Or a Few Words From Someone Else About Dragons
Forging Dragons will be out towards the end of the month. Here’s the preface, with the kind permission of the editor, so you won’t need to read it on the way to the checkout.
In the original draft of “Pan’s Labyrinth” – and all the way into production – the centerpiece of the fairy tale told by Ophelia (the film’s main character) to her unborn brother was a striking image: A Black, horned Dragon, fused with a flint stone mountain, surrounded with thorns. And, at the peak of the mountain, a delicate blue rose that concedes immortality to whomever would dare pluck it.
But so fierce was the Dragon (whom I called “Varanium Silex”) that men preferred to avoid pain than to gain eternal life. The fable was pertinent to the very core of the film’s message but, instrumental as it was, the Dragon had to be dropped out of the sequence. Money, resources and lack of time conspired to seal that fate…
To this day I miss it so-
Because, like the rose, the Dragon is a polyvalent symbol. One that changes according to each Mythology but that retains its Universal power. An archetype of sorts. In the book that you now hold in your hands, you will be carefully guided by a studious and engaging guide through a jaw-dropping array of Dragons inhabiting the mind of a single man and of all of Mankind.
We must consider the singular virtue of the Dragon and its position as one of the very few creatures common in nearly all bestiaries around the world. There has been much speculation that perhaps the birth of the Dragon in Mythology was spurred by an ancestral encounter with large reptilian remains or even the residual memory of the primordial animal in all of us. A composite of every predator of yore- Fear and awe inscribed in our very genes. Dragon and man tangled in the dreams of an unending spiral of X’s and Y’s.
But I prefer to think that perhaps there is a plane, physical or not, on which dragons do exist. Cartographers of the Old World used to mark the forbidden regions, the Finisterre, with daunting beasts that both guarded and populated that which is beyond our grasp. “Here be Dragons” they would warn as the Map became a Pascalian void. And in examining an old Mapa Mundi in my parents’ library, I would dream exclusively of exploring that very region.
Whether they hold a pearl, as in their Eastern depiction, or they guard a treasure, embedding their chests with jewels and gold â€“much like Smaug the Magnificent and many before him- Dragons have become instrumental in our attempts at understanding the universe within and around us.
Ryu in Japan, Long in China, Naga in Sanskrit. A Dragon can symbolize greed or wisdom or prosperity or it can be found swallowing the sun, writhing in the storm or embodying the Fallen One in Christian Cosmology, but it will always cast its long shadow upon the walls of our Cavern- a primal Form in the Intelligible world.
The Dragon can be the Worm and crawl on the earth or soar through the air. Within its massive, noble chest, it holds the essence of the Sun and the power of destruction. Its features have influenced astrology, astronomy, chemistry, botanical nomenclature and, indeed, nearly every venue of human endeavor. Its name has graced the lineage of the ancient Kings, from Uther to Arthur and it has been slain by Beowulf, St. George and their infinite permutations. But it has also been tamed by the Buddah and by the cloak of St. Marcel du Paris. For the Dragon is equally feared and admired, cherished and longed for as a lost creature of Eden.
Back in 1964, the Dragon became my patron at birth- according to the Chinese horoscope- but I would’ve felt a kinship regardless, because the Dragon is the Patron Saint of all storytellers and artists and his likeness has adorned canvases and stone and has been forged in every precious metal. It has been emblazoned, embroidered and immortalized by the likes of Leonardo, Uccello, Moreau, Delacroix and now Howe amongst a legion of acolytes.
It is Chinese mythology which reveals that, as a shape-shifter, the Dragon can adopt human guise and even procreate with our species- to suffuse us with its fire. And I therefore believe that within each of us sleeps a dragon, waiting to gain significance through our own, everyday acts. It allows us to channel it like an ancestral demiurge to make sense of our place in the cosmos. Or to battle it and conquer all that is unknown to us, giving us all our slice of Finisterre, becoming the key to that which lies beyond.
For many years, I have admired John Howe´s art. His enviable eye for composition and drama and an almost unerring sense of light. His qualities lie well beyond the technical prowess of a draughtsman, John has a personal universe, a language all of his own. For years, I sought his work gracing books or games, but since then, as a fan, I have welcomed every compilation or book he´s ever put out. His holistic view of color, tone, architectural and textural detail result in unrivaled pieces of storytelling. He doesn’t illustrate the tale; he embodies it. On average, a John Howe image is worth 100,000 words. Give or take a couple.
So jump into these erudite, fascinating pages and peek within at some of the most vivid depictions of this beast that belongs to us all. Blessedly, you will find here the ancient cartographers follies, embodied beyond their wildest dreams. “here be Dragons” indeed.
Praised be John Howe and may the fire within him never be extinguished.
Guillermo del Toro
CAUGHT TALKING AGAIN
I’m exceedingly pleased to be able to put the clip for Forging Dragons on line with this newsletter.
When my editor at David & Charles suggested the idea, I said “Are you sure? I come across like a jellyfish washed up on a beach.”
“Don’t worry,” replied the editor, who is used to dealing with illustrators and other social misfits, “all will be well.”
“Except the jellyfish has more charisma.” I added.
My editor is good at repressing weary sighs, and eyes turned to the ceiling over the phone may roll unheard.
“Don’t fret,” she replied, in the long-suffering yet careful tone reserved for the mentally unstable. “Leave it to me. It’ll be great. We’ll dub in a good voice and cover your interview with your illustrations. All will be well. Trust me.”
Actually, I was rather easier to persuade than that. (The lure of the limelight, the mirage of world-wide media buzz, my name in pixels and all that kind of thing…)
So we dug up a local (but very talented) filmmaker, shot, edited, added some (very nice) music by a (very local) musician and here it is.