A dragon once guarded a spring. It was a sacred dragon but, as tends to be the way in Greek mythology – and in modern life – no matter how sacred the creature, it will be slain. I’m bound to be on the side of the dragon, of course. I was born in the Year of the Dragon. I dream about dragons. Dragons are my creatures.
Cadmus followed a cow to Thebes. People thought nothing of following cows around in those days. The oracle at Delphi had instructed him to build a city wherever the cow should stop. Cadmus sent his men to fetch water from the spring. The dragon (only doing its job) slew many of Cadmus’s men. Cadmus slew the dragon with his sword.
Cadmus was given half the dragon’s teeth and told to sew them in the furrows of a field. When he did so a band of fierce, armed men sprang up. Cadmus threw a stone into their midst. The teeth-men were confused, each believing the stone had been thrown by another, and so they fought amongst themselves until only five remained. These five were called Echion, Udaeus, Chthonius, Hyperenor and Pelorus. You realise what that implies – every single tooth-man had a name at the moment he sprang from the soil. Amazing!
Jason was given the other half of the dragon’s teeth. At Colchis, he was forced by some-King-or-other to sew the teeth in order to win the Golden Fleece. Once again, tooth-men sprang up and like Cadmus Jason threw a stone, forcing them to fight amongst themselves. This time none of the tooth-men survived the battle.
I was just wondering what if anything would spring up if I sewed Old Rufus’s teeth in the back garden? The vet handed them to me in a little plastic bag after the operation. I was not sure whether to be honoured or disgusted since there seemed to be quite a lot of fresh cat still attached. Would Old R’s teeth bring forth a crop of small, bony, ginger moggies with cauliflower ears, piratical right eyes and crotchety dispositions? Or might I wake up next morning to a garden seething with strapping ginger toms, twice as hungry as normal cats and all expecting to be fed? Oh no – that already happened…
That image – of soldiers growing like corn, rising from like soil, germinating from the teeth of a dead dragon – was an arresting one. It captured the imagination of generation after generation of schoolchildren. From it came the saying ‘to sow dragon’s teeth’ which technically means to do something that will foment disputes. To me, dragon’s teeth mean something slightly different. They are that army of things that rise up to prevent you from doing something the minute you have told anyone of your plans to do so.
And dragon’s teeth are in the back of my mind when I tell you I am thinking of writing a series of short posts in the run-up to Halloween, maybe alternating factual with fictional …? If I had any sense I’d just start writing and see how far I got before teeth germinated: after all, if I’d only got as far as three posts you’d have assumed three posts was all there was ever meant to be.
But I have no sense. Never did have. Life has been one long blunder.
I thought I’d kick off with non-fiction, and ghosts.
I never actually saw a ghost but my sister and ex-husband, both, in their different ways, natural truth-tellers, have witnessed poltergeists in action. My sister was babysitting with a friend in the house over the road when a Noisy Spirit caused all sorts of havoc, and my Ex was visiting a schoolfriend in a remote Kentish farmhouse when something flung open the doors of a display cabinet and swept a shelf-full of glass ornaments onto the floor. I am more inclined to give credit to these stories because both involved young adolescents – two girls, two boys – alone in a house. Strictly speaking, of course, poltergeists may not even be ghosts since they do not seem to be related to dead people; more a kind of adolescent energy that manifests itself when adults are absent.
I think I might post this bit – Ghosts:the trailer, as it were – transfer the washing from the washing machine into the tumble dryer (ah, how the dailiness of life intrudes upon the tortured soul of the artist!) and then get stuck in to Ghosts: the movie. With any luck I might get that bit published by tonight. Which will be just in time since the first of my dragons’ teeth – the return of my visiting Canadians, including that sister who saw the poltergeist a hundred or so years ago, for a final two and a half days – is due to pop it’s little head over the parapet tomorrow evening (ish).