Brought to you by OBS Staff member Karolina
The concept of a dragon
Dragons are mythological creatures that have captured many a heart and mind, all over the world. This creature seems to have evolved from Chinese myths, where it was considered a benevolent, healing and a creature which brought great luck to its people. Western culture, however, put a very different and much more sinister spin on this mythical being. I will only discuss Eastern Dragons versus Western dragons, and in very, very sparse detail, as the legends and mythology and beliefs around these amazing creatures is vast and varied. I could never hope to do the history of dragons justice in such a piece, so please, know that I write such a rushed account with all the love in my heart, because Dragons truly are my absolutely favourite Mythical creatures, to end all Mythical creatures (with griffins as the second).
Eastern Dragons (focusing on Chinese Dragons)
While most people, when asked to conjure the image of a dragon in their mind think of a huge, scaly ,winged beast that breathes fire, eats young virginal women and leaves nothing but destruction in its path; dragons first appeared in Chinese myth as creatures associated with water. In fact, they were associated all of the natural elements – Water, Wind, Fire and Earth. The Eastern dragon was more serpent-like, usually depicted with a large head, snake-like body, and sometimes with four limbs (or sometimes with two). Dragons had both a ‘yang’ (positive) and a ‘yin’ (negative) influence – Buddhists introduced the concept of as the elements were able to bring death and destruction (through floods, fires etc), so were dragons. They were neither good, nor evil. They were said to bring the gift of life; ‘celestial breath’, which was also known as ‘sheng chi’. These dragons would live for millenia, and were governed, it was said, by 5 Dragon Kings, who are immortal and dwell in crystal palaces under the sea. There is the Jade king, who is the head Dragon King, and rules over the other four, who represent North, South, East and West. These dragons are known as Ao Ch’in, Ao Jun, Ao Kuang and Ao Shun, respectively. The 5 Dragon Kings are said to be 3 to 5 miles long, with tails, whiskered muzzles and shaggy, furry legs. When they break the surface of the water, they cause typhoons. They also play a major role in Chinese folk legends, dated to the 16th Century.
The symbol of the dragon was also the symbol of the Emperor in China, and many claimed to be descendants of Dragons.
There are a vast amount of types of Eastern/ Asiatic Dragons – some are deaf, others are all different colours – or pure white. There are also Japanese, Middle Eastern, and other forms of Asiatic dragons, but there really isn’t enough space to discuss them all!!! (Although, I would love to).
Western dragons (Focusing on the European concept of a dragon)
In Early European Mythology, Dragons, like their Asiatic/Eastern counterparts, were associated with good things. It wasn’t until the medieval times that the dragon became a symbol of evil and sin and was associated with the devil. In the middle ages, there was a festival held before Ascension day, which was known as the festival of the Rogotian. At this festival, the last three days were spent kicking a depiction of a dragon around, or stoning it, to rid the town of evil and sin.
The European concept of the dragon is derived from European folk traditions and ultimately related to Greek and Middle Eastern mythologies (the Hydra, ouroboros), and the word comes from the Greek word “Drakon” , which means “dragon, serpent of huge size, water-snake”. The Romans had the dragon emblem on occasion, but Dragons as a heraldic creature only really became popular in the legends of King Arthur. Dragons played a large role in this mythology, Arthur’s name (Pendragon) meaning ‘Head of the Dragon.”
Although they generally have wings, the dragon is generally depicted as having an underground lair or cave, making it an ancient creature of the earth element. European dragons are usually depicted as malevolent (lots and lots of stories of Maidens being sacrificed to dragons, or knights saving villages/ ladies from dragons) though there are exceptions (such as Y Ddraig Goch, the Red Dragon of Wales).
Once again, there are millions of stories and legends surrounding dragons in the western world (the Wawel Dragon, St George and the Dragon, Puff the magic dragon, the Arthurian Legends) and just not enough space to talk about them all and do the rich mythology any justice.
Dragons have definitely captured people’s imaginations. Stories, books, songs, paintings, video games, tv shows, cartoons – Dragons have featured in them all, and will continue to do so through the ages – whether you see them as benevolent creatures who bring balance to the world – or evil, fire breathing lizards, hell bent on destroying everything man loves. They are going to be around for a while. Get used to it.
Books with dragons:
(Here are just a few, because to name them all would take pages and pages)
- The Inheritance Trilogy (Eragon, Eldest and Brisingr ) By Christopher Paolini
- The Dragon riders of Pern series by Anne McCaffery
- Dragonspell by Donita K. Pau
- The Neverending Story by Michael Ende (I maintain that Falkor was one of the reasons I completely fell in love with Dragons – I loved that luck dragon)
- The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien
- Various myths and legends (Yes, like the Arthurian legends. And Chinese legends. And Polish legends ….)
- The Fire Dragon by Katherine Kerr
- His Majesty’s Dragon by Naomi Novik
- And , of course, The Harry Potter series – Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, and
- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Both by JK Rowling
Movies with dragons in them:
- Dragonheart ( Sean Connery made an awesome, awesome Dragon!) ( 1996)
- Reign of Fire (which I jokingly call “Reign of CGI “ or, “Rain of CGI” ,depending on how punchy I feel) ( 2002)
- The Neverending Story ( FALKOOOOR!) (1984)
- The Sword in The Stone (1963)
- How to Train Your Dragon (which is also a book) (2010)
- Dungeons and Dragons, the Movie (2000)
- Pete’s Dragon (1977)
- Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005)
Are dragons one of your favorite mythical creatures? What is your opinion on them?