I’ve written several times in past articles about dragons being my favorite monster. And I’m picky about my dragons. They need lizard like anatomy, no potbellies and no bat wings (exception being the one in “Dragonslayer.”) My dragons speak the human language and have an alternative humanoid form.
I try to remember when I first heard about dragons; it was probably one of several paintings of “St. George and the Dragon” in one of my mom’s art books as a kid. I do remember the song “Puff the Magic Dragon,” and in the ‘80’s read “The Hobbit” and watched the film “Dragonslayer.” Back then a funny parody of “St. George and the Dragon” was the book “The Dragon and the George.” I found it on amazon recently. I also remember the film “Dragonheart” with Sean Connery voice-overing the dragon.
For us “dragon writers” what is it about dragons that fascinate us? What keeps us re-inventing them for our own stories? Why can’t we all us unicorns, an equally mythical creature?
Generally, dragons are dangerous. Some are just non-intelligent carnivorous, winged monsters, spouting fire. Others are more intelligent, well above genius by human standards. They can read minds, use a number of horrific breath weapons, become invisible, and cause fear by the sight of them. Other generalizations about dragons are that they live in caves, and lay upon a hoard of treasure. Some are evil, some are good, and none are very friendly.
What I find interesting in stories about dragons is their fate, which is usually death. A brave aging wizard gives his life to kill a dragon. A gallant knight slays the dragon with his lance. One lucky arrow brings down the dragon Smaug, and learns that the bigger they are, the harder they fall. A benevolent dragon removes a portion of his heart to save the life of a boy who betrays him later.
Must dragons always have to die in stories? No. Does the death of a dragon impact a story? Answer: Definitely, as would any powerful character. That’s part of what makes dragons key characters in dark fantasy stories, their fate, by living or dying either makes for a dramatic scene or ending.
In memory of author Anne McCaffery, dragons remain strong in our minds. As dark fantasy authors, we’ve seen these intriguing, dangerous mythical creatures in many books and films. No matter how you use them for your work, like any major character, the question of their fate will always be asked by the reader. It’s up to the writer to make it happen in the worlds they create.