Dragons are cool.
Dragons are fascinating to read about (and to write about) partly because they are strongly embedded in our culture, with a long history and endless stories attached to them. They have deep cultural resonances which writers can draw on, yet they are also capable of endless reinvention - as friendly, as foolish, as young and inexperienced, as old and worldly-wise, as powerful or as helpless.
The classic dragon, of course, is the one defeated by St George (and that's a story that has been jubilantly reinvented in numerous picture books, like The Paper-Bag Princess or George and the Dragon). In the legend, of course, he doesn't get much more than a walk-on part as the embodiment of evil, just ripe for a kicking by the noblest knight in the land. His direct descendant, Smaug, gets a chance to show what evil looks like up close and personal: sarcastic, vain, clever and ruthless, playing lazily with his hobbit visitor before setting out to scorch and level the whole of Lake Town.
Much of the appeal of Eragon, for example, is in the thrill of imagining what it would be like to have your very own dragon - all that power, beauty and danger, yours to command. Cressida Cowell gives us the same thrill in the more light-hearted How to Train Your Dragon and its sequels. Both these books enjoy creating esoteric dragon lore - species and typologies, feeding habits, how to approach and bond with dragons, how (ideally) not to die...
Of course, any Harry Potter afficionado knows their Welsh Green from their Hungarian Horntail, but Templar's brilliant Dragonology books create a set of resources on the wildlife and science of raising or studying dragons to gladden the heart of any would-be student of these magnificent creatures. Dr Ernest Drake gives us all manner of fascinating details on habitats, temperaments and training regimes, which play into that greatest of desires for children (and let's be honest, many adults too) - that dragons might really exist.
When I wrote my own Arthurian fantasy for younger readers, Frogspell, I included a dragon pet for my protagonists almost as an afterthought - yet Adolphus the dragon quickly grew into one of my favourite characters. Adolphus has no magic, and is rather small and clumsy - he's in the tradition of dragons we need to look after rather than ones who look after us (or indeed, eat us...) Yet I've lost count of the number of children and parents who told me how much they love the dim-witted but enthusiastic Adolphus. Dragons, it seems, even the really un-dragon-like, touch a chord in all of us.
|Adolphus with his mistress, Olivia Pendragon - illustration by David Wyatt|
So hurrah for dragons in all their forms!