Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Dragons Through the Ages

One of the most common creatures to encounter in the realm of fantasy, whether it's in a book, a movie, or in a country's legends or myths, is the dragon. Almost every culture that exists on this planet has a dragon of some sort. Sometimes they're large, winged reptiles that eat damsels and fight knights, other times they're protectors of nature and symbols of power. The question that I'm going to answer is: What is it about dragons that makes them so popular?
To answer this question, we must look back through the history of the dragon. The earliest cultures told stories of large, snakelike creatures that were said to be the bringer of storms and thunder. The Greeks called these creatures draco (which translates into English as dragon). Oftentimes they would be guarding treasure or something extremely valuable which the local town or village would be in desperate need of. Usually the legends would have some hero rise up to face and slay the beast (occasionally at the cost of their own life). These tales are common in stories from medieval Europe, but they have their origins in Greek and Babylonian folklore. To these people, the dragon would symbolize something terrible that held the promise of wealth once the big nasty reptile was out of the way.
Not every culture viewed dragons in such a way. In Asian cultures (particularly China and Japan) the dragon was worshiped oftentimes as a diety that would bring rain in times of drought. They still maintained the serpentine look, but this time they had clawed feet (varying from 5 to 3). The people of China believe that dragons are a sign of good luck, and still honor the dragon by having dragons in their new year celebrations. Never once did these creatures seek to eat anyone, and this may be the reason why they have survived into modern times.
Dragons are also mentioned in the Bible, but this time they are portrayed once again as vile, evil creatures. The bible often uses the word dragon to describe the Devil or something fierce. It is very possible that since these were large, scary creatures, their name was used to try and make people fear that which was evil a lot more than they did before. That belief carried on over to medieval times, where dragons began to take on the form of large winged reptiles breathing fire and threatening to eat princesses and damsels in distress.
Today our depictions of dragons are similar, but sometimes they vary. Most often in these times artists, movie makers, and writers describe dragons as large dinosaur-like creatures with bat wings breathing fire (although the Chinese still hold true to their ancestral depiction of the dragon). However, now dragons are more than just large monsters that guard treasure and eat people. Authors have written dragons to be helpful companions to humans and work with them to protect the innocent (the common depictions of these are found in the Dragonriders of Pern series and the Inheritance Cycle). Video games make them large, hard-to-beat bosses that if not stopped could destroy the land. Sometimes the dragons have the power to speak, other times they don't. They can either be made lovable characters for children (like Elliot in Pete's Dragon or in Dragontales) or hideous scary creatures (like in Reign of Fire and the Harry Potter series). One thing is for sure: It is very hard not to find a dragon somewhere in the world.
So, in conclusion, what is it about dragons that has made them so popular? They have existed in almost every culture across the globe, they are large and intimidating, they can breathe fire, and they seem to be unstoppable. My guess is that the reason dragons are so popular is that they are something the entire world can identify in the world of fantasy.

1 comment:

  1. Strange isn't it how we tend to make creatures that were once viewed as monsters into soft, cuddly, helpful creatures. Even vampires that were once feared are now seen as superheroes. Same with witches, dragons, ghosts. Not saying it is bad, just pointing out that it is an odd trend. Then we have to make new monsters that are scary because the old ones are too friendly now to be scary.