Friday, 30 July 2010

B is for Basilisk

A belated entry to ABC Wednesday: a weekly challenge to create a blog entry based on the next letter of the alphabet. It's hosted by Mrs Nesbitt. Eldritch told me to join in.

For a very long time dragons have had a bad press, in spite of the fact that they are actually quite harmless beasts. Eldritch is one of the kindest, sweetest plushies that you could ever want to meet. He is good to his brother Bamburgh and looks after his young bovine cousins. You can find out more about them on Eldritch's own blog here.

Dragons have a lot of relatives. One of them is the Australian bunyip but a better-known one is the basilisk. Basilisks are fearsome creatures with bodies like snakes. But they hold their top halves off the ground as they slither along. All parts of the basilisk are toxic, but the worst is its breath which can wither trees and poison streams and rivers.

Even harsher, though, is the basilisk's stare. That can kill an animal with one glance. Only three things can withstand it: the weasel is immune to all forms of basilisk poison;a crowing cockerel will drive a basilisk away; and the plant rue, which the weasel uses to heal itself if it is hurt in a basilisk battle.

The photo isn't a basilisk of course. Otherwise we'd all be dead! It's a Naga serpent goddess on a Nepalese temple lamp used in Hindu ceremonies. It's in the museum at Kedleston Hall in Derbyshire.

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

The Flight of Dragons

This is a wonderful book full of loads of dragon tales. It's a natural history that explains lots about how dragons work and how many of the myths and legends that surround them have come about.

It's by Peter Dickinson and in it he details the chemistry and physics of dragon flight. With the aid of a "flying brick" he explains that dragons cannot use normal flight systems because of their size. The maths is a bit complicated, but basically if you double the size of a dragon you have to quadruple the size of its wings in order to gain lift. If you take that to its logical conclusion the wings become impossibly large.

So he concludes that historical dragons (Eldritch is a modern dragon, of course, and doesn't follow these rules) must have been almost weightless and gained lift by producing hydrogen inside their bodies. He gives the complex chemistry involved in the interaction between bones and digestive juices that could make that happen. This also explains the firey breath thing because they need to burn off excess gas in order to land.

The book gave rise to a wonderful film by the same name (loosely based on it to say the least) that featured the magnificent voice of James Earl Jones as the baddie.

I've just found out that second-hand, paperback copies of this book are changing hands for £75 each. I wouldn't part with my hardback copy for the world!