As I have previously mentioned Prince Luan was the product of a wealthy family that carelessly indulged his every whim and desire when he was a young boy. They produced a spoiled self-absorbed young man who had no patience and was quick to throw flaring temper tantrums. To safe guard the innocent that Luan might harm I introduce in this post the last type of characters in my story – the Warrior Dragons.
Luan’s behavior may be commonplace in what we call the civilized part of the world where parents in their misdirection look to wealth and power as the major goals in their life instead of incorporating love and discipline into their family structure. The people of the Princess’ the kingdom were completely surprised by Luan’s behavior, in fact they were stunned. Before he made his second visit the Emperor and the High Council turned to the Dragon Council for help since they expected another confrontation from Luan.
You may remember from earlier posts that the dragons of this land took care of the people giving them wise advise and counsel but since they were gentle peace-loving creatures they were no match for heavily armed soldiers. Fortunately the earliest dragon councils knew of the evil tendencies that humans can exhibit and provided for the possibility of cruelty by creating a group of dragons that could protect the weak.
These Warrior Dragons were trained in the martial arts and carried simple but deadly weapons. They didn’t belong to any of the regional dragon communities but traveled in groups of three throughout the different areas of this country much like rangers. At the sign of danger they positioned themselves in a triad attack formation ready to go into action. Then when they attacked they moved with such blinding speed and violence they created an assault that was so ferocious that no one ever survived.
The Emperor and his Council were bewildered and dishearten after Prince Luan stormed out. They couldn’t fathom how they had gotten into this predicament and the thought of loosing Princess Leizu was devastating. It was like they were in the worst nightmare that you can imagine and not being able to wakeup, they were paralyzed. They didn’t know what to do next. Because the Emperor and Council could not seem to resolve the situation, the dragon community felt that they must intervene and the Grand Dragon Council was called to assemble.
Chinese dragons are very organized and methodical creatures. They have an unwavering respect for history, fairness, and tradition. The law was the law but, at times, agreements could be open to interpretation, so the best legal-minded dragons brought their books and records and began their review. Groups were formed to analyze every sentence of the agreement. Great debates ensued. After what seemed like days of deliberations, they concluded that the agreement was, in fact, legal and must be obeyed. They concluded their meeting and went home in dismay.
The Littlest Dragon was stunned. He had such respect for his elders especially the Grand Dragon Council and when they concluded their meeting without a solution he didn’t know what to do, then he remembered the insights of the wise Old Dragon Sage. He left immediately to search the mountains to find him.
As I began to write this story I realized that I needed to mold my characters so that their strengths and weakness could play off of each other. The Littlest Dragon was made so small so that he would look insignificant and inept at handling difficulties of life but it is because he is so small that this apparent weakness becomes his strength. His small size would also create a coziness that would appeal to the readers, especially young girls.
I wanted to keep the story in line with the Chinese legend that Leizu discovered silk but besides changing her history from being the wife of the Yellow emperor to the daughter of the emperor, with whom young readers can identify, I wanted her to come from a very poor kingdom. It is because of this poverty that the Princess is faced with a crisis in the middle of the story that she must overcome.
The underlying message of this story is that you don’t have to have magical abilities, super human talents or extreme wealth to be successful. Anyone can become successful and achieve their dreams. A goal, persistence and action are some of the most important keys to achieve success.
Princess Leizu had a humble childhood. Her mornings were spent with her aunt who ran the royal weaving mill that had previously been managed by her husband who is now deceased. Afternoons were spent studying in the garden where she was tutored by this aunt. These morning and afternoon experiences shaped her character; she is hardworking, diligent and humble.
There seems to be numerous items in the news each week about the trials our young go through at school. One of the most disturbing is when an unfortunate youngster is picked on, worst still when they are bullied. In this story The Littlest Dragon is teased about his height because he is about the size of a chipmunk and most of the other dragons were as big as horses.
Dragons in this society were supposed to be symbols of power and respect and like many different societies that lived in this area size mattered. If you were big you seemed more important than others.
During the first year of The Littlest Dragon’s schooling some of the other dragons in his class begin to tease him about how small he is, they even try to convince him that he is so small that he is a nobody. At the end of a rather grueling week instead of going home he retreats to the high mountaintops to be by himself and think. It is in this area that he encounters one of the oldest dragons he has ever seen. He is about the size of a dog.
The Old Dragon Sage listens patiently about how the other classmates have teased The Littlest Dragon. He then gives him advise about how to create a situation that would reduce the amount of teasing and bulling.
Most of the classroom teasing and bulling is decreased if the individual being bullies doesn’t respond. The more kids see that their target is uncomfortable and bothered with the verbal assaults the more they continue but if the target doesn’t react the bullies soon move on to other classmates who will become upset with the mean teasing.
Growing up in the second half of the Twenth Century I was lucky to spend some of the spare time watching animated works from the golden age of cartoons. Walt Disney Studio’s Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck were at first my favorites but my appreciation to cartoons characters soon spread to those from Warner Brothers. The antics of Porky Pig were always amusing and I was especially fond of the clowning around of Bugs Bunny.
Since I grew up in the city of Burbank where these two studios were located I felt especially proud of their work. In time my sensibilities grew to appreciate the work of other animators especially the work of Walter Lantz. The Lantz studios were best known for Woody Woodpecker who I always enjoyed watching but in time I found that the characters Andy Panda and Chilly Willy, who seemed less polished, were therefore more endearing to me.
It was to my surprise that when The Littlest Dragon finally appeared on my drawing board he had a look that stylistic was similar to the characters from the Lantz studio. He had that cute innocent look of Andy Panda, much like a ten-year-old boy with lots of energy mixed with a naïve curiosity. The interesting thing was that I hadn’t thought of Lantz’s work or any cartoon characters until I saw the likeness in my drawing.
The Littlest Dragon enters the story at the end of chapter one and the fact that he is so small is one of the most important aspects of this work. It seems so often in our world that size matters. The big and important people get all the attention but that’s not the way it should be.
I wanted to create a creature that looked vulnerable and maybe even helpless to serve as a model of who we can be, of what we can over come regardless of how small or insignificant we are perceived. I wanted to show that we don’t need special powers to overcome difficulties that being normal is okay and if we focus on the positive and have persistence we can succeed.
I have the utmost respect for other children’s book authors. The Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling is fantastic and what a success story. The Percy Jackson and the Olympians series by Rick Riordan has made him the #1 New York Times bestselling author. Kids and adults love these works but in the end I wanted to produce a children’s story that could not only entertain but could have long lasting effects. A story where the hero of the story didn’t have to be a wizard like Harry Potter or like Percy Jackson, be the son of Poseidon an Olympic God.
I’ve always been intrigued with drawings and paintings of historic Chinese dragons. One of the things that I found curious was that on occasion the dragon would hold a sphere shaped object in their front claws. Research revealed that most scholars believed this object was the dragon’s egg out of which their offspring would emerge.
I decided to begin my story within the dragon community that was high in the mountains amid the waterfalls and cascades. The story starts on one day in spring that the dragons designated as the birthing day. This community is very close knit; they love merriment and festivity especially the day when all the baby dragon eggs hatch.
The celebration procession is lead from cave to cave by the Grand Wizar, who is a very friendly, out going dragon who greets new dragon parents with joy and enthusiasm. He is the most flamboyant of the dragons in this community but he also has a reverent side, in a sense he is a celebration priest.
Once the group enters each “cave the Grand Wizar would carefully chant the egg cracking mantra, giving thanks to the universal life force, the goodness in nature, and for each new addition to the dragon community. At the end of the chant, he would take the ceremonial scepter and strike the egg, cracking it open. Parents and neighbors alike would marvel at the birth of each new baby dragon.”
Chinese dragons are very different than their counter parts that plagued European towns and cities. Unlike the tales of Saint George and the Dragon brought back to Europe by the returning Crusaders or modern tales by authors like J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, Chinese dragons did not torture or eat humans.
Chinese dragons were the foundation of Chinese civilization. They looked after the people that lived in the cities and countryside near the dragon communities. The dragons invented oriental writing, taught the people how to write. They were usually associated with water and love to swim in the lakes and oceans. In the early days, dragons were the ones who chose the course of streams and rivers; their long curved bodies were perfect for digging the path of the riverbeds.
Chinese dragons could be of a variety of sizes from as small as a chipmunk to as large as a school bus. They were classified into groups depending on how many claws they had on their hands and feet. Three clawed dragons were assigned to watch over and help the common people in the villages and towns. Four clawed dragons watched over the town’s administrators and helped them organized rules and responsibilities of the ruling council. Five clawed dragons were very rare but they were very powerful and fierce; they only looked after the Emperor and his family.
Chinese dragons watched over the people and helped them maintain order, law, and justice. The dragons were there to serve and protect and ensure a peaceful society.
Reflecting at the manner in which this story has evolved, I am amazed at how it has been transformed from its original concept. It often seems that some, perhaps all, creative projects must be allowed enough freedom to take their own direction; indeed this one has a mind of its own.
My story arose out of Chinese legend. Chinese legend holds that, in the 27th century BC, Empress Leizu, wife of the Yellow Emperor, was asked by her husband to find out why the leaves of mulberry trees in the Palace grove were thinning. She discovered on inspection that caterpillars were nesting in the trees and eating the leaves. She brought one of the cocoons with her while she was about to have her afternoon tea. At one point, she dropped the cocoon into her warm tea. Legend has it that the adhesive that held the cocoon together was softened by the warm tea and began to unravel. Her inspection of the thread revealed its unique strength and thin construction.
Up until the 27th century BC, the weaving industry had to rely on animal and plant sources to make thread in the construction of fabric. This new discovery was heralded as the beginning of the silk industry.
I decided to use Leizu’s name but changed her family background to create a younger character with whom young readers can identify. In my story, she is the daughter of the Emperor. Her mother dies at childbirth and her Aunt Wu raises her. Aunt Wu gives her care and love. Even though she is the daughter of the Emperor, Leizu is not afforded a luxurious life since the kingdom is very poor.
By way of background, as a lecturer for the J. Paul Getty Foundation, I had written the initial short story version of the current story as part of my presentation for a hypothetical 4th grade class during a summer in-service for elementary teachers organized by the J. Paul Getty Foundation. In the Foundation’s approach to art education, called Discipline Based Art Education (DBAE), all of educational artistic components are addressed, not just art production. My role was to demonstrate how you could teach art history to 4th graders. My lecture discussed a print of a Chinese Dragon.
My research for the lecture had provided a great amount of information. Instead of reciting a laundry list of dragon characteristics, I developed a short story that incorporated these attributes. Thus, The Littlest Dragon and the Princess was born. Recently, having stopped teaching to focus on my art and writing, I returned to the story, creating a children’s middle reader chapter book with illustrations. I made a number of changes to the initial story, including adding a new central character, an old Dragon Sage, who counsels the littlest dragon when he has social problems at dragon school.