Monday, January 07, 2008

Why Are Americans Afraid of Dragons?

Wednesday, December 19 ~ Albuquerque, New Mexico

I'm in the video section of Target, Christmas shopping for my daughter. As I'm browsing through the movie racks, I overhear an older and younger woman discussing which DVD to buy a child on their list.

"What about Eragon?" the younger woman asks. "I hear it's good."

"Does it have magic in it? I don't want a movie with magic," the older one -- her mother? -- responds sternly.

They move out of earshot and I'm too stunned to follow.

Are we truly living in some version of The MoonQuest's mythical setting? This land where vision is outlawed and visionaries put to death, where myth and magic are forbidden, where "once upon a time" is a forbidden phrase, and where fact is the only legal tender was a creation of my imagination... Or was it?

What kind of culture have we created where children are denied magic, where fantasy is suspect and where dragons are relegated to dustbins?

Thirty years ago in an essay, author Ursula K. Le Guin asked, "Why are Americans afraid of dragons?" She concluded that most technological cultures dismiss works of the imagination because they lack measurable utility, an outlook only exacerbated in this country by our Puritan heritage.

If 30 years ago dragons were not fit for adults, are they now unfit for children, too?

While the Harry Potter books broadened the reach of imaginative fiction for kids (and adults), it also expanded our hysterical suspicion and suppression of it.

The fact is, imaginative fiction opens our hearts, expands our spirit and broadens our minds in ways that nonfiction never can, and that magical/fantastical fiction can carry more truth in its castles, dragons and trolls than many pieces of so-called literature.

That's why I call The MoonQuest a "true fantasy." There is nothing factual about it. But as those two women in Target have proven, it's decidedly true.

3 comments:

motherwort said...

Yes, yes, and yes! Le Guin was spot on. I recently was conversing with a friend who has taken a decidedly materialist turn in his philosophy. No magic, no wonder, no synchronicities. In an effort to control, to determine, to be sure, he lost miracles and marvels. My heart ached for him.

Emerson said, "Fiction reveals truth that reality obscures." Living in the world these days I think there's plenty of evidence that Emerson had it right. Going back to Joseph Gold, "Our well-being now depends on Literature to assist us to be maximally functional as linguistic, story creatures." I say bring on the dragons.

Mark David Gerson said...

Amen! (The dragon in The MoonQuest is a primal force of creation...ie, a good guy!

Anonymous said...

Laying aside the number of [adult male] personal friends I have/have had who truly believe in dragons and see whatever movie they can about dragons no matter how silly, Doreen Virtue (the "angel/faerie lady") fairly recently started talking about them - that is, seeing them and working with them. The Chinese also know all about them: they see dragons as wise and resourceful creatures. And during the year of the golden dragon - two years ago, I think - a TON of Chinese weddings took place (in the U.S.) because it was considered very lucky.


These days, we not only suspect everything that we can't see, touch, etc., but we have forgotten how to believe in our dreams. Not just believe, but KNOW that they're true. And it's directly caused by having to leave dreaming and magic behind in our childhoods. How can we manifest our desires if we don't know that they've happened already in the future? I've been practicing lately: I KNOW that I will get a seat on the NYC subway during rush hour...and it happens. I KNEW I would win lotto - and I won a dollar. (Okay, the faeries were laughing over that one: I'd never specified how much. Tee, hee, even the seat-in-rushhour thing: until I specified ME, OTHER PEOPLE got the seats that had opened up when I was there.)

Maybe the faeries will openly come back. Maybe we'll discover what happened to Atlantis - and why both our third eye and the dolphins' "bump" over their nose are both called pineal glands. (Hint: it's where dolphins' radar is...)

Practice, practice, practice...

Bright blessings, Suze