I couldn’t find any good pictures of dragons on Unsplash, so, enjoy this lovely photograph of a dragonfruit, a true delicacy.
Hello everyone, and welcome to the fourth Science of Magic post!! Today, we shall be discussing dragons. They’re kind of a rare creature to see in a fantasy novel, these days. *shrugs* In case you have no idea what I’m talking about, dragons are giant lizards with wings that go flappy-flap. And sometimes they go rawr.
So yes, now that I have the ridiculous intro out of the way, let’s jump into some of the lore behind dragons.
It’s pretty much impossible to cover all the lore behind dragons, because they appear, not only in a variety of mythology, but also in plenty of modern day books. But, I shall do the best I can, and I’m very sorry in advance for anything I might have missed.
Dragons, or some form of a dragon, have been seen in mythologies from Egypt, China, Korea, Japan, Vietnam, Mesopotamia, Greece, Rome, and the Norse region. The most well-known image of a dragon in Egyptian mythology is the ouroboros, a dragon who is eating his own tail.
The ouroboros was believed to protect the corpse of Ra, the sun god, although how a god is dead, I will probably never know. In the Cartoon Network show, Lego Ninjago, there is an ancient city of snakes called the City of Ouroboros, as a nod to this ancient icon. (Did I just call an ancient Egyptian symbol an icon? Why yes I did, thank you for asking)
In Chinese mythology, dragons were closely associated to rain. When there was a drought, it was because of their dragon’s laziness. There were plenty of rituals to encourage a dragon to bring rain, including making a ring of little clay dragons and dancing inside the ring, and praying to the dragons in poetry and recitation. Dragons are still heavy influences in China today.
Korean and Japanese dragons were incredibly similar to Chinese dragons. The main difference between Chinese dragons and Korean dragons were that Korean dragons have longer beards. Japanese dragons were commonly associated with metal, and were thought to be the mounts of worthy individuals.
The stories of dragons from Mesopotamia were most likely based on sightings of dinosaurs, like many old-world dragon stories. They were described as having “horns, the body and the neck of a snake, the forelegs of a lion, and the hind-legs of a bird”. Babylonian and Assyrian goddesses were said to ride on dragons, and were the only ones who could win the respect of a dragon.
In Greek mythology (my personal favorite), creatures such as the Lernaean Hydra, Python, Ladon, and a multitude of others fought by Heracles, Jason, Cadmus, and the Olympians were classified as dragons. The Greek variant of dragons usually didn’t have wings, but many had multiple heads, and could breathe fire. The teeth of a dragon could supposedly grow a legion of skeletal warriors.
Nowadays, Western dragons usually have one head, the ability to breathe fire or some other element, powerful wings, hulking size, and, occasionally, the ability to speak. They’re the most recognizable creatures in fantasy (and non-fantasy) novels, and, in my opinion, are starting to become a little bit cliche. So, if you’re planning on writing a fantasy novel, consider NOT putting dragons in it. 😅
Now, I shall point out all the things that are wrong with the massive lizards we all know and love.
One of the biggest problems I have with dragons is the fact that, a lot of the time, their wings are not big enough or shaped correctly to carry them through the sky. The dragons in the GIF above have adequate wings, but all too often, I see dragons with shrimpy wings that couldn’t carry a bird. And, I mean, I understand small wings for comedy purposes, but, if you’re going to do something, might as well do it right.
Bird wings are usually more than twice their body length (not counting their tails), and, since dragons are so big and generally used for transportation, I feel like their wings and body should have a ratio slightly larger than that. It’s possible that, as a result of years of being used as a magic carpet, dragons’ wings might have adapted to carry extra weight.
Another thing to think about is how the wing moves in flight. Where the wing appears to have an “elbow”, is usually where the finger-like joints branch out. That “elbow” is usually the first thing that goes down as a dragon flaps, with the rest of the wing following. In that way, the dragon can propel itself forward. If the dragon flies backward, it would be really similar to when a human tries to swim backward. The “elbow” would be pushed forward, in order to push the dragon back. And, unless the dragon can move its wings in a figure eight pattern like a hummingbird, it would not be able to hover. Seeing a dragon hover in a movie or TV show really ticks me off for some reason.
An important thing to remember when writing, drawing, animating, etc. dragons is that they need some kind of balance at the end of their tails. It could be a fan of feathers, miniature wings, or just a really thick tail, but they’re going to need some kind of counterbalance to help them keep their balance in the sky and land without too much of a mishap.
Another thing that I worry about is if it’s possible for dragons to glide on updrafts. Updrafts work just fine for birds, but, if you haven’t noticed, dragons are a lot bigger than birds. I haven’t done a lot of research for this, but I’m not sure how feasible it is.
One thing that I have seen a lot in books and TV shows is a dragon picking up a person in their claw to take them somewhere and dropping them to reveal that the person is essentially unharmed. I’m not sure how realistic that is. Now, hear me out. If you were standing, sitting, or even laying on the ground and you were snatched up by a dragon without the dragon landing, I think you would have a broken bone or two. Dragons come in hot when they land, and, for a dragon to get close enough to the ground to snatch you up, they would need to be going through their landing protocol. Thus, as they reach out their claw, there would be quite a bit of weight on you for a few seconds before the dragon gained air. I think that would at least result in a sore neck. Plus, who’s the say that a dragon is gentle when holding something? It might squeeze you (whether on purpose or accident, nobody knows)! Or, you might get scratched on its rough, calloused pads.
Okay, I shall move on from all the talk about flight to talk about talk.
….that sounded kind of strange.
In a lot of stories, dragons are able to talk. But, that would require them having human features: human lips, human teeth, human tongue, human vocal chords. That is a disturbing image when you put it on a dragon. Being able to speak telepathically would make a lot more sense. But hey, if you want to ignore all of this and have a creepy human-esque dragon, go right ahead. I’m not stopping you XD
One last thing. Breath.
Breathing fire kind of makes sense. There could be several glands in the back of a dragon’s throat that secrete just the right amount of just the right chemicals to cause a fire to erupt from its mouth. But, what about the dragons that breathe other stuff? (Yes, I’m looking at you, dragons from Ninjago) There have been dragons that can breathe ice, lightning, earth, and more in that show (including wind, but that one actually makes the most sense out of all of them), and some of those make zero sense. How can a dragon breathe earth?
Unless it’s just magic.
I hope you guys enjoyed this post about dragons, and I hope it helps you write and draw dragons better in the future! If there are any fantasy creatures you want me to do a post about in the future, let me know!
Thanks for reading!!