"Oh shut up and eat your limestone..."
We've all had that first foray into the realm of fantasy. Consumed some segment of media early in our life that introduced us to the ever-expansive world of fantasy.
For many, Tolkien comes to mind. The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings introduced millions to swords and sorcery before a single movie came out on the topic, and Tolkien's vision is directly correlated to Gary Gygax's Dungeons and Dragons lore.
Harry Potter was a more whimsical approach to the themes of magic and mysticism; who wouldn't want to attend a school of witchcraft and wizardry? Casting spells and brewing potions, and fighting the dark arts. I guarantee if I were in Slytherin (yeah, I took that quiz), I'd make sure that we had a hero in the Goblet of Fire...
But for me, the media that I consumed early on, and would watch over and over and over again until I wore the recorded-off-TV tape down to shreds, was a little gem called The Flight of Dragons.
Coming out in 1982, The Flight of Dragons tells the story of a scientist turned board game designer, named Peter Dickinson (ha), as he is transported back in time to a land of dragons, magic, and danger. Upon his entry, and a magical miscalculation, he is supplanted into the psyche of a young dragon named Gorbash. Now in a body he barely knows, he must lead a band of adventurers to stop the red wizard Ommadon (voiced by James Earl Jones) from unleashing greed and ire among the realm of man, urging them to use their science and logic to destroy themselves.
There are the makings of a classic adventure in here. The "party" sets off with Peter/Gorbash, an elderly dragon named Smrgol, and the knight Sir Orrin Neville-Smythe. I remember them being granted additional artifacts by the other wizards - all brothers, by the way, residing over specific types of magic - to help them on the journey; an awesome golden shield (that I really wanted as a kid) and a magic flute that can put dragons to sleep. On the way, they come across chittering creatures, other dragons, and a literal troll (which is a terrifying moment in the film; gave me glorious nightmares - loved it as a teenager though). I won't spoil the rest of the plot, because it's easy enough to find on Amazon or elsewhere online. A truly overlooked classic.
But the thing that fascinated me the most about the film were its themes of magic and mysticism blending with science and logic. There's a wonderful scene where Smrgol tries to explain to "Peter" how he can fly and breathe fire, but Peter's scientific mind questions Smrgol's "it just is" arguments. The scene evolves into a full scientific method of discovering why a dragon would swallow diamonds, then eat limestone, convert that to hydrogen, then expel the hydrogen - which ignites along a thimble in the roof of their mouth - which produces the flame. So, dragons are blimps. Awesome, sentient, blimps of death and majesty.
Makes sense considering that the story itself is essentially a blending of Peter Dickinson's (HA!) "The Flight of Dragons" and George R. Dickson's "The Dragon and the George", and both of these books offer up legitimate arguments as to the nature and history of this world and its creatures.
And this theme continues throughout the film, as its main question of exploration is: Can science and logic exist alongside magic and mysticism. The film's climax pulls no punches in this exploration, as an entity founded on the principles of old world magic goes face to face with resounding scientific basis, knowledge, and truth. It is jaw-dropping, and remains to be to this day.
My favorite thing, though, is the approach the film takes to this question. You have a modern-day person, in the body of a "mystical" creature, discovering how that creature could exist in a logical world; they're bringing science to an old land of imagination, without denying imagination. And when all is said and done, science and logic can hold the realm of humans together - truth denies mysticism - BUT the realm of magic can exist in our minds, in our dreams, in our souls. We can hold the magic within us and it takes us far beyond the stars.
I highly recommend the film, if for nothing than its mature approach to the struggle between sorcery and science, for there is a way for it to co-exist, and I think it speaks exactly to my own mission and vision moving forward. Our imaginations power the magic within us, while science and logic ground us in reality. Blending the two is where inventions come from: gadgets, games, thoughts, beliefs, paradigms, lifestyles.
Go forth and create.
So... What piece of media introduced YOU to the world beyond the stars? Fantasy, science fiction, noir, what did it? I'd love you know.
See you at the table.
Professional Game Master musician, music teacher, game designer, amateur bartender, and aspiring fiction author.
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3rd Saturday: Worldbuilding
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