Tag Archives: dragons

A Very Metal Study Break

We’re closing in on the end of the school year, and there’s plenty of pressure and stress in the air. Maybe just take a few minutes to watch some music videos, acquire a new taste, and relax – and possibly passively learn a bit more history for that scary final. Naturally, we’re going to do all this with the most logical music genre for the purpose: heavy metal.

If you want a thorough overview of the history and taxonomy of metal, there’s the excellent Map of Metal site that visualizes the genre as geography so you can see how everything’s related, complete with examples if you click on the regions and cities that stand for the different sub-genres within metal. Since other sites have done such a good job with this, and this isn’t a metal history lesson, I’ll just leave that link there, so you can explore it if you like. But the aim here is that any learning you do is going to be very incidental to having a good time during your study break. So, on to the videos!

Metal stylistically lends itself to routinely dealing with heavier, grander, more dramatic topics and treatments than you can get away with in other genres of popular-ish music. That said, it’s definitely a very short tiptoe over the line into utterly ludicrous melodrama. Some bands end up in this territory by accident, others choreograph an elaborate dance routine all over the line. We’re definitely going to start with one of those.

Yeah. There’s nothing I can add to this. The universe is a better place because this song exists: power metal about a zombie unicorn invasion.

Another quirk of the genre is that heavy metal never actually went out of style in some parts of the world. In Scandinavia, for example, not only did it never go out of style, it’s practically mainstream. Check out this music video for the Swedish National Women’s Curling Team:

So it is in Sweden. However, it’s also the case in Japan, too. There’s quite a bit of truth in the movie This is Spinal Tap, where the band finds out that though they’re floundering on the domestic circuit, they’ve inexplicably become famous and end up performing for sold out arenas in Japan. There’s more than a few acts – several of them metal – that barely eked onto the charts here exactly once, but are celebrities in Japan. Sure, Babymetal gets some attention here, but that’s largely because they’re a gothic-loli-style girl band that does pop black metal, and our culture seems to think that this is surprising for some reason. Neither metal nor girl bands nor gothic loli stylings are unusual in Japan, and if you’re going to compete in a crowded market for girl bands, you better have your act together. Babymetal definitely does.

What about the serious stuff, though? What about heavier metal? If only there was a Taiwanese symphonic black metal band that specialized in the Pacific War. Oh, wait, there is.

The band also has versions in English, but I like this one better for this song. It’s also actually in Taiwanese Hokkien, which is why there’s Chinese subtitles. Completely different languages, actually. There’s metal for every taste out there, and all sorts of historical stuff too. You want an 18 minute long epic about an airship disaster? Iron Maiden’s 2015 album The Book of Souls has you covered. The library has a few copies too. Seriously, our music collection is pretty robust, so whatever genre you want to explore, check it out.

 

Dragons and Constructed Languages

The Dragon's Cave by Georg Janny, 1917

The Dragon’s Cave by Georg Janny, 1917

The earliest written work in any kind of the English language is Beowulf, which has a horrible, treasure-hoarding dragon in it. Because he was a philologist (expert and critic of written languages and language histories), and arguably the foremost scholar on Beowulf, J. R. R. Tolkien knew all about the dragon, and wrote a bunch of stories for his kids, which eventually mutated into a novel, The Hobbit. Beowulf‘s dragon is a creature of mindless animalistic greed and savagery, but Smaug, the dragon and central antagonist of The Hobbit, can talk. Imagine him voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch. But if Bilbo Baggins can understand Smaug, and there isn’t any magic involved here, they share a common language, Fire-Drake and Hobbit. One of the reasons for J. R. R. Tolkien’s works’ staying power is that the world created for them is fully realized enough to bear up under questions like this. So, what language do Bilbo and Smaug share?

In J. R. R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth books, including The Hobbit, and all of the books in The Lord of the Rings, English is used as a stand-in for Westron, a hypothetical fictional language commonly spoken on Middle Earth. As a philologist, though, Tolkien created several full-fledged languages, and even language families and language histories (!!), to inhabit his fantasy universe. Elvish languages, such as Sindarin, are a language family, and have their own fictional history. In a very real way, The Lord of the Rings isn’t a fictional work with made-up languages in it, but rather Middle Earth’s fictional languages happen to be wrapped up in a pretty neat story.

The connection between dragons and artistic languages doesn’t stop there, however. You probably know at least three words in Dovahzul. Click and drag between the brackets to reveal. [ FUS RO DAH! ]

The main plot-line of the 2011 video game Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim revolves around dragons. Taking a step further still from Smaug’s command of Westron, not only do these dragons talk, but their language has the power to change reality. In this game, words spoken by someone who truly understands them become focused into a Thuum, or Shout, with different effects depending on the meaning of the words, from breathing fire, to knocking enemies backwards, to turning invisible, or revealing the presence of the undead. The acquisition of words in this language is pivotal to the gameplay in Skyrim. The developers of the game created Dovahzul as a complete artistic language to serve this purpose, and all of the dragons in the game speak the language as well. Over time, the language was expanded and fleshed out by the fanbase, and now Dovahzul is a full-fledged artistic language.

Brush up on your vocabulary and grammar here!