Each night at bedtime, I have been reading The Hobbit to my son. Last Christmas, just after his sixth birthday, I allowed him to watch The Lord of the Rings trilogy on DVD, and he became very invested in the story. So I thought we would read The Hobbit before the movies came out, and he has quite enjoyed it. We have finally, after much questing, come to Smaug, and this has been the part my son has most anticipated. He has long been drawn to—and simultaneously terrified of—dragons. He has wanted to know the differences in Eastern (Asian, Oriental, Chinese) dragons and Western ones. Which ones have wings? Which ones breathe fire? Five claws or four? What colors do they come in?
This is in large (and unwitting) part my own fault. When he was not quite four, I let my son see the Disney Sleeping Beauty. It has always been one of my favorites; as a child, I used to waltz around singing “Once Upon a Dream” to the great irritation of my parents. I had, alas, forgotten how truly frightening Maleficent could be—particularly at the point in which she transforms into a dragon. Not long after having seen the movie, one day as I became upset with him for something, my son yelled, “Don’t let your dragon come out, Mommy!” I was momentarily baffled and attempted to assure him there was no dragon. Still, periodically, whenever I began to be angry about something my son would say, “Is your dragon coming out? Don’t let your dragon come out!”
I thought we had put it behind us at last, but recently my son (the oldest) informed his two younger siblings that Mommy is, in fact, a dragon. They have gone on to tell their nanny and teachers this in turn. Without context or prompting, they will announce, “Sometimes my mommy turns into a dragon.”
My six-year-old, meanwhile, has decided he too is a dragon. He has asked me to teach him to fly and breathe fire and transform. Sometimes he tells me that he does transform when no one is looking. He has also told me that his “personal god” is a dragon. (He has been trying to wrap his decidedly advanced mind around theology lately, asking to hear stories of gods and to know what various religions believe.)
I have to say, as far as dragons go Smaug has always been one of my favorites. He has such personality. Reading about him with my son has been fun, though I suspect my son is blueprinting his idea of what dragons say and do based on Smaug. Well, there could be worse examples.
If nothing else, this idea of dragons as creatures to be both feared, and perhaps slightly revered, has given my son a sense of respect for something. Here is something he stands in awe of, something of which he wants to be part . . . And I take it as a tangential compliment that he counts me among their number. And that, more or less, his desire to be a dragon, just as he thinks I am a dragon, means in some way he’s striving to be like me.