Ah, gosh, I love dragons so much. I mean, who doesn’t? The purpose of this post is going to be kind of muddled, but we’re going to talk about why dragons are the best, the very neat thing about their lore, and I dunno, probably some dragon book recs at the end. Definitely not ten because I don’t actually have ten because dragons in books is impossible. Anywho, this is going to be mostly rambling even though it’s supposed to be a discussion, but DRAGONS. Let’s get into it!
You’re lying if you say that you never had a dragon phase. We all did. At some point, probably just as we were cresting over into teenagers, or even right before (ugh those terrible prepubescent preteen years save us), we all fell madly in love with the concept of dragons. And I’d say that most of us fell into the same camp: dragons as protagonists.
I grew up mostly with dragons as antagonists, which is a real bummer, but that was the way of the world. I was raised on the Triwizard Tournament and Smaug and whatever dragons were starring in DragonLance for all of five chapters before dying. The dragons of my childhood were ones that were made for slaying, but then, as I grew awkwardly into a teenager, I was introduced to the concept of a dragon as a protagonist.
Look, this movie was trash, and putting a dragon in armor is the literal dumbest thing I’ve ever heard of, but Eragon did a lot for my sweet innocent soul at that time. I’ve written a longer piece on why the Inheritance Cycle meant so much to me, but the tl;dr of it is that it was the first book I read in which the dragons could be a beacon of hope and light rather than just the evil creature to slay. And, for me, that was transformative.
I quickly dove into writing my own high fantasy that featured not just one good dragon, but, like, seventeen or something. There were so many, it was a mess, we’ve been in a fight for something like four years and going. But it opened my eyes to a whole world I hadn’t even known to want.
Dragons? Good? What?
And so begin my wonderful descent into the world of high fantasy.
There’s this really interesting thing that happens with dragons. It happens with pretty much all mythology, but I particularly love it with dragons because it makes it really hard to pretend they were never real. Are there dragons out there in the world right now? Probably not. At least, not in the size they were once believed. But were there?
Look, all I’m saying is that you’ve never actually seen a dinosaur with your own eye(s), but you believe they exist. And yeah, there are fossils and science to prove your point, but bare with me. Also, quickly, I want to note that I believe in dinosaurs, I am not in anyway trying to be a conspiracy theorist right now, the big bang happened, evolution is a thing, dinosaurs were real, let’s move on and talk about a mythical creature that might have existed.
Gods, I did such deep dives back in the day trying to prove this point, and then Aaron Mahnke comes around and is like, “Okay, so you’ve got vampires in standard Eastern European myth, right, we all know about Dracula, but did you know that at the same time, there were also vampiric myths happening in every single other part of the world???” And, here I am, a sad twenty-something, never having been able to prove that dragons were real, damn it, and suddenly, the World of Lore gives me the exact reason.
Dragons are part of every single culture’s mythology. They don’t always call them dragons, just as they didn’t always call them vampires. But if you look close enough, they’re there. And I’m not just saying, oh back in the 70s it wasn’t just Tolkien writing dragons, Weis & Hickman did it, too. I’m also not saying Beowulf had the first dragon even though, wow, okay Beowulf doesn’t even have a clear written date, that’s how old it is, we just have a guesstimate of 700-1000 AD (jfc the day I stop ranting about Beowulf is the day I die, I think y’all are gonna get my long essay on kennings soon). What I’m saying is this: way before the modern culture of communication between countries, dragons appeared in all mythology.
Call them what you will, but before we were even able to tell each other about our mythologies, we were all coming up with similar stories. The logic stands that if a vampire drains your blood in Slavik lore and Latin lore, that probably means it’s the same thing doing the blood-draining, right? Thus, if you’ve got a massive creature that has impenetrable scales and breathes fire, whether or not it’s got wings, it’s probably the same being. Right?
Game of Thrones is also trash, but Drogon is easily the best damn dragon we’ve ever seen, and y’all can fight me on that until we’re blue in the face, I will not stand down.
Okay, so we’ve covered the cool bit about dragon mythology, but why are dragons so awesome? Well, duh, they’re dragons. Every single time you’ve got a truly enormous creature standing opposite a tiny smol human, like?
I am weak, it will get me every time. Because we’ve been taught to fear dragons, and pretty much every narrator in a story has also grown up with that belief. Even if they’ve grown in a culture that respects dragons, it’s still not just friendly heyyyyy what’s good, there’s always at least a tiny amount of fear because dragons are huge and they breathe literal fire (or whatever their vibe is) and they’ve got claws and often lots of spikes and they’re just generally chaos given form.
But all of that is also the really super cool bits about them! WINGS! Oh my godddddd, wings.
where’s that gif
you know which one
I love the physical growth of Drogon so much in the GOT. The fact that we get baby dragons is just everything, but then watching that baby grow into this insane beast? YES! Look, I’m sorry, I don’t get wingless dragons, they make no sense to me, I love wings so much.
Also, dragons with horns and spikes are just the best. Make them all menacing looking so that when they’re soft with your characters, it makes you die a little more. Rows and rows of teeth, lots of bellowing fire, just terrifying, and then they’re like this is my person you touch you die.
Okay, I think I’ve mostly proven my point, and we should probably move onto some recs before I just keep screaming about why I love dragons and this devolves into nonsense.
I think I’m going to rec movies, too, so first we’ve got six book recs, and then a ton more movie recs.
Duh, of course we’re starting with Beowulf, and it gets in the first slot since technically it’s anonymous, so alphabet, shhhhh. Seamus Heaney’s translation is one of my favorites, and though that may change when I read Tolkien’s next month, I’m sticking with this for now. This is an example of a dragon as an evil creature to slay, but it’s still a fantastic high fantasy legend.
Look at me being hopeful and including The Winds of Winter in my A Song of Ice and Fire rec. I know the HBO adaptation is pretty awful, and really, adaptation should be a loose term at this point, and these books definitely have their faults, but George RR Martin’s high fantasy series is so complex and so well done that I’ll continue hoping for the next book for as long as I need to. Plus, the dragons in this are fantastic, and though I will forever love being able to visually see Drogon, Rhaegal, and Viserion, I adore reading about them, too.
I’ll talk about the Inheritance Cycle by Christopher Paolini until the end of my days. It’s a powerful series in the high fantasy world that not only features dragons as main characters, but is full of diverse characters and lots of women empowerment. It deals with teenagers in a way that feels realistic, the world is complex and incredibly well-built, and there’s so much obvious research and work and passion that was pored into it.
I’m not linking the whole Ravenspire series by CJ Redwine because not all of them feature dragons, but The Shadow Queen gave the Snow White retelling the most interesting twist ever by turning the seven dwarves into seven dragons, and I literally screamed when it happened. This series is one of my favorites, and I love it dearly.
The Song of the Current duology by Sarah Tolcser is one of the few times that I’ve been completely onboard with a wingless dragon, but she manages it in such a fantastic way that makes sense in the world that I am here for it. The dragon in question doesn’t really come in until the second book, but damn, it’s so good.
Here I am, talking about The Silmarillion by JRR Tolkien again! I know you’re shocked right now that I’m not talking about The Hobbit, but Smaug literally dies, like, three chapters after he’s introduced, and it’s the dumbest literary decision ever, so instead, we’re talking about one of my favorite fantasy dragons.
Look, I will die on this hill, Ancalagon the Black is the best dragon out there. I mean:
Melkor’s giant bestie barely gets page-time, but he’s a total badass when he does, and, I mean, Melkor alone is worth reading The Silmarillion, so now you’ve got two reasons.
And movies! I’ve watched a lot of good and a lot of bad, so I’m only listing the ones I absolutely love.
The only thing I actually appreciate about Peter Jackson’s changes to The Hobbit is how much he featured Smaug and what an excellent job they did on the CGI for him. I love the very feline way that Smaug moves, too, which calls directly back to how he’s described in the book.
Is there anything better than How to Train Your Dragon? I saw this movie five times in the first week of its release, and three of those were one day after another. Like, in the theaters. Guys, I spent so much money on this movie. It’s just so good. There’s nothing I don’t love about it.
I know that the dragon is barely featured in Maleficent, but she’s my favorite villain largely because she turns into a dragon, so here we are. And damn, if they were only going to feature the dragon a little bit, they really went hard on that feature.
Gosh, Reign of Fire. This is still one of my top favorite dragon movies of all time. It’s got such a stacked cast, but you’d never know because they’ve camouflaged them so well, and the focus really remains on the world and the dragons. Granted, we don’t get to see the dragons in focus until the very end, but the story surrounding them is so epic, and the final reveal is just wonderful.
Look, I somehow ended up with ten! I know Dragonheart is not on this list, but I haven’t seen it in so long that I don’t remember it, and I can’t actually rec it because of that, so don’t yell at me.