|Jessie Wilcox Smith, The Bed-time Book|
J.R.R. Tolkien wrote, in words that have initiated those they have touched into a cult of wonder ever since,
I desired dragons with a profound desire. Of course, I in my timid body did not wish to have them in the neighborhood. But the world that contained even the imagination of Fafnir was richer and more beautiful, at whatever the cost of peril.
Ms. Windling goes on to write,
I chose this title because Tolkien's passionate desire for a world colored by myth and mystery is one familiar to all of us who create and love mythic arts. [. . .] What we're discussing here is the why. Why are we drawn to stories and other art forms (both contemporary and historic) with their roots dug deep into the soil of myth? [emphasis mine]
It's a good question, but one which an anthropologist is likely to muddle. As is said in the charming, post-Confederacy version of Homer's Odyssey, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, "It's a fool what looks for logic in the chambers of the human heart."
But there is a logic in the longing for Faerie. It's a different kind of logic. The kind, G.K. Chesterton notes, that makes us instantly satisfied with the laws therein: don't go into the back room at midnight; always carry bread crumbs in your pocket; don't look a white stag in the eye; knock three times, no more, no less; if you take something back with you, be prepared to face the consequences; and never eat the food.
The anthropologist could say that our interest in wonder, in the unknown, in the unexplainable, arose as a survival mechanism to warn children of danger; or as a political move to keep tribal and religious leaders in power and to discourage questioning; it might have been a way of explaining the miracles of science at a time when people knew little about the workings of the world; maybe it was a way of comforting people and helping them deal with psychological hardships, a beautiful lie.
Why then do we still long for wonder, desire dragons "with a profound desire"? If we have outgrown these primordial needs and they no longer serve a function; or if we are at least too sophisticated to fall into them, why do they linger? As artifacts? Is the desire nothing more than a vestigial organ?
|skian-winterfyre of deviantART, Night Drake|
Supposing it is a kind of organ. The presence of such a thing suggests that it was once a need, and the above mechanisms of practicality do not sufficiently and satisfactorily explain it away. For we have found other means of meeting those needs that don't require myth and fantasy. Just look at nihilism.
So the need, or desire, is built in--not in some, as we might suspect by our tight-knit community, but in everyone. Especially children.
As we grow older, we are discouraged from playing make believe, are told to prepare for the "real world," and forced to adapt by relegating wonder to the nursery, or, as is the case for many, to a private hobby (thanks, Richard Dawkins). Those that don't appear to long for fantastical wonder find wonder in other ways: such as the baby-crazy teenager who ogles pictures of newborns; the devout widow who wears a veil at daily mass; the father and son who love to take apart machines and see how they work, or, if not quite so involved, at least marvel at their functioning. This attraction to wonder is intrinsic.
If we occur, un-tampered, with a need for wonder, it logically follows that wonder is something we need to be complete. We need it the way we need lunch, the way plants need sunshine, the way humans digest food and plants photosynthesize light. We transform those things into our very substance. They become an inseparable part of us.
Where is this wonder? Why were we built without it, but wanting it, the way a plant needs photosynthesis but doesn't contain the means to photosynthesize within itself?
Such questions could easily dissolve into a tangle of religious and philosophical sophistries, but let us at least admit this: we were made for something other. So much is that absence woven into the fiber of our being, that we know the other the minute we touch it. It is what Edward Gardner so aptly called "familiar otherness." Like setting foot in a real place we've only ever seen before in a dream.
|Charles Santoso, source|
So. My answer to the question "why do we desire dragons?" is simple: because dragons were made for us.
This is the poverty of a society devoid of wonder, of the materialist world of men and women who say "this is all there is." They are starving themselves, as a flower starves for sunshine. Count yourself truly blessed, dear reader. You are one of the few at the feast.