Yes, yes, yes, to some degree, the popularity of dragons has led to an overabundance of them within the fantasy genre. And if you’ve read enough books where the dragons are poorly done or seem tacked-in, it can get exhausting to read about.
I sympathise with readers who tire of the same things over and over again (and I’m not just talking about dragons!). Still, most things that are popular gain that popularity for a reason.
Simply put, dragons are pretty badass. Fire-breathing reptiles with dominance over the skies? Sign me up. Assuming it’s not me they’re going to burn.
Often times, however, dragons in world mythologies didn’t exist because they were simply cool. They were sources of fear, respect, or reverence, sometimes more than one.
But where did the idea of dragons come from?
People have asked about the birth of dragons within human consciousness for years without finding a satisfactory answer. I’m not going to provide any groundbreaking ideas on this matter, as that’s not the goal of this blog post, but I do want to be clear that their history is a lot foggier than many would like.
It is difficult to explain how mythologies of fierce dragons popped up—pardon my terrible example—like agriculture, which was individually developed, created, and implemented around the world thousands of years ago.
There are several theories, however, one being the ancient discoveries of dinosaur bones. Although in our day and age, we can explain and understand ancient bones with science and well-developed identification techniques.
Thousands of years ago, though? People likely saw these strange, deceased creatures as proof of terrifying monsters that eventually developed into the fire-breathing-baby-stealing dragons we see today.
Although that theory is less popular than others, it does hold some merit. We do use our surroundings and discoveries to make sense of the world around us, after all.
A more likely conclusion is that ancient peoples embellished upon the fears of real, live, animals like snakes, crocodiles, and other reptiles. Snakes and crocodiles especially, in some parts of the world, would have attributed to many deaths and were worshipped by many civilizations.
It’s difficult to deny the influence snakes have had on dragons all over the world, at least. Dragons from China, Japan, and other Eastern countries are often described and depicted as serpentine.
Naga from Hindu and Buddhist mythologies are semi-divine, snakelike creatures from the underworld and can sometimes take human form. They’re said to be depictions of the king cobra, and Naga in Sanskrit means cobra or snake.
There are many more examples, but I wanted to save most of the specific dragon talk for further along in the post.
Interesting enough, serpentine dragons aren’t something we often see in the West, if at all. Western dragons take on a reptilian appearance, perhaps more in line with depictions of dinosaurs different predators feared by ancient Western cultures.
Not only do the appearances of dragons differ between the West and East, they often manifest different properties as well. Chinese dragons, for example, often appear in mythologies as benevolent forces bringing rain for the growth of crops or mediators of storms.
Meanwhile, dragons in the West are often depicted as vicious beasts to be overcome by a hero. There are exceptions to this, of course, but I’ll show you some examples…