Doria tells "The Four Dragons"
in Central Square, Cambridge, Mass.
I am on a Dragon-binge! Lately, I have been telling stories about dragons; I just can't get enough of them. And I'm beginning to think that here in the West, we have greatly misunderstood these mythic sky-flyers. I particularly love the Chinese legend of the Four Dragons, because the eponymous lizards not only show compassion for those less fortunate than themselves, they also stand up for us puny human underdogs - against a tyrannical Oppressor, no less - knowing that the consequences for themselves will be dire. (The embroidery to the left is from Embroidery Library Inc.)
The dragons in this story have the choice to either live a life of comfort and ease, ignoring human misery, or to make a tremendous personal sacrifice in order to make change. Acting out of compassion and selflessness, they come up against the callous Jade Emperor. The ultimate bureaucrat, this tyrant is totally indifferent to the sufferings of his people, and is roused to action only when he sees that the dragons have dared to exercise their powers to make up for his lack of initiative.
Like Prometheus, the four dragons are cruelly punished for having used their powers to help the human race. However, each leaves a lasting and benevolent mark on the very geography of our human world, so as to ensure our continued survival.
So what, besides dragons, is so compelling about this particular story, and why am I blogging about it? As so often, the villain of the tale is as fascinating as the hero(s). Just what is up with the Jade Emperoranyways? His character - capricious, vindictive, all-powerful, unforgiving, jealous - reminds me of others of his ilk:
The stories tell us that Sky Gods are remote and powerful, all-seeing and unforgiving. Short-fused and quick to anger - like most of his aerial brethren - the Jade Emperor will not tolerate any perceived threat to his authority, and he strikes back as quickly as lightning, with devastating cruelty. The patriarchal Sky Gods rule over their subjects with humorless might, brooking no defiance. And yet, from time to time, someone is brave enough to speak up and take action against these lofty thugs. And that's when great stories are made.