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Why My Dragons Aren’t Nice

February 22, 2013

I’ve noticed two distinct types of dragons in fantasy literature. The first is an evil, demonized creature that must be defeated to save the kingdom. This beast breathes fire and destroys villages before making off with the sheep. The second is the benevolent dragon that is a companion to the hero and often attached by some sort of bond that links dragon and protagonist/rider. It gets scratched behind the ear by small children and purrs in the presence of old women. In my series, Ashandor Chronicles, I write about a dragon that has a deep bond with its rider, but still retains the base instincts of a dangerous predator. I’ll take a moment to explain why I chose to break away from the normal tropes.

First, I believe that dragons were real creatures, not simple folk-tales of fire-breathing monsters meant as lessons on morality, or fables used to bolster the status of warriors and knights. The fisherman may embellish the story, but in the end, he did catch a fish. I am talking about European dragons that have always been portrayed in historical writings as dangerous beasts that destroy entire villages and wreak havoc on the countryside. There are too many stories that share gross similarities to make the mistake of rejecting them offhand.

The early Celts, Vikings, and later English spin tales of dragons that were battled to bring about peace in the realm, and the stories share many common descriptions. In the Apocrypha, Bel and the Dragon, purported to be a chapter of the Book of Daniel, is centered on the Prophet’s destruction of an evil dragon worshiped as a god, and I am certain it was rejected from the Canon because of the dragon reference. The Church is funny that way. In all of these accounts, though, the nature of dragons remains consistent. They are malicious and dangerous beasts that prey upon a mankind helpless against the monsters’ strength and ire until the arrival of a warrior who is able, only through herculean effort and sometimes self-sacrifice, to vanquish the nearly indestructible foe. Thus, the hero is born.

With this as a historical basis, I found it interesting to present a world where dragons, while bonded to riders for the protection of Ashandor, kept their dangerous qualities and predatory natures. This provides a great opportunity for additional conflict in the plot. The people have a base fear of dragons that bolsters their respect for the Guardsmen’s ability to control such awesome power, but the downside is frightening and deadly. If someone drops their guard and gets too close, there is the very real possibility that they will be killed, and that is a great conflict for the story. When the protector slaughters the protected there will be a price to pay, and confidence in those who direct that power will be undermined.

In the Ashandor Chronicles, I wanted to show an untamed, animal instinct that could not only be released in battle, but also had to be constantly monitored and controlled for the sake of the safety of innocent villagers. I see this as an allegory to governments/monarchies. While they supposedly exist as a necessity for the sake of a civilized society, that same society must constantly be on guard that the government’s power is never free to be unleashed upon the people it is entrusted to protect. If the citizens, who have a symbiotic bond with the government, turn a blind eye to its actions, the populace will be consumed by the beast’s innate nature to control and consume through an unchecked power that is animalistic in every sense of the word. In Ashandor, Guardsmen shoulder the heavy burden of controlling their dragons’ predatory urges. In our world, that task falls on the shoulders of the voting public and demands unfailing vigilance.

Cute and cuddly is fine, I guess, but I prefer my beasts to be portrayed as having sharp teeth, ripping talons, and a voracious appetite for the local population. That seems to most accurately fit the historical record of all dragons – winged, crowned, and elected.

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