A sound, too, began to throb in his ears, a sort of bubbling like the noise of a large pot galloping on the fire, mixed with the rumble as of a gigantic tom-cat purring. This grew to the unmistakable sound of some vast animal snoring in its sleep down there in the red glow in front of him.
It was at this point that Bilbo stopped. Going on from there was the bravest thing he ever did. The tremendous things that happened afterwards were nothing compared to it. He fought the real battle in that tunnel alone, before he ever saw the vast danger that lay in wait.
-J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit
Everyone is surrounded by dragons. Not the brilliant, awesome, friendly kind: the kind with hissing voices that love to hoard every square inch of your life that they possibly can.
It’s not an accident that there are stories of dragons in every culture.
All the stories we tell and love are full of heroes and adventures because we wish to be heroes. We hate the idea of failure. If the underdog loses in a movie, we are dissatisfied. We love broken characters because we want to see them change, to shine, to conquer their addictions and fractured souls.
We tell stories of dragons, at the least, because we want to see the hero win.
His socks had long since fallen away in shreds, cut to pieces by the talons at the ends of his reddish forearms. Peet’s white hair trailed behind him; one of his eyebrows lay flat and low, the other arched like a curl of smoke; and in Peet’s eyes blazed a single purpose: Protect. Protect. Protect.
-Andrew Peterson, The Wingfeather Saga
We tell these stories because we have our own dragons to fight. It takes a long time, and you might get burned a few times. Scathed a bit, but not incinerated.
Sometimes the first thing you have to fight are the theoretical dragons, the what-ifs and lies you tell yourself. Sometimes these are related to your worth, sometimes your identity, and sometimes it’s just a plain ol’ struggle with wrongdoing. Every hero loses if they believe their enemy: resisting the siren-like voice of a dragon is the first step to killing it.
Now a nasty suspicion began to grow in his mind — had the dwarves forgotten this important part too, or were they laughing in their sleeves at him all the time? That is the effect that dragon-talk has on the inexperienced. Bilbo of course ought to have been on his guard; but Smaug had a rather overwhelming personality.
-J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit
Obviously, killing a dragon is no easy feat. In most modern fiction, villains tend to come back over and over, and I sometimes wonder if the reason why might be that some dragons aren’t beaten in just one fight. For example, something I’m not very good at is shutting off my emotions. I am able to logically, calmly recognize that they do not like up with reality but that fails to shut them off. Compartmentalization is not my friend. It’s a constant, continual redirect to what I know to be true.
It’s just like killing dragons. It’s exhausting, bloody, grueling work, but you have to keep coming back. In all of the fight scenes I envision in my head, the characters often stumble out for a moment. They are exhausted, winded, and someone is already surging forward to take care of them, to tell them they did well.
But then they turn and see their friend in the midst of battle, sometimes alone. And they turn and throw themselves back in. They keep coming back, throwing their exhausted souls into protection. They take those moments of breath and solace, and they press on, they look again.
In killing dragons, you only lose when you quit. So long as you’re still fighting, you haven’t lost. Sometimes, the best way to fight a dragon is to laugh; to laugh long and hard in its face.
What can you do, dragon, to erase the life and the laughter I’ve already lived and already laughed? What can you do to frighten one as foolish as me?
-N.D. Wilson, Empire of Bones
For Further Reading
The Undertaking of Hope – Eric Peters
Empire of Bones – N. D. Wilson
[Thanks to Katie for her advice, which prompted this post: “Ignore drama. Kill dragons. It’s a worthy pursuit.”]