybe if we stopped cutting down the dragon’s forest and replacing the deer herds with our cattle the dragon wouldn’t bother us.’ None of the fairy stories of old tend to suggest that the dragon may have had feelings and needs too. When we take other people and turn them into dragons so that we can righteously fight them off, we forget that they are people too, and that there were other feelings and needs in the mix. The dragons want things that are not convenient, not comfortable or welcome. Does that make them monsters to be fought? If your dragon is trying to kill you then yes, you fight it off. If what your dragon said was ‘I could really do with some help tidying up’ or ‘I wish you felt you could be honest with me’ then putting on the armour and preparing to do battle is not the best response.

All too easily, we turn into monsters those who are merely guilty of being inconvenient, or not doing enough to feed our egos.

I’ve been the dragon. I’ve watched people glow with pride when they’ve wounded me. I’ve seen people delight in taking me down a peg or two. Or feeling proud of putting me on the floor, because they stood up for themselves, and this is automatically a good thing, in their minds. I’ve crawled back to my cave enough times to try and work out where I went wrong, and years on, the scars from the dragon-hunters remain, and the more recent ones still bleed sometimes. And yet there are other people for whom I am no kind of monster at all.

I try not to stay in spaces where I am cast as the villain and set up as the bitch to be taken down, the ice queen, the monster. I don’t want that role in anyone else’s life. I don’t want to provide anyone with something to test their metal on, I don’t want people trying to prove things by cutting me down to size. It took me until this winter to realise that maybe I do not deserve to be someone else’s dragon, and that maybe the problem in all of this is not actually me.

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, polyamourous animist, ant-fash, anti-capitalist, bisexual steampunk. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

9 responses to “Of heroes and dragons

  • angharadlois

    We need new stories for the different kind of monsters we face now. This is a good place to start.

  • Blodeuwedd

    The dragons in the stories my partner and I tell each other are good guys. I never liked the ‘killing the dragon’ motif!

  • Iulia Flame

    My dragon and I are now on speaking terms, negotiating detente, and figuring out what our respective roles are. Your writing is so clear and refreshing.

  • Kristin Michaelsdottir

    “We don’t have stories about negotiation.” This, to me, is a critical loss. We do need (more–there must be some!) myths about compromising, negotiating, coming to terms without coming to blows, so to speak. Also, this post reminded me of John Gardner’s novel Grendel, which recasts the Beowulf legend from the “monster’s” perspective (a much better crack at the whole telling-the-fairytale-from-the-villain’s-chair trend than, say, the Wicked stuff, but maybe that’s just me). And to wrap up this scatterbrained comment, I’ve loved your blog for a while–your writing is just so damn sane.

  • Eilish Niamh

    Definitely there should be new stories about negotiations. Coompromise is one of the greatest gifts that human beings possess. Also the story of the monster who is preventing villagers from leaving by a road, who is found by a dragon slayer to be a tiny misunderstood furry thing that purrs–who doesn’t like anything that purrs!–comes to mind. The would be monster killer takes the little thing home: appearances can make us seem like threats when something much more complicated is going on. I try to live by the four agreements, don’t take things personally, be impeccable with your word, don’t make assumptions, and do your best. In ancient times, from what I gather, people perceived as heroes did a lot, a lot, of killing. They tend to see it as what was needed given the roles they were given in life and the real uncertainties and threats of other tribes and such and didn’t believe they were doing “good”. We like to think people are good or bad, but most people, if they are thoughtful and have some empathy, do what they believe is necessary. In my opinion, dragon slayer or hero is a category like “elder” or “honored person.” These are statuses conferred on people by others wishing to venerate them or put out an agenda, but rarely do these people completely know who they are making the title for. We live now in a oorld that is remarkably different. We need new stories, stories that demonstrate how to not think less of yourself regardless of what people are or are not doing. Stories that help us remember our interdependence, rather than continue to make each other small. In the mean time, I know, Nimue, that you’ve experienced a lot of trauma and like many of us have found that you’re cast as a dragon: and the key, I think, is to learn…no actually feel, know within yourself…your worth and your light, so that whatever others say or do you will shine despite their darkness. Terrible things get said and done when people act from their wounds. Some may be outright cruel, but whatever they are, you are wonderful, strong, lovable, deserving of good, and next time you want to slink back to a cave, try walking away and then stand tall and show the world you deserve to exist and to be here is your right. This is our new form of necessary, I think. Sorry for the long comment!

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