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Alsatian Dragons (folklore discussed and a translation)

I love dragons. So a part of me is actually surprised I haven't translated anything centering dragons before now. 

This is probably due to just how particular I am. When I find a dragon out in the wild, I want to like it, whether it's a dragon in art, fiction, TV, film, or video games. (Chinese dragons are rarely depicted accurately to their lore in Western media, for example.)  

I realize how silly this must sound. After all, when someone likes tigers or sharks, do they spend time discussing tiger and shark depictions in media? ....Okay, I actually know people who do that.  In any case!

So, even though I've eyed dragon lore warily in Breton and Nordic folklore, wondering if I'd like the dragons I'd encounter there but willing to venture into those wilds, I closed myself off to Alsatian dragons. I own a couple books of Alsatian folklore, and in my illustrated collection, there's a tale of a dragon covered in fire (rather than breathing it), and the illustration...looks a lot like a person in a theme park dragon suit. It's awful.

Also, I didn't know what to do or how to feel about a creature entirely covered in fire wandering through a city--or mildly rampaging through one? I could never really tell what they meant by the folktale's rather low key threat of their dragon, when I'm pretty sure a giant beast covered in fire wandering through a wooden village would equal pretty much instant devastation.  Then again, Alsatian folklore also has tales of dead men (zombies? revenants? ghosts?) entirely covered in fire wandering into a pub.

So, I didn't venture into Alsatian dragon lore again until a fellow folklore translator (from German!) told me about really cool dragon folklore in Germany where the dragons were behaving much more like household faeries. Then he mentioned an Alsatian tale centered in Riedheim (in German), and... I had to find that tale.  I had a feeling it would be collected by Auguste Stoeber, who was an Alsatian folklorist in the mid-to-late 1800s who wrote in German but whose work was also quickly translated into French.  Many of the Alsatian folktales I've read or translated were collected by him, so there was a good chance I could find it, myself, and use it as a springboard to find other Alsatian dragon folklore.

However... I didn't account for the fact that "dragon" in French means both dragon and dragoon. Almost all the old texts that came up in my searches were about Napoleon marshaling his dragoons.  Or folktales about dragoons, ...which makes me want to translate a folktale about a dragoon at some point. (I actually found one that is still haunting me. It's a "love at first sight" depiction that I'm surprised to admit makes perfect sense, but also full of horror to the point I'm not sure I can bring myself to show it to you.)

 But at last, after spending time with an old expert in how Norse mythology wended its way through Germany and then with an old scientist mocking the old myths, I collected enough terminology to successfully skirt the dragoons and get the dragons.

I found a male ondin (water spirit of rivers and streams, who I thought were only female!) who could transform himself into a water dragon.

I found dragons described carrying on conversations with the knights sent to kill them. (Alas, not in full folktale form, though!)

I found an obscure(?) slavic god of subterranean wealth, said to fly through the air then give riches to the person he lands in front of.

Returning to France, I found a cathedral that caught fire, supposedly immolated by a fire dragon. 

I found a man's historical memoirs that stop abruptly at the appearance of a dragon in the sky. (--what?!)

I found a paladin-like knight combat with a dragon, described in page after page, that I will endeavor to translate for us all next month. 

And--at last!--I found the French version of the German-language Alsatian tale I was told about.  It's in a chapter about various supernatural creatures. The paragraphs above describe magical toads.  Then we get into winged serpents... 

Here is that version, translated:


The serpents that can be seen, sometimes, at night on the banks of the river Mossig in the Kronthal valley, and shine with a phosphorescent glow, are also specters from hell.  The devil also appears in the Jura mountains, under the form of winged serpents, dragons with eyes that cast a light brighter than diamonds. They also exist in the region of Montbéliard where the monster is called a vouivre(*).

At Riedheim, near Bouxwiller, one can see at certain hours of the night, a dragon entirely covered in fire flying above the village; sometimes it enters by way of dormer windows into the attics of houses and steals wheat and other provisions there, only to leave them behind in other houses.

An old schoolmaster of Riedheim(**), who was also a carpenter, had worked hard at his workbench well into the night. (He was working, I believe, on a coffin). After extinguishing his light, he was going to disrobe by his window, when he abruptly saw the fire dragon, with its prodigious length, glide and disappear down the chimney of a neighboring house.  Villagers claim that the treasures of the dragon brought this way belong only to the following second generation. A family of Riedheim is at this moment in possession of just such a treasure. Villagers also say about members of this family: “They have happiness and good fortune; their grandparents received a visit from the dragon!”


(*) We call vouivre, vivre, guivre, a winged serpent that only has one eye (called a carbuncle) that shines with so radiant a light that the monster appears to be entirely on fire. According to an ancient tradition, the village of Dung (3 km from Montbéliard) owes its emancipation to the one who delivered the region from a vouivre. (See Duvernoy, Ephémérides du comté de Montbéliard. ((This book still exists for us!)) For more details, see also, X. Marmier, (Féerie franc-comtoise), Paris 1845, p. 73 and pages following. ((This book I found for the year 1841!)))  The vouivre that dwells on the shore of springs and fountains might well have once been called Mélusine.

(**) According to a recounting by his granddaughter, who died four years ago, then a woman of fifty years. --For the dragons who fly through the air at night, see Grimm, Mythol. in German, p. 652.


With that first footnote, I'm sold. I'm not sure I can fully picture a dragon with only one eye, but I can completely get behind the idea of a "fire dragon" covered in radiance so intense it looks like being covered in fire. 

On that note, I will leave you here 'til our next dragon adventure! I will do my best to translate some intense dragon combat for April's translation. 

(For those of you on my fiction tier, stay tuned to the end of this month).

Happy solstice!

~Laura, dragon-lover

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