Whether it’s a giant snake in the sea or sky, whether it is greedy or compassionate, has wings or horns, we all know and love the mythical creatures called dragons. Especially in the fantasy genre are dragons an ever-present and welcome addition to every book if you ask me. But where do Dragons come from and what about the dragons of one of the most prominent book and TV series, A Game of Thrones?
Dragons have a long and prominent history in many great cultures around the world. “Dragon’s Blood” was a popular and expensive ailment in Europe and the Middle East many centuries ago and is to this day. “Dragon Bones” are part of traditional Chinese medicine. How is it possible that almost every child what a dragon is, when nobody has ever seen on in real life? As you will see, the first dragons appeared very early…
In ancient myths, there are all kinds of dragon-look alike that I want to share with you. In Norse mythology, Sigurd, the hero of many of the Völsunga Saga, slays a man, Fafnir, who has turned into a four-legged, wingless dragon. Later, the dragon slayer baths in the dragon’s blood to become invulnerable. So here we have some notion that dragon parts can bring luck and strength and to an extension health, as well. In the Völsunga Saga we have only evil dragons, though. And also in Beowulf, dragons are merely an obstacle which the hero can overcome. By the way, that particular dragon was a great inspiration for one of my favorite authors, J.R.R. Tolkien.
If you could ask the Maya about dragons, they probably wouldn’t know what you mean. After all, their dragon looked much different to those of the period in which Sigurd lived. Their deity Quetzalcoatl, which roughly translates into “feathered serpent” was a guide and friend of humans in contrast to the evil, wingless creature Sigurd had slain. Quetzalcoatl is the wise god of love, fertility and life, though it seems it did have a particular taste for humans: some cultures sacrificed other humans to appease the god, even though Quetzalcoatl was part god and part human.
What we can see is that either as deity, man-turned-serpent, or just your regular, winged snake, all dragon-ish started out with a snake, which is extremely interesting. Some suspect that people found dinosaur skeletons and that’s how their serpentine shape came into focus. Only in chinese folklore, we do find dragons that have the shape of a snake, but also of turtles or fish. A speculation on my part would be that this is because the chinese dragon does not only symbolize strength as Norse dragons did, but also the power to influence the fortune of humans and even typhoons, water and the weather in general.
In our Western society and in the bible, snakes and serpents are inherently deceitful creatures who do only ever wish evil to befall humans: it is a serpent after all, that convinces Eve to eat a fruit from the Tree of Knowledge. This action, according to the bible, basically doomed the humans to be forever excluded from the wonderful world the Christian god created for them. Naturally, the great serpent is not a friend of the humans and must therefore be slain in almost all of our great mythology and fantasy novels of our time. Other cultures acknowledge the power of dragons, but perceive them as not completely evil and diabolic, though we mostly forget that fact in our Western world.
I love Tolkien’s works – especially The Hobbit – with a fierce passion but I find it sad how much potential for good ( or a neutral stance for that matter) a dragon seems to have in his story. That of course is no surprise. However, it is, for me personally, an even greater reason to celebrate the fresh wind a certain somebody has brough in: G.R.R. Martin is one of my favorite authors for many reasons, not lastly because his dragons are so much more than a monster that needs to be destroyed. Drogon, Rhaegal and Viserion are not only born from the most dangerous and mysterious magic of all, they are Khaleesi’s companions, heaters, airplanes, military operators and teddy bears. Dragons have fought alongside and for humans in many wars, such as the Dance of Dragons, but have also brought great wonder into Westeros. Especially in the current time, where Winter is here and people despair and starve everywhere, kings fight and crops rot and burn on battlefields. It is this little piece of real magic that makes the people believe again that their own world is still magical and wonderous, even if most of them will never be in the presence of the last remaining magical creatures of their time.
It is this wonderous, silently thrilling shred of magic that makes me love dragons, especially those of Daenerys Stormborn, so much. I hope you have enjoyed my little introduction and that you will read a few other articles of the other writers of Hallo-WE-en!