6 March 2019
One of the most legendary mythical creatures out there are dragons. Not only does every nation have their own version of a dragon, but it goes much further as symbolism, and to strike fear into those who stray. Each dragon isn’t fire breathing or killing live stock in the night because theres been an evolution of this beast as well as new images over different cultures and religions. This is also a creature who has a long history dating back to the ancient Greeks, but I will give a couple of the earliest examples known to man. Although many have claimed to have found real dragon bones and evidence, later it has been disproven and there is still no concrete evidence to suggest a flying reptile with large teeth and barbed tail once lived.
Dragons have a long standing history and have been studied by millions around the world throughout time. I’ll be focusing on the religious sense first since thats were many monsters were created. Nobody knows were the first idea of the dragon came to be told, but we have an idea of were it was first written down. The first clues come from the bible through Christianity, the book of Job’s. In chapter 41 he writes,
“Its back has rows of shields tightly sealed together; each is so close to the next that no air can pass between. They are joined fast to one another; they cling together and cannot be parted. Its snorting throws out flashes of light; its eyes are like the rays of dawn. Flames stream from its mouth; sparks of fire shoot out. Smoke pours from its nostrils as from a boiling pot over burning reeds. Its breath sets coals ablaze, and flames dart from its mouth.”
This is a powerful description of a Leviathan which we now have called a Dragon. Everyone who followed religion would live in fear of such said beast if they ever strayed away from God, and was sometimes an analogy to use for the Devil. Thanks to Benjamin Radford he helps us see second earlier clue, the first to be painted by St.George about the Medieval Knights. Once they got there hands on this mythical creature they used it as an idea to guard the treasure of wealthiest people. These knights told tales of slaying such beast to boast the type of warrior they were, to tame a Leviathan could be the greatest achievement of all. At the spread of Christianity (St. George and Dragon by Paolo Uccello 1470) the idea of the dragon evolved from those who never read the book of Job’s and others who tweaked the story themselves. As more tales were told dragons become less of a fear and more of a bed time story. Their evolution now turns dragons into creatures who guard a princess in a tower, protect tons of gold, or have other abilities than to just breathe fire. Some countries now even celebrate the dragon just as the Chinese did in the year 2000, the year of the dragon. The history of this beast suggest the story of the dragon has not died and will continue to live on in many different renditions over each nation.
Theres more than just the first couple times dragons were first mentioned in the world, they also have a deeper meaning that has a further connection to religion and culture. Jeffery Jerome Cohen helps us understand with a couple different theories the origin of the monster of the dragon. Thesis II: The Monster Always Escapes can be related to the many different variations of dragons over many different cultures (Dr. Cohen 4). As the spread of Christianity took over Europe the story of the Leviathan takes on a different image. Not because people made things up, but they get lost in translation. In this sense the monster doesn’t escape just to terrorize like most dragons do, but the image escapes and takes on new meanings. Other cultures didn’t use the idea of a dragon for religious purposes, but the Chinese were about medicinal aspects. ”For using dragon’s bones….pound them to powder and put this in bags of gauze. Take a couple of young swallows….rub the powder and mix it into medicines for strengthening the kidneys. The efficacy of such a medicine is as it were divine!” (Chinese medical scholar Lei Xiao). The Asian culture didn’t use the idea of a dragon to strike fear into their people and instead treated the mythical creature as a cure. As Lei Xiao described in AD 450 it was a delicate procedure to use the bones then cure them to help the body and mind.
Now a days Dragons have taken on a very different image and meaning. In recent years there have been movies produced such as, “How to Train Your Dragon” by Sanders (et. al.) which turn a fire breathing dragon in a cartoon. This movie is based in Medieval Times just as earlier stories began for the dawn of man, but in this story dragons are no mythical beings. Initially the people treat dragons like beast that kill livestock and innocent others that stand in their way. As the story progresses they understand that the dragons were not at their own free will and the people’s perception changes. Instead of then hunting the creatures one boy learns to ride the dragon and treats it more like a pet than a flying killer. He then convinces the others in his village to join him and help the dragons fight the alpha who had been controlling them. The story concludes as they live in harmony in this feel good animated movie. This first movie was such a big hit a trilogy was produced making it a best selling animated movie about dragons that everyone could love. On the other hand there as still movies being produced with the original idea of ferocious fire breathing dragons who guard millions in gold. This rendition comes from the hit saga, “Lord of The Rings” by Peter Jackson who does a much better job keeping to the idea of what a true Leviathan should look like. He skipped not detail with Smaug (the dragon) being large tightly sealed scales, yellow eyes, fire breathing, and sharp thorny tail that wrecks havoc. This dragon also guards gold and sleeps until he is awoken by intruders. One thing thats a little different about Jacksons vision is that Smaug can actually speak English which is impressive for a 1,000yr old dragon. I also understand it builds the plot and creates a scarier version of what a dragon can be with a full conscious and understanding. The dragon was only slain from a brave nobel warrior with a steal arrow that measured over four feet in length while risking his own life to to save his family and village.
Dragons have come a long way in history starting with the ancient Greeks in biblical times and evolving to what most know them for in Medieval Times. Initially A dragon was meant as a sign of the Devil to scare those who would stray away from god and as the story spread and the world became more aware the story has changed. Cohen shows us a couple theories as to why dragons fit in the mythology of culture and why they return. This helps us better grasp the origin of the dragon and see the evolution of the idea. These ideas aren’t just made up to be fun and playful, but were made to strike fear into those who were naive. Dragons are no longer just beast to be scary, but have now turned into wise old dragons who guard treasure and hunt those who steal. As well as animated movies were they co-exist with villagers in the fight for a better future and win the hearts of all viewers. This mythical beast will always return in a new image for better or worse, but always for a new enjoyment on the big screen.
Cohen, Jeffrey Jerome. “Monster Culture: Seven Theses.” From Monster Theory: Reading Culture. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996. 3-25.
Benjamin Radford. Dragons: A Brief History of the Mythical, Fire Breathing Beast. https://www.livescience.com/25559-dragons.html. 11 April 2019
Job. Bible. 2000-1000BC.
Natural History of Dragons. 150 years American Museum of Natural History. https://www.amnh.org/exhibitions/mythic-creatures/dragons/natural-history-of-dragons. 21 April 2019.
Sanders, Chris, Dean Deblois, L W. Davies, Bonnie Arnold, America Ferrera, Christopher Mintz- Plasse, Craig Ferguson, Gerard Butler, Jay Baruchel, Jonah Hill, T J. Miller, Kristen Wiig, and Cressida Cowell. How to Train Your Dragon. United States: DreamWorks Animation, 2010.
Warner Bros. Pictures ; New Line Cinema and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures present a Wingnut Films production ; directed by Peter Jackson ; screenplay by Fran Walsh & Philippa Boyens & Peter Jackson & Guillermo del Toro ; produced by Carolynne Cunningham, Zane Weiner, Fran Walsh, Peter Jackson. The Hobbit : the Desolation of Smaug. Burbank, California :Distributed by Warner Home Video, 2014. Print.