A few Christmases ago, I helped Christine Emmert, a talented playwright living in New England, publish her novel The Nun’s Dragon; I reveled in its story of a dragon’s wintertide arrival at a medieval convent, at the mysterious death of the convent’s least orthodox nun, and of a battle in the sky on Christmas Day. Turning those pages, I was reminded of something that is very easy to forget during our holiday season: that the season is a time for wonder stories:
- For those celebrating the Christ Mass, there is a story of a virgin birth, of wise men traversing mountains and deserts to follow a new star in the sky, of thrilling escapes from mad kings and of the saving of a dark world;
- For those celebrating Chanukah, there is a story of a lamp that did not go out; for eight days, while a people prayed and hoped, the fire burned without cease;
- For those celebrating Yule, there is the most ancient of wonder stories — that though as the Starks tell us, “winter is coming,” the sun is coming after, and this cold winter world where food is scarce and wood hard to kindle, yet the ground will soon burn green and alive with the sun’s returning heat;
- For children of the modern world, there are also wonder stories about a jolly man in a sleigh, a red-nosed reindeer that lights the way through fog, a snowman brought to life, a nutcracker searching for his princess, and so on…
We shelter ourselves from winter within the heat domes of cities, but we cannot quite forget — especially this year — that there is cold, and hunger, and suffering, and violence, and wolves just outside the door. Maybe even in the front room. The winter holiday — whichever you celebrate — is a time for sharing stories that promise that the world of winter wolves and ice and brittle wind is a temporary thing, that there is a greener world that will come after.
Christine’s book reminded me of that.
That has always been the beautiful thing, to me, about dragon stories, too. They remind us to experience wonder. Many of our modern fantasies involving dragons are stories of rebirth: whether you are reading of the revival of failing dragonkind in far-distant Pern, or of a mother of dragons whose eggs crack in the heat of a death-fire and fill the world, for the first time in centuries, with the music of infant dragons.
My first two encounters with dragonkind were images rather than stories, but being an imaginative child, I wove stories around them. One was the cover of an Asia album showing a sea dragon; the other, the cover of Jody Lynn Nye’s The Dragonlover’s Guide to Pern, showing a dragonet flying toward the viewer with a mapmaker’s quill clutched in its talons.
I saw that cover again and again in two-page spread ads for the Science Fiction Book Club, in magazines throughout my childhood. That image came to stand in, to me, for all the covers of all those books that promised wonder stories, and which we could not quite afford. (Later, in college, I sought out all the books, but I started with Jody Lynn Nye’s. And recently at a con, I had the chance to share with her how much that book had meant to me.)
The message in this post is just this: Don’t let your winter holiday pass without wonder stories. Please. This season, reserve a few moments to marvel. For most of us, you and I, it has been a long time since we were children. Or even if it hasn’t, some winters it feels that way. This season, find a few good books. Find a few people to share stories with. Find a few moments to laugh. Listen in the dark while the snow is falling for the trumpeting of baby dragons, or for the flicker of candles that never go out, or for the bells jingling on the ends of tassels on the saddle blankets of wise men crossing the world to find the greatest of all wonders: a new baby.