Aarhus cathedral: fresco depicting Saint George killing a female dragon while its cub is watching.
I saw the fresco above in Denmark a few weeks ago. I had never seen anything like it: in most Saint George paintings, the monster is a snarling thing, more or less demonic, and wherever your sympathies lie in the struggle, you don’t really give it more than a glance: it is a monster being slain, or a beautiful embodyment of chthonic power being destroyed, but it is the warrior saint who gets the centre-stage. The dragon and the princess are just the instruments of the hero’s success, elements in the culmination in a story, after which he only has to marry the princess and live happily ever after.
Other dragon slayers follow different paths and narrative patterns: for Siegfried/Sigurd killing the dragon is his first heroic deed, while Beowulf chooses to face the dragon ravaging his lands in his old age, because it is a very fitting end for a glorious life, and his last chance for Valhalla. In Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, instead, the dragon is just one in a list of dangers the hero overcomes on his way to the Green chapel, thrown into a bundle with outlaws and a pack of wolves, as the romance has another, unique and mysterious green creature to start and conclude the hero’s trials.
The fresco in Aarhus cathedral is strikingly different: the dragon is the first thing you see, with its yellow underside, the numerous swollen breasts (!), one eye wide open in an expression of pain. Only after you have taken in the beast you look at the saint, a pale rider on a pale horse, your eyes led to his figure up the red lance thrust in the creature’s jaws. You go back along the lance to the strange breasted reptile, and that is when you spot the cub, watching its mother die. It is a pity the image I have found on the web isn’t very neat: in the original the cub’s expression is vivid, confused: you can imagine it think “Mummy?” and wonder what he is going to do now. An orphaned little monster.
It is quite possible that to the painter and the original viewers the picture simply meant that evil, or the unruliness of the forces of nature, cannot be destroyed once and for all, and that there was no intention to stir pity for the dying creature and her orphaned offspring. Anyway I am more interested in how the story could go on.
In terms of storytelling, a surviving dragon cub offers multiple ways to continue a story. So supposing one used the paiting as input to a class of screenwriters, maybe they could come up with something like this:
- Saint George kills the dragon cub (no continuing story then). But why show a cub if we don’t want the viewer to imagine its story? Not likely. Unless you want to tell the story of the murderous dragon slayer instead.
- The baby dragon survives and take its revenge: one sequel.
- The baby dragon is taken care of by some less heartless humans, with a later decision to make on whether it will learn to tolerate human beings (and make it an environmentally-oriented tale) or it will exact his revenge anyway ( with a catastrophic turn in the plot). Maybe two sequels, or more.
- The baby dragon is captured and shown around in fairs, or chained in a dungeon, or given away as a gift (possibly to someone who may be gobbled up or roasted when it becomes a proper fire-breathing wyrm ). Will some dragon lover free it? Will it escape (possibly leaving a heap of ashes behind)? After which, back to the second option. Multiple stories to build a proper-sized saga.
- Finally, one could imagine a prequel about the adult dragon becoming a mother: who was the father? Was there a dragon family, maybe with older siblings for the cub, or was it a one-time thing? Was there a whole litter of tiny firewyrms, seeing that the mother has a number of breasts?
And if you have any other suggestions, you are welcome to let me know.