Apparently “Here be dragons” never actually appeared on medieval maps. Which is not particularly surprising but still a bit disappointing. I love the expression as a shorthand for “Wild unknown with scary stuff. Probably including dragons” or “I dunno what goes here so I’ll just make stuff up.” They did fill in the blank spaces with various beasts, which surely implies that they could be there. I’ve picked bit of trivia out of Simon Garfield’s On the Map which is full of fun map stuff from dragon-laden antiques to Google Maps. (Google, maybe you could add in some dragons just for fun? On Chinese New Year or St. George’s Day or something?)
I seized on the dragon stuff particularly because I was also reading A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan, which is (alas) fiction full of dragons and science – two of my favourite things. Our heroine, Isabella, develops a passion for dragons as a child but alas this is not a ladylike interest (the setting, I should mention, is very olden days.) It’s not a big spoiler to reveal that she nevertheless gets to go on a scientific expedition to study dragons. I’m not particularly sensitive about spoilers but in this case I know I’m right since the first paragraph states:
“The ones who write to me invariably want to hear about my adventures: my escape from captivity in the swamps of Mouleen, or my role in the great Battle of Keonga or (most frequently) my flight to the inhospitable heights of the Mrtyahaima Peaks, the only place on earth where the secrets of dragonkind could be unlocked.”
Hints of adventures to come pop up through the book, which I love. I love when books are bigger than what happens immediately on the page. I am also endlessly fascinated by old-timey science expeditions where guys set off to the far edges of the world with butterfly nets and killing jars and big plans. They named islands and beetles after their friends, caught malaria, wrote journals (often delusionally optimistic), vanished into the jungle, lost all their specimens in shipwrecks, returned to London with crates full of bugs and birds that to this day are in the British Museum. Yeah, you can trow a lot of cold water on all this and I’d advise my friends against joining some of these expeditions but I still love to read about them.
You know if we really had dragons for sure there would have been reckless/determined natural historians chasing them.