Several years ago, I was asked to give a speech on the topic of book-banning, from the viewpoint of a fantasy writer. It’s quite long, so I have carved it up into four parts to post as part of Banned Books Week. This is the last of four parts, and the end of the story that I began with.
The kingdom that had shut out dragons went on for many years, repeating the same three months over and over. Nothing new ever happened; there were no new books, or new ideas, or new fashions, or new stories. Everything grew steadily shabbier, drearier, and more boring, and the people grew sadder and sadder without understanding why. That is what happens, when you shut out dragons.
And then one day, a wandering bard came down the road that led to the kingdom that had shut itself away from dragons. No one had been able to cross that border in all that time, but bards have a way of looking sideways at things that lets them see what others can’t, and this bard saw the little crack between now and then, and he slipped through it into the kingdom because he was curious.
He talked to the woodcutter, and to the merchant’s youngest son, and to some of the other folk of the kingdom, and he soon figured out that the place had been enchanted to repeat the same three months, over and over, forever. Then he sat down and thought for a while, and when he was finished thinking, he went up to the palace of the king, past the apple trees laden with ripe apples..
“Your kingdom is going over the same three months again and again,” the bard said.
“I know,” said the king.
“Then you’re the one responsible for it, because no one else has noticed,” said the bard. “Why did you do it?”
The king explained, and the bard shook his head. “Well,” he said, “now you know the consequences of trying to shut out dragons. Shall I just leave you to it, or shall I break the spell?”
The king hesitated. “Leave it,” he said at last. “Dragons are too dangerous and disruptive to have around.”
The bard shrugged, and left. But on his way out of the palace, the princess came to meet him. “I heard what you said to my father,” she told the bard. “Is this kingdom really under a spell?”
“Yes,” said the bard.
“And can you really break it?” asked the princess.
“Yes,” the bard said again. “But once I do, you’ll have dragons here again. There’s no help for it.”
The princess shivered, then set her jaw. “Do it,” she said. “No matter what my father says. He may be the king, but he has no right to make everyone else unhappy, too.”
“Call everyone in the kingdom into the town square this evening,” said the bard, “and tell them to listen when I play.”
The princess did as the bard had told her. And when everyone from the woodcutter to the princess was gathered in the town square – everyone except the king – the bard began to sing and tell stories. He told stories about dragons and woodcutters and princesses and the youngest sons of merchants; stories about hard-working tailors and knights with bright swords; stories about brave girls venturing into dark forests to confront witches and beasts; stories about women wearing out seven pairs of iron shoes as they walked the world in search of their dreams; stories of elves and unicorns, of magic rings and flying carpets, of wizards and tricksters. Stories of all the wondrous, magical things that had been shut out of the kingdom along with the dragons.
The bard sang and talked nearly all night, while the people listened. And finally, near dawn, a little girl asked timidly if she could tell a story. The bard smiled, and brought her out to speak. When she finished, others came forward, and soon the bard was silent and all the people were telling stories to each other.
And when the sun rose, the apple trees around the square were still heavy with fruit, not covered with blossoms, and the dawn light glittered silver and emerald and gold from the scales of hundreds of dragons sweeping through the skies above the kingdom. And the people stared in wonder, and saw what the king had forgotten, or perhaps had never known.
Dragons are beautiful, as well as dangerous.
Thank you for listening.