Today, in part 3, I’ll address dragons as part of popular media, and a special note on wyverns, as well as the dragons from my own books and Yumihari World!
Dragons have been a part of popular media for generations. Thousands of years, really, if you think about it—many dragon myths and stories surviving today were popular back when they were written! But now, dragons transcend poetic epics and fairy tales into more immersive novels, television, and video games. Dragons are everywhere in fantasy, and it’s really no wonder since it’s no small feat to find someone who vehemently hates them.
The overabundance of dragons has caused some people to dislike them, though. Dragons have become one of those concepts that writers throw into their worlds “because they’re cool” rather than because they are a functional piece of the story and world. It doesn’t help that many of the dragons we see in popular literature (at least in North America) are distinctly Westernized versions of dragons and don’t include the incredible variety displayed worldwide.
Like many dragons from traditional Western mythology, dragons in popular fiction became simple, bestial objects for the hero to slay. Boring!
I think we, as readers of fantasy and lovers of dragons, have moved past that. I think that’s in part why the dragons from Christopher Paolini’s Eragon and Anne McCaffery’s Dragonriders of Pern were so popular; they have those distinct human elements that at least make them relatable and sympathetic. They’re not just brainless caricatures: they have their own personalities and desires, and strongly linked with the beloved main characters of the series.
Although these series are wonderful in that regard, they are still Westernized dragons, even if they can be friendly. They’re just… slightly less murderous scaled balls of fiery death.
I think this is part of what has always bothered me about the dragons from Game of Thrones. Not only are they yet another popular Westernized version of dragons, but they’re also lacking the companionability often enjoyed from those other series. Now, that’s not to say that I don’t like the dragons from Game of Thrones, or that they’re horrible and lacking personality because that’s not true. It’s evident to anyone who has watched the show or read the books that Dany has a bond with her dragons.
I haven’t read all of the backstories on Westeros’ dragons or the Targaryens yet, but from what I have read, there is evidence that other Targaryens have shared similar bonds with their dragons. Dany isn’t a fluke. After all, if the Targaryens’ dragons were completely wild, they wouldn’t have been able to use them to keep an iron hold on Westeros for many generations.
I do, honestly, love the idea of a royal family having exclusive access to dragons and using that to maintain power. If anything, the dragons being a little wild and not completely tamed beasts makes them more exciting. Still, as cool as that is, I always wished they were a bit more dynamic. That is why I loved the undead ice dragon from the infamous eighth season of the TV show.
In general, I try not to hold the lacking variety against the series too much. It’s very obvious that the series is meant to be a revisioning of the West (it’s in the name) and, I believe, partially inspired by the War of the Roses.
If I’m perfectly honest, there’s only one series off the top of my head (that I’ve read) where the dragons are obviously inspired by Chinese dragons, not Western dragons. Even the “Chinese” dragon in Harry Potter is a Western dragon; a wyvern, I’d guess, although the illustrations are inconsistent. That’s not really a surprise, though, is it?
The series I’m talking about would be Eon and Eona, a duology written by Alison Goodman. Although I enjoyed the books when I read them five years ago, I’m sure it’s not the best representation—I’ve learned a lot since then and remember few details about the books besides the cool dragons.
There are two other books/series that I suspect have different kinds of dragons in them: It would make sense for the third book in the Shadow of the Fox trilogy by Julie Kagawa to have Japanese dragons (or a dragon in it, at least; the book is, after all, titled Night of the Dragon). I haven’t read past the first book yet, so I couldn’t say for sure. And, of course, The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon, which has an awesome-looking dragon on the cover, and I’ve heard has multiple dragon species inside. I hope to learn what exactly that entails by reading the book by the end of 2020… but we’ll see if I get around to that.
Anywho, you can likely see the problem. I know there are more books these days that have other kinds of dragons in them, and that I probably just haven’t found them. I’m not going to conclusively claim that they don’t exist, because that would be a blatant lie. English is definitely not the only language in the world, despite what some people seem to think, and I’m willing to bet there are lots of cool dragon variants written in Chinese and Japanese literature, for example.
If you know of any books—new or old, famous or a hidden gem, indie or traditional—with dragons that veer away from the many cliches of basic fire-breathing lizards, I’ll gladly take your recommendations and gobble them up as soon as possible!
It does suck that there isn’t a larger pool of dragon types displayed in popular literature. Some people might be happy with what we’ve got, but others are getting bored, and then there’s just me… sad that so many people are missing out!
Some of my favourite dragons from popular media actually come from the video game Guild Wars 2. Although they undeniably reflect a Western perspective of dragons—the main story of the game involves defeating several world-bending dragon gods—that does not stop these dragons from being unique and exciting in their own right. It helps that there’s also helpful dragons thrown in the mix!
The Elder Dragons in the world of Tyria each manifest their powers in extraordinary ways. For example, the first dragon encountered in the main storyline is the Elder Dragon Zhaitan, the dragon of death and shadow. It quite literally breathes death, creating zombie minions on a whim. Zhaitan is a zombified dragon (not unlike a certain dragon from Game of Thrones), and survives by consuming the magical energy brought to it by zombie servants.
(uh, just look at this thing!)
Pretty cool, huh?
The other Elder Dragons in Tyria are equally as impressive—all of them have the power to create minions of their associated element, and one is essentially the father of an entire sentient humanoid race… which you can play as! Although I will disclose that among the ranks of the Elder Dragons, there is a Big Baddie Fire Dragon. He’s not quite as lame as the typical, stupid fire-breathing lizards, as his element seems to be more of magma, lava, and earth than just plain fire.
I think the common perception when dragons are called “boring” and “over-used” in popular media (especially books and video games) is that those dragons are often carbon copies of fire-breathing badness and don’t attempt a new spin on things. If more dragons took new, unique forms (even if they are still Westernized), more people would be entertained by them.
That’s kind of where my interest in Eastern dragons stemmed from and why I set out to create something different from the Big Baddie Fire Dragon that we usually see in fantasy. Thus, the Yumihari World and the Wyvern Wars series was born. Although none of those books have been released as of writing this (and the Yokai Calling series doesn’t lean into the dragon element too heavily just yet), there are plenty of dragons inspired by the large range already existing across our real-world cultures.
Personally, I’ve always had a soft spot for dragons. Learning more about dragons from different cultures and their mythologies has only solidified that interest. I wouldn’t have created the Yumihari world, which includes both a Dragon Goddess and a Wyvern God, if I didn’t want to explore the possibilities of including dragons in my own stories.
So what about dragons and wyverns in Yumihari?
I’ve avoided discussing wyverns up until this point even though I could have easily included them when discussing dragons in Western culture. From everything I have read about wyverns, they seem to be of English origin and often appear in medieval emblems and coat-of-arms. According to Wikipedia, the dragon in the Beowulf epic is a wyvern and the dragon is portrayed as such in the 2007 Beowulf movie.
However, having read the Beowulf epic several times myself (although just a translated version), and several academic papers about dragons, including the dragon in Beowulf, I’m not inclined to believe it is a wyvern. It’s most likely a lindworm or another more snakelike dragon. But perhaps that’s a debate for another time—the point I wanted to make is that wyverns are European, a construct of Western culture. They are also—strangely enough, but also not strange at all—how we’d classify the dragons in the Game of Thrones TV show… wyverns, not standard four-legged dragons.
On that note, it seems that wyverns are becoming the new standard in film and animation. I read something about them being easier to animate because artists can use birds and bats as references, but I don’t know that for certain. (Another topic for me to write about in the future, heh.)
If you look at Spirit of the Dragon and other stories in the Yumihari world, you’ll probably realize that the main characters’ homeland is inspired by Japan (and as other nations come into the mix, I’ll start introducing elements inspired by China, Korea, and more). As a result, the Western connotation of wyverns seems out of place.
Although I crafted my dragons with Japanese myth in mind, the good and the bad, I hadn’t created my wyverns under the influence of any specific culture or mythology. They’ve ended up as an amalgamation of traits I wished I saw more often in fictionalized versions of dragons… but instead of trying to explain that in detail, I’ll give give a brief overview of the differences between dragons and wyverns in the Yumihari world.
It’s also worth clarifying again that these two types of ‘dragons’ aren’t the only dragons that exist! These just represent the primary theological divide that enraptures the world; there are many subspecies still and, of course, varieties that aren’t included in this conflict at all.
As children of the Dragon Goddess, Shirashi, dragons are associated with rain, thunder, and storms. True dragons have the appearance of traditional Japanese and Chinese dragons with long, snake-like bodies, four legs, and no wings. Half-dragons or warlocks who have the ability to call to their dragon blood and turn into a dragon will usually retain this serpentine form, but sometimes they will have small wings.
Each dragon has a unique power or a trait that they’re known for; no two are exactly alike. It’s part of what made dragons such fearsome adversaries: no one ever knew the extent of a dragon’s power unless the creature was open about it, which very few were. Still, the people of Seiryuu (the homeland of the main characters in the Yokai Calling series) came to worship the dragons because of their power. Dragons are, for the most part, benevolent, but can easily be spurred to rage through disrespect.
To be fair, even if Seiryuu had wanted to resist the adoption of dragons into their way of life, they would have been powerless to do so. (I’ll just leave that there for you eagle-eyed readers to consider). Now, all modern forms of power in Seiryuu derive from dragons: the first majyu received their power in the form of blessings from the Dragon Goddess, and the warlocks that eventually came to rule Seiryuu were the blood of Shirashi and her dragons.
Even so, dragons have not been spotted in Seiryuu or anywhere for over a hundred years. Few know where the dragons have gone, but the memory of them clings to Seiryuu, where dragon worship is still incredibly normal.
Several other nations in the world also follow the Dragon Goddess, most notably those previously colonized by the Warlock Empire, although none of those places are described in any real detail until the Wyvern Wars books come along. The country/continent of Sānlóngguó is of significance, however! Their people believe in a primary pantheon of three dragons: Shirashi, a third dragon (that’s a bit of a secret right now), and the Wyvern God, Ozeki.
There are, of course, also many places that completely favour the Wyvern God or other minor kami and dragons who have broken away from Ozeki and Shirashi completely.
The wyverns are children of the Wyvern God, but they are not necessarily beasts of fire. Wyverns, unlike dragons (which are all related to water, thunder, and associated elements), come in all sorts of elemental variations, excluding water and ice, and have more volatile personalities. The way wyverns come into being and gain their power is also completely different from dragons; although they are inherently powerful, wyverns also gain a lot of their strength from the environment.
That is, depending on the climate and terrain of their point of origin (or birthplace), and the worshippers from which they draw their power—their elemental association will differ. Sand, poison, and fire are just a couple of many possibilities. The most powerful noroi (that is, the Seiryan word for wyvern-blooded sorcerers), the ones that can transform into wyverns, can even change their elements. Not necessarily on a whim—but, well, you’ll eventually see that in the books.
Wyverns are less fond of humans than dragons but are also more inclined to take their power through force. Their nature is not necessarily good or evil, either, they can quickly switch between the two depending on their mood and interactions. Wyverns, unlike dragons, are common in most neutral lands or within those empowered by the Wyvern God’s favour. In the Shimensokan continent, this means all living wyverns remain in the east, within the lands of Tajida, Adazüyük, and more generally, the massive Blithe Desert. Ozeki is also the god of the notorious kan’thir, who mostly reside in the Yaotlan Islands off of the eastern shore of Shimensoka.
Ozeki’s influence isn’t just limited to that small space, of course. He and Shirashi have been in a constant war over territory since the creation of Yumihari, but I won’t go into any more detail for today. If you’re curious to know more, you can get a headstart and read the Yokai Calling books while you wait for the first Wyvern Wars novel to come out in 2021! Spirit of the Dragon is available for free on my website, Amazon, and most online book retailers.
This concludes this three-part series on dragon mythology, but this is far from my last post about dragons. Indeed… in August, I started working on an entire book of dragon mythology! Although I can’t talk too much about that yet, it does mean that I’m currently planning loads more dragon-related content over the coming months leading up to and after the release.
But, like I said, in more manageable, bite-sized chunks rather than these massive essay-style posts. Either way, my research on dragons will never be complete, so I’ll always have more to write about. What exactly all of this entails, though… well, you’ll just have to wait and see what comes next to find out!