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Dragons in Literrature, a research paper
Dragons are extremely important in most of today’s literature. Used as a symbol and as a character, in many cases dragons are used to help shape fiction and fantasy. They appear often in myths and legends as well as many newly published fiction/fantasy books. In this paper I will show you how dragons are used in stories as symbols and characters, I will also show you how often dragons appear in both history and fiction.
Dragons have appeared in many different stories that are found all over the world, some better known than others. If you look hard enough nearly everywhere there is a mythical story. One of the most notorious of mythical creatures would be the dragon. All over the world there are old stories of dragons attacking people and laying siege to kingdoms. But what is this all about? What do the stories say about dragons? What are they supposed to look like? I am here to answer your questions, and to show you what the dragon is all about.
There has been much speculation on what dragons are based on. They might be based on any number of dinosaurs, particularly the pterodactyl, though it’s only similarities are that it has wings and a tail. The dragon could also have been inspired by sightings of the Komodo dragon, which has been known to occasionally exceed ten feet in length. Komodo dragons have also been known to be man-killers1, which could attribute to the ferociousness of the dragon. Maybe the dragon was based on more than one creature alone, perhaps a cross between a lizard and a dragonfly?
I believe that traditional Asian dragons can be very different compared to traditional European dragons. Asian dragons lean more towards the classic dragon, while the European dragons appears to be more related to snakes, most of them being without wings. Both types of dragons are closely related when it comes to personality. Traditional dragons of all types can be found attacking villages and killing people. Even though they are different when it comes to appearance they are for sure not that different after all.
One of the first sightings of dragons in ancient literature includes Beowulf. Beowulf’s last great feat was battling a fire-dragon with a youth named Wiglaf. The story ends with Beowulf dying from a bite that the dragon had given him.3 Although this epic poem is known to be one of the first poems with a dragon in it, most stories of dragons are hard to correctly date. Since these stories were written so long ago, there is uncertainty to when they were written. In many stories dragons are displayed as brutal creatures, capable of murdering a whole town without a single thought. Most of these stories are found in ancient folklore from around the world. One of the most known of these tales would probably be St. George and the dragon, in which a noble, Christian knight saves a princess from an evil dragon, later to become a saint for ridding their kingdom from the dragon.1
More cases of dragons being brutal can be found in recent literature. One example of them being brutal includes The Hobbit, in which a Bilbo Baggins searches for a dragon named Smaug who guards a treasure trove.3 A dragon was also mentioned in the movie “The 13th warrior”; they called it the fire dragon. By the way that the characters mentioned the dragon, you would easily feel that they were afraid of the dragon. Many times dragons are merely mentioned, but are not talked of after that. When that happens the dragon is sometimes being used as a symbol of fear.
Some more recently written stories that include dragons show them to be brutal, but, unlike the classics they also show some dragons to give more thought to human life. Recent dragon stories fall away from the classic always-brutal dragon to the more humane dragon. In some cases dragons are displayed as more friendly characters and actually have speaking rolls. While many of the characters still have the dragon characteristics of being ferocious, they have been given a larger view point in which to express themselves in, and are displayed as being more intelligent creatures. Just three examples in modern literature are Dragon Rider5, Fablehaven (#4)6 and The Inheritance Series2.
What do dragons look like? A question like this can usually be answered in the description of dragons from various stories. The basic dragon, used in most of recent dragon fiction, has four legs, two wings and a tail, overall somewhat resembling a lizard (without the wings). Other well known dragon appearances include the hydra: “The hydra is a gigantic multi-headed dragon, with anywhere from 6 to 9 heads (depending on which version of the story you read) with the middle one being immortal. Its breath and blood were deadly.” 3 An example of a serpent dragon would be the Leviathan. Living in the water the Leviathan was said to be immortal and that “No mortal weapon could penetrate the shimmering armor of Leviathan’s scales…” 1 Yet another book describes how long dragons supposedly are able to grow to: “They (meaning dragons) can grow from fifty to one hundred feet in length and have a full wing span of up to one hundred feet.” 4
In each story dragons are given different attributes. Some dragons are portrayed as constantly hoarding gold, while others are shown being protective. In many cases dragons are shown to like the challenge of a good riddle or of being a problem solver. Every so often dragons would give passersby’s riddles to solve. Another attribute that dragons are given is pride.4
When you think of dragons you might also think of magic. Over three-fourths of the stories I have read or even heard of have given dragons mystical abilities or gifts. One of the most common I have read about is the ability to speak, or converse telepathically.2 One of the most bizarre is from Switzerland about a dragonet (another name for a dragon), whose blood could cause instant death if it was touched.1 Yet another ability that a dragon was given in Fablehaven (#4)6 is the ability to shape shift into a person.
Dragons that are both modern and ancient are similar in many ways. The classic dragon, which is seen in most modern dragon literature, has been used in some dragon folklore stories. Some examples of these similarities are shown in: The Piasa: Dragon Bird of Illinois, The Sirrush of Babylon and The Dragonet of Mount Pilatus1. Of course, some of the names I listed are different than the one we use, but each description given in the stories match almost exactly to our description of a dragon in our literature.
In this research paper I have shown you the dragon. I have also shown you ideas on how the dragon was thought up. We have explored the dragon from both ancient and modern day literature. I have given your mind a further exploration on the subject of dragons and their attributes. I hope that by reading this you have begun to more fully understand dragons and appreciate their presence in fiction.
Dragons have always been important in today’s literature. I have shown you how they are used as a character, and given you examples of how dragons are used to help shape fiction and fantasy. In this paper I have shown you how dragons are used in stories as symbols and characters, I have also shown you how often dragons appear in both history and fiction. I have given your mind a greater knowledge of dragons, however brief. I hope that my research paper has given you a better understanding of dragons and how they are shown in literature.