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The World of Dracology

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After retirement, whilst looking through my papers for something or other, I came across my notes and drafts for the early issues of Dragonlore. My son-in-law had just invested in a new computer complete with scanner and printer, and he suggested that we could produce it anew, so with his enthusiasm and expertise and my notes and memories, we produced a few issues, and soon found a growing circle eager for more.

At first the cover carried the hypothetical date on which the issue might have appeared, with the actual date of issue at the end, but after a while we caught up with my old notes and the earlier books to be reviewed, and now we are up to date, with contributions and feedback from a total of over eighty members.

Membership requires only a belief that the study is a worthwhile activity and not a waste of time, and there are no registrations, subscriptions, constitutions or other restrictions, so we are free to print what we like, for private circulation only. In other words, Dragonlore is not formally published.

Having started as a four-page A5 leaflet with a large illustration on the cover, notes and reviews inside and an on-going A to Z on the back, we are now up to a regular eight pages, with plenty of pictures, very occasionally in colour for a special celebration.

The A to Z ran for sixteen issues and comprised about 200 entries, and has been replaced by a more discursive series, an Alphabet of Queries.

Well over a hundred books have been reviewed or noted, and a few have been recommended as basic texts for serious study, such as Fabulous Beasts by Peter Lum (1952) and Mythical Beasts, edited by John Cherry (1995). The very first book reviewed, A Book of Fabulous Beasts by A.M. Smyth (Oxford 1939), has hardly been bettered as a first introduction to the subject.

Surveys of Fabulous Beasts in various areas, such as the City of London, Naval Ships' Badges, cathedral misericords, mediaeval bestiaries, the Bayeux Tapestry and children's literature, keep the interest wide-ranging, while more specialized articles have included such topics as "How to see Chinese Dragons in the Sky," the origin of the Enfield, the anatomy of dragons, and "The Biblical Origin of Dragons" by Ben Elliott.

Heraldic monsters feature prominently, with a piece dedicated to the strange Tudor inventions, but they are joined by creatures from zoology, mythology, folklore and imaginative literature that have not yet found their way into heraldry, though we have put forward or passed on a few suggestions.

Apart from reporting the work of others, several original contributions have appeared, such as the observation, not noted elsewhere, that Chinese dragons never had wings until Chinese artists had seen European pictures of dragons, and then they copied their wings in every detail, added as appendages to their typical dragon forms. Another example is the suggestion that the winged fish, notably seen in German heraldry, may have been a significant Christian symbol and not just a fanciful illustration of a traveller's tale. Then there was the remark that the Unicorn in the Royal Arms is not there to represent Scotland, as is widely supposed, but as a sign of Divine Grace to balance the Kingly Majesty represented by the Lion. And while on the Unicorn, some comment was directed to the problem of its true size, which might be as large as a red deer or as small as a ptarmigan, if the evidence of recent Scots civic heraldry is anything to go by.

Some articles have engendered some interesting correspondence; another source of lively responses has centred round the word keythong. Was it, as Sir Colin Cole asserted in 1976 (The Coat of Arms, No 98), the true name for the monster usually known as the Male Griffin, or did it refer, as Roger Barnes believes, to the two interlinked cords of the Ormond knot, the badge of James Butler? Barnes makes a strong case for his view, and if, as seems likely, he is right, then we ought to find a new and less confusing name for the strange rayed creature – perhaps a mailed griffin, a rayed griffin, or even an Orogriff. Suggestions are still coming in.

Dragonlore seems to be assured of a future, as there is a growing interest and no shortage of material to fill further issues. We attempt to be both level-headed and light-hearted, and while full of admiration for true scholars in the field, whom we quote whenever we can, we may still hope to put forward original contributions to our subject from time to time.


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