The Dragon Machine*
You're probably wondering about the image at the top of this post. That's young George and his dragon machine, from Helen Ward's wonderful re-imagining of the story of St. George and the dragon, my favourite small boy's favourite picture book. The "overlooked", solitary, and highly imaginative George must return the numerous stray dragons only he can see to the wilderness from whence they came. So, he builds himself a 'dragon machine' and leads them safely home.
My own children had a different favourite, Kenneth Grahame's 1898 short story The Reluctant Dragon, which delights in an erudite and irenic dragon, a St. George "who didn't really like killing", and a faux fight between the two, staged to appease an overly pugilistic townspeople. And they're hardcore, my lot, they took their dragon unabridged and with the original E.H. Shepard illustrations. We even acquired a word for the family lexicon from Grahame's tale ... where you might say someone was 'strutting their stuff' we say they were ramping.
Ramping, it should be explained, consists in running round and round in a wide circle, and sending waves and ripples of movement along the whole length of your spine, from your pointed ears right down to the spike at the end of your long tail. When you are covered with blue scales, the effect is particularly pleasing; and the Boy recollected the dragon's recently expressed wish to become a social success.But the best bit, the very best bit, the bit where every listening child would chant along at the end, was this bit ...
"I'm a telling you!" said the shepherd. "He was sticking half-way out of the cave, and seemed to be enjoying of the cool of the evening in a poetical sort of way. He was as big as four cart-horses, and all covered with shiny scales - deep-blue scales at the top of him, shading off to a tender sort o' green below. As he breathed, there was that sort of flicker over his nostrils that you see over our chalk roads on a baking windless day in summer. He had his chin on his paws, and I should say he was meditating about things. Oh, yes, a peaceable sort o beast enough, and not carrying on or doing anything but what was quite right and proper. I admit all that. And yet, what am I to do? Scales, you know, and claws, and a tail for certain, though I didn't see that end of him - I ain't used to 'em, and I don't hold with 'em, and that's a fact!"I can hear the four of them now, "Scales, you know, and claws, and a tail for certain", and then, almost shouting, "I ain't used to 'em, and I don't hold with 'em, and that's a fact!"
Do you know, I rather miss having littlies about the place!
* The Dragon Machine, 2003, written by Helen Ward, illustrated by (the incredible) Wayne Anderson.