Dragons in Fantasy

 

dragon

If I could only pick one reason to read fantasy novels, that reason would be dragons.

Is there anything in fiction cooler than a dragon? I submit that there is not! They fly, they breathe fire, sometimes they even talk! And if you’re like me, you’re convinced that the leviathan discussed in Job 41 was not an alligator… but a DRAGON!

“His snorting throws out flashes of light; his eyes are like the rays of dawn. Firebrands stream from his mouth; sparks of fire shoot out. Smoke pours from his nostrils as from a boiling pot over a fire of reeds. His breath sets coals ablaze, and flames dart from his mouth.” Job 41:18-21

(you can read more about my not-at-all-comprehensive Biblically based argument for the existence of real-life dragons HERE)

A lot of things make up a fantasy story, but dragons are the heart and soul of fantasy. Other mythical beasts are cool, but there is something about a dragon that just makes the heart beat a bit more quickly, that inspires awe, that make the spirit soar at the mere possibility. Good or evil, there is something inspirational and immediately adventurous about a story that has dragons.

Some of my favorite quotes about dragons were penned in The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien:

“Never laugh at live dragons.”

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

What is it about dragons? I honestly don’t know.

But I think this other quote by Tolkien might answer the question:

“I should like to save the Shire, if I could – though there have been times when I thought the inhabitants too stupid and dull for words, and have felt that an earthquake or an invasion of dragons might be good for them.”

And there it is. Dragons catch our eye. They mesmerize us. They leave us breathless. They shake us out of our routine and our comfort zones. Perhaps, though unpleasant, they may even be good for us. They threaten what we know to be stable and secure, and make us re-evaluate our priorities. They are so much bigger and stronger and cleverer than we… and in the face of their might we are like children looking up at the stars and realizing how insignificant we really are in the face of such a vast universe. And yet, dragons can be defeated, overcome, conquered… some can even be tamed and ridden! And that is where the true glory of dragons in fantasy comes in – because they remind us that our trials and troubles do not have to defeat us, they do not have to define us. Like Eustace in Voyage of the Dawn Treader, who encounters the worst dragon of all: himself… we can overcome the dragon before us… and thankfully we who are Christians do not need to face them or defeat them on our own.

Tell me about your favorite fantasy dragon! Do you prefer dragons who are depicted as good or the ones that are thoroughly evil? Why? Why do you think dragons are such powerful additions to fantasy stories?

~ jenelle

7 Comments

Chris Morcom

Favorite dragon, huh? That’s a tough one.

Smaug holds a special place in my heart because he was one of the first times I read a dragon being portrayed as something truly magnificent and more than a little terrifying. I’d read books with dragons in them before I read The Hobbit, but they all showed Dragons as these friendly…sort of cuddly things. Smaug was the first time I saw a dragon portrayed the way I thought of them.

Since then, I’ve read a LOT of books either about dragons, or at least including them. I’ve seen them portrayed many ways, so I guess I’ll list some of my favorites.

Malystryx the Red, Tyrant of Bloodwatch. She was a great example of an evil dragon…huge, ruthless, and terrifying. She wasn’t terribly smart, but made up for it with cunning and raw power.

Temeraire is another one I really like…intelligent, powerful, and inquisitive…he’s an awesome example of a ‘good’ dragon.

Then there was a Bronze Dragon (in the Dragonlance world) whose name I cannot remember…but the story was interesting. The dragon lived in a cave on a cliff behind a waterfall, and ‘adopted’ a group of human tribesman. They settled around the lake his waterfall emptied into and built a thriving little town under his protection. Things got interesting though when a faction in the town couldn’t get their heads around the idea that the dragon was protecting them because it liked humans and thought watching them (and hearing stories about them from the one human it made friends with) was fun. So they ended up trying to appease it and sacrifice to it and all sorts of other chaos… Was a good book, I wish I could find it again.

Then there’s Draco from Dragonheart…seriously…dragon voiced by Sean Connery…how do you not like that?

All that said, I think the one that takes the prize as my favorite is Arokh from the PS2 game Drakan: The Ancient’s Gates. Through the game you play as Rynn, who is Bonded (same sort of thing as what happens in the Minstrel’s Song series) to the elder dragon Arokh. Gives an interesting balance of the impetuous human with the patient and noble (though a bit cynical) dragon. And…Arokh was just awesome. There was nothing quite like being embroiled in a running battle, running low on health…then finally breaking free into open daylight. Enemies on your heels, then you hear this big bass voice go “Rynn!” And fire starts raining from the sky on your enemies. Then you swing up onto Arokh’s back and take control of raining flaming death on your foes. It was so satisfying. Yeah…I’m going to have to go look for an ISO of that game so I can play it again.

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jenelle

Yeah, I can see how finding a particular book in the Dragon Lance world would be difficult. A couple of years ago for my birthday, I told Derek that he could get me a Dragon Lance book… but part of the present would be doing the research to find out which one was the FIRST book, and getting me that one. LOL SO OVERWHELMING.

All of those sound like fun. I love dragons. I enjoy friendly dragons… but not cuddly ones.

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DJ Edwardson

Ah dragons. If fantasy was a baseball team, the dragon would be the clean up hitter or the ace relief pitcher. They add so much to a story when they are done right. However, I find that because they are so compelling they pop up sometimes “just because” and it sometimes becomes “too much of a good thing.” Sort of like how vampires and zombies are seemingly in every third book published these days.

But as for dragons being real, you should check out “Dragons: Legends & Lore of Dinosaurs” on Amazon. It has lots of great anecdotes of dragon accounts from history as well as analysis of the biblical passages like the ones you mentions. It makes a pretty strong case that, yes, indeed dragons were once very real. Which is a wild and thrilling thought.

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jenelle

Yeah… I can see what you’re saying. I kind of don’t care, though. I like dragons all the time.

Haha, we actually own two copies of that book (I got one through their read-to-review program, and then another one was gifted to us). :)

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Serena

Oh goodness, I don’t know if I have a favorite dragon! Although I suppose the minor dragons in Donita K. Paul’s DragonKeeper Chronicles will always hold a special place in my heart, since her books were the first Christian fantasy (besides Narnia) that I read, and they’re where I really fell in love with dragons. And I definitely prefer good dragons (though Smaug is pretty cool…).

Why are dragons such powerful additions to fantasy? I guess because they’re the mythological creature that we’ve all latched on to. Dragons are most often portrayed as animals with human or near-human intelligence, and there are so many different angles to take with them — size, type (fire-breathing, shape-shifting, etc.), good, evil… And they’re just such powerful creatures. Honestly, I get just as excited over hippogriffs, but nobody writes books about them. :P

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jenelle

Hippogriffs are very cool as well. There’s one in Harry Potter :)

I have my eye on the Dragon Keeper Chronicles, I keep hearing very good things about them.

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Abbey

Oh, I love the analogy of a dragon being our anxieties and problems and flusters, but that we can defeat them in the end!
Great post. And my favorite dragon is probably Smaug, although the dragons from Dragontales have a special place in my heart, too. :)

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