Prince Marko and the Dragon (Marko Kraljević i zmaj)
Saturday, November 25th, 2017
A few weeks ago, I came back from Serbia where I attended a variety of promotional activities regarding the publication of my new book Prince Marko and the Dragon (Marko Kraljević i zmaj), that has recently been released in Serbia. The book includes 8 new epic poems about Prince Marko and 12 paintings, and it is beautifully designed by Dragan Bibin. It’s printed in Serbian language, and we are now working on a Macedonian edition as well. There is no English edition yet.
Below you can find an excerpt from the Preface (which I have translated from Serbian for this occasion) that might be interesting to read while you sip your morning coffee.
A few samples of Dragan Bibin’s design
This collection of new epic poems, titled “Prince Marko and the Dragon”, is an attempt to bring back to life the most popular and the most important hero from the Serbian epics, to the extent that is objectively possible at this moment and in this particular case, and of course as far as the author’s mental and creative abilities permitted it.
The Hero, as a cultural and psychological phenomenon, is one of the most important archetypes of the collective consciousness of mankind. In all mythological traditions, the so-called adventure of the hero, occupies the main place in the narrative opus. The myth, epic, legend, saga, fairy tale – all these forms of narrative expression are largely based on the stories about the adventures of heroic characters. Joseph Campbell, the famous American mythologist, in his famous and influential book “The Hero with a thousand faces”, talks about how the heroes from different cultures and time periods are interconnected, and how the many stories about their deeds and achievements, although often seemingly very different, essentially speak of one and the same adventure, of one and the same archetypal hero, who changes only his “mask” in accordance with the peculiarities of the culture and the time in which he is created, while his essence and function in the society remains unchanged.
It could therefore be said that this archetypal hero is in fact a kind of guidance and a metaphor for the adventure that takes place in the human being – an adventure that happens to every person simply by the very act of birth in this world. So, the hero is in each of us, and his adventure essentially tells about the path of self-discovery, the process of individuation and spiritual enlightenment – that is, the path of discovering the true nature of man and the existence. It is then up to each and every individual whether he will be able to find enough motivation and courage in order to revive this hero in himself, and to make from his own life an adventure of the mythical proportions. Because every single birth, every life, is a cosmic event that confirms and enables, over again, the process of realization and embodiment of the universal Life Force. Is there something that is more important in this world than that?
Even such a hero, no matter how great he is, or how widely or deeply engaged, or engrossed in the field of the universal human experience, is always bound and conditioned by a certain context. This context enables the hero to exist, and at the same time determines the frame of the hero’s universe and gives meaning and significance to his activities. When such a context loses its relevance (because we exist in a world in which the phenomenon of transience is the only constant factor), that is, when the context changes under, say, the influence of significant historical and cultural events, and if the hero is not adequately adapted to the new time spirit, such hero loses the vitality of a living symbol, and therefore inevitably becomes irrelevant. One of the indications that such process has taken place is an act of spontaneous mockery of the hero, when he is turned into his own caricature. This is something that has already happened to the character of Prince Marko.
In short, the historical context that gave birth to the character of the epic hero Prince Marko (which in fact is based on a historical medieval king ) has changed – the people no longer suffer the oppression by the Ottoman Turks, that lasted for more than 4 centuries. The archenemy has long disappeared from the stage, leaving epic Prince Marko alone and idle. His tremendous strength, his mighty mace and razor sharp saber – all that, without the Ottoman Turks as the main opponent and oppressor, lost its meaning and turned into a comical shadow of its former glory. We must add here that, generally speaking, the occurrence of the death of the mythological Hero in our time has also been stimulated by the process of secularization of society, especially during the second half of the 20th century. This, along with the technological revolution, has created a more dynamic, highly changeable world that, as it seems, favors the material above the spiritual, the empirical above the intuitive, and the restrictive above the freedom. The loss of the collective myth has “killed God” and gave the contemporary human being a false impression that the mythical hero is no longer needed, thus he tried to satisfy his deep-rooted need for a role model and the inspirator by a surrogate in the form of popular personalities, co-called celebrities.
For a long time, I was more or less a passive observer of this process, until the moment when a significant change took place in me. Namely, in recent years, during my very sporadic reading of the Serbian epic poetry, I have noticed that the epic poems about Prince Marko, for some inexplicable reason, have made a significant impact om me. This confused me because in my youth I did not show any particular inclination toward the epic poetry, nor to the poetry in general.
There followed a period of intense and passionate involvement with mythology – in which, again, I was not particularly interested before that, except to a certain degree in regard to its pictorial aspect . Later, with the same enthusiasm the psychology was approached, since I learned that only the psychology is able to provide us, contemporary people, with an appropriate prism to decompose the mythological truth, that is, to interpret and understand it and thus make it relevant again.
My interest in mythology, combined with psychology, helped me to understand why the epic poems about Prince Mark have left such a deep impression on me. It was in fact the universal, humanistic character of these poems, that is, the archetypal hero in Prince Marko who essentially did not need the Ottoman Turks to continue to exist as a vital, living symbol.
In time, it became clear to me what was needed to be done in order to bring Prince Marko and his epic world to life again – this required a change of context. In other words, Prince Marko’s world had to be aligned with the spirit of our time, it had to be updated.
Two paintings from the book currently on display in the Museum Mohlmann, the Netherlands.
Petar Meseldžija was born in Novi Sad, Serbia, in 1965. He began his career in 1981, publishing the comic strip "Krampi" in the Stripoteka, one of the best known comic magazines in the country. This was followed by a series of short comics and his work on the licensed comic book Tarzan. He graduated from the Academy of Arts in Novi Sad, in the Painting Department. During his studies he continued to work on comics, but also more often working on illustrations. In 1991 he illustrated his first book Peter Enkorak, published by Mladinska knjiga from Slovenia.
At the end of 1991 he moved to the Netherlands. Soon after, he stopped working on comics and dedicated himself to illustration and painting.
During the 1990s he painted about 120 posters and greeting cards, mostly for Verkerke Reproduktie from Holland. For Grimm Press, a publisher from Taiwan, he did 33 illustrations for the book King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. He held his first solo exhibition of illustrations and paintings in 1998 in the Tjalf Sparnaay Gallery in Amsterdam.
He has participated in many group exhibitions in Yugoslavia, the Netherlands and the USA.
His work has been published in a variety of periodicals and books all over the world.
Among many awards which he received for his work are:
“Plaque The International Golden pen of Belgrade, 1994”, Yugoslavia;
The “Art Show Judges Choice Award” – 59th World Science Fiction Convention, Philadelphia, 2001, US.;
Two Silver Awards from “Spectrum 4 and Spectrum 10 – The Best in Contemporary Fantastic Art”, U.S.;
Gold Award “Spectrum 16 – The Best in Contemporary Fantastic Art”, U.S.
From the beginning of 2000 he has dedicated himself to gallery art. Of the exhibitions where he has participated, the most worthy of mention is the Exhibition of Independent Realists. This exhibition, organized annually at the Mohlmann Museum from the Netherlands, offers clear insight into the creative achievements of contemporary Dutch artists in the domain of realist and figurative art. In addition to painting, he continues to do illustrations.
Two other significant projects should be mentioned. He painted 10 book covers for books of children's fantasy literature for the American publisher Scholastic Inc. Likewise, he illustrated the Serbian folk take “Prava se muka ne da sakriti”(“Real Trouble Cannot Be Hidden") for Bazar Tales, a publisher from Norway. In his work on the book, The Legend of Steel Bashaw, he has invested enormous time and effort. This project, for him of the greatest importance, was started in 1993. Including shorter and longer breaks, the longest of which lasted 7 years, he has been working on the book for 15 years, finally finishing it in August of 2008.
His original work is to be found in the private collections in Serbia, the Netherlands, Germany and the U.S.
Stunning as always Petar. Looking forward to the English edition.
As always, you are very kind, Bill! :-)…Well, I am afraid it will not be that easy to find a publisher from the English speaking world (French, or Chinese, whatever) who will be interested in investing their money in producing an illustrated collection of poems about an unknown Balkan hero… Nor have I seen many people lately who use their iPhone to read poetry, even if it's epic poetry…even in Serbia… However, I am a hopeless romantic, so I choose to believe that miracles still can happen in this world. 🙂 …We'll see.
We sorely need heroes today, they're supposed to embody what we admire and aspire to – what we wish we had the strength, courage, intelligence, fortitude to do and be. But we've lost the aspiration to be better and instead are only offered the greedy, sordid, mean little bullies – or celebrities, whose only accomplishment is to come to the collective attention through random factors of advertising. We ought to admire, and see as heroes, the quiet, courageous, clever and kind, who build instead of destroy.
Quite right, I would say…However, we must realize that the ultimate Hero is within, it is essentially an internal matter. The external Heroes are just here to remind us of that, and to point out the way toward the ultimate Hero, not to do the work for us! Another thing is that, just as the ultimate Hero, the “mean little bullies – or celebrities”, as you put it, are also within us – otherwise they would not be able to flourish – in a way, we are creating and empowering them as long as we are paying attention to them. So, it seems to me that the real question here is – whom do I decide to identify myself with – with the Hero, or its surrogate?