Chinese New Year is almost upon us and we leave behind the Year of the Rabbit and enter the Year of the Dragon 龙年 (long nian).
The Dragon is the only mythical beast in the Chinese zodiac and unlike dragons in western culture is considered a benevolent creature with none of the aggressive characteristics (such as consuming virgins, laying waste to villages etc) that typify western folklore. The word for dragon is ‘long’ 龙 and because the same word – albeit with a different character 聋 – means ‘deaf’, Chinese dragons are thought of as being deaf.
The Chinese dragon has nine physical characteristics, namely: a head like a camel; horns like a deer; eyes like a hare; ears like a bull; neck like an iguana; belly like a frog; scales like a carp; paws like a tiger and claws like an eagle. A dragon has 9 times 9 scales ( the most auspicious of numbers) and always has a pearl, out-of-reach, just below its chin. Dragons shun contact with centipedes and silk of five colours.
To celebrate 龙年 I thought it would be an interesting idea if, during the year, everyone read at least one book which has the word ‘Dragon’ in its title; so to get you started here are some suggestions:
For young readers:
‘The Tale of Custard the Dragon’ by Ogden Nash, illustrated by Lynn M Munsinger.
This is a long and very funny poem which I absolutely loved as a child. Poor old Custard is always being teased for being cowardly, but finally comes through as a hero admired and praise by all.
Here be Dragons by Sharon Kay Penman
Set in 13th century Wales and featuring the power-hungry Plantagenet King John (brother of Richard the Lionheart), his bastard daughter Joanna and her beloved husband Llewellyn Prince of Wales. A sweeping tale which covers a turbulent period in English/Welsh history. Penman’s historical novels are well researched and enjoyed by readers of all ages from 15 to 85. As this is the first book of a trilogy, if you enjoy it you have the pleasure of two further books to come!
Flashman and the Dragon by George MacDonald Fraser
He’s back again – cad, bounder, toady, and he’s as licentious as ever, Flashman is in China – its 1860 and the Taiping Rebellion is in full swing, not to mention the 2nd Opium War. George MacDonald Fraser’s sublime anti-hero swaggers his way through this rip-roaring book.
Dragonflight by Anne McCaffrey
This is the first book in the 22 book series ‘Dragonriders of Pern’ written by Anne McCaffrey, and later by her son Todd McCaffrey. The books are immensely popular and if fantasy worlds set in the future are your cup of tea, then look no further.
Nine Dragons by Michael Connelly
Featuring Connelly’s famous creation the LAPD homicide detective Harry Bosch, this particular tale takes Harry from LA to Hong Kong and back. Gripping stuff.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
There can’t be a reader in the Western world who hasn’t heard of this runaway bestseller, and even if they havn’t read it they may have seen the films in either Swedish or Hollywood versions. I felt it was a must to include on my list!
Dragon by Clive Cussler
Slightly improbable but none-the-less entertaining thriller. Cussler’s dauntless hero Dirk Pitt untangles a savage conspiracy emanating from the ocean depths and directed against the Western powers. A good airplane read.
The Dragon’s Tail by Adam Williams
Set in post-war China this is a spy thriller. Written by an old China hand who really knows the history it is a cracking read.
Dragon Talk by Fleur Adcock
Published in 2010 this is the latest collection of one of Britains most highly acclaimed poets – Adcock was awarded the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry in 2006. This collection, which isn’t anything to do with dragons per se, is full of wonderful poetry about everyday life, family and other relationships. Her poems are always beautifully crafted and often have a terrific punchline.
The Dragon Syndicates by Martin Booth
Oriental expert Martin Booth gives the reader the definative history of the Triads who have controlled Chinese organised crime for the past three centuries and are who are now operating internationally. An intriguing and informative read.