Monday, January 11, 2010

dragon tongue / the dragon with seven heads

I started this watercolor on Friday and worked on it, as well as this ink drawing, over the weekend.

The image of a woman with a knife, preparing to cut off the tongue of a dragon, came from "The Dragon with Seven Heads," an Italian folktale I read in Italo Calvino's collection of Italian fairytales. The gist of the story is that, after a fisherman kills a talking magical fish (which had previously help him find a bunch of non-magical fish to catch and eat) and serves it to his family, his wife, horse, and dog, each have triplets. The eldest of the human triplets travels into the world with his horse, sword, and magical talking dog, where he decides to rescue a princess from a seven-headed dragon, thereby winning her hand. In order to prove that he killed the dragon, he has the princess collect the seven tongues in her handkerchief, which sets up the rest of the story.

I was also thinking about this quotation from G.K. Chesterton, which I discovered in the epigraph of Neil Gaiman's Coraline:
Fairy tales are more than true — not because they tell us dragons exist, but because they tell us dragons can be beaten.
I was hoping that my drawing would convey something of the magic of the story — which is a pile-on of events, from talking fish, to excess of fish, to excess of birth, to excess of heads, and so on, one after another, in that winding fairytale way of accumulation of fortuity and tragedy with little explicit cause and effect — as well as the power of the Chesterton quotation regarding defeating metaphorical dragons.

I like the drawing okay, but I don't think it accomplished all I hoped for.

I tried it again in an ink sketch:

Which convinced me that the image as I constructed it is just not as compelling as my inspiration. As simply an illustration of this moment in a narrative, however, I'm very satisfied with it.

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