Thursday, March 13, 2014

The Evolution of the Dragon (G. Elliot Smith)

The Evolution of the Dragon
G. Elliot Smith
Public Domain Books
Nonfiction, Mythology
***+ (Okay/Good)

DESCRIPTION: Dragons appear to be a universal phenomenon. Though their physical characteristics vary widely, they share many core features that point to a common root. But where did they come from, and how did they spread around the world? In this illustrated 1919 book, drawn from class lectures, Professor G. Elliot Smith discusses the origins of the global dragon myth, a tale bound up in the murky prehistoric roots of science, religion, and the quest for eternal life itself.
(NOTE - The link above is to a slightly different version than the one reviewed.)

REVIEW: I downloaded this as a freebie eBook as part of research for a writing project, not knowing precisely what I was getting into. This volume does indeed discuss the possible roots of dragon mythos... and the origins of the Great Mother goddess archetype, early burial rituals as primitive efforts to restore or sustain vitality, the confusion and proliferation of life-protecting symbolism from the cowry to the octopus, and many other topics. In the preface, Smith alludes to this "disjointed process of composition" as an unfortunate but inevitable result of the nature of not only his research, but the subject matter and, perhaps, even his own time constraints in crafting a single written volume from what had originally been a series of class lectures. Also, being a scholarly piece intended for scholarly consumers, he freely tosses about references to obscure deities and cultures, not to mention several untranslated tracts from others' writings. To be perfectly honest, my undereducated little brain felt overwhelmed at several points, struggling to grasp a slender thread of understanding as the prose meandered about through geography, time, and belief systems seemingly at random. Nevertheless, I managed to glean some measure of meaning from Smith's work, though naturally I have no idea how much of it is still considered viable by modern scholars. (His extensive notes on the origin of the swastika - to him, simply a popular luck charm dating from antiquity - have a certain bittersweet flavor to modern readers, to whom the symbol has taken on far more sinister associations than its creators, or Smith, could possibly have imagined. Then again, one of the core features of the dragon myth is its dual nature as both guardian and destroyer, good and evil, so I suppose there's something fitting in that.) This is information I haven't read anywhere else, so, despite the struggle, I'm still glad I gave it a try. I do wish it had been a little more focused on the stated topic, however.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Here be Dragons: A Fantastic Bestiary (Ariane Delacampagne and Christian Delacampagne) - My Review
The Book of Fabulous Beasts (Joseph Nigg) - My Review
Dragons: A Natural History (Dr. Karl Shuker) - My Review

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