Following on from my previous post, I want to share a little bit more about the book, Everyone Knows What A Dragon Looks Like.
It’s about a Chinese city which is under the threat of imminent invasion by the ‘wild horsemen of the North’, and whose leaders pray to the Great Cloud Dragon for deliverance. The following day, an old, fat balding man arrives at the city and is welcomed by Han, the young street-sweeper. He tells Han that he is a dragon and he has come to save the city. Han believes him, and takes him to the city leaders, who pour scorn on the fat old man, declaring that they know what a dragon looks like and it doesn’t look like him. The fat old man simply reasserts that he is a dragon, and he will save the city if he is shown hospitality. At this, the leaders throw him from the palace, and then go into hiding, terrified of the approaching horsemen. Han takes the old man back to his hut and humbly offers to share his meagre rations. After eating his bowl of rice and drinking his glass of water, the old man declares that because of Han’s hospitality he will save the city. With that he takes a deep breath and blows away all the fierce horsemen, thus rescuing the city inhabitants from certain death. He then shows Han what a dragon looks like, by transforming into a fierce, brightly coloured creature shimmering in the sky, before disappearing. Han then relates his story to the rest of the city and is handsomely rewarded for the generosity that induced the dragon to save them all.
As I wrote in my last post, this book was given to me as a leaving gift when I was 7 years old, and it included a message encouraging me to keep my ‘head out of the clouds’, so that someday I could write ‘my wonderful book’. Well, as you can tell from the plot summary, the content of the book does not directly relate to writing, authorship or the desire to become published. However, what I think it does do is highlight the need to look beyond the face value of people, places, ideas, life. Although Han was unable to see the true form of the dragon, he was willing to believe that there was more to the little old man than his appearance suggested. In that sense, he was open to an alteration of perception; he was open to the possibility of a life less ordinary. If I were to apply this message to writing, I would like to suggest that even the most ordinary, the most mundane, the most pedestrian, everyday subjects can be transformed into beautiful, translucent, iridescent prose, if we treat them with care and attention when inscribing them upon the page. And if this is the lesson I was to learn from the book, then I’m pleased to report that I’m still learning it, and I intend to continue learning it for a long time to come.
I am, however, perfectly prepared to listen to alternative interpretations, so if you have any ideas which differ from this reading, please do let me know! Also, I would love to hear if there was a book from your childhood which continues to have a profound effect on you. Do you still own it? Have you referred to it recently? Does it offer new interpretations at different points in your life? And if not from your childhood, is there a book you read recently which has influenced the direction of your life’s journey?