The Medieval Dragon: The Nature of the Beast in Germanic Literature

The Medieval Dragon: The Nature of the Beast in Germanic Literature

The Medieval Dragon: The Nature of the Beast in Germanic Literature

The Medieval Dragon: The Nature of the Beast in Germanic Literature

Synopsis

Joyce Tally Lionarons illuminates the function and meaning of dragons in the medieval Germanic world through her examination of dragons and dragon slayers in four works: Beowulf, The Saga of the Volsungs, Thidreks Saga, and Das Nibelungenlied.

Excerpt

A man is a man, and a beast is a beast, but a dragon is a dragon is a dragon.
(Gwynn Jones, Kings, Beasts and Heroes)

This book arose out of two simultaneous projects. The first was an experiment inspired by the Ursinus College Faculty Discussion Group's examination of contemporary narrative theory: I wanted to prove both to the group and to myself that it was possible to apply twentieth century theoretical perspectives successfully to medieval heroic literature. I also wanted to try to answer a simple question that had been put to me years ago at my dissertation defense: “What is a dragon anyway? Why is one different from, say, Godzilla?” Although I apparently answered the question well enough then to satisfy my examiner, I did not satisfy myself. Therefore, my second objective in this book has been to investigate the concept of draconitas or 'dragonness.' When I began, I intended merely to write a conference paper or two, but, like the tiny serpent in Ragnors saga loðbrókar, the work grew in the writing to dragon's size, and needed larger living room. The book thus concerns itself with the nature and characteristics of Germanic literary dragons and dragon slayings as they relate to contemporary ideas about myth and narratological theory, especially those theories put forward by René Girard Mikhail M. Bakhtin, and Hans Robert Jauss. In particular, my work explores the relationship between the dragons of medieval Germanic literature and the chaos monsters of Indo-European myth on one hand while on the other it looks for the reasons behind the often uncanny similarity between dragons and the dragon-slayers who are their antagonists.

Along the way I have incurred many debts, as writers always do. I owe Ursinus College a great deal of gratitude for giving me a sabbatical leave which enabled me to write a first draft of most of the manuscript. I want to thank Raymond P. Tripp, Jr and Alexandra Hennessey Olsen for teaching me Old English and Old Norse to begin with, and for first interesting me in the question of dragons. Patricia Schroeder, Cindy Vitto, Margot Kelley, and Celia Millward all read and commented on various parts of the text at different stages in its development. Lynn Thelen was invaluable for her help on Das Nibelungenlied; Ann Matter provided inspiration at a difficult juncture. Special thanks and love go to Edward R. Haymes for reading the entire manuscript and offering detailed commentary and wisdom—with the usual assurances that the mistakes that remain are my own. I also want to thank Sheree Meyer, Mary Tiryak, Loren Gruber, Gina and Leon Oboler, Peter Perreten, Bill Schipper, Derk Visser, Colette Hall, and Sherry Linkon for their encouragement and advice. Finally, of course, I need to thank John Lionarons for his love, his music, his patience, and his . . .

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