Theme Thursday: dragons in literature

Time for another Theme Thursday! This time I’m going to analyze dragons in literature. This means that I’ll go a little into the history of dragons in books, and I’ll talk about my favorite dragon books!

Why do dragons exist?

Dragons are creatures that are found in all cultures across the globe, which is incredibly fascinating. There are multiple theories that explain why dragons are found all over the globe. One of those theories is that early humans interpreted snakes as dragons, because a significant portion of the world population fears snakes. Early depictions of dragons resemble snakes more than they do now, so there is a possibility the fear of snakes and the “creation” of dragons might be connected. It’s not hard to imagine then, that dragons started showing up in literature all over the world.

Another theory is that humans mistook dinosaur fossils for dragons bones. Not gonna lie, I would probably think along the same lines. It’s amazing that we still have ancient artworks depicting dragons, because now we now which prehistoric animal they actually belonged too!

People told stories of dragons for centuries. Even though the stories might be exaggerated, there is probably some factual core. For example, a lot of modern animals look like dragons. The Komodo Dragon is the most obvious example! And iguanas and lizards kind of look like dragons, too.

early depiction of a man riding a dragon in the 5th century B.C.
Man riding a dragon – 5th century B.C.

Dragons in literature

So when did dragons start appearing in written literature? According to Genesis Park the first written dragon appeared 2000 B.C! That’s a very long time ago. This particular story is called The Epic of Gilgamesh, and it’s about the slaying of the dragon Humbaba. In ancient Mesopotamia, Humbaba was the guardian of the forest of Amanus. He had the face of a lion, and a bull’s horns. He also supposedly had scaled armor and talons of a vulture.

Dragons even appeared in the bible! In its apocryphal chapters, it was Daniel who slew a dragon by baking pitch, fat and hair into cakes that would cause the dragon to burst open upon consumption.

The Middle Ages were a hot time for dragons. They appeared about everywhere! Most famously of course the dragon slain by king Arthur. And let’s not forget about the unnamed dragon in the Old English epic Beowulf. The story of St. George and the Dragon is also very well known, I believe.

saint george slaying the dragon
Saint George slaying the dragon

Way later in the 1800s, dragons were still a hot topic in stories. They appeared in Grimm’s fairy tales, and in Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll. You all know this one as the jabberwocky!

Now let’s move on to the 20th century. Dragons appear in the Land of Oz, and also in the Chronicles of Narnia. But most famously perhaps, is their appearance in Tolkien’s world of Middle Earth. I’m pretty sure most everyone that reads my blog is at least familiar with Smaug.

Dragons even make an appearance in science fiction novels. Robert Heinlein’s Between Planets features a sentient population on Venus that are huge flightless dragons. And in Ray Bradbury’s The Dragon, two knights set out to slay a dragon only for it to be revealed as being a steam train…

My favorite dragon books

From here on the amount of books that include dragons has only grown. And of course authors still write about them! Let’s hope they continue to do so, because dragons are awesome. What I like best about dragon books is that each author has its own interpretation of what a dragon is and does. For example, C.S. Lewis’s dragons became dragons because of their tendency to eat their own kind. And Ursula K. Le Guin’s dragons changed with every book she wrote. To be completely honest, I haven’t read a whole lot of books with dragons yet… And the ones I have read are mostly modern books. Nevertheless, here is a small list of my recent favs!

  • The Name of the Wind – the dragons in this book is more salamander like if I remember correctly, but it was pretty cool to read about a non-traditional dragon in a book for once.
  • The Priory of the Orange Tree – I read this book not too long ago and loved the use of dragons as intelligent, sentient creatures. This book totally made me want to have a dragon.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire – I believe that the dragons in this series are not yet fully grown by the end of book five. If you’ve watched the show then you know what they grow up to be. I really hope GRRM finishes the series soon, so I can actually read about them!
  • Temeraire Series – Okay, I’m cheating with this one because I haven’t actually read this series yet, BUT I feel like I will love it! An alternate history that includes dragons? That’s gotta be good.
  • Harry Potter – Obviously this is a classic for someone my age. I feel like the dragons were standard enough in this series, but I loved that Rowling came up with different breeds!
  • Toothless – Okay, so again I have not read the actual book. But how can you not love Toothless after watching the movies?

And that’s all for today! Actually that was a really long post… I hope you enjoyed it anyway. What are some of your favorite dragons in books? If you want to check out a complete list of dragons in literature, I suggest checking out this website!

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