The Dragon Like Yoda Talks - Not! - by Susan Price

Here I go again, doing what I'm told you absolutely should not do -
Foiling The Dragon by Susan Price
that is, talking back to your critics.
I did it here, when people said my villain in the Sterkarm books, James Windsor, was not believable - and now I'm going to defend my poetry-loving dragon in Foiling The Dragon.

I recently put Foiling The Dragon. out as a paperback and e-book. It is, as the strapline informs you, 'A light-hearted fantasy of poets, sorceresses, dragons — and wrapping paper.' It's not epic fantasy. It's meant to amuse for a few hours, and maybe make you smile.

On Amazon it's collected some positive reviews. J. Mathews says,
 'I enjoyed this book as a child, and have just read it again. I found it equally enjoyable.'
Thank you, J. Mathews. I don't know who you are, but I greatly appreciate your taking the time and trouble to post a positive review.

The Sterkarm Handshake by Susan Price
D. Lamb says:
Drily funny reversal of the usual medieval fantasy stereotypes... Anti-hero, anti-king and even a bit anti-Shakespeare - what's not to like?  
Thank you, D. Lamb. Again, I've no idea who you are but, for me, you get it. You describe the book wot I wrote.

Of course, I would say that, wouldn't I?

One of the reviews underneath, by 'Aldrea Alien,' makes some good points about wavering point of view (which I know is a besetting sin of mine, and which I have been discussing with my editor, Matrice, as I work on Sterkarm 3. Fair cop, guv.

But Aldrea A does allow that 'the dragon was a hoot' and the book was 'worth reading for the dragon scenes alone.' 

Another review - which may even have inspired D. Lamb and J. Mathews to their good deeds - is headlined: '"Foiling The Dragon" Is Very Very Bad.' Why? Because the 'characters are not particularly likeable' and 'the big scary dragon talks like some kind of dodgy medieval Yoda ("Thou to me the way will show"). Even A. Alien, although thinking the dragon the best thing in the book, says the dragon, 'spoke a little like Yoda.'

Well, I could discuss whether or not characters should always be 'likeable' for hours - and I think it's especially questionable for them to be entirely 'likeable' in something which aims at being funny, since most humour involves telling the truth about ourselves.

Humour isn't about the big, heroic, chivalric, handsome, strong epic fantasy vision of ourselves that we all like to indulge in now and again. Instead, it undercuts all that by telling the truth about how weak, cowardly, selfish, envious, slothful and all those other sinful things we are in reality.

Some people like the shiny heroic version better, but that doesn't mean that the funnier version doesn't have its value. However, that's a matter of taste and opinion. As I said when defending my Sterkarm villain:  
I’m neither surprised nor dismayed that some people dislike some of my books.  I had my reasons for writing it the way I did; but other people would have made different choices, and dislike those I made. Fair enough.
The point I would like to take issue with - and I suppose it's a bit daft of me to be annoyed by it but it nevertheless irks - is the suggestion that I based the dragon on Yoda, from Star Wars. That the dragon 'talks like Yoda.' That I copied this from the film.

Here's the dragon: the roofed and dim back of the cave, there was a heap of... gold coins, and plates, gold jugs, gold trays, and something that looked very like a crown. It was these things, sliding down from their heap, that had made the metallic noise.

     It was the reason they had slid that worried Paul more. Lying on top of the heap was — an animal. A very big animal. It was curled up, its back towards Paul. A back covered in scales. And spikes. A long tail, also edged with spikes, trailed down from the heap of gold and along the floor of the cave. The tip of the tail ended in an arrow-shaped point, and twitched slightly.

     Its general colour was greenish, but some of the scales had a reddish, coppery sheen...Its sides rose and fell, and more coins slid down from the heap.

     Paul made a strangled sound as his stifled breath at last escaped him, and he had to gulp for another. After that gulp he thought it was time to edge in a casual, slow, but still pretty nippy way for the cave entrance. He’d got no further than moving one foot when the gold began to cascade in all directions as the dragon’s shoulders twisted. A neck rose, uncoiling, and turning the head towards him. Two eyes — forward-facing, focusing, predator’s eyes — lazily opened in its mask. Two huge, smokily yellow and glowing eyes, with narrow black triangular centres, sharpened on him.

The mouth opened — and opened — and opened, showing a black lining and four long, sharp, dripping wet teeth. A black, forked tongue coiled backwards and then flicked forwards. A gust of smoke blew from the mouth, carrying towards him that stink of damp and smouldering.

    The thing squirmed on its pile of gold, twisting round to face him, scattering coins and crowns and sword-belts. Wings unfolded, rustling against rock, fanning the burning stink towards him. What a size it was! He could feel the strength of those wings from where he stood, His own legs gave way and he sat on the rock, shrank himself down, trying to be small.

     Raised up as he was, on top of the boulder, the dragon’s head was above him. Even if he could have run for the cave entrance, what would have been the use? That long neck would have snaked out… He didn’t want to think any further.
     "Best for thee it would be," said the dragon, "if thou a bard wert.”

      The dragon like a German into English literally translating speaks. This because a Nordic, Germanic dragon it is. Yoda its creator's mind never entered.
     Okay, I'll give the terminating verbs a rest. I can tell you how that phrase 'terminal verbs' got into my vocabulary, though. From my cousin, a fluent German speaker, who explained that German has a different way of ordering its parts of speech from English. German almost always places the verb 'in the terminal postition.'
      And, you see, I was writing about this dragon... It was definately a dragon in the tradition of the North - a fire-breathing, carnivorous beast, red in tooth and claw, bearing little good-will towards anybody or anything. To misquote the much missed Pratchett: 'The nearest a dragon can come to understanding what "friend" means is "an enemy who is still alive."'
      There is also a tradition that these mythical beasts are intelligent and sometimes even talk. It suited me and my plot to have an intelligent, talking dragon. So, if a great Germanic, gold-hoarding worm opens its gob and speaks - what does it sound like?
     Presumably, when it has occasion to speak to its own kind, it speaks in dragon. But it's been alive a long time, and it's picked up a bit of the languages spoken by these pestilential forked vermin that swarm all over the place. And, being a Nordic, Germanic dragon, presumably the first such language it picked up was a Germanic language... So it speaks with a German terminal verb.
     Now this reasoning of mine might have as many holes as a sieve - but it has nothing whatsoever to do with that cuddly little goblin from a futuristic Space Opera.
     Why, when characterising an ancient, ferocious Northern mythological creature, would I have chosen to copy a kindly, cuddly alien from a science-fiction film?
     I probably have to break this gently to 'A Customer', but: the whole world is not encompassed by Star Wars (and I speak as someone who loved Star Wars. Saw it when it first came out.)
     People were thinking and inventing pre-Star Wars. Even post-Star Wars, people can manage to invent without reference to it. Sometimes their ideas have similarities.
     It's sort of like parallell evolution - faced with the same problems, entirely different creatures come up with a similar solutions, and end up looking very alike, even though they are not at all related. Fish, for instance. Scientists say 'there is no such thing as a fish.' There are just a lot of unrelated creatures which all evolved to live in water. Evolving to live in water resulted in a lot of them looking very similar, despite being, in fact, as distantly related to each other as horses and caterpillers.
     So it comes down to this:
     If your opinion is that my amusing little fantasy is very very bad, fine. You didn't like it, it wasn't what you were looking for. I'm sorry I didn't succeed in entertaining you. Better luck with your book choices in future. (And strewth, I can sympathise, I've thrown enough books aside myself.)
     But - 
     The dragon like Yoda talks - NOT!

Foiling The Dragon
Paperback    UK   US

Foiling The Dragon
Ebook    UK      US



Lee said…
I don't interpret 'spoke a little like Yoda' as necessarily implying that you copied from the film, that you even based the dragon on Yoda, merely that there is a resemblance in speech patterns. Pattern recognition is a useful, perhaps even crucial tool in our information-overloaded world.
Jan Needle said…
My speech recognition thingie on my Mac is called Dragon. It don't make writing German any easier, though. Just a thought. (And or not believe it, have not never nohow any of the Star Wars fillums seen. A Yoda-free zone am me. Nicht wahr?)

PS Hallo, Lee. Where been have you all my life. wa'?
Sandra Horn said…
I loved the book! It's very funny. The plot devices are so clever and original. How should dragons speak? God only knows. Since we've never heard any, they speak how the writer devises. Nit-pickers of the world, desist! (I believe that's a terminal verb. Cor!)
Bill Kirton said…
Highly entertaining, Susan, and your frustration with the ill-informed pigeon-holing of your dragon is understandable and justified. If life were that simple, I'd be George Clooney.
Susan Price said…
Lee, if all the commentators had meant was that there was resemblance in speech patterns between my dragon and Yoda, it would have been neutral. But, in each case, it was mentioned as a negative, even if, in some cases, only a slight negative.

There was therefore a plain implication that I had copied, or stolen, the dragon's manner of speaking from Yoda in Star Wars - it was that implication I resented.

Since I wrote this, someone had told me - I don't know how true it is - that Yoda was based on 'a wise old Jewish man' and his speech pattern is based on Yiddish. Which is a form of German. Hence the similarity.

Sandra - thank you! And Bill, you are George Clooney to us.
Mari Biella said…
The question of how dragons are supposed to talk is now bothering me - much more than it should. In keeping with my personal tradition of expending vast amounts of angst on matters which are of no tangible consequence whatsoever, this (and the image of Bill as George Clooney!) will probably keep me awake for many nights to come!
Lydia Bennet said…
I know this sort of thing is very frustrating and annoying, but I'm sure, ancient as Yoda was, dragons got there first! In German, the verb actually always comes second in the sentence, not at the end, to the point where they put the pronoun straight after if if there's some other word at the start - the 'waiting for the end of a very long sentence to find out woss happening' is in certain circs eg a modal verb's accompanying infinitve or the second verb in a sentence after a 'subordinating conjunction'. Your dragon is doing pretty well to cope with all them scary sounding things, breathing fire must be a walk in the park in comparison! It does show us however just how rooted Star Wars, for those who love it or (presumably in this case - perhaps they mention it negatively because they hate SW, not think you pinched Yoda's style?) loathe it.

Can I ask the dragon if he a toss can give?
...what anyone thinks he talks like? (Sorry, must finish my comments before pressing send!)
Enid Richemont said…
I would follow a poetry-loving dragon to the ends of the universe, as long as he/she would allow me to ride on his/her back.

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