Your Weekend Creature Comforts: Dragons
Welcome back to another epic creature post to fulfill your otherwise dismal weekend prospects. I am a little intimated by my topic today. Not because I don’t know what to write about, but more because I want to make sure I cover everything I set out to. You see, keeping up with the Game of Thrones theme I wanted to dedicate the last couple weeks to creatures featured in the blood-curdling show. And dragons are probably the number one reason I am shivering with anticipation for tomorrow’s GoT season four premiere. That’s right my faithful followers, today I bring you dragons.
Let’s dive right in, but we have a lot of ground to cover, and like my typical creature comforts post I want to cover some background history first. You see, dragons are such an epic beast that versions of them show up in a multitude of different cultures. But there are two main types of dragons in history: the Chinese and the European. Either way, the definition of dragon is a legendary, mythological beast with either reptilian or serpentine qualities.
Not surprisingly, the Asian version of this monster is much older than its European counterpart. The first references to dragons in Chinese archeology are from 16th century BC. This animal is the highest ranking creature in the entire Asian animal hierarchy system (and no, I did not know there was one, which might incline me to rant a bit about speciesism, but be glad you will not have to listen about that from Lilith today). The dragon is symbolic of power and majesty. There are many variations in how the dragon is depicted throughout Asian culture, many times with it seeming more of a chimera than a species of its own. It frequently has a long, snake like body with variable amounts of legs, and occasionally wings though they have the ability of flight regardless of whether or not they have wings. Many times the animals are also associated with water, or as of having the ability to control water.
The Japanese adopted the dragon several centuries later as the Asian culture intermingled more. And one of my favorite folklore stories involves the dragon and the koi. The koi is symbolic of overcoming adversity. And the strong, determined koi swims up river to reach its destination. When the koi reaches the end of the river it is transformed in to a dragon for its achievement, which is a creature symbolic of power and ferocity. I like this story so much, and find both animals so beautiful, I have gotten a version of it tattooed on my leg.
That aside, the dragon in Asian culture is so important it is still the only animal featured in the Chinese New Year that is mythological in nature.
Moving on to the European version of this creature, we are probably not at all surprised to learn that the first drawings of dragons in Europe came from ancient Greece. These animals also seemed to be associated with water and sometimes underground caves. But leave it to the Christians to have vilified these animals, making them out to be malevolent and cruel in nature. Before Christianity dragons were frequently seen as helpful, awe-inspiring, beneficial creatures. This Christianity cursed creature is the first we see that is thought to be fire-breathing. They are also often horned, scaly, and lizard-like with bat-like wings. Many of these creatures seem to have an affinity for gold and treasure, hoarding it in their underground caves until some brave knight comes and slays them for it. Even though it angers me that Christianity tried to give such a bad reputation to the dragon, their versions of the beast are probably those that influence modern depictions of the monster the most, and now that we are out of the Dark Ages we can all go on realizing dragons don’t have to be evil.
And now we come to the fun part of this week’s post: Let’s talk modern dragon. There are a decent amount of movies and novels out their featuring these creatures, and I am going to talk about all of the ones I am personally familiar with.
Where to start?! Ughh, so many to chose from, but let’s just go right to it with George R.R. Martin’s version. His series A Song of Ice and Fire has inspired the stellar HBO series Game of Thrones and I know the reason I keep coming back is for the dragons. Our favorite Daenerys has hatched and is raising what are thought to be the three last dragons in the world. And while they at first seem to start out as adorable, pint-sized dragons they quickly grow in to something much more formidable. Of course, there are references to her not being able to tame them even though she is their mother, so it will be interesting to see where these dragons go this next season. I think I would be happy if they made a spin off season just featuring the dragons. They could definitely support their own show as probably 90% of people watching it are watching it for the dragons.
Tolkein’s The Hobbit features one of my favorite dragons of all time. The first time I learned about Smaug was when I watched the 1977 animated movie “The Hobbit”, and as an adult later in life I was able to enjoy Smaug’s pride all over again when I read the book. Now Peter Jackson is having a go of it, and I think he did an excellent job casting Cumberbatch as Smaug. While I have so far been a little disappointed in his movie series, Smaug was definitely my favorite part thus far.
Moving to a different realm of a novel you might not have heard of before, Dragonhaven by Robin McKinley. There are parts of this novel that are a little trying for me. In particular, the main character has a tendency to ramble, and it can be a bit annoying. But since the novel centers around dragons you find yourself more caught up in the story before you know it. Since the main character Jake ends up trying to raise an orphaned dragon (whom he kindly names Lois since he thinks that is an appropriate name for something that starts out ugly but will grow in to something beautiful) the reason I love this book is for the interactions between humans and dragons. They are quite unique. Without giving too much away, I will say that the larger dragons will frequently carry their human friends from one spot to another in their mouth, pressed up against their lip on the outside of their teeth.
It might be a little corny, but I did really enjoy the 1996 movie Dragonheart. What is not to love about a dragon with Sean Connery’s voice? While the ending was beyond sad, at least we got to enjoy some neat CGI for its day and age as this stunning creature stole our hearts.
The Harry Potter series also features dragons, and while I was a little disappointed in how much the Goblet of Fire movie strayed from the book, their dragon scene with the Hungarian horntail was a bit more entertaining than that featured in the novel. I also think if I had been lucky enough to go to Hogwarts my favorite class would have been Care of Magical Creatures and I could have totally ended up a dragon keeper like Charlie Weasley.
Sometimes my love of dragons has lead me to do stupid things. Like buy the movie Dragon Wars, otherwise known as D-War. Yeah, that was a pretty bad decision, luckily it only cost me $3.99. It would definitely make my list of Top 5 Worst Movies. The dragons themselves were an interesting take on the Asian version, but the movie was sadly abysmal.
A whole new take on the Asian dragon was portrayed in everyone’s favorite 80’s classic The Neverending Story. I mean, who doesn’t love Falkor the luck dragon? He really is a show stealer.
Speaking of Asian dragons, you all know I love Miyazaki, and in Spirited Away one of our main characters turns in to a beautiful dragon. He stuck with some of the mythological roots of the creature, making the character a river spirit like many dragons would have been in Asia.
Another epic TV show featuring dragons is Merlin. It’s interesting how these beautiful beasts seem to have many famous people willing to voice them. The infamous dragon in the BBC’s Merlin is voiced by John Hurt. Though the CGI is a little weak, I do love episodes featuring the monster.
How to Train Your Dragon is probably one of my favorite movies that features dragons. The main character ends up befriending Toothless, an adorable night fury. I love how this movie has developed so many different sub-species of dragons, and I personally can’t wait for the sequel.
But now we come to the conclusion of today’s post. You might have thought I should dedicate today’s post to the dragons from Game of Thrones, and they definitely are one of my favorite depictions of dragons of all times. But my favorite dragon designation goes to Saphira. Saphira is the main dragon from the Inheritance cycle, written by Christopher Paolini. He wrote the first book when he was 15. They did make a movie out of the first book, and having Rachel Weisz voice Saphira was appropriate but the movie definitely fell short of what the four amazing books brought us. This adventure series is definitely a classic fantasy series. And the dragons in it are often bound to one dragon rider by magic at birth. When they are bound they share energy, thoughts, and power between each other at will. And while Saphira often only talks to her rider Eragon in the books, she is one of the most stunning dragons you might ever meet. The next wonderful part of this series? Saphira is not the only dragon out there, and as we continue forward in the series we meet more and more dragons each novel. I again think it is that connection between human (or rider as the elves would say) and dragon that really astonishes me in this series. It is so powerful and something all of us dragon-lovers would love to experience. And the epic dragons in this series are quite humbling for the riders in many ways. If you have not read the series yet I can’t tell you enough how great it is.
And that just about does it. Yes, I know, I know, there are many dragon depictions out there that you would probably have me discuss that I haven’t. But since I covered a lot here already I am ok with that. Dragons. Truly one of the most amazing creatures out there. I will keep my fingers crossed that some day I get to meet one.
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