You know, I call this blog “A Toast to Dragons,” but I don’t write about dragons very often. I do, occasionally, but not so much that the title of the blog is obviously justified. I tend to write more about vampires… but that’s largely because I wrote a fantasy book about a vampire (entitled “Drasmyr”—hint hint)So, in the spirit of designing a blog-specific post, I’m going to rant a little bit about what I think constitutes the “standard dragon.”
There are typically two general variations of dragons: the Western style dragon, and the Eastern style (Asian) dragon. In the west, dragons were largely seen as evil creatures. They would capture fair maidens, sit on piles of treasure, and gobble up all the brave knights who came along trying to rescue the fair maiden or retrieve the hoard. Eastern dragons were different. And to be honest, I am not as well-versed in the lore of Eastern dragons as I am in Western. However, I know this much: Eastern dragons were largely regarded as powerful spiritual forces. Almost like quasi-deities. Generally, they weren’t evil, but they did demand a certain degree of respect and it was very unwise to anger a dragon. I also read recently on the web (here, in fact), that dragons are regarded as a strong Yang force. I used to know a little about Eastern philosophy, not a lot, but a little. The yin and yang were the two fundamental forces of the universe: opposites that germinate within each other: light and dark; male and female; etc… These days I kind of get confused between the specifics of yin versus yang, but it is interesting to note the connection with dragons. Anyway, like I said, I am much more familiar with the Western dragon.
Western dragons were universally evil. As this was the root of Christendom, Western dragons were seen as symbolic of Satan. And that’s not a good thing. There’s that whole bit in Revelations where the red dragon in the sky is waiting to devour the baby. You don’t negotiate with a dragon like that; you either kill it or run away. But if you are going to pit yourself against a dragon, you’ve got to be prepared. To that end, it helps to get an idea of what you might be up against.
Dragons are large reptilian-like creatures… I think I would actually hesitate to call them reptiles because they tend to have a number of “special” abilities. Anyway, like I said, they are huge. They give new meaning to the expression “terrible lizard” derived from dinosaurs. I would pit most dragons against a T-rex any day of the week. Of course, some myths have smaller dragons. I’ve seen old paintings of St. George and the dragon where the dragon in question is only slightly larger than a horse. To me, that’s just a drake. A dragon’s got to be the size of a house or it doesn’t count.
For weapons, they have a few. Specifically, they have clawed appendages (generally at least two sets, or four, or even more); they also have mouths ringed with large saber-like teeth (probably T-rex sized, at least); they usually have wings (this allows them to fly—which is a great advantage—and it allows them to smack the heck out of you if get too close); they can breathe fire (or some other breath weapon according to the tradition: going with the old AD&D dragons, they usually had one of the following breath weapons: acid, poison gas, frost, lightning, and fire—I’m sure there were actually more options, but I can’t remember them all); sometimes (again, going with AD&D) they can use magic… like they really need to, right?; some dragons can polymorph into just about whatever they want; sometimes the dragons generate fear—but that could just be an attack of common sense; and last, but not least, Smaug in particular had his voice: he could kind of beguile into divulging stuff you didn’t want to, just by talking to you. I’m sure the list can actually go on and on. I think the rule of thumb: if you see a dragon, run away. I think Smaug is my favorite dragon of all time. He’s just the classic beastie: great pile of treasure, nearly invulnerable (alas, only nearly), and with an appropriately arrogant and self-serving attitude.
Anyway, those are my thoughts on dragons for the day.
Today I’m doing a bit extra (this is the third post today—make sure you check out the others). As part of their Scary October series, we’re running a promotion at the Mywithershins blog. Basically, Mywithershins is running a series of posts based on frightful October—all things related to vampires, zombies, witches, and what have you. We’ve posted a blurb and an excerpt from my novel Drasmyr at the blog. So make sure you check out Mywithershins and show them your support.
I stumbled upon this concept while traipsing across the Internet the other day. The blogger was talking (here’s the link) about vampires in Magic the Gathering and the like. She mentioned how vampirism, although it affects humans most commonly, can affect other species. She mentioned dragons as one such species. And that just gives me shivers.
Why, oh why, would you want to take two things as powerful as a dragon and a vampire, and combine them? I mean, I can’t imagine anything worse to fight short of a deity. I mean, a fire-breathing, spell-using, killing machine, plated with armor and possessing deadly claws and teeth. Then, you add the abilities of a vampire on top of that? A dragon that can only be killed by a wooden stake through the heart? I mean, seriously, how do you stake an armor plated dragon with a shaft of wood? Please, Mr. Dragon, remove the scaly hide that protects your heart so I can drive this flimsy shaft of wood in. Oh, and the dragon can become a cloud of mist; it can polymorph into a variety of forms… look at that tiny little bat. What do you mean, it’s not really a bat? (Of course, in some traditions dragons already have the ability to polymorph, or can even assume gaseous form)
I remember in AD&D there were these creatures called Dracoliches, which were a form of undead dragon. And as a lich was pretty much the most powerful undead, a Dracolich was one of the most powerful creatures you could encounter. We fought one or two in our day. Nasty critters. Reminds me of the days when all I ever rolled for saving throws was a 1 or a 2. Anyway, a dragon vampire would be pretty much about the same thing. Maybe not quite as powerful, but I certainly wouldn’t want to face one. In 2nd edition AD&D, vampires drained 2 levels with a touch. Could you imagine fighting a dragon that did that? With multiple attacks? Claw, claw, bite (and wing buffet, wing buffet, tail lash for complete measure). In one round, your 13th level butt-kicking warrior prince is reduced to a first level greenhorn. Next thing you know, you’re a snack.
I suppose the balancing factor would be the weaknesses. A dragon that is destroyed by sunlight or running water would have to be very careful. He wouldn’t have to worry about invitations, though. He could just destroy any building he couldn’t enter, so no one could hide in it. And, of course, there’s holy objects. It would be nice to have a powerful high priest around when facing a dragon vampire.
But the real mystery of the dragon vampire is: where did the first one come from? A normal vampire couldn’t kill a dragon (well, if you have level draining, maybe), so how did the first one come about? Was it just some crazy wizard doing foolish experiments? That seems the most plausible explanation to me. But you would have to be really crazy, and a little stupid, to dabble in that!
In the interest of furthering human understanding on such an important topic, and in an extension of my previous Fantasy Monster Fights, most notably of the Vampire vs. the Werewolf, we must contemplate the result of a fight between a dragon and… well, anything else. Perhaps I display my biases here, but to me, a dragon is the ultimate killing machine. Or at least, it should be. I have always loved dragons. In my early childhood, I was a great fan of dinosaurs, and this naturally evolved into a love of dragons. Dragons rule! Hence, the name of my website: “A Toast to Dragons.”
Anyway, back to the discussion. What makes dragons so formidable? Well, I think good ol’ Smaug from J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit” said it best: “My armour is like tenfold shields, my teeth are swords, my claws spears, the shock of my tail a thunderbolt, my wings a hurricane, and my breath death!” Truly, a devastating array of attributes. And if we go further, and draw from the AD&D tradition, dragons are also capable of spell-use. As if they needed it. What could possibly stand before one?
A vampire? I think not. A full blast of flaming breath would reduce one to dusty ash. A werewolf? Him neither. The dragon has the size and strength to rip him apart with ease. A zombie? Heck, I’ll give you fifty zombies; nay, a hundred, and I’ll still vote with the dragon. Oh, I forgot to mention that dragons can fly. So, it could be a thousand zombies, and as long as they were land-bound (which zombies generally are), they wouldn’t stand a chance. The dragon would just fly above them, and breathe fire, incinerating them in large swathes until all were gone. To be honest, the only creatures that I think would give a dragon trouble, or might actually beat a dragon, would be a demon. Like… like… Lubrochius, the Eater of Souls (hah! I had to get a plug in for my book somewhere! J ) And if you are pitting them against demons, you could just as easily pit them against an angel or a god. But that’s really stretching the monster resource bag. I mean, really? Must we reach into the afterlife to find a sufficiently powerful foe to contend with?
No, dragons are the apex predators. They are just too big, too strong, too well-protected, and too-capable with their breath and spells. Oh, again with the AD&D tradition, there’s also things like generating fear and such. But that doesn’t seem to be so much a magical ability, as it is the preponderance of common sense that overtakes a victim once he sees a dragon. It’s a dragon! Run for your lives!
And so, the dragon is and always shall be the undisputed ruler of all fantasy worlds. In my humble opinion, that is.
I received the book “The Last Great Wizard of Yden” by S.G. Rogers as a prize from a web-site contest. I read it, and figure I’ll review it here. It was in ebook format, and I read it on my phone.
The book tells the story of Jon Hansen whose father is kidnapped and whisked to a parallel dimension by the evil wizard Efysian. It has magic, wizards, dragons, and a number of mystical beings.
I’m hoping it was intended for a young audience (13 or 14), because it would be an enjoyable book for that reading level. Not so much for a more mature or sophisticated audience. Although there was a lot of good humor in it, and as an adult reader, I don’t think it was bad, but the writing was a little weak. The story was there. All the sentences, individually, were perfectly respectable sentences (although perhaps S.G. Rogers used a little too much passive tense), but the whole was lacking something. The descriptions were not very vivid. On the plus side, because there was so little vivid description, a lot of ground is covered in the book. But the epic battle at the end, a perfect opportunity to show off one’s writing talent, took place in no more than two paragraphs.
Beyond the flaws in the writing, there were a couple flaws in the story. The most egregious was the character of Efysian. All sorts of references were made to him suggesting he was a great and powerful wizard, nearly invincible… but it was never explained why. I wanted to know how come he was so powerful; what was his story? Those details were lacking, and that had a significant negative effect on the book—not one that I think the very young would notice, but I, as an adult, found it somewhat irritating.
Overall, I would give this maybe two and a half stars to possibly three out of five for an adult reader. However, if the audience is a younger group (say 12 or 13), I’d give it four out five stars. It was funny, clean, and a decent adventure.
This review was originally posted on Shelfari.com on 3-26-2012.