The Dragon Griaule (FANTASY MASTERWORKS) Paperback – 10 Oct 2013
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6,000 feet long from head to tail ... these are the stories of the Dragon Griaule.
About the Author
Lucius Taylor Shepard was born in Lynchburg, Virginia, in 1947. He travelled extensively in his youth, and has held a wide assortment of occupations in the United States, Europe, Southeast Asia and Latin America, including rock musician and night club bouncer. He attended the Clarion Writers' Workshop in 1980 and made his first commercial sale a year later. His work covers many areas of fantastic fiction and has recently encompassed non-fiction, as well. For over a decade, he has contributed a regular column on science fiction cinema for THE MAGAZINE OF FANTASY AND SCIENCE FICTION. Lucius Shepard has won numerous prizes for his work, including the HUGO, NEBULA, WORLD FANTASY, THEODORE STURGEON and INTERNATIONAL HORROR GUILD AWARDs. He lives in Vancouver, Washington.
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Top Customer Reviews
This dragon is not the usual fire breathing menace; he has been paralysed in an ancient duel with a wizard and is now partially buried, his mile-long body forming part of the landscape as his unknowable will exerts its ambiguous influence over the surrounding countryside. The amazing physical details of the dragon are offset by the calm, scientific precision of their depiction: the vast, unmoving bulk lies unchanging as its human surroundings age and alter.
Since all conventional military attempts to destroy Griaule have failed, the job falls to the creative sector. An artist from outside town decides to paint a mural on the side of the dragon using paints containing leads and other chemicals that will slowly poison him. However, is this plan part of Griaule’s overall design?
Beneath the tale of the mural is the story of the artist’s relationship with two women: his original guide and the wife of one of the foremen running the huge industrial operation creating the artwork. This small and movingly believable drama is played out over many years; the artist arrives as a youth and is a lonely old man when the job is complete. As in a lot of the best fantasy, this sense of the epic is almost a character in itself.
Likewise, in ‘The Scalehunter’s Beautiful Daughter’, the heroine begins as a lovely but callow young woman who is chased into the dragon’s body.Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
The Dragon Griaule collects Lucius Shepard's six stories and novellas about Griaule, the mile-long 750-foot-high dragon that has been in a spellbound sleep for thousands of years. He rests in a valley where his body composes much of the landscape, creating hills and forests and waterfalls. Trees and other vegetation have taken root on his body and animals and parasites live in the habitat he produces. Griaule overlooks the town of Teocinte and another shantytown rests on his back. He's angry about his situation and his negative emotions ("a tonnage of hatred") cast an oppressive pall over the towns that are under his purview. Or at least that's what the people who live there say. They blame their disagreeable personalities, and the wicked deeds they do, on the angry dozing dragon. All attempts to kill Griaule and to free the people from his power have been unsuccessful.
Shepard's first story, "The Man Who Painted the Dragon Griaule," introduces Meric Cattanay, an uncelebrated young artist who proposes to kill Griaule by painting him ("I don't believe Griaule will be able to perceive the menace in a process as subtle as art"). At first, his real goal is to swindle the town council, but after exploring the dragon he is struck by its majesty, and when the council agrees, Cattanay's life's work begins. For forty years he paints the dragon; it's a time filled with beauty, wonder, love, loss, guilt, and disappointment.
I was enchanted by the imaginative world created atop and around the huge dragon's body, but I was even more fascinated by the world of "The Scalehunter's Beautiful Daughter" for in this story we get to explore inside the dragon. The girl referred to in the title is Catherine, a shallow flighty girl who escapes murderous pursuers by climbing into Griaule's mouth. There she finds some amazing scenery, meets an entirely alien culture, and learns that Griaule has a job for her to do which requires her to live and work inside his body. This story has a beautiful ending which reminds us to honor those quietly suffering people who spend their lives caring for someone who may never thank them for their devotion.
"The Father of Stones" is an exciting murder mystery in which the priest of a dragon cult is murdered by a gemcutter with a huge gemstone that is alleged to be an artifact of Griaule's body. The murderer admits his crime but claims that Griaule made him do it. This is an unprecedented defense strategy, but it could make the career of Adam Korrogly, the murderer's attorney, if he's successful. Knowing that he needs to be very careful with this case, he sets out to investigate the complicated crime and discovers that his client may not be the only one under Griaule's control.
In "Liar's House" Griaule is once again manipulating humans. This time he plans to sire an heir, so he coerces a strong, smart, uneducated man named Hota into doing all the dirty work. In return, Hota will learn how to fly. "Liar's House" was my least favorite in this collection. It's a long, deep and depressing character study of Hota, who I thought was inconsistently portrayed in places. I was also disappointed that "Liar's House" lacked connection to the later stories, but maybe there are future plans for that.
"The Taborin Scale" is about a coin collector named George Taborin. When he polishes old coins, George sometimes experiences strange visions relating to the coin's origin. When he finds a dragon scale in Teocinte and starts to rub it clean, he and a prostitute are transported back in time to the valley before Griaule was entrenched there. Apparently, the dragon wants them to witness some important event. Unlike the other stories in The Dragon Griaule, "The Taborin Scale" uses footnotes to explain some of the details of Griaule's history. Here we learn, also, of the effects of Meric Cattanay's paint. But this story, like the others, isn't so much about the dragon as it is about some aspect of the human experience. In this case, Lucius Shepard considers what it means to be a family.
Many of Shepard's readers probably thought that "The Taborin Scale" was the last of his stories about the dragon Griaule, but "The Skull" is a new novella which takes place in our modern world where, apparently, Griaule is able to exert some of his dark influence. This story has the dragon involved in Central American politics and features bored housewives who hang out in gay bars. In the author's notes at the end of the book, Shepard explains that "The Skull" mirrors some of his own experiences in Guatemala. Parts of this story drag on too long, but the end is intensely exciting.
I greatly enjoyed The Dragon Griaule. All of the stories are beautifully written and subtly humorous, but the first two are my favorites because they allow us to explore the dragon inside and out. The world Lucius Shepard has created is unique and imaginative -- a lush landscape fashioned from a huge predator whose hurt pride and seething anger oppress and threaten the populace. Shepard uses this premise to explore the negative aspects of human nature. His characters are deep and introspective, constantly exploring their desires and motives, always wondering whether their own corruption comes from inside themselves or from the dragon's evil influence. I hope there will be more stories about the dragon Griaule.
Originally posted at FanLit.
Meric Cattanay, the main character of this story, is ready to do what no one else has been able to achieve: he offers to kill off Griaule once and for all. His method is unusual: he proposes to get rid of the dragon by painting him: if the inhabitants of the city that grew in the shadow of the dragon are willing to advance him a small fortune, he will spend several decades painting a huge mural on the dragon, slowly killing it with the toxins in his paints.
Lucius Shepard revisited Griaule's world ("separated from this one by the thinnest margin of possibility") on several occasions in the two decades or so since the original story was published, resulting in a handful of brilliant novelettes and novellas that approach the dragon and his influence from various perspectives and in different periods: "The Scalehunter's Beautiful Daughter," "The Father of Stones," "Liar's House," and "The Taborin Scale." Thanks to Subterranean Press, all of these are now available for the first time in one volume: The Dragon Griaule. To put the icing on the cake, the book also includes a long new Griaule novella (or possibly a short novel) entitled The Skull, as well as a set of story notes by the author giving background about the stories and often the circumstances in which they were written. In other words, you may want to check out this book even if you've managed to track down all the other stories.
The human cast for each of these stories is different. Their common thread is Griaule, the monster who dominates the world even in paralysis. The sheer size of the dragon highlights the insignificance of the tiny human ants scrabbling around his hide. It's almost as if they're living on or near a volcano: at the mercy of an uncontrollable force that's always there in the background, even if they occasionally manage to pretend otherwise. This creates a dark, even fatalistic atmosphere: people come and go with their romances, dreams and petty rivalries, but Griaule perseveres.
Because the human characters change from story to story, they often feel insignificant and incidental, but that doesn't mean they're uninteresting. Lucius Shepard has one of the sharpest pens in the genre, and he's in top form in this set of stories. He has the ability to give a character shape in just a few phrases by acerbically picking out one or two traits and then mercilessly hammering them down in clean, biting prose. At one point he describes someone's trophy wife as "sunglasses by Gucci and make-up by Sherwin-Williams." There's often some dissonance between the surreal atmosphere of the stories and the razor-sharp descriptions of people's emotions and actions as they wander around in the haze of Griaule's atmosphere. It makes for a bizarre but highly enjoyable reading experience as Shepard traces the lives of several people who get sucked into Griaule's orbit over the years.
But what does it all mean? Until I read this book, I always assumed that Griaule was meant to be a symbol of fantasy as a genre, the dragon being one of its oldest tropes and one that's been beaten to death in too many stories in the past. In The Dragon Griaule, we don't get your typical fire-breathing magical lizard but instead a paralyzed monster, although it's still exuding its influence and shaping the world around it. Then an artist proposes to kill it. With art. If anything, it reminded me of a less religion-inspired version of James Morrow's Towing Jehovah, in which God's two mile long corpse has fallen into the Atlantic and must be towed towards the Arctic for internment. Seemed like the start of a solid interpretation--until I read the author's story notes, which explicitly connect Griaule to the Reagan Administration, "a baleful monster beaming out his vindictive thought and shaping us to its will." While the political theme was there all along in retrospect, it definitely becomes most pronounced in the newest addition to the canon, The Skull, which breaks through the thin margin of possibility to bring Griaule explicitly into the reality of South American politics.
So, maybe not a commentary on the state of the fantasy genre after all? It just goes to show that there's more food for thought in each of these stories than you'll find in most full length novels. Each of them really deserves a review as long as this one, making The Dragon Griaule simply a brilliant collection. Subterranean Press has to be commended for collecting them all in one volume, because they're hard to track down individually but work together so incredibly well. Highly recommended.
A worthy collection. But perhaps not quite Shepard at the top of his form.