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Dragons in our midst
By Kregg P. J. Jorgenson 
Posted September 7, 2006

For well over 500 years European maps carried the legend: ‘Beyond Here- There be Dragons.’ But it was more than hyperbole or superstition. It was part of their historical legacy and lineage.

  Today while it is hard to find a travel map that contains the warning it is probably even more difficult to find a country in Europe that doesn’t have some close ties to dragons or other related beasts.

  France has its Guiver and Gargouille, Scandinavia its Jormungander, Lindorm, and Fafnir, Austria has its own version of the Lindorm Worm, in Bavaria there’s the Tatzelworm, Sicily has its giant snake that has the features of a dinosaur, Poland its Wawel dragon, and even the reserved English touts their own Dragon with a Patron Saint protector of St. George to boot! The English also have the Lambton Worm and a handful of other lesser but still colorful nasties.

  It doesn’t stop there either. In Germany, just up the Rhine River from Koln and near the old West German capital of Bonn, I discovered Drachenfels castle in the heart of the Seibengebirge or Seven Mountains.

  Okay, so maybe I didn’t discover it as it had been there for a good thousand years before I arrived and sure, the Romans quarried rock from the site long before the Castle was built. However, I did discover that Drachenfels is German for ‘the Dragon’s Rock’ and on a mist covered morning with shards of sun light cutting holes in the natural gray curtain against the ruins like talon scars it certainly looked possible.

  It had been a long night, longer too since I hadn’t slept all that well in my sleeping bag in the woods just below the castle’s walls. With my rucksack as a pillow I spent a dark night trying to get comfortable on roots and rocks as I waited for my own dragon sighting.

  I had been making my way across Europe and had become somewhat fascinated about this whole dragon business the more I traveled and the more the legends turned up. Dragon tales seemed to be everywhere and nowhere more prominent than the ruins atop the rock outcrop on the Rhine.

  This I learned on the train from Coblenz when I found myself in the company of a boisterous group of amateur but avid opera enthusiasts and several bored-looking spouses who were on their way up river to visit the mystic rock.

  “Oh, to spy the ghost of Siegfried…” said one of the enthusiasts; a large, loud woman who appeared to be the leader of the informal tour group. She had that certain dramatic Diva tone and the train was her latest stage.

  “Or the dragon…” chimed in another in a supporting role.

  “Dragon?” I said, peering up over a paperback.

  “Well, at least the castle ruins,” said the husband of the Diva.

  “As I’m sure you’re aware Drachenfels is where Wagner got his inspiration for the Ring,” she said. She had pronounced Wagner as Vognur which had caused her husband rolled his eyes. He’d obviously been through this before.

   I wasn’t aware but I nodded any way.

  “And to think we’ll get to stand in the Fafner’s cave in the mountain,” added another of the obvious fans.

  “Just think of the acoustics!”

  “Fluffy’s cave? Who’s Fluffy?” I asked as the Diva and several of the group turned to me in horror.

  “Fafner,” said the now annoyed Diva, narrowing her eyes and correcting my mistake. “Apparently you’re not familiar with Wilhelm Richard Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen, are you, the Ring of the Dwarves?”

  “Is that the one with the Hobbits and Orcs?”

  “Certainly not,” said the exasperated woman. “It’s the Ring Cycle- The Rheingold, the Flight of the Valkyeries, Siegfried and Gotterdamerung. Tolkien stole from the Maestro even if he never admitted it.”

  Others in the group nodded and came to her verbal assistance as they eyed me now with scorn and barely concealed contempt. She was blowing smoke but several others looked capable of breathing fire.

  “Everyone knows it was blatant plagiarism,” said one.

  “Both the magic ring and its curse!” offered another.

  “Not to mention the dwarves!”

  “Even the dragon!”

  “And the brave women warriors!”

  “Who?” I asked as the Diva sighed.

  “The Valkyeries,” said the Diva.


  It was the Diva’s husband who offered a better explanation. “Big blondes, bronze bras,” he said.

  “Ah, those Valkyeries. That’s right. They had that famous music.”

  “The Flight of Valkyeries,” said a hopeful neophyte.

  “Sure,” I said and began humming, “Da, da, da, da, dum, DA, DA, DA, DUM!”

  “YES!” the Diva cried. There was hope for me yet.

  “So Wagner’s the guy who did the soundtrack too for the movie Apocalypse Now, huh?”

  All hope was gone. Beyond here, I found my dragons. For that major operatic faux pas and for calling Fafner Fluffy the Diva dismissed me with a raised chin sniff while her husband smothered a small chuckle and the others drifted back to their musical mob.

 Shunned as a non-believer I decided to join them on their quest to Drachenfels anyway. I had a flexible schedule and it sounded promising. They were hoping to catch a glimpse of the dragon and perhaps like the Diva’s husband I too was hoping we’d find the dragon who would devour the large and annoying woman and perhaps a few others in their group.

  Okay, so I didn’t know my Operas but as a Scandinavian American I wanted to tell her that I was familiar with the legend of Siegfried and the dragon and that it was in reality an ancient Norse epic about the step-son of a Danish King who killed the dragon, Fafnir at the urging of a sniveling lying little dwarf named Regen who was out to steal its treasure.

  Wagner (Vognur, if you too are being dialectically picky) also plagiarized and doctored the story a bit but I held my tongue. No easy thing for the great-great-great-great, not so great grandson of a Berserker, which by the way is something else we Scandinavians introduced into the everyday world. The word berserk, that is. It comes from two words; bjorn meaning bear and serkr for shirt, the kind of garment certain Vikings wore on their weekend cruises to England, Scotland and Ireland.

  Another word we Scandinavians gave the English language was the F-word. That’s right. The F-word but my guess is that it was the English, Scottish and Irish who probably put it to frequent use when they spotted the my kin pulling up to their shores in their Dragon long boats, which in reality were pre-Volvo SUV’s- four by oars.

  “It’s the Northmen, Luv!”

  “Oh goodness,” said the woman wiping her hands on her apron as she stared out the window of her hovel and ran a quick hand through her hair. “You’d think they would at least phone first!”

   I myself might have used the F-word a time or two on my long hike up to the castle ruins when I occasionally slipped dragging myself up to a wooded area just beneath its walls. I know, I know…‘but you’re not supposed to sleep in or around the castle ruins. It isn’t allowed.’

  Sure, I know this now but not then. Then I was young and impertinent and needed the essence and feel of a place to go along with the geography. Did I mention that I was also traveling on a tight budget and was trying to hold on to enough money for a halfway decent hotel room on my next stop which was Amsterdam?  It wasn’t a good excuse. It just was what it was.

   Besides we had arrived too late to visit the ruins and while the opera enthusiasts appeared slightly disappointed and went off in search of their hotel reservations in a nearby town I went up in search of Fafner with a bottle of dark German beer, a half a loaf of bread and enough cheese and ham in hand to share should he decide to visit.

   In the German version of the story, Fafner is the dragon Siegfried’s allegedly slays. In my version I would interview the dragon and hear his side of the story. Were Dragons the scourge of mankind or simply much maligned serpents with glandular problems in dire need of better PR?

  For most of the evening I had envisioned the dragon rising out of the cave (which I hadn’t found either) but slipped off to sleep instead. By morning I was still hoping he’d show up, maybe talking on his cell phone trying to get an approximate time when the cable guy would be by to install his cable while taking a few minutes out of his busy schedule to talk to me.

  “You the writer, yo?”

  Chin up nod on my part. “Sup?” I’d say.

  “Trying to get HBO and the Hiss-tory Channel. Time’s tight so ask your questions.”

  “You bet,” I said, flipping open my notebook. “What’s with the damsel in constant distress thing?”

   “The tabloids. My Ex and me go through a bitter divorce and she tells her attorney I’m a beast, have a fiery temper and that I frighten her friends. She’s just upset because I ate her family, tasted like stringy chicken, by the way. Anyway, she claims ‘irreconcilable differences,’ goes on Oprah and a few other talk shows, gets a book deal and the next thing I know she’s driving a Mercedes convertible. Meanwhile, I get slapped with huge alimony payments, her attorney fees and a Charlie Sheen rep…” says the Dragon in a ‘you can guess the rest’ shrug.

  “And the Siegfried story?”

  “Real estate.”

  “Real estate?”

  The dragon spreads his stubby arms and sharp claws as he gestures to the scenic wonderland around him. “View property,” Siegfried was into real estate. I needed money and he needed the mountain top for a wealthy client so we hit upon a plan to make us both happy. He plays the hero, I get to keep my cave and make a little spending money under the table and the rest is just show.”

  “So you don’t really eat people anymore?”

  “Oh no, I do. I tried being a Vegan but it just didn’t take. So what are you about a healthy 190 pounds?” asks the dragon smacking its green leathery lips as he visually pokes and prods me with yellow serpentine eyes.

  “Yeah, about that.”

  “Not much fat on you either, I bet.”

  “I  eh, try to workout, stay in shape.”

  “Atkins Diet,” replied the dragon sucking in his stomach. “Lotsa meat, no starches. So what kind of meaty work do you say you do?”

  “I’m a writer, remember?”

  “Oh yeah, that’s right,” says the dragon more than a little disappointed. Writers, he knows, aren’t very tasty, let alone filling- too much cynical bile, toxic alcohol residue, and over abundance of bull fecal matter.

  “Hate to rush you but I have a ten o’clock. My people will call your people. Perhaps we’ll do mittag essen sometime? You like Chinese?”

  “What? You mean like pork noodles and rice?”

  “No, I mean the people. It’s a long flight from here but worth it when you’re hungry for a little take-out.”

  “Eh…no. I’m…trying to cut back on MSG.”

  “A pity,” says the dragon turning to leave.” Ciao!”

  “Auf Wiedersehen,” I’d reply.

  In the near distance I could hear the small cog train as it brought up the day’s first visitors to the castle ruins. And as I was packing up and getting ready to head back down the mountain one of Dragon’s people actually did call me.

  On the train the large heavy-set woman opera enthusiast was singing something out of key from the Ring opera while others in the group squealed in delight.  

  There wouldn’t be lunch with the dragon now. It was over and I knew it.

  The fat lady was already singing.    


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