THE MYTHS OF DRAGONS

Dragons are legendary creatures, typically with serpentine or reptilian traits, that feature in the myths of many cultures. Although dragons occur in many legends around the world, different cultures have varying stories about this creature that have been grouped together under the ‘dragon’ label. In addition, the portraits of this creature vary between regions, and even within a specific countries, dragons’ images are diverse through different periods of history. Therefore, this research paper purposefully studies the similarities and differences in various perspectives of this same cultural objective. Since the dragons are often held to have major spiritual significance in various regions and cultures around the world, thus detailed investigations of specific region’s cultural and historical aspects attached to the images are necessary. The effort of this research is concentrated on the imaginary dragons – the dragons in mythology, rather than the animals which are called as the ‘Komodo’ dragons in scientific expression. The dragons appear in the legends of many countries. However, within the time constraint, the research primarily investigates the dragon’s images represented in the myths of China, Japan, Korean, Vietnam, Britain and Greek.

The two targeted interpretations of dragons are European dragons, derived from various European folktales, and the unrelated Oriental dragons exist in many legends across Asian countries. The English word ‘dragon’ derives from its Greek origin. It is traditionally means of a huge size, like water-snake animal. In aggregate, there are parallel correspondences between the dragons’ images in European and Asian mythologies. Both describe dragons as a giant, able-to-fly snake. In the book ‘An Instinct for Dragons’, anthropologist David E. Jones (Routledge, 2000) suggests a hypothesis that humans have inherited instinctive reactions to snakes, large cats and birds of prey. Dragons have features that are combinations of these three. Our distinctive fear for these three would explain why dragons with similar features occur in stories from independent cultures on all continents. However, European and Asian dragons bear number of significant variations in their physical appearances as well as the cultural spirits implied behind those images.

Dragons in Asian mythologies

The history of Eastern dragons is hidden deep in Asian myth and history. Drawings and symbols of this mythological animal can be traced back to prehistoric tribal peoples of China. Evidence of the dragon’s importance in Chinese culture can be traced to dragon figures and other artefacts unearthed from the Yin Dynasty (3000 years ago). Though there are dissimilarities, most Asian Dragons often bear some cohesion.

First of all, unlike European dragons, most of Asian Dragons have no wings but they are able to fly in the sky. They could also shift their shape. Historically, these features were implied by ancient people that the dragons are able to adjust and adapt with variety of environments which the dragons pass by as well as that personality of adaptation and adjustment of those countries’ citizens that the dragons’ images represent. They could take the form of different creatures, such as beasts or man. Whensoever they did this, they were always the most beautiful and kind of all the species. In turn, other animals, including humans, could become dragons. Mainly through magic, people could turn into one of these amazing beasts. One story is of a man studying the magic to change into a dragon. Another has it that a boy swallowed a dragon pearl and transformed into one.

Secondly, Asian Dragons are usually associated with rain, water and wisdom. This notion corresponds with many Asian art painting masterpieces. Asian painters usually have rainfalls as dominant themes in their painting because water represents endless beauty. According to Binyon in his book of ‘The flight of the dragon’, water can become the softest of things but can also be the hardest one. Therefore, Asian dragons are adopted as infinite creature with power the water. This is evident in many Asian folk stories.  In Chinese mythology, the Chinese dragon (Lung) was a divine bringer of rain, which is necessary for the agricultural industry. Throughout Chinese history the dragon has been equated with weather. It is said that some of the worst flooding were caused when a mortal has upset a dragon. Chinese mythology uses the tale of ‘The four Dragons’ to explain the origins of four great rivers in China. In this tale, the four Dragons bring rain without the Jade Emperor’s permission to the Earth to help the farmers to grow their crops. The Four Dragons are then imprisoned by the Jade Emperor because they disobey the rules. They, however, never regret their actions and then turn themselves into four famous rivers in China, the Heilongjian River, the Huanghe River, the Changjiang River, and the Zhujiang River. Vietnamese people also believe that dragons associate with water as they share the same tale of the ‘Dragon Gate’ as in Chinese myth in which the Dragons are originated from the carps. The carps must practice through a tough training period to achieve certain personalities to be able to swim to and jump across the ‘Dragon Gate’. Once they pass through this gate, the carps will be transformed to the Dragons. The image of the carps jumping and crossing over ‘Dragon Gate’ reminds the ability to resist hurdles and achieving success. They are able to persistently resist hardship, swim upstream and rapidly jumping above the water to reach heaven to symbolize great achievements in ones pursuit or high ambitions of a lifetime

Chinese Tale: The Four DragonsOnce upon a time, there were no rivers and lakes on earth, but only the Eastern Sea, in which lived four dragons: the Long Dragon, the Yellow Dragon, the Black Dragon and the Pearl Dragon.

One day, the four dragons flew from the sea into the sky. They soared and dived, playing at hide and seek in the clouds.

Come over here quickly!’, the Pearl Dragon cried out suddenly

What’s up?’ asked the other three, looking down in the direction where the Pearl Dragon pointed. On the earth, they say many people putting out fruits and cakes, and burning incense sticks. They were praying! A white-haired woman, kneeling on the ground with a thin boy on her back, murmured:

Please send rain quickly, God of Heaven, to give our children rice to eat’

There had been no rain for a long time. The crops withered, the grass turned yellow and fields crack under the scorching sun.

How poor the people are!’ said the Yellow Dragon. ‘And they will die if it doesn’t rain soon’

The Long Dragon nodded. Then he suggested, ‘Let’s go and beg the Jade Emperor for rain’. So saying, he leapt into the clouds. The others followed closely and flew towards the Heavenly Palace.

Being in charge of all the affairs in heaven, on earth and in the sea, the Jade Emperor was very powerful. He was not pleased to see the dragons rushing in. ‘Why do you come here instead of staying in the sea and behaving yourselves?’

The Long Dragon stepped forward and said, ‘The crops on earth are withering and dying, Your Majesty. I beg you to send rain down quickly!’

‘All right! You go back first, I’ll send some rain down tomorrow’. The Jade Emperor pretended to agree while listening to the songs of the fairies.

‘Thanks, Your Majesty!’ The four Dragons went happily back.

But ten days passed, and not a drop of rain came down.

The people suffered more, some eating bark, some grass roots, some force to eat white clay when they ran out of bark and grass roots.

Seeing all this, the four Dragons felt very sorry, for they knew the Jade Emperor only cared about pleasure, and never took the people to hear. They could only rely on themselves to relieve the people of their miseries.

Seeing the vast sea, the Long Dragon said that he had an idea.

‘What is it? Out with it, quickly!’ the other three demanded.

‘Look, is there not plenty of water in the sea where we live? We should scoop it up and spray it towards the sky. The water will be like rain drops and come down to save the people and their crops.’

‘Good idea!’ The others clapped their hands.

‘But’ said the Long Dragon after thinking a bit, ‘We will be blamed if the Jade Emperor learns of this’

‘I will do anything to save the people,’ the Yellow Dragon said resolutely

‘Let’s begin. We will never regret it’. The Black Dragon and the Pearl Dragon were not to be outdone

They flew to the sea, scooped up water in their mouths, and then flew back into the sky, where they sprayed the water out over the earth. The four Dragons flew back and forth, making the sky dark all around. Before long the sea water became rain pouring down from the sky.

‘It’s raining! It’s raining!’

‘The crops will be saved!’

The people cried and leaped with joy. On the ground the wheat stalks raised their heads and the sorghum starks straightened up.

The god of the sea discovered these events and reported to the Jade Emperor.

‘How dare the four dragons bring rain without my permission?’ The Jade Emperor was enraged and ordered the heavenly generals and their troops to arrest the four dragons. Being far outnumbered, the four dragons could not defend themselves, and they were soon arrested and brought back to the heavenly palace.

‘Go and get four mountains to lie upon them so that they can never escape’ The Jade Emperor ordered the Mountain God.

The Mountain God used his magic power to make four mountains fly there, whistling in the wind from afar, and pressed them down upon the four dragons.

Imprisoned as they were, they never regretted their actions. Determined to do good for the people forever, they turned themselves into four rivers, which flowed past high mountains and deep valleys, crossing the land from the west to the east and finally emptying into the sea. China’s four great rivers were formed — the Heilongjian (Black Dragon) in the far north, the Huanghe (Yellow River) in central China, the Changjiang (Yangtze, or Long River) farther south, and the Zhujiang (Pearl) in the very far south.

 

Asian dragons are born with their colours and based upon the age and colour of their parents. Dragons are usually drawn with bright colours such as red, blue, green and yellow. These colours usually represent luck, positive outcome, sufficient fortune and prosperity in Asian cultures. Black dragons are children of a black-gold dragon. They are symbols of the North. They caused storms by battling in the air. Blue dragons are children of blue-gold dragons that are eight hundred years old. They are purest blue colours, and they are the sign of the coming spring. They are they are the symbol of the East.Yellow dragons are born from yellow-gold dragons who are one thousand years or older. They appear at “the perfect moment” and at all other times remain hidden. Red dragons descend from a red-gold dragon who is about one thousand years of age. They are the symbol for the West, and are much like black dragons. They can cause storms in the skies when they fight.White dragons come from white-gold dragons of a thousand years of age. They symbolize the South. White is the Chinese colour of mourning, and these dragons are a sign of death. Therefore, dragons are often perceived as positive images. They are life-savers rather than destroyer. Dragons are benevolent creatures and they should be praised as if people have to praise their Emperor.

Most Eastern Dragons are beautiful, friendly, and wise. They are the angels of the Orient. Instead of being hated, they are loved and worshipped. Temples and shrines have been built to honour them, for they control the rain, rivers, lakes, and seas. Although Asian dragons that exist in the legends of each countries share some similarities, it is, however, a threat to categorise all Asian dragons as same images. The dragons’ features vary in between countries and between different historical periods within the same country.

Firstly, it is noticeable that number of dragon’s claws is not the same. It is argued that number of claws closely links to the nation’s identity that is which country is the origin of the dragons. Chinese argue that their dragons have five claws because they believe that all Eastern dragons originated from China. They believed that when the dragons flew away, they began to lose toes. The farther and farther the dragons flew the more toes they lost. So, Korean dragons have four toes, and Japanese dragons have three. The Japanese, however, rebut this belief and insist that the Dragons appeared first in their country. They traditionally had three claws and once they began to leave Japan, they gain more toes. The farther the dragons went the more toes they gained. Korean dragons have four toes and are believed that all eastern dragons originated from Korea. When the dragons leave Korea and go toward China, they gain toes. When the dragons leave Korea and go toward Japan, they lose toes. There is another interpretation of the Dragon’s claws and is also arguable. According to several sources, including official documents from earlier times, ordinary Chinese dragons had four toes, but the Imperial Dragon had five. It was a capital offense for anyone other than the emperor to use the five-clawed dragon motif. Korean sources seem to disagree with this theory, as the Imperial dragon in Gyeongbok Palace has seven claws, implying its superiority over the Chinese Dragon. This dragon image is hidden in the rafters of the palace and not entirely in view, even to those who know it is there, suggesting that while the ancient Koreans viewed it as superior, they also knew that it would be offensive to the Imperial Chinese Court. It can be concluded that strong national identities are recognised through the images of dragons. Countries use the number of dragon’s claws and the stories behind it to explain the origin of their dragons and imply their relative power to other neighbour countries.

There are also differences in structure of the dragons’ body.  The Chinese dragon is made up of nine entities. The head of camel, the eyes of a demon, the ears of a cow, the horns of a stag, the neck of a snake, it’s belly a clam’s, it’s claws that of an eagle, while the soles of his feet are that of a tiger, and the 117 scales that cover it’s body are that of a carp. The Vietnamese dragon is, however, a combination image of four animals, i.e. crocodile, snake, lizard and bird. The head of Vietnamese dragon is very different from Chinese dragons. Vietnamese dragons have beard, no horn, the eyes open widely, and the tongue is thin and long. The Japanese Dragon has the head of a camel, horns or a deer, eyes of a hare, scales of a carp, paws of a tiger, and claws resembling those of an eagle. In addition it has whiskers, a bright jewel under its chin and a measure on the top of its head which enables it to ascend to Heaven at will.

Eastern dragon is said to be a spiritual creature which represents the power of the Emperor. However, this notion is viewed differently in Chinese legends as compared to the Vietnamese. Originally Chinese mythology believed that the dragons were the ones who talked directly to the Gods. The Emperor was given the God’s will for his people and he in turned passed on this message to the people through his growing bureaucracy.
As time went on the Emperors apparently decided to cut the Imperial Dragons out of the deal and claimed to be able to communicate directly with the God’s. Of course to protect this monopoly no one but the Emperor was allowed to try and communicate with the Dragons. Therefore, the emperor was the only one who should be allowed to connect to the Dragons. However, Vietnamese legend insist that every all of Vietnamese citizens are connected to the Dragons because they were all originated from the Dragon’s family and thus are carrying the Dragon’s blood. Every Vietnamese person knows the legend of Lac Long Quan and Au Co. Lac Long Quan (King Dragon of the Lac Bird Clan) is known as the forefather of the Vietnamese people. He is said to have been the son of a dragon king, while his wife, Au Co, was the daughter of the bird king. Au Co gave birth to one hundred eggs, which hatched into one hundred sons. The first-born son became the king of Lac Viet, the first dynasty of Vietnam, and proclaimed himself Emperor Hung Vuong. The First was followed by Hung Vuong the Second, Hung Vuong the Third and so on, through 18 reigns. Thus, Vietnamese people believe that they are ‘Children of Dragon, Grandchildren of Fairies’. Not only the national identity, the dragons’ images can also represent the personal identity of the each country’s citizen.

Although, Eastern dragons are respected among the East because they usually help humans in difficult times, however, not all Eastern dragons are life-savers. There are also myths about cruel dragons which appear as the monsters. The Uwabami dragon in Japanese legend is portrayed more like the stereotypical evil Western dragon. Uwibami was a great beast that would snatch men from their horses and eat them. From the Indian subcontinent, there are multiple stories of the serpent-dragon named Vitra. He was said to have absorbed the cosmic waters from the universe and coiled around a great mountain. In order to bring water to both the gods and the humans Indra battled this dragon and proved victorious when he used his thunderbolts to kill this monster and released the waters of life for all. Furthermore, the 21st-century Korean film titled ‘Dragon Wars’, two Imoogi were seen, one of whom took the Yu-Yei-Joo in the form of a blue crystal sphere and by this means became a dragon. In this film, however, one of the Imoogi, Buraki, (the one that failed to become a dragon) was portrayed as evil who destroys New York City to search and eat Yu-Yei-Joo, but finally was killed by the one that became a dragon.

Within a specific country, the images of dragons are also transformed through different stages of the history. There were different dragons’ representations through different reigns of Vietnamese history. The visual aspects of the Vietnamese dragon were determined by the particular dynasty in effect at the time. Different characteristics started to appear, including wings, arms, and horns. During Ngo Dynasty (938–965), the dragon was short, with a cat-like body and a fish’s backfin. The Ly Dynasty (1010–1225) dragon had rounded bodies curve lithely, in a long sinuous shape, tapering gradually to the tail. The body had 12 sections, symbolising 12 months in the year. On the dragon’s back, the fins were small, uninterrupted. The head held high, and had a long mane, beard, prominent eyes, crest on nose, but no horns. The legs were small and thin, and usually 3-toed. The jaw was opened wide, with a long, thin tongue; the dragons always kept a jewel ball in their mouths which is a symbol of humanity, nobility and knowledge. These dragons were able to change the weather, and responsible for crops. The Tran Dynasty’s dragon (1224 – 1440) was similar to that of the Ly Dynasty but had some new details which were the arms and the horns. Its fiery crest was shorter. Its slightly curved body was fat and smaller toward the tail. The Tran’s dragon symbolised the material arts because the Vietnamese had to fight with the Mongol during this period, so strength was emphasised. During the Le Dynasty, the Vietnamese dragon’s image was influenced by the Chinese dragon, because of Confucianism‘s expansion policy. These dragons were majestic, with lion-heads. They had a large nose. Unlike the dragons in previous time, their bodies only curved in two sections. Their feet had five sharp claws. During the early part of the Nguyen dynasty, the dragon (1802–1883) was represented with a spiral tail and a long fiery sword-fin. Its head and eyes were large. It had stag horns, a lion’s nose, exposed canine teeth, regular flash scale, curved whiskers. Images of the Dragon King had 5 claws, while images of lesser dragons have only 4 claws. In the later period (1883–1945), the dragon image degenerated and became unrefined, losing its natural and majestic shape, and was seen as a signal of the decline in art of the last Vietnamese dynasty.

Overall, most Asian dragons share similar appearances. They are made up of several different species, and each species contributes a piece of the dragon. They are usually associated with nature and weather. Eastern dragons, however, also vary in their ways of representation from Japanese, Korean, Chinese and Vietnamese. These differences cannot be overlooked as they are crucial for the recognition of national identity as well as personal identity for each country’s citizens. The dragon images are also affected by significant events in the countries’ history. Citizens of each country could use those dragon images to communicate to their neighbours many messages which range from political status of the country, their power stance relating to others, and the dreams about their country’s future.

Dragons in European mythologies

European dragons also exist in folklore and mythology among the overlapping cultures of Europe. In European folklore, a dragon is a serpentine legendary creature.  The dragon is generally illustrated as having an underground lair or cave, making it an ancient creature of the earth element as contrasting to Eastern dragons which usually represent the water element. Cave dweller dragons stay most of the time in the coldness of the dark. The caves, filled with fire and water, are easily guarded and located close to towns, where food is convenient.  They are typically with reptile features but may also have fur or feathers. They usually have dark colours but always shinny. Some have forked tongues, crests, fringes, or some other adornment. It always has the ability to belch forth blazing fire and fumes. The western dragons have four legs. Commonly, there are two hind legs and two fore legs, and, while the dragon may walk on all four of them, the dragon can also sit back on the haunches and use its fore legs.

British folklore is littered with stories of dragons and their relatives. Although contemporary literature paints the dragon as a large, winged, fire breathing entity, this was not always the case. The dragons which roamed the UK countryside could be completely different to one another; some huge, others tiny, some confrontational, others shy, some flew, others slivered, some wandered, and others had homes. The most common dragon to appear in British folklore and perhaps the earliest root of the dragon legend is the worm which stems the Anglo Saxon word Wyrm or vurm. In appearance the worm is wingless and scaly with no arms or legs, very similar to a gigantic snake but with the added dread of poisonous breath, and the ability to rejoin after being cut into pieces.

The common thing that connected the creatures was their disdain for people – dragons were not friendly, although in all fairness, people did not react particularly well when a dragon came by. An important English legend is St. George and the Dragon. As the story goes, Saint George was a Christian martyr who killed a dragon in order to rescue the princess Silene. Saint George is the patron saint of England. The story of the Lambton Worm is another UK’s most well known dragon story. While a lad skipping church, John Lambton caught a small snake-like creature while fishing, and discarded it down a nearby well. Many years passed, and John grew up and ventured off to fight in the crusades. While overseas, the creature John once threw away emerged from the well, now long enough to wrap itself around the local Penshaw Hill three times. The worm killed anyone who tried to attack it, aided by its ability to quickly heal any wound, and snacked on sheep and small children. John’s father eventually pacified the creature, daily feeding it the milk from nine cows. Seven years later, John returned to the Lambton estate, only to find his home in a state of fear. The knight discussed the problem worm with a witch, and was told to cover his armour in spikes and to only engage in battle near a river. John did so, and as battle between man and beast raged, the spikes prevented the worm from wrapping itself around him. John hacked the monster into chunks, which were carried away by the river before they had the chance to heal.

The Golden Legend – Saint George and the DragonThe story of Saint George and the Dragon is a popular one in Europe. The legend takes place in a town called Silene, in Libya. The legend states that this town had a large pond where a plague-bearing dragon dwelt. To appease the dragon, the villagers would feed it sheep and maidens. The maidens of the village would draw lots to see who would be sacrificed to the dragon.

One day, the lot fell upon the princess of Silene. The king, distraught with grief, told the people they could have all his gold and silver and half of his kingdom if his daughter were spared. The people, fearing the wrath of the dragon, refused. So, the princess was sent out to the lake, dressed as a bride, to be fed to the dragon.

Saint George, hearing of this predicament, rode on horseback to the lake. The princess, trembling, sought to send him away, but George vowed to remain and fortified himself with the Sign of the Cross.

The dragon reared out of the lake as George and the princess were talking. Saint George charged at it on horseback and pierced it with his lance. Then he called to the princess to throw him her girdle, and put it around the dragon’s neck. When she did so, the dragon followed the girl like a dog on a leash. They led the dragon back into town, where it terrified the people at its approach. But St. George called out to them, saying that if they converted to Christianity and were baptized, he would slay the dragon before them.

The king and the villagers agreed, 15,000 men plus women and children, and were converted and baptized. George then drew his sword and slew the dragon. On the site where the dragon died, the king built a church, which bore a spring whose waters cured all diseases.

Similar to Asian dragons, the images of dragons in European legends also vary across different historical periods. In earlier times, most of the European dragons were actually symbolic of good things, similar to their Asian cousins. From the very start Dragons were seen as guarding treasures, holding back the floods, and dispensing knowledge. They also are battled by gods or heroes from the very beginning. In many cases stories from the Sumerians were borrowed and slightly changed by the preceding civilizations. However, during the medieval times the dragon became a symbol of all things evil. This downfall of the Dragons is explained by the legend of Medieval Knights. According to the mythology of dragon lore, knights of the Medieval times had to protect their kingdom and their elaborate Medieval castles from fierce and threatening dragons by the tradition of fighting and slaying the dragons to not only protect their Medieval culture, but also to capture their hidden and protected treasures. Knights of the Round Table were eager to prove their faith and would battle dragons to death. Occasionally, dragon monsters would wander into villages, and leave great destruction and death in their wake. This led many a brave knight to attempt to hunt down and slay dragons, as recounted in many medieval writings of the Middle Ages.  Since then, the dragon was represented the devil, hell, sin, destruction, war, and greed. The article ‘Unnatural History of Dragons’ by Louise W. Lippincott (1981) affirms that the dragons in Greek legend occupied springs and rivers, which they guarded fiercely. This legend reached Europe in Roman times in a letter from Fermes who was a traveller in the East to the emperor Hadrian in Rome, and was absorbed in a variety of Roman and medieval treatises on natural history and the marvels of the East. Fermes described a territory east of the Nile and Brixontes rivers, inhabited by giant dragons. These dragons were so terrifying that no one dared to cross the rivers where they lived. In addition, in Paris Bordone’s painting (figure 7), the painted dragon is clearly scaring off travellers who desire to cross the river at the fording place.

 In the Middle Ages, during the Festival of the Rogotian (which proceeded Ascension Day), an image or statue of a dragon was carried around the village as a representation of evil and sin. On the last three days of the festival, the dragon image was kicked around and stoned by the villagers as a way of ridding themselves of evil and sin. Since that time, most western dragons were pictured as particularly cruel creatures that horde gold and torture small towns. Dragons become evil beasts. In many legends, they like to feed upon human flesh and prefer young people and those who are weak. They also hunt large game animals such as deer, elk, and sometimes livestock. In folklore, it is depicted that they typically take a flight at night to terrorize the villagers and cause pestilence over the land. Western dragons are not necessarily evil – but they often are. At the very least they tend to be solitary and bad-tempered.

Dragons vary as much as people do. Although many Western dragons are brutal, ignorant creatures who kill and eat humans others are ancient, wise creatures more akin to those found in the East. There are also many accounts of dragons giving assistance to weary travellers or acting as guardians or protectors over sacred forests or treasures. Some Western dragons are also very intelligent, and in many cases capable of speech. Legend has it that Western dragons held secrets, knowledge or power that may only be claimed when the dragon is slain. The one who killed the dragon must drink its blood and eat its flesh in order to have these secrets revealed.

Both Western Dragons and Eastern Dragons have details and behaviours that make them extraordinarily interesting. Beside some exceptions, the major differences between Western and Eastern dragons are their outlooks and the representational spirit that each carries. However, it is also dangerous to categorise all Western dragons as same kind. The interpretation of different types of Western dragons must consider the historical events as one of the important aspects.

Conclusion

In almost everything we read about dragons, the author has had to decide which type of dragon to focus on, the Eastern or the Western. This usually depends on where the author is from and so the type of dragon that he or she is most accustomed to. When talking about dragons it can almost be impossible to talk about a dragon without being biased to one culture or the other.

It could be that the reason each dragon is different between cultures is because the people had never actually seen one, only heard stories and descriptions of them.

But whatever their origin, dragons today are not just a survival of beliefs and motifs from the past. They live on in popular culture and in fiction, not as a static symbol but as images which may be used in different ways and given different functions. In the twentieth century, many works of fiction have featured dragons, more so than ever since fantasy fiction became a successful publishing genre in the last thirty years. These dragons are not all alike. Some have obvious links with their literary predeces-sors or with traditional stories but use their materials in new ways. Others introduce new elements, sometimes borrowed from elsewhere in folklore or legend. Such changes can arise from a desire to develop fictional characters of greater individuality, whether for the dragon itself or for those who react to it, or just from a desire to write something new. But the ways in which writers choose to do this point to changes in the way they, and presumably their readers, think and feel about traditional stories and the traditional image of the dragon. They show how folklore material can be used to express changes in social attitudes and ideas, not merely to reflect the past.

Writers today are more likely to have access to a wide range of folklore collections and studies than at any time in the past. McCaughrean’s novels show how different traditions may be combined to make a successful fictional world, convincing in its own terms. In different ways, the other novels mentioned here do the same. But the changing role of dragons in modern fiction expresses deeper changes in society, as well as in approaches to fiction. One is a change in the attitude towards dangerous animals, noticeable in Pratchett as well as Dickinson and Rowling. Another is a change in attitude to humanity, which means that fictional evil is more convincing and more frightening when people, not dragons, are the true enemy. And perhaps that a happy ending is more likely to work if it is not absolute: if the dragon lives to fight another day.

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