Identify your Dragon: Friend or Foe?
Do you have a dragon in the backyard you're having trouble identifying? Has it already burned down the shed and now you're wondering if you should be calling the police or just heading out with a big boom to shoo it away?
Worry no more, because here's a handy guide on dragon identification.
Very Dangerous, Keep Your Distance
This is your traditional dragon, the sort Saint George was sent to slay. This fearsome creature has been found throughout history, the Dragon from Beowulf.
Many things have been named as influences on this creatures. From the real threat of the Nile crocodiles Egypt, to the Goanna in Australia, to the discovery of dinosaur bones in an era where these fossils wouldn't have been fully understood. They've appeared in almost every culture from Chinese, Hawaiian, Arabian, European and Norse. But what we see is an interpretation of dragons which show them as large, dangerous and magical beasts.
This version of the dragon has inspired creations such as Smaug from The Hobbit and the dragons from the 2002 movie Reign of Fire. And of course, in Harry Potter, we have no less than six featured dragons; Norbert(a), the Swedish Short-Snout, the Chinese Fireball, Norwegian Ridgeback, Hungarian Horntail and the Ukrainian Ironbelly.
For further reading: Beowulf, Lines 2516–2820 J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Chapters 19-20 J.R.R Tolkien, The Hobbit, Chapters 12-13
Generally Friendly, Approach With Caution
These are a very popular type of dragon on screen from Dragonheart, Falkor from The Neverending Story and Eragon. What differentiates this from the next category is that the dragons are shown as an intelligent, sentient species, much like the Tolkien dragons. However, these dragons have the intelligence of humans and chosen to work with us for various reasons. You could almost call this the image rehabilitation of dragons, as they became more and more popular, naturally, we wanted to start showing them as friends rather than vicious creatures. You could arguably put the dragons from the Game of Thrones series here. While they are violet and uncontrollable in the series, they obey the will of Daenerys Targaryen, Mother of Dragons. At least, when they want to.
For further reading: Anne McCaffrey, Dragonriders of Pern, book series G.R.R. Martin, Fire and Blood J.R.R Tolkien, Farmer Giles of Ham Naomi Novik, His Majesty's Dragon
Deceptive And Dangerous
From what I've been able to find, this is a fairly recent trope. Prime examples would be Disney's Sleeping Beauty with Maleficent's transformation, Lord Osric of Crossley in the movie Dragonheart: A New Beginning and Mizuki in the movie 47 Ronin. There is a blurred line here between humans who take on dragon form and dragons who appear human. But when they're trying to burn your face off, I imagine the particulars become semantic.
With the help of Reddit user Jessicalynfox, the earliest example I could find of this idea is from The Vows of the Peacock - great name - which is a courtly poem written by Jacques de Longuyon in 1312. Melusine, a beautiful woman refuses to take communion in church. When she's confronted, she turns into a dragon and flees. Again, there's an association here with dragons and evil, but also of dragons who can appear human.
From the dragon's point of view, I image it's more convenient if there aim is to successfully interact with humans. From the point of view of a director, I imagine it's cheaper to pay an actor to pretend to be a dragon than invest in CGI or cosmetics. And if they want to reveal the characters dragon nature it sets up a perfect 'behold my true form and despair' turning point midbattle.
For further reading: C.S.Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Chapter 6 - 8 Jim Butcher, Grave Peril, character: Ferrovax Ursula K. Le Guin, Earthsea, book series Daniel Arenson, Dragons of Requiem, book series
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Cute! Will Set Fire To Everything You Own
These dragons cannot speak like their fellows in the companion section and they're not vicious, destructive creatures like the dragons of old. Let's face it, these guys are big, scaly, winged dogs. And we love them.
Amongst these ranks to are the swamp dragons in Terry Pratchett's novels, Charmander from the Pokemon game series and, of course, the hoard of trainable yet unruly dragons including Toothless in How to Train Your Dragon.
This is the final portrayal of a dragon - not only beautiful and powerful but also docile enough to keep. It's unlikely our ancestors who once imagined a force of destructive and evil could never have considered these creatures would one day be desired as pets.
For further reading: Terry Pratchett, Guards! Guards! Cressida Cowell, How to Train Your Dragon Jack Kent, There's No Such Thing as a Dragon Josh Lacey, The Dragonsitter
If you're a dragon fan, you have to check out this Tor.com page which has dozens of beautiful images of dragons!
So please, before you approach a dragon, refer back to this handy list. If could mean the difference between petting your scaley friend, or first-degree burns.
And if you're a fantasy fan, you should check out this post all about High Fantasy!