The OF Blog: A dragon lives forever, but not so little boys: Or, a post on fallen "heroes" and fantasy

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

A dragon lives forever, but not so little boys: Or, a post on fallen "heroes" and fantasy

Puff, the magic dragon lived by the sea
And frolicked in the autumn mist in a land called Honah Lee

Little Jackie Paper loved that rascal Puff,
and brought him strings and sealing wax and other fancy stuff. Oh

Puff, the magic dragon lived by the sea
And frolicked in the autumn mist in a land called Honah Lee
Puff, the magic dragon lived by the sea
And frolicked in the autumn mist in a land called Honah Lee

Together they would travel on a boat with billowed sail
Jackie kept a lookout perched on Puff's gigantic tail,
Noble kings and princes would bow whene'er they came,
Pirate ships would lower their flags when Puff roared out his name. Oh

Puff, the magic dragon lived by the sea
And frolicked in the autumn mist in a land called Honah Lee
Puff, the magic dragon lived by the sea
And frolicked in the autumn mist in a land called Honah Lee

A dragon lives forever but not so little boys
Painted wings and giant rings make way for other toys.
One grey night it happened, Jackie Paper came no more
And Puff that mighty dragon, he ceased his fearless roar.

His head was bent in sorrow, green scales fell like rain,
Puff no longer went to play along the cherry lane.
Without his life-long friend, Puff could not be brave,
So Puff that mighty dragon sadly slipped into his cave. Oh

Puff, the magic dragon lived by the sea
And frolicked in the autumn mist in a land called Honah Lee
Puff, the magic dragon lived by the sea
And frolicked in the autumn mist in a land called Honah Lee
Peter, Paul, & Mary's "Puff the Magic Dragon" is one of my favorite songs from my childhood. I even remember seeing the cartoon based on it that once was shown on PBS in the early 1980s. Now that I am entering my mid-30's, the song has taken on a whole different meaning, one that notes the passing of beliefs with the creeping maturity of little boys and girls. It came to my mind recently while reading two related articles posted by Gabe Chouinard and Matt Staggs.

Gabe in his article asks an interesting question: "But has speculative fiction grown up, or has it just gotten older?" Asked in the context of an "evolution" of speculative fiction (and why so few ever consider using the phrase "speculative literature"), Gabe's post considers the possibility (probability?) that in recent years, SF works have begun to cannibalize, feeding off of the legacy of the past and feeding the demands of a devoted, but yet shrinking audience that has aged. Maybe it'd be like a little Jackie Paper instead being in his 40s and wanting a Puff that chain-smoked and didn't always do the "right" thing. Perhaps it is this suspicion that lies behind Gabe's apparent uneasiness with the "new," "gritty" SF works. Sometimes, it does seem like the writing version of a middle-aged, balding, paunchy guy in a mid-life crisis driving that Corvette around and trying to "score."

But I think there's more to it than just a failure of SF to "grow up" and to mature further. As asked in the post Matt quoted, why no "heroic fantasies" anymore? To that, I would reply (as I did briefly in the comments section to his post) that how can there be "heroes" in a day and age in which the public eye sees all, knows all, feels itself superior to all? In a TMZ world, virtually any person who would have been held up in the past as a "hero" (movie stars, sports players, even some politicians) are revealed to have so many warts, so many problems, that there's this sense of "hey, those schmucks are even worse than I and my droogs are!"

Writers of any stripe write about what they know best or what they see around them. Even in speculative fiction, writers are going to be influenced by the world around them. Hard to hold a belief in "heroes" of this age or any age, when there's that nagging doubt of "Well, if Entertainment Tonight had been covering King Arthur's Court, doubtless he would have looked more like a petulant cuckold than the legendary king!" Cultural attitudes permeate virtually everything, including how we imagine our fantasies.

Perhaps "Puff the Magic Dragon" was as much of a cautionary tale as anything else. Little boys do grow older and they might just leave behind more than just their immaturity.

6 comments:

imago1 said...

I don't wish to ruin anything for you, but...I'm pretty certain "Puff the Magic Dragon" is actually about the joys of smoking reefer.

This is what a Dead Head at a bluegrass festival told me, anyhow.

Larry said...

Well, having read the lyrics and having heard the group members say otherwise for years, I'd have to say your Dead Head contact was a bit off, although I've heard the same before. But the lyrics clearly are about growing up and not reefer :P

imago1 said...

I was teasing. :)

(however, the Dead Head seemed quite sincere)

pauljessup said...

You do know that Matt didn't write that, write? He was quoting someone else.

Larry said...

I guess I scanned it too quickly. Oops! Thanks for the correction.

raymond said...

Leave it alone. Why is it that people read things and start wondering about what it means. Leave Puff the Magic Dragon alone.

 
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