Join me on a little journey into the world of the dragonkind. Learn more about these majestic & powerful beasts and some of the fantasy books you can find them in! (Click here to skip your dragon training and go straight to the dragon reads)
We’ll have a look at the history and the science of dragons, two original interviews; one with an author and one with a blogger, an excerpt from the Fantasy Hive, some suggested reading for your TBRs and some of my own followers’ submissions on their most loved dragon books! And of course some nice pictures. Saddle up on your dragon of choice and enjoy the ride! Thanks for reading.
What exactly is a dragon!?
In short, a lot of things! Because practically all cultures around the world have dragon mythology, the actual image of the dragon varies tremendously depending on where in the world you are. Generally though, we can agree they are serpentine and reptilian, usually large, with sharp teeth. They can almost always fly, too. Especially within the fantasy genre, if you asked someone to describe a dragon though, it would likely be pretty similar to Smaug from The Hobbit, or one of the dragons from A Song of Ice and Fire. In fact however, there are many who would argue the ‘Dragons’ in this series are actually Wyverns; dragons having four legs AND wings and Wyverns having two legs. Despite the discrepancy, this image of the traditional (in the West) dragon, breathing fire, large strong wings, teeth, claws, a vicious, malevolent nature, hoarding treasure or destroying structures is what many would imagine when you say the word ‘dragon.’
The Dracon Indikos, from Indian folklore. It was said to hunt Asian elephants.
However, whilst popular in fantasy today, the western and european dragon we know today has only really been around since the middle ages and was based around earlier monsters, probably stemming back to the bible, quoted here:
“In that day the Lord with his hard and great and strong sword will punish Leviathan the fleeing serpent, Leviathan the twisting serpent, and he will slay the dragon that is in the sea.”
This is also likely one of the the reasons European culture traditionally sees the dragon as an enemy, as the mindless beast that needs to be slain. Though prevalent in fantasy, this European dragon is just a baby in comparison to dragon folklore in other parts of the world. There is evidence of references made to dragons in China for example as far back as 5,000 years ago. Eastern dragons often don’t have wings, or sometimes even legs and are seen very differently indeed.
Dragons of the East
Rather than give you an info-dump, It’s my pleasure to bring you an insight into Eastern dragons from another blogger:
I’m delighted to welcome Alexandra (twitter) as a guest on the blog. She grew up in South East Asia and was good enough to talk about her experience of dragons in Eastern culture.
Hi Alexandra and thanks for taking part in the Dragons post! Many of the well known fantasy series feature the Western and European depictions of dragons. That image is usually a malevolent, destructive force, often the antagonist of the story. How far would you agree that the Eastern view of dragons is more the opposite; that they are a benevolent force for good?
Thanks for having me. From my point of view, dragons in Asian cultures are always seen as mostly benevolent, there are, I think, just one or two who are mischievous by nature. But by and large, being associated with a dragon is a good thing and donates either wealth, health, wisdom, or positive aspects for good.
Growing up in South East Asia, how prevalent were dragons in society and culture and in stories you read when you were younger?
Dragons feature a great deal in cultural events, especially the new year celebrations, like the lion, heralding in good fortune. I don’t know about literature, as such, when I was younger, but now? I do see an emergence in Asian writing especially YA, featuring dragons.
Is there a depiction of a dragon in a fantasy novel you particularly like? Do you have a favourite dragon?
I haven’t read anything as yet, in fantasy, featuring the Asian version of dragons, unless you think Mulan. It’s important to remember that the way an Asian writer would portray dragons will be radically different to the European lore. My fav dragon books were always Anne McCaffrey’s Dragon Series: Dragon Rider/Dragon Song/Dragon Singer!
Thanks to Alexandra! That was fun.
I had a discussion with my blogging friend Kriti @_armedwithabook who grew up in India. She explained although there aren’t traditional dragons in the Western sense in Hindu and Indian culture, there are many stories of huge serpents in folklore and tradition & pointed me in the direction of a couple of articles. We have the story of Kaliya, a giant serpent defeated by Krishna on the banks of the Yamuna river. There is also the story of the dragon-like serpent Vritra, killed by legendary figure Indra to release the droughts of the land.
In China especially, the dragon plays a much larger role in the culture, history and identity of the country and its people in comparison to most other areas of the world. It is the highest ranking creature in the Chinese animal hierarchy and is given respect and reverence. Many Chinese holidays and customs actually revolve around dragons including the Dragon Boat Race you will no doubt have seen or heard about. Dragons are held in such high esteem that there is a proud claim in China that its people are Descendants of the Dragon. If there is a culture that had the dragon interwoven within it, China takes the crown.
I enjoy biology and evolution but I’m no scientist. I do find it interesting when authors really look at the physiology of a dragon, and scientists are on hand to help. I found a couple of interesting articles looking briefly at the plausibility of dragons.
I read an interesting piece a few months ago from Bethany Brookshire for science students on creating a dragon. It’s only intended for teenage students but I don’t believe that should dissuade you from having a look. It’s equally interesting for fantasy or science fiction fans and I strongly encourage you to give the full article a read here – How to Build your Dragon, if only to think about whether a dragon could be scientifically possible.
For another short but interesting piece, read this article from what How Stuff Works who look at the Bombardier Beetle as a living example of an animal than can create extreme heat to defend itself without coming to any harm.