Themes and Characters

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Last Updated on May 17, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1257

A good dragon story usually requires an interesting dragon, and Yolen offers one that is frightful and dangerous. "His name in the old tongue was Aredd and his color a dull red. It was not the red of hollyberry or the red of the wild flowering trillium, but the red...

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A good dragon story usually requires an interesting dragon, and Yolen offers one that is frightful and dangerous. "His name in the old tongue was Aredd and his color a dull red. It was not the red of hollyberry or the red of the wild flowering trillium, but the red of a man's lifeblood spilled out upon the sand." Aredd is a lonely dragon, having hatched from its egg many years after human beings think that they have destroyed the last of all dragons. Therefore, Aredd knows no dragon lore and has no idea of his history. That he therefore acts primarily on his instincts is only natural and will help seal his doom. That his color is the color of blood is a good touch, suggesting as it does the menacing nature of the giant animal. His "tail was long and sinewy" and "Great mountains rose upon his back." "His jaws were a furnace that could roast a whole bull. And when he roared, he could be heard like distant thunder throughout the archipelago." This is an imposing adversary, something to run and hide from, which is Lancot's first impulse. Even so, it is melancholy to think that Aredd is the last of his kind.

The principal characters of "Dragonfield" are the sisters Tansy, Rosemary, and Sage, as well as the frightened hero, Lancot. The girls were not originally named for herbs of healing, but have been given those names as they grow up, being daughters of a healer and having shown affinity for the healing arts. Tansy acquires an even newer name; she was once called Tansy after the healing herb but was later known as "Areddiana, daughter of the dragon." This bit of character description foreshadows events in "Dragonfield."

Yolen sharply sketches in her characters, moving quickly to the action. Rosemary is the eldest and is a weaver. She has a plain but honest-looking face and her skin is dark. She prefers to spend most of her time in the cottage. "She had her mother's gray eyes and her passion for work, and it annoyed her that others had not." Rosemary is predictable this way; she is forever fussing about work, much as her mother does. To her exasperation, she is tied to sisters who do not share her passion for homemaking. For example, Sage is beautiful, but somewhat simple. She has golden skin and prefers to stare out the window at the sea rather than work. "She was waiting, she said, for her own true love." Sage is full of romantic notions about heroes and dragons, so it is surprising to observe that she finds true love close to home, in a young, courageous fisherman.

Their parents May-ma (mother) and Da (father) have had three sons who perished and are buried near the family's garden. The third daughter is Tansy, who possesses no special color but seems to blend in with her surroundings, "sparkling by a stream, golden in the sunny meadows, mousebrown within the house." She causes trouble to her mother by learning to walk early, "always picking apart things that had been knit up with great care just to see what made them work." Curiosity is an important part of Tansy's character, because it often leads to trouble, and eventually to a dragon, but her ability to reflect the wild lands she loves turns out to be a powerful attraction for Lancot, whose innate fear is overwhelmed by the wonders he finds in Tansy's face.

Tansy has a warm, sensitive personality. When she says to her father, "Poor May- Ma, she speaks to herself for none of the rest of us really talks to her," she shows she has more sympathy for others than her sisters have, and it helps to show why Tansy is a particularly gifted healer. When she plucks up the fireweed or flamewort, she shows how tough she is, because the plant raises blisters on her hand. That she cheerfully shows the fireweed to her father, even while being burned, shows how deep her curiosity is; a little pain does not stop her from trying to learn all she can about her surroundings. All in all, this makes her a very attractive figure, someone whose company is likely to be fun.

Yolen says that she wrote "Dragonfield" to explore the notion of a hero who was cowardly. When Aredd kills people and livestock, five village boys are sent away to find a hero to slay the dragon. After many disappointments, they are certain they have found him: "They knew him [Lancot] for a hero the moment he stood. He moved like a god, the golden hair rippling down his back. Muscles formed like small mountains on his arms and he could make them walk from shoulder to elbow without the slightest effort." It turns out that Lancot is all show, cadging free drinks by showing off his muscles and earning spare change by telling outrageous stories of heroic deeds that never actually happened. Even so, the boys do not mind his stealing their money while they sleep, so sure are they that Lancot is a true hero. Even so, they mention nothing about the dragon to the giant of a man.

Yolen says that the resemblance of the name Lancot to Lancelot is deliberate, probably intending to point out the contrast between Lancot's cowardice and the legendary knight Lancelot's courage in warfare. "He [Lancot] knew he was no god." "Heroes and gods were never afraid and he was deadly afraid every day of his life." A notable aspect of Lancot is that in spite of his fear and the vagabond way of life, he is not the stereotypical handsome hulk without intelligence. He is an intelligent man and has a spiritual nature that few would guess existed.

When Lancot looks at Tansy near the river, he notes, "Yesterday she [Tansy] had seemed no great beauty, yet here in the wood, where she reflected the colors of earth, water, sky, she was beautiful indeed." This is an intelligent observation made by someone who can see the attractive spiritual essence of Tansy. What may seem like a child's activity—enjoying flying a kite—is actually lovable in Lancot, and his comment shows that he realizes that Tansy is someone he can tell about his potentially embarrassing feelings. Tansy herself picks up on Lancot's spiritual nature quickly. When Lancot says that a mage he had met called kites drache, it is as if, without yet realizing it, Lancot and Tansy are in for a spiritual partnership. "Correspondences," Tansy declares. "Like calls to like," she says upon hearing that drache also means kite.

The result of their partnership is not entirely predictable. Throughout "Dragonfield," Yolen has shown that she will kill off even pleasing characters such as Da, which means Tansy or Lancot or both could die in their attempt to battle the dragon. However, both Tansy and Lancot grow during the story, and this is more important than most of the action. Tansy learns to take responsibility for herself and her actions, while Lancot learns that there are aspects of life that he must face up to, rather than run away. The menacing jaws and "teeth as large as tree trunks, as sharp as swords" remind him of just what he must face in order to fulfill his union with Tansy. Yolen's dragons tend to represent people's fundamental fears of unknown dangers, and her stories about them, as with "Dragonfield," tend to be about how people cope with those fears.

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