Daily Archives: August 23, 2007

Wrong about Rowling, and Dragons, Too

Michael D. O’Brien, my esteemed clansman, has a thing about certain kinds of fantasy being neopagan. (Well, yeah. Usually advertises it.) Unfortunately, he also has a slight problem with accurate identification. J.K. Rowling was obviously not writing anything anti-Christian; now we know that with the certainty of an anvil being dropped on Pius Thicknesse’s head.

Similarly, Michael O’Brien has a problem with monsters. He doesn’t like friendly ones. He particularly doesn’t like dragons, and feels that they are all the Dragon in the Book of Revelation.

Unfortunately for him, the medieval Biblical tradition disagrees. Just like lions, which can either be the lion roaring to devour souls or the Lion of Judah saving ‘em, dragons have their own place. Leviathan is a wonderful sea critter, “this sea dragon which God has made to play” in the sea, and which expects God to feed it. So dragons demonstrate God’s niftiness and creative power. The Septuagint and the Vulgate have many more examples: Job is “a brother to dragons and a companion to owls”. (Sounds like Harry Potter.) Nehemiah visits desolate Jerusalem on the sly and sees the well-remembered “dragon fountain”. “Praise the Lord from the earth, all ye dragons, and all ye deeps.” “The beasts of the field shall glorify me, the dragons and the ostriches.”

But my clansman is also turning his back on his own heritage. The thoroughly Christian and Catholic poets of the courtly medieval days of Ireland used kennings to praise lords and kings. One of the most common (like “lion” and “wolf” and “wolfhound” and all the rest) was “dragon”. If a poet said an O’Brien was “the dragon of Kincora”, he wasn’t talking sarcastically about Murrough of the Burnings. (Although I’m sure ol’ Murrough did get that from the satirists, now that we mention it.) It just meant that a man was tough and awe-inspiring, not that he was the Anti-Christ looking to devour the kid with the iron rod. This same sort of analogy inspired heraldry all over Europe.

But if that weren’t enough, the Church Herself speaks on her holiest day. Once upon a time, it turns out, Easter candlesticks were made in medieval Europe in two favorite shapes. One, the Arundina Serpentina, had the candles sticking out of a likeness of the brass serpent, which, in healing when hung up on a pole, was an image of Christ. The other improved this image by having the flaming candles come out of the mouth of a winged bronze dragon on a pole. Yes, you got that analogy right — Christ the Dragon, Christ our fire-breathing light. (The Anti-Christ is such a copycat.) And the lucky person who bore such a candlestick had the liturgical role of “draconifer”.

(UPDATE: Also, the terms for carriers of banners and processional crosses were drawn from the terms for Roman military signifers. So one term for the cross carrier was “draconarius”.)

So, yeah, Michael O’Brien, I’m telling you this as I’ve told my own brothers many a time: You are wrong. You don’t know what you’re talking about. You should apologize.

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Findlay Flood

I don’t have much to say, other than that (from the TV coverage) there’s obviously a lot of cleaning up to do. I know it’s not the Peruvian earthquake, but feel free to send some prayers out for the folks in Findlay and Ottawa, along the Blanchard River. Also, to everybody else who’s half-drownded. I mean, obviously Minnesota was feeling pretty depressed already….

I know we needed the rain, but a tad bit of sunshine might be in order!

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Head to Head Battle: Send in the Maureens!

The bookshelves reel. Amazon totters. Two authors, both named Maureen O’Brien (and neither one me, more’s the pity) are out there writing under the same name! Noooooo!

One is the famous (but no more famous than convenient) and glamorous Maureen O’Brien, star of stage and screen, and longtime companion of Doctor Who. She owned a bookstore on Vancouver Island and, for the last ten or so years, has written mystery novels. (Dark, but well-written and interesting.) More recently, she has returned to the UK theatre to work as an actor, director, and playwright. Finally, she won an award for her audiobook reading of Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park. (If there be a more perfect resume, it can only include non-fictional space travel and medals for valor.)

The other, of whom I’d never heard before despite a good bit of autonomen Googling, has been slaving away in the literary and educational salt mines for the last 29 years. Her fiction is contemporary literary stuff — but I don’t detect any of the telltales of crappiness. (Other than teaching creative writing for a living, which has been the death of American literature. Fortunately for her, she has only been an adjunct prof who still has to sing for her supper — and thus still can.) Her latest book came out this spring. You can read a review and an excerpt at BookLoons.

As a Maureen, it’s tempting to think that your name is so uncommon that you don’t need a middle initial. I trust this demonstrates the incorrectness of such an assumption. When I add the Publisher’s Weekly chick, the Mother Superior, and the field hockey player — not to mention the folky Australian singer/songwriter who writes songs about dragonslaying, the mural artist, the theology prof at Duquesne who specializes in “lay ecclesial ministry”, the nun theology prof at the Aquinas Institute, the garden shop/coffee house owner, the Pittsburgh sister/high school teacher, and the motivational speaker — you can see that we are a very different bunch but still might run into each other’s spheres enough to cause confusion. I learned that lesson at my first Doctor Who convention, but others learn it the hard way.

Still, it shows the cluelessness of the literary establishment, that Harcourt Books didn’t even stop to consider that there might be some confusion if you put out a first novel under the same name as the author of seven novels and a play. (Also, it’s fairly clear that there’s a certain lack of self-promotion in the litfic Maureen. Sheesh, get a website!)

Finally, though, I have to agree with the profound words of M.E. Wood: “I feel akin to every woman named Maureen and often relish… any success they may achieve.”

So get websites, people! And use your middle initials!

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