Six impossible things

Letting the Dragons In, Part I

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.

It begins with a story, because I am a writer and most things lead me to stories, sooner or later.


Once upon a time, in a far country, there lived a beautiful princess.  Or perhaps it was a woodcutter, or the youngest son of a merchant, or all of them at once. They all had proper expectations for their lives: the princess would marry a deserving prince in due time; the woodcutter would chop trees and live a frugal existence close to nature; the youngest son would go to work on one of his father’s ships and maybe take over one of the offices in a nearby kingdom eventually.

And then one day, when the apple trees were heavy with fruit, a dragon arrived. It burned down the woodcutter’s forest, sank the merchant’s vessel, and kidnapped the beautiful princess. Dragons do those sorts of thing; they’re very disruptive.

The king sent out his soldiers to rescue his daughter, but the dragon burned them all. His councilors then advised him to offer the traditional reward — the princess’s hand in marriage — to anyone who would rescue the girl, but the king didn’t like that idea. He knew that both the woodcutter and the merchant’s youngest son had grudges against the dragon, and he didn’t want either of them for a son-in-law. And he didn’t like the way the dragon had thrown his whole kingdom into disarray and upset all of his neat and tidy plans. So instead of offering a reward, the king went off to see a witch.

“I want you to get rid of this dragon and give me my daughter back,” the king said to the witch. “And I want you to make sure the dragon never comes back.”

“I can do all that,” the witch said. “But there will be a price.”

“I’ll pay it,” said the king. 

“It won’t be what you think,” the witch told him.

“I’ll pay it anyway,” said the king. “Dragons are too dangerous to have around.”

“Very well,” said the witch. “Go home, and you’ll find the dragon gone and your daughter back in her room, as always.”

So the king went home, and found his daughter there, just as the witch had said. The woods were back, too, and so were the merchant’s ships and the king’s whole army, and the apple trees were blooming, because the witch had slid the whole kingdom three months into the past, back to before the dragon had arrived. 

The king was very happy, at first. But as the day drew closer when he knew the dragon was supposed to arrive, he began to worry about whether the witch had kept her promise to keep the dragon from ever coming back, and about the price she had said he would have to pay for her help.

On the night before the dragon was supposed to arrive, when the apple trees were heavy with fruit once more, the king paced his chambers without sleeping. In the morning, he looked out his window, and saw no dragon, and again he was very happy. And then he looked down, and saw the blossoms on the apple trees that, the previous evening, had been laden with ripening apples, and he realized that his kingdom had once again slipped three months backward in time.  He knew then what the witch had done to keep the dragon away from his kingdom forever, and he cursed his foolishness, but there was nothing he could do. He and his people were doomed to live the same three months over and over, in a kingdom that grew shabbier and shabbier, and more and more dreary and boring, forever, because that is the only way there is to shut out a dragon.

  1. Oh wow! Beautiful! And it applies to so much more than just banned books!

    • Alex – Thank you. And applying the story to all sorts of things is one of the things I talk about in the rest of the speech – I think that bit ended up in Part III. And of course, it ends with one version of the rest of the story, because you can’t really shut dragons out forever.

      Part of why I decided to post this is because I think the topic is important, and I think I did a pretty good job on the speech, but I rarely actually give the speech because I can’t get through the whole thing without choking up. On the Internet, nobody knows… 🙂

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