6 March 2019
The Epitome of Divinity and Greed
When thinking of legendary monsters none stick out more than the flying symbol of power known as dragons. These creatures have been the antagonists of many medieval stories, novels, shows, and movies. Dragons have especially become more well known in modern society due to their appearances in movies and shows such as the Hobbit trilogy, by J. R. R. Tolkien, and Game of Thrones, by George R. R. Martin. Different forms of dragons have been created in all sorts of cultures and beliefs. For example, western dragons are shown to be more of a flying lizard whereas eastern dragons are shown as more snake like. As dragon mythology originated in the 4th century, it is very probably that humans stumbled upon fossils from dinosaurs and mistook them for dragon bones (Seeley 1901). The fear, lack of knowledge, and cultural beliefs instilled in the people who stumbled across these fossils stemmed the evolution of dragon folklore.
Dragon folklore has changed greatly due to cultural and religious representations of dragons. In eastern culture, the serpent was the predecessor of the dragon, thus resulting in the similar body structure and associations. In eastern culture dragons were a symbol of divinity and were connected to nature (Cheetham 2014). In many Chinese folklore stories the dragons often resided within damp areas or lived in waters like its predecessor the serpent. In christian belief dragons are the antagonists of human purity and are the symbol of sin and temptation. The most famous picture of dragons in christian belief is of Saint George slaying a dragon that was previously only appeased by offerings. When the dragon wished for more, a princess, it was slain which represented how its greed led to its demise. The cultural influence on dragons were vastly different when compared to one another. Dragons evolved along with human’s desire of what they wished for dragons to be, which matches with Cohen’s Thesis I, stating that the monster’s body is a cultural body (Cohen 1996). Christian fears represented the dragon as a demon, while eastern beliefs represented dragons as more godly.
Dragons have different body types depending on how they evolved in different cultures and religions. According to thesis III of Jeffrey Cohen’s’ Monster Theory, monsters can not be categorized as only one thing (Cohen 1996). Although in modern society it is widely believed they are reptiles, western dragons have the most distinctive characteristics of certain mammals, reptiles, and birds. Western dragons have wings similar to those of a bat, which are mammals, have scales such as reptiles, and have the skeletal structure of a bird (Seeley 1901).
In comparison, eastern dragons are depicted as more serpent like creatures that do not have the characteristics of birds. Though they still have reptilian and mammalian characteristics, they do not have wings like western dragons, however they are still capable of flight. Many Chinese dragons have antlers from deer, no legs like snakes and serpents, and many differences body structure wise from western dragons. As dragons are a multitude of different parts from different species, cultures, and beliefs it goes beyond human understanding classifying them as a monster in human society’s point of view. This ties in to thesis III of Jeffrey Cohen’s’ Monster Theory, monsters can not be categorized as only one thing (Cohen 1996). As humans are incapable of categorizing the beast, it instills fear into the human conscience because they are beyond what human beings can or try to understand.
Modern representations of dragons are shown through films such as The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien. In the film the dragon, Smaug, is shown as a greedy all powerful dragon who is capable of destroying entire kingdoms and burning all who oppose him. Smaug takes a castle with a countless amount of gold from a kingdom of dwarves for the sole purpose of taking the gold to satisfy his greed. The dragon has no use for the gold whatsoever, however he simply wants it for the sole purpose of having it. This is a representation of how in modern era dragons are seen as, similar to the christian representations, the embodiment of endless greed and desires. When his greed is challenged he destroys everything in his path in a rage demonstrating how powerful and fearsome dragons are and can be. He destroys a whole town before he is hit by an arrow in his only weak point, demonstrating that the beast would have been unstoppable had it not been for that one lucky chink in his armor. When he is killed it is a demonstration of how Smaug’s greed and fury led to his demise, just like the story of Saint George. Smaug is shown to be a dragon created from the beliefs of western culture and christian religion as the physical body is based off of western dragons and the symbolism is based off of christian religion.
The dragons from Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin are very similar to Smaug, however have some differences. The dragons are unable to speak as Smaug did, and they lack the impenetrable armor that he had. Though the dragons are very strong, they are able to be killed and injured without having a chink in their armor, which is shown throughout the series. These dragons are seen as monsters by all their enemies and allies alike, however the mother of the dragons Daenerys, who is human, sees them as her children. Daenerys describes the beasts as beautiful, majestic, and loyal while others see the dragons as terrifying, brutal, and powerful beyond measure. This matches thesis VII of Cohen’s Monster Theory as it shows that how we perceive monsters can be different (Cohen 1996). Daenerys sees them as her lovely children while others see them as terrifying beasts. This representation is similar to the way the east and the west depict dragons. The eastern beliefs are similar to those of Daenerys, that dragons are beautiful and divine, whereas the western and christian beliefs see as the other characters in the show see the dragons, strong and terrifying. Through this, it shows how different perspectives on the dragon can lead to different opinions of what they symbolize and what they are described as.
Smaug and the dragons from Game of Thrones are both perfect representations of how monsters are influenced by different beliefs and perspectives. On one side they are seen as greedy and evil such as Smaug, and on the other they may be seen as beautiful and loyal such as the dragons from Game of Thrones. Both dragons represent humans. Smaug represents the desire for wealth and power, while the other dragons represent our desire to be divine and loyal to whatever it is we hold dear. As both the beliefs of eastern and western dragons coincide with these dragons,
Cheetham, Dominic. “Dragons in English: The Great Change of the Late Nineteenth Century.” Children’s Literature in Education, vol. 45, no. 1, Mar. 2014, pp. 17–32. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1007/s10583-013-9201-z. Accessed 14 November 2018
Dragons in English is a scholarly source written by Dominic Cheetham, who is a professor in literature specializing in the meanings of stories and folklore. He writes of how dragons are seen as very similar representations throughout the globe during the 19th century. He addresses how the cultural changes from eastern and western beliefs affected the view of dragons. I used this source to investigate the meaning of eastern dragons and how the compared to western dragons.
“Dragons of the Air.” Google Books, books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=P4k4AAAAMAAJ&oi=fnd&pg=PR11&dq=dragons&ots=B_pDX4D2RJ&sig=iPYa8ZUf8Zrk36e9dll-7Bg8DBA#v=onepage&q=dragons&f=false.
Dragons of the Air is a scholarly written book written by Harry Govier Seeley, a British paleontologist. He writes of all the fossils relating to reptilian animals and accounts for the structure of them addressing how their flying myth came to be. He demonstrates how the limbs, bones, lungs, and all the prehistoric body parts play a role in the belief of dragons. I used this to achieve a better understanding of the historical body parts that dragons are believed to have.
“Game of Thrones.” IMDb, IMDb.com, 17 Apr. 2011, http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0944947/?ref_=nv_sr_1?ref_.
Game of Thrones is a television show that has greatly increased dragon popularity in modern culture by showing their strength and fearsomeness. Although it is now a show it originated from a novel written by George R. R. Martin, an american novelist, who specializes in fantasy and horror genres. In his work he represents dragons as a powerful beast that has been extinct for a very long time, which correlates to many beliefs today. The dragons in his show and book are created after the western dragon and is the exact depiction of the dragons mentioned in my essay. I used this as a reference to how dragons look, according to western beliefs, and how powerful they would be.
Cohen, Jeffrey Jerome. Monster Theory: Reading Culture. University of Minnesota Press, 1997.
Monster Theory is a novel written by Jeffrey Cohen, a professor of english and director of medieval studies. Cohen uses 7 theories to help define what a monster is or is seen as. The theories are used to help the reader analyze what monsters are and what they represent. His theories also goes into the whereabouts, origins, and popularity of monsters and how they change as culture changes. This is used as the basis of the essay as we must relate the monster to these theories.
SomeDisneyGuy. “The Hobbit Trilogy.” IMDb, IMDb.com, 19 Apr. 2017, http://www.imdb.com/list/ls069544617/.
The Hobbit and it’s 2 sequels are movies based off of novels written by J. R. R. Tolkien, an english writer and philologist who specializes in written medieval stories. In the movies on of the main antagonists is a dragon known as Smaug. Smaug is a dragon that is capable of speech and has taken over an entire kingdom. Smaug is shown as a ferocious and greedy dragon who will destroy all that stand in his path or desire for treasure. I will use this in my essay to represent how dragons have evolved along with culture to show that they too have human traits.