In this new Year of the Dragon, here’s my second musing on this mythological figure that has so many versions in different cultures. This time I honor my own ancestral beast, the happy dragon of Wales. I say “happy” because to me the beautifully exuberant creature emblazoned on the flag of Wales represents courage and energy, and an unstoppable drive to achieve the goal.
One of the qualities of this dragon is surely his magic—he breaths fire, he flies through the air, he journeys through time. So perhaps this sense of magic is one of the things we need to invoke when we have a goal in mind. Another of its qualities is action—this is not a dragon at rest, but “passant” or traveling. He’s on the move, and this is another thing we must invoke to achieve our goals.
British lore has it that the red dragon at length defeated a white dragon, symbolizing the victory of the Welsh people over the Saxons. The red dragon is also a prophecy of the coming of King Arthur, whose father was Uther Pendragon, or “Chief Dragon.” The red dragon became part of Henry VII’s flag for the house of Tudor, and centuries later in 1953 Henry’s Red Dragon badge received a circular motto: “Y Ddraig Goch Ddyry Cychwyn” or “The Red Dragon Inspires Action.”
The dragon must have been with me when I created my fictitious town of Milford-Haven. I’d written numerous scripts for television, several of which were rejected, but later copied and produced. (The dragon wasn’t happy about that, and neither was I.) So I took action. I realized how much I loved radio drama. Not only was it a vibrant, creative medium; it could be produced for a smaller budget, and well-known actors could squeeze in their performances between longer commitments. When a summer of performing in the play Sea Marks in the coastal town of Cambria sparked my love affair with California’s Central Coast, the seeds of the story were sewn. By the way, I played a character from Wales. The dragon must’ve been at work even then. I wrote the scripts. Amazing actors said yes to joining the cast. I found the perfect studio, engineer, foley artist, and composers. The show became a hit locally. And then, something inexplicably extraordinary happened. The BBC heard about the show, and it became the first American radio serial ever broadcast on this renowned network.
Indeed, the journey of Milford-Haven is nothing less than magical. The first time I became aware of the the red dragon, it was because the flag of Wales was presented to me on a most remarkable trip. Milford-Haven U.S.A. had just become a hit on BBC radio with over 4 million listeners. The original town of Milford Haven, on the west coast of Wales, has a long, rich history of its own. It had first come to my attention when I performed in Shakespeare’s Cymbelline. I played the heroine Imogen who receives a letter from her beloved asking her to “meet me in Cambria, in Milford Haven.” Since my fictitious town was based loosely upon the California town of Cambria (itself, named for Wales), I knew I’d found the perfect name for my radio show.
What I didn’t know was that the original town was engaged at that moment in a campaign to attract tourism. By creating a successful radio program I was helping them. In return, the town fathers and mothers invited me for a visit filled with magic. On the first day, I was given a parade down Main Street—a charming lane of appealing shops that uncannily resembled my fictitious one. On the second evening, I was given a reception in the equivalent of their Town Hall—an occasion filled with ceremony and history. I walked under crossed swords; I was rung into the room by a gentleman in a powdered wig; I was presented with the keys to the city. Fortunately, I’d had a silver tray engraved—from Milford-Haven to Milford Haven—so I had something to give these generous people!
This amazing journey, and the debut of Milford-Haven U.S.A., happened in 1992. So for me, the dragon’s reappearing in 2012 is the signal to celebrate twenty years of Milford-Haven—its cast and crew, its musicians and sound effects wizards, its artists and writing, and of course its further telling in the new novels. Perhaps when my own ancestors left Wales, a baby dragon went with them. And when it grew up, it breathed fire on my kindling imagination, inspiring me to write a story that would bring us both back to Wales on bright red wings.
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