A Month of Short Stories 2014, Day 27 – Cathay

A year ago, for the month of June, I wrote about an online short story each day for the month. It seemed like a good idea at the time. My blog readership fell precipitously and nobody seemed to give a damn about what I was doing – which was a surprising amount of work.

Because of this result, I’m going to do it again this year.

Today’s story, for day twenty-seven – Cathay, by Steven Millhauser

Read it online here:


After I read the story I found that Cathay is an alternate name for China in English. I wish I hadn’t learned that – the amazing world of the story should remain mysterious and shrouded – to tie it to a real place seems to dull the gleaming magic a little.

But this is a minor thing. It is still a place where golden mechanical birds sing as beautifully as real, where women have tiny paintings on their eyelids and elsewhere, and floating islands might be breeding.

In Millhauser’s Cathay the emperor’s concubines are so beautiful and artfully decked out they can’t even be gazed upon by normal men. All that do spend the rest of their lives wracked by tormented longing… which, I suppose puts them in the same state as the rest of us.

It’s an enchanted travelog to a plane of the imagination that ends with a battle of magicians and living statues.

A place of pure fancy.

So much the sadness.


There are Fifty-four Steps of Love, of which the fifth is Yearning. There are seventeen degrees of Yearning, through all of which the lover must pass before reaching the sixth step, which is Restlessness.

Face the Dragon

Meddle not in the affairs of the dragon; for you are crunchy and taste good with ketchup.

Crow Collection of Asian Art, Dallas, Texas

“Never laugh at live dragons.”
—- J.R.R. Tolkien


“It does not do to leave a live dragon out of your calculations, if you live near him.”
—-J. R. R. Tolkien

“What do you know about dragons?”
“They’re big, scaly, four-legged creatures with wings who terrorized small villages until a virgin was offered up as a sacrifice.”
His grinned again. “I do miss the virgins.”
—- Katie MacAlister, You Slay Me

“Puff, the Magic Dragon, lived by the sea, and frolicked in the Autumn Mist in a land called Honah Lee, little Jacky Paper loved that rascal Puff, and gave him strings and sealing wax and other fancy stuff.”
—- Peter Yarrow, Puff, The Magic Dragon

“For instance, dragons are deeply revered by the Chinese. According to legend they have megapowers that include weather control and life creation. And they’re seen as kind, benevolent creatures. Funny. Every fairy tale I’d ever heard involving dragons starred daring knights trotting off to kill said dragons. Probably the real reason every time East meets West they get pissed off and throw tea in our faces.”
—- Jennifer Rardin

“The townspeople took the prince for dead
When he never returned with the dragon’s head
When with her, he stayed
She thought he’d be too afraid
But he loved her too much instead.”
—-Jess C. Scott, Piety, Dragon Poems

“Everybody knows who dragons are. They are enourmous,fierce,bloodthirsty creatures appearing in fairytales and legends primarily as accessories, functioning mainly to set of the bravery of the knights challenging them. Dragons are obscure,mysterious characters described only in broad terms, little more than foils to enhance a hero’s valor. Dragons though are much more than this. They are intelligent and educated creatures who lead entralling lives.”
—- H.G. Ciruelo Cabral

“A dragon’s heart burns fiercely, even in the face of evil.”
—- S.G. Rogers, Jon Hansen and the Dragon Clan of Yden

“Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.”
—- Neil Gaiman, Coraline

“But it is one thing to read about dragons and another to meet them.”
—- Ursula K. Le Guin, A Wizard of Earthsea

“How should we be able to forget those ancient myths that are at the beginning of all peoples, the myths about dragons that at the last moment turn into princesses; perhaps all the dragons of our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us once beautiful and brave. Perhaps everything terrible is in its deepest being something helpless that wants help from us.

So you must not be frightened if a sadness rises up before you larger than any you have ever seen; if a restiveness, like light and cloudshadows, passes over your hands and over all you do. You must think that something is happening with you, that life has not forgotten you, that it holds you in its hand; it will not let you fall. Why do you want to shut out of your life any uneasiness, any miseries, or any depressions? For after all, you do not know what work these conditions are doing inside you.”
—- Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

“I do not care what comes after; I have seen the dragons on the wind of morning.”
—- Ursula K. Le Guin, The Farthest Shore

“My nightly craft is winged in white, a dragon of night dark sea.
Swift born, dream bound and rudderless, her captain and crew are me.
We’ve sailed a hundred sleeping tides where no seaman’s ever been
And only my white-winged craft and I know the wonders we have seen.”
—- Anne McCaffrey, Dragonsong