When I was asked to participate in the Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tour for The Dragon's Harp, I wanted to know more about Dragon. Here is the author, Rachael Pruitt.
As an Arthurian author, I am often asked about dragons. They do, after all, haunt the
pages of these beloved legends as persistently as witches stalk the fairy tales of childhood. Indeed, Arthur, the Once and Future King himself, was called the Pendragon, descended from an mysterious lineage of “Dragon” kings whose origins stretch back into the most ancient mists of Britain.
Nor were the early Celts who first told the stories of Arthur, Queen Gwenhwyfar (Guinevere), and the powerful Mage Merlin afraid of dragons in the same way later medieval culture was. In fact, it wasn’t until the Normans and the Medieval Catholic Church of the 12th -14th centuries set their stamp on British folklore, that dragons were perceived as evil.
St. George would have been out of a job if he had gone adventuring in the earlier Celtic culture that first gave rise to the legends of Arthur and Gwenhwyfar! For, in this earlier, less culturally-rigid time period of the 5th century when life was undoubtedly chaotic and dangerous, the native Celts of Britain found much to admire about dragons. Since this was also the period when King Arthur would actually have lived—and the culture he would have been most familiar with—it is no surprise to students of folklore that this earlier, more historically-accurate Arthur is often portrayed and associated with dragons.
In Celtic traditions, you see, dragons are allies, not enemies. Courageous, regal, possessing great beauty and sovereignty, dragons appear in the sky, beneath the waves, and within the caves of an older, truer Camelot--creatures befitting the greatest legendary king of all times.
Like the Asian “take” on this enormous regal creature, Welsh and Celtic dragons (including Merlin’s friend, Cymry, in my novel, The Dragon’s Harp) are usually protective beneficent beings—elemental guardians of the land and those who serve it. They bless those they choose to initiate with both challenges and abundance.
In contrast to the later Normans (who arrived in Britain, armed to the teeth, and conquered it in 1066), earlier Welsh and Arthurian traditions honored the dragons’ strength and majesty enough to make them iconic symbols of pride. The red dragon remains on the Welsh flag to this day.
There is a well-known dragon legend that takes place at the Welsh hillfort of Dinas Emrys, where I have set most of Dragon’s Harp. This is not coincidence. I initially chose this location because of its beauty--and this legend. Yet it wasn’t until I began to write that I realized just how pivotal this dragon’s story was to become in my version of the tale.
The traditional story goes something like this: Vortigern, the tyrant king, was trying to build a fortress on top of the hill, but it kept collapsing. His Druids advise Vortigern that he must find and sacrifice a boy who has no father, place his corpse beneath the foundation stones, and let his blood stabilize the building. After looking high and low for such a child, a strange youth named Merlin is found. The tattle-tale villagers mumble to Vortigern’s warriors that Merlin has no human father and was probably sired by a spirit. Off poor Merlin goes to be slaughtered, despite his mother’s pleas.
Yet when the boy stands in front of Vortigern, he cleverly points out that the Druids are wrong. Intrigued, Vortigern orders his court to an underground pit deep within the hillside, where Merlin shows them a great underground pool—two giant eggs lie half concealed within it. To the amazement of the court, the eggs begin to shake, then crack open to reveal two dragons, one red, one white. Without a second’s delay, the dragons begin a battle to the death.
The red dragon is triumphant, the white dragon dies in agony, and Merlin seizes the moment to prophesy. He address the entire court, telling them that the white dragon symbolizes the invading Saxons (whom Vortigern was allied with) and the red dragon’s win means that the Saxons will lose. They and their client king Vortigern will be defeated by a great champion named Arthur. Merlin’s prophecy comes true, Vortigern dies soon after his prophecy was made—and a legend is born.
This dynamic story captivated me from the first time I heard it. It is my honor to present it in Dragon’s Harp, although in a rather altered form! What I was not initially conscious of when I wrote the scenes of my own version, however, is how protective this red dragon turns out to be towards children in both versions, saving first Merlin, then Gwenhwyfar in my retelling!
I would like to think that somewhere, Merlin’s friend, the red dragon, “Cymry”, is watching and approves…
Photo by Shelley Krapes
My name is Rachael Pruitt and I’m a writer, storyteller, and teacher with a lifelong fascination for Celtic mythology and the Arthurian legend.
My new novel, The Dragon’s Harp, tells the story of the coming of age of the famous Queen Gwenhwyfar (the Welsh spelling for Guinevere) in a dark and frightening time. Merlin is her Uncle and, although she is a tribal Celtic princess who possesses both power and magic, she is in great danger from both the human and supernatural realms.
Dragon’s Harp is just the beginning! I have plans for four more books about Gwenhwyfar and Merlin’s lives. The books are called Era of Dragons: The Lost Tales of Gwenhwyfar.
I will be reviewing The Dragon's Harp soon!!!