Dragons are some of the most fascinating and persistently enduring creatures in world legend. They’re pretty hard to get wrong and most people don’t feel the need to tamper with them to any great deal, at least physically speaking. Most dragons in Western mythology and popular culture are of the big, fire breathing lizard variety. Sometimes they will be guarding a mountain of gold as well. This is particularly evident in older works like Beowulf, which has gone on to further influence the shape of the dragon, including Smaug, perhaps the most famous dragon of modern times. The Hobbit borrows heavily from the latter part of Beowulf, where Beowulf fights a dragon guarding a treasure of gold and gets himself killed. Tolkien even admitted this himself. This isn’t surprising when you realise that Tolkien was a scholar of Anglo Saxon literature and an expert on the former. Quite frankly, dragons are a bit badass and when using one you can’t go much wrong. Your story and your writing style can go wrong, just look at the film adaptation of Beowulf with Ray Winstone, but your dragon likely won’t be.
I like the idea of the dragon. They’re a good, formidable, mythological force of nature. Although I’m not obsessed with them, if I go back through my memories they turn up frequently in my life and in the things I do like.
Right now, for example, there is an ornamental dragon not far from my right shoulder- Ceilliau. I bought him in Chester eighteen months ago and named him after a mythical dragon in my own works. I’ve never gone into Ceilliau’s back story (only ever mentioned him) but writing this is making me think that I should. Across the room, level with my left shoulder, is another dragon- Goch. He’s less corporeal than Ceilliau, being as he is a picture printed on a mug. Goch, for anyone unaware, is the name of the red dragon of Wales. His full name is Y Ddraig Goch. I bought that mug on a long forgotten adventure to Llanberis, from the little shop of the National Slate Museum. There’s a crack in the handle but until it actually breaks off I’ll keep using it.
One of my earliest film favourites was The Sword in the Stone, which features Mad Madam Mim turning into a dragon towards the end. Otherwise it’s a pretty dragon free film. A more recent film which I have an affection for is How To Train Your Dragon. I first saw it on the television a few Christmases ago and I fell for it. For me it’s one of those perfect Christmas film. I would have loved to have watched that when I was a kid. If that was around when I was five I’d have gone hard for it. I’d have had a How to Train Your Dragon Lunchbox, HTTYD toys, the video game if one exists. I’d have searched out the books. I’d have walked off towards the mountains in search of my own real life Toothless… In fact I might just do that anyway. My next mountain trip will be a week long expedition to find a dragon.
Two dragon films stick out for me, however. One I saw at home, on the television, and the other at the cinema. The home film was Flight of Dragons, a bog standard high fantasy type film which I can remember for having particularly beautiful artwork. I look again now, now that the years have passed, and that doesn’t seem to quite be the case, it isn’t as good but maybe that’s because animation has improved an awful lot over the last few years. The other thing I remembered was the theme song. For some reason, in my head, it was sung by a woman. I’ve just listened to it again and it turns out to have been Don Mclean of American Pie fame. It’s a more awesome song than I ever expected. When I saw the film it was on Cartoon Network, a channel I wasn’t normally allowed to watch, and nobody else was around at the time (which is why I had Cartoon Network on.) Maybe I also remembered it for that reason, because I was watching it on the subversive.
The other film was for a friend’s birthday party back when I was six. It wasn’t a film I was especially keen to see but I went with it- Dragonheart. I remember everyone being given huge party trays of popcorn and I didn’t get through mine. I’m not a fan of popcorn. That was probably one of the most enjoyable cinema experiences I can recall though. I’ve never seen Dragonheart all the way through since, though I have seen snippets of it when it’s been on the television. It’s always come across in my head, since first watching it, as a bit corny. The trailer makes it look that way. But hey, I’ll watch Sean Connery as a dragon any day of the week, corny film or no.
My last dragon comes from literature, mythology more specifically. With this we’re going back to Wales and Arthur and that old story of Merlin, Vortigern and the white and red dragons. It was in a book I first took out from the regular library and which I then found in the school library. I only ever read the first chapter, never able to get any further, but that first chapter cemented itself into my brain. As I say, it was the story of the child Merlin and how he is kidnapped by Vortigern’s men and then uses the dragons to demonstrate how the native Britons will be victorious. In this version the dragons were buried under Mount Snowdon and not, as they are usually said to have been, under Dinas Emrys. Snowdon actually plays a very different part in Arthurian legend but for years I assumed that it was Snowdon where the dragons. I had a plan to one day go to Snowdon and find the dragons- In a way I did find a dragon there, or near there anyway. It’s to the left of me.
I’d never really thought about it before writing this but dragons have turned up again and again in my life. I’ve never thought of myself as having any particular fondness for dragons but looking back I find that I do have a slight love of them. I love The Hobbit and Beowulf- Beowulf was the first bit of ancient text I ever read cover to cover. There is all the above to contend with. Maybe in future I should keep an eye out for these dragons.