Dragon Hopping

Last week I entered a writing challenge. It works this way: You are given an opening sentence, to which you are supposed to coherently attach one to two hundred words. You post it, and readers can add their comments and give a thumbs-up or thumbs-down. The three highest-rated entries will then be voted on. If you win, you get … well, to be the winner.

So this isn’t a step up the career ladder. It isn’t supposed to be. It’s supposed to be fun. To prove it, here is the challenge’s opening sentence: If dragon hopping was safe, then I wouldn’t have any interest in it, but of course it’s not, so guess where I’m heading.

It takes a little time to figure out where to go with that. Dragon hopping is a fundamentally bizarre thing to do, like “lion-tickling”. It makes you wonder: Who are these crazy people?

In an inspired touch, the narrator muses on if dragon hopping was safe instead of if it were safe. And it stands to reason that someone who would hop on dragons should not be too punctilious about grammar.

Here is what I posted:

If dragon hopping was safe, then I wouldn’t have any interest in it, but of course it’s not, so guess where I’m heading.

Yes, you know: Basilisk. The terraformers abandoned it a century ago, when they finally figured out that nobody is going to move to Basilisk while there is standing room on any other planet. Weather comes two different ways there: Too hot and too cold. There is very little water, and the only creatures that manage to live on that forsaken planet are mutant and hostile. Snips. Eye lizards. The Raz.

And, of course, dragons.

The terraformers built their skeleton settlement deep in a cave system, thinking it would be a refuge. You can imagine their horror when a flock of dragons came swooping in to settle at their doorstep. What are the odds they’d found their colony smack-dab in the middle of a hibernation nest?

A couple decades back the deserted colony was taken over by somebody with more con than morals. Now it’s a resort, and it runs Dragon Shows all year round. This season’s show is dragon hopping.

So I’m on my way back. It’s a crazy thing, I suppose, to hop from one hibernating dragon to another, but I’ll fill my pockets nicely. And, provided I don’t slip and land on some touchy dragon’s snout, I’ll enjoy it.

The link that I posted above is to phase one of the challenge; this one is to phase two. All due credit to Becky Miller for creating the challenge – and that opening line.

Character Profiles: Guardian Angel

It was at this moment that Peet the Sock Man leapt from the rim of the gully at top speed, his arms spread wide like wings. Janner watched his uncle with awe.
His socks had long since fallen away in shreds, cut to pieces by the talons at the end of his reddish forearms. Peet’s white hair trailed behind him; one of his eyebrows lay flat and low, the other arched like a curl of smoke; and in Peet’s eyes blazed a single purpose:
Protect. Protect. Protect.
What struck Janner most about his uncle in this moment was not the graceful leap through the air or the deadly, mysterious talons, but that amidst all the danger and panic, Artham P. Wingfeather’s gaze was fixed on him with what Janner knew to be a fierce affection.

– Andrew Peterson, North! Or Be Eaten

It began when the little girl kicked the Fang. Before it ended, whole armies came after the Wingfeather children. But fortunately, Peet the Sock Man – either bravely crazy or crazily brave – was always willing to stand between the Wingfeather children and armies.

He was their Guardian Angel. Andrew Peterson even gave him wings, a fitting – though probably unintentional – touch.

The Guardian role is not too often cast. Aslan sometimes acts like one – appearing to direct the heroes’ path, intervening when they finally can do nothing. No one in the Chronicles of Narnia really gets home without him. But in all that, he is not really being a Guardian Angel; he’s being a Jesus-figure.

In Lord of the Rings, Aragorn and his Rangers act as the Guardian Angels of Bree and the Shire – “sons of forgotten kings walking in loneliness, guarding from evil things folk that are heedless.”

A less classic example, but still a true one, is the goose woman in The Wolf of Tebron. Although she never does physical violence on behalf of the hero, she watches over him and sets him on the right road. Her guardianship is one of wisdom, not strength.

The goose woman, like Aragorn and the Sock Man, is a Rejected Outsider. They all also cross with the Mysterious Yet Benevolent Stranger – with bonus points for being Not Dressed for Success: Do You Judge By Appearances?

What Aragorn and Artham are, but the goose woman is not, is a Too-Powerful Sidekick. This is why they are detached from the hero in surprisingly short order and sent to be Guardian Angels somewhere else.

It makes sense that the protector should be stronger than his charge. It even makes sense, in a way, that he should be unknown. But it’s a little strange that Guardian Angels are so often pariahs, cast off from society. Perhaps it helps them fulfill their role; perhaps it helps them get into it.

Guardian Angels are a noble breed, but they are most noble when they combine with the Pariah archetype. It may or may not be a burden to spend your life protecting people when you do it to applause; it’s always hard when you do it to misunderstanding and rejection. And yet Aragorn and Artham carried on, satisfied just in being the Guardian Angel.

Review: The Fox and the Hound

The world has its natural enemies, creatures it pits against each other. Wolves and sheep. Farmer and locust. Hunter and deer.

The fox and the hound.

Disney’s The Fox and the Hound is called a story of friendship. It’s as much a story of enmity, and most of all a story of a confusion of the two. In childhood innocence, the fox and the hound became friends. Then they grew up and learned better.

Fox and the Hound is, at its heart, not much suited to be a children’s story. Not that it is the Disney movie least suited to be a children’s story. That distinction goes to The Hunchback of Notre Dame. (What were they thinking? What were they thinking?)

But if there is a lingering somberness, other elements of the movie strike the Disney chord with great trueness. In an entertaining subplot, two birds hunt a caterpillar with great perseverance and absolutely no success. “That fuzzy worm,” they call it. That side-story captures so much classic Disney: cute creatures, humor, animal antics, it all coming all right in the end.

The shooting of Todd’s mother by hunters brings memories of Bambi – how could it not? And you cannot help but think Bambi did it better. The animation of Fox and the Hound also seems inferior, particularly the fire and smoke. Even so, it’s decent enough, and even rewards the viewer’s eyes with moments of loveliness.

The weakest part of the story is the climactic struggle, when the hunter is attacked by a large, mutant bear. It was as tall as a house, tore down trees, swatted the hound away like a mouse, and had red eyes. It was Godzilla Bear.

Once I found it frightening. Somewhere along the way it became silly. You wonder if there is, somewhere in the game preserve, a secret lab where unethical scientists are performing questionable radiation experiments.

Disney movies have been accused of being coated with sentiment. The Fox and the Hound is coated with pathos. It begins with the orphaning of a baby fox and interludes with a brief and splendid friendship. Then we have the end of the friendship, then it turning to hatred, then the sadness of the old woman as she pushes Todd out into what is turning out to be a cold world. Then she went back to her loneliness, and Amos and Copper went on the hunt.

At the end, there is some redemption – a revival of loyalty, a triumph of the old affection. Yet those very acts of self-sacrificing courage are a final salute to their fleeting, and now fled, friendship. It will not return. In the final moments of the film, we hear the wistful echo of a lost childhood hope: “We’ll always be friends forever, won’t we?” “Yeah, forever.”

“Forever,” Big Mama said, “is a long time. And time has a way of changing things.” Is that the lesson of The Fox and the Hound? Or is it that the world is older and larger than we are, and it has limits we can’t change? No Hallmark greeting card, either one.

The Fox and the Hound has its tenderness and its humor, but I don’t enjoy it as I did when I was little. It seems thinner fare now. But I am still moved by its bittersweet ending, its sense that in a different world the fox and the hound could have been friends.

And maybe, in a different world, they will be. After all, the lion and the lamb are going to lie down together.