You know, I call this blog “A Toast to Dragons,” but I don’t write about dragons very often. I do, occasionally, but not so much that the title of the blog is obviously justified. I tend to write more about vampires… but that’s largely because I wrote a fantasy book about a vampire (entitled “Drasmyr”—hint hint)So, in the spirit of designing a blog-specific post, I’m going to rant a little bit about what I think constitutes the “standard dragon.”
There are typically two general variations of dragons: the Western style dragon, and the Eastern style (Asian) dragon. In the west, dragons were largely seen as evil creatures. They would capture fair maidens, sit on piles of treasure, and gobble up all the brave knights who came along trying to rescue the fair maiden or retrieve the hoard. Eastern dragons were different. And to be honest, I am not as well-versed in the lore of Eastern dragons as I am in Western. However, I know this much: Eastern dragons were largely regarded as powerful spiritual forces. Almost like quasi-deities. Generally, they weren’t evil, but they did demand a certain degree of respect and it was very unwise to anger a dragon. I also read recently on the web (here, in fact), that dragons are regarded as a strong Yang force. I used to know a little about Eastern philosophy, not a lot, but a little. The yin and yang were the two fundamental forces of the universe: opposites that germinate within each other: light and dark; male and female; etc… These days I kind of get confused between the specifics of yin versus yang, but it is interesting to note the connection with dragons. Anyway, like I said, I am much more familiar with the Western dragon.
Western dragons were universally evil. As this was the root of Christendom, Western dragons were seen as symbolic of Satan. And that’s not a good thing. There’s that whole bit in Revelations where the red dragon in the sky is waiting to devour the baby. You don’t negotiate with a dragon like that; you either kill it or run away. But if you are going to pit yourself against a dragon, you’ve got to be prepared. To that end, it helps to get an idea of what you might be up against.
Dragons are large reptilian-like creatures… I think I would actually hesitate to call them reptiles because they tend to have a number of “special” abilities. Anyway, like I said, they are huge. They give new meaning to the expression “terrible lizard” derived from dinosaurs. I would pit most dragons against a T-rex any day of the week. Of course, some myths have smaller dragons. I’ve seen old paintings of St. George and the dragon where the dragon in question is only slightly larger than a horse. To me, that’s just a drake. A dragon’s got to be the size of a house or it doesn’t count.
For weapons, they have a few. Specifically, they have clawed appendages (generally at least two sets, or four, or even more); they also have mouths ringed with large saber-like teeth (probably T-rex sized, at least); they usually have wings (this allows them to fly—which is a great advantage—and it allows them to smack the heck out of you if get too close); they can breathe fire (or some other breath weapon according to the tradition: going with the old AD&D dragons, they usually had one of the following breath weapons: acid, poison gas, frost, lightning, and fire—I’m sure there were actually more options, but I can’t remember them all); sometimes (again, going with AD&D) they can use magic… like they really need to, right?; some dragons can polymorph into just about whatever they want; sometimes the dragons generate fear—but that could just be an attack of common sense; and last, but not least, Smaug in particular had his voice: he could kind of beguile into divulging stuff you didn’t want to, just by talking to you. I’m sure the list can actually go on and on. I think the rule of thumb: if you see a dragon, run away. I think Smaug is my favorite dragon of all time. He’s just the classic beastie: great pile of treasure, nearly invulnerable (alas, only nearly), and with an appropriately arrogant and self-serving attitude.
Anyway, those are my thoughts on dragons for the day.