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Monday, January 25, 2016

Mythic Humanoids – Serpent People and Dragons – Part 3 (Survey of Dragons and dragon literature)

Here's Part 3 (Survey of Dragons and dragon literature) of my blog on serpent people and dragons. For Part 1 (Research Deluge) and Part 2 (Symbolism)

There are many ways to organize the numerous varieties of dragons.


Categorizing dragons by :
  1. Color [like shoes in a closet or crayons in a box, not based on mythological research.]
  2. Sea serpent v flier
  3. Old v New
  4. North v South
  5. East vs West [Does respect for dragons affect the interpretation of their myths?]

Part of the reason there are so many varieties is because there are many often conflicting traits a dragon can have. Variety of possible traits of dragons :
breathe fire                                        fire resistant
intelligence                                        wings
bring luck, rain, fertility, wealth           malicious
poison venom                                    collect and protect hoards
shape-shifting                                    chameleon-like color changing
mind reading                                     hypnosis
vast and tiny sizes                              egg laying
multiple heads that grow back             scales and/or feathers
teleporting                                        prehensile tail

Dragon mythology also has a long history of myths to draw from.
List of ancient dragon myths :
Tiamat - Mesopotamian
Lotan - Mesopotamian
Apu – Mesopotamian
Leviathan – Hebrew, Canaanite
Apepi - Ancient Egypt, a giant serpent demon attacked Ra, the sun
Mehen - Ancient Egypt, giant serpent coiled around the sun at night to protect him.
Merlin's dragons – Eropean [English Arthurian legend]
Beowulf's dragon - Old Norse
Sigurd's dragon, Fafnir - Old Norse
Nighodd - Old Norse
St George's dragon – European [English]
Melusine – European [French], nymph-human offspring, cursed to once a month become a half-dragon
Jormungandr, the world serpent - Old Norse story
Julunggul, Rainbow Serpent – Australian Aborigine
Hydra – Greek story of Hercules
Hesperides dragon – Greek, guarding the Apples
Golden Fleece dragon – Greek
Python – Greek story of the Oracles of Delphi
Ophion – Greek, incubating the primordial egg
Da – the Fon people of Africa, the World Serpent creating the sea of space and sky
Mictlan – Aztec
Veles – Slavic
Umai-hulhlya-wit – Diegueno Indians of California
Aesculapius's snakes – Greek, dreams of healing
Shesha – India, churning the ocean to bring amita
Eastern Lungs - Asia
Chinese Dragons
[I'm sure there are many from around the world I've missed]

All of this leads to fertile ground for the imagination of modern writers.
Survey of modern dragon literature :

The Hobbit – J.R R. Tolkien – The dragon Smaug is the enemy to be defeated, but the chapter where Bilbo meets Smaug is steeped in Western dragon mythology. This is one of my favorite books.

Melusine, by John Howe
Diversity of Dragons – Anne McCaffrey and Richard Wood - with art by John Howe [One of the two brilliant artists that helped Peter Jackson conceptualize Tolkien's stories for the The Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies] - A picture book for all ages. This book incorporates an overview of the history of dragon stories into its own story format. It's a great place to start researching if you don't know much about dragon literature history. It includes a brief version of the Melusine story. Its also a fun read for those who are familiar with many dragon stories. There's a nice chart at the back comparing dragons from different stories.

Saint George and the Dragon – Margret Hodges – with art by Trinia Schart
Hyman, retold from Edward Spenser's Faerie Queen. Beautiful and close to the mythological roots.

Merlin's Dragons – Jane Yolan - with art by Li Ming, retelling of young Merlin's prophecy to Vortigen regarding the failed building of a castle.

Merlin's Dreams - Peter Dickinson - with art by Alan Lee [The other brilliant artists that helped Peter Jackson conceptualize Tolkien's stories for the The Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies] A short
short anthology tied together by the concept that these are dreams Merlin has while imprisoned under a rock by Nimue. Many of these dreams feature dragons.

Dragon Riders of Pern Series – Anne McCaffrey – Young Adult/Adult science fiction/fantasy series with memorable characters and interesting plots. The world building here is unique and engaging.

Dragon Song Trilogy – Anne McCaffrey – a 3 book series for Middle Grade/Young Adult set in the same world as the Dragon Riders series with a great main character and a different perspective on the world from the main series. These books are a great introduction to a fun series.

Dealing with Dragons Series – Patricia Wrede – A humorous series that with a strong female protagonist and a different take on dragons.

Dragon Strike series - E.E. Knight - A series of five books where the dragons themselves are the main characters. It delves into differing dragon cultures and politics.

How to Train Your Dragon series – Cressida Cowell - A series of twelve humorous books about a Viking boy an a world heavily populated by dragons, some of which are friendly.

Magic Thief series – Sarah Prineas - Not really a series about dragons, but the nature of dragons and magic features heavily in the last two books and its a very enjoyable read.

Dragon Rider – Cornelia Funke – Ties Western dragon mythology with Middle Eastern and Tibetan dragon mythology with a nice story to go with it.

Eragon series - Christopher Paolini - A popular series, [it didn't float my boat, but I'm told it got better after the first few books]

Dragonology Series – Candlewick Press - Naturalist's field guides and models of Dragons – Well
executed series with the feel of old books from real people. Its list of dragons is impressive.
Western – European, Frost, Knucker, Hydra, Gargouille, Dwarf, Basilisk
Eastern – Chinese Lung, Tibetan Lung, Korean Yong, Japanese Ryu, Lindworm
Other – American and Mexican Amphitheres[Quetzalcoatl], Wyvern, Marsupial, Tasmanian
Models from Dragonolgy turned into a mobile
Pseudo – Phoenix, Cockatrice, Komodo, Sea-serpent, Unknown[Hidden]
Extinct – Draconodon, Easter Island, Dodo[lizard], Simian, Bush, Humming, Ascetic, Naga
If you like dragons, I highly recommend the series. It is chocked full of interesting tidbits of dragon mythology.

If you have a dragon or a good book that heavily features dragons, please share it or provide a link. Also I'd love to hear everyone's opinions on the question : Does respect for dragons affect the interpretation of their myths as far as the difference in Eastern v. Western dragon personalities?

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