Updated: Feb 9, 2022
I generally cover more obscure creatures, but technically, there are many sub-species of dragons, especially in isolated parts of the world. So doesn’t that make them obscure in a way? Maybe it makes them so prolific they have permeated human culture on every imaginative level. Then again, maybe they are not entirely imaginary.
It is relatively commonplace for scientists to discover new creatures in the depths of the oceans or the jungles of our planet’s equatorial regions. By that logic, is it not possible some remnants of the dinosaur era might have been cruising around Europe, China, South America, or anywhere else dragons have purportedly resided at some point in human history?
Perhaps dragons are like the inter-dimensional version of Sasquatch, so powerful we have never managed to discover remains. Do those remains go to another plane of existence when the soul of a dragon passes on? A bit of a stretch there, but if we are talking about cryptid mythology, it is far from the most farfetched theory I’ve heard.
Dragons are interesting mythological creatures, as they are generally depicted as more intelligent and longer-lived than humankind. In the majority of cultures, they are associated with either high peaks and volcanos or oceans, and oftentimes both. Dragons are commonly believed to be strongly linked to the elements of wind, water, fire, and earth, if not directly in control of them. Western dragon mythology tends to paint them as near-gods in their power, wisdom, and even their remote domains, while in eastern mythology (particularly China) the gods often ARE dragons, or at least, take dragon forms.
Regardless, the tale is rare, if non-existent, where a hero casually strides up to the corner to pop in on his pal Verthermulm, the local dragon who runs the jewelry store.
On the other side of the proverbial coin, we have dragons being depicted as evil, greedy, treasure hoarders. These dragons are the devourers of maidens, the scorchers of villagers, and the plague upon otherwise peaceful dynasties. Such dragon depictions are more common in western mythos, and despite their more malevolent nature, they still tend to be a clever foe for any hero. Beowulf, for example, hunts down to kill a dragon, basically to say he can and take all of its treasure, but it kills him in the bargain. These behaviors are, of course, fairly typical of our mythical Norse forbears.
To be fair to Beowulf, Draca, the dragon in the myth, is said to represent evil and greed, and we don’t really get the dragon’s side of the story.. But we know he is guilty of hoarding gold. Can Beowulf really talk, though? He’s a Norse war chief . . . hoarding plunder is sorta his thing.
I pose the theory that Draca might have been a monk. Killing monks certainly never posed a problem to the Vikings when they realized monks lived in unguarded houses of treasure. And then there is a water dragon in Buddhist mythology who converted to Buddhism (Big power move, by the way, Buddhism. Nicely done). If the Beowulf Draca was a Buddhist monk, that would also explain how he was a bad#$$ enough fighter to put an end to Beowulf, who made a regular habit of destroying gargantuan enemies.
Suffice it to say, I cannot do much to summarize dragon mythology as a whole with an 800-word blog post, so we will focus on the dragon as we commonly know them today. The consensus that seems to have been reached by modern fantasy culture is that dragons are indeed intelligent, long-lived, and largely benevolent, if not wrathful in vengeance for offense.
Personally, I believe this is due to our modern cultural shift away from the righteousness of mankind and its advancement toward the reverence of the ‘old world’ man has decimated in the name of progress. To me, dragons represent the benevolent, practical, and far-seeing wisdom and power of the natural world. This is why dragons are generally represented today as powerful, wise, and majestic yet tragic figures. This shift is nothing new, by the way. Mankind ebbs and flows on every level from pop culture to religion, and the fluctuations vary by region. However, if you look at examples of the ‘modern dragon’, I believe you will find that this correlation holds true.
From the Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance series to A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin, dragons are depicted as highly intelligent, misunderstood, and dangerous beings who deserve respect and reverence. Even in ASOIF, which shows dragons as more animalistic than many other modern fantasy tales, dragons are literally the source of all ‘real magic’ in the world, essentially raising them to god-like status again.
So what do you think? Are dragons like Smaug of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit—ruthless, money-grubbing, and malevolent dictators of their realms, only good for supplying seemingly insurmountable plot points for brave heroes to vanquish? Or are they god-like, elemental guardians of a benevolent nature, tragically swept up in the affairs of man through necessity, and trying their hardest to save us from our own destruction?
Perhaps you believe they were based on real creatures. They could have been dinosaurs or monstrous beasts which were witnessed or killed and eaten by settlers of the primordial age. Their stories would have been preserved and passed down through oral cultures across the globe.
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