All cultures and continents with human habitation have dragon stories. And mariners have seen aquatic dragons for thousands of years.
Ride the Dragon
Dragons have been abundant in myth, folklore, and art for thousands of years across many cultures. After considering this cross-cultural phenomenon, I decided that the dragon is such an omnipresent force in the human consciousness because of dinosaurs. Dinosaur fossils are real and occur in many places across the face of the Earth. I once had the opportunity to visit the fossil museum at the
, a state rich in dinosaur fossils, and had the pleasure of viewing a Tyrannosaurus Rex skull at eye level. The colossal jaws and the dagger teeth bigger than carving knives and the empty eye sockets that stared at me from eons ago bit into my psyche and left a permanent impression. I can still see that skull clearly in my mind many years later. Looking upon this immense and dangerous beast and knowing that it had once been alive let me see into a world that had been ruled by forces so different than today. Mighty sinew and muscle and monstrous teeth guided by hungry intelligent eyes had once held sway upon distant primeval wilds.
I can imagine how our ancient human ancestors looked upon dinosaur fossils and interpreted them as dragons. They would not necessarily have decided that they were fossils of extinct creatures from millions of years ago. Ancient people could have easily assumed that they were looking at the bones of a creature that was still a living species. The world was not as populated a few thousand years ago and the wildernesses between civilizations were vast and stark. No one could know for certain what dwelled on the face of the Earth, nor could they dispute stories that were told of fearsome dragons.
I think that it is in no way coincidental that dragons have been a fixture in Chinese culture for thousands of years. Places in
are renowned for their extensive fields of dinosaur fossils.
In ancient and pre-modern times, nature and animals played a much more central role in people’s lives than they do today. The dragon presents itself as a perfect animal for legend, myths, and art. It embodies rarity and magic, and the power of the dragon can be turned toward good or evil. In literature, we seem to either want to ride dragons or slay them. To ride the dragon is to harness its power, which is a popular concept used in countless stories, most notably the classic series “Dragonriders of Pern” by Anne McCaffrey and the recent “Inheritance” trilogy by Christopher Paolini that tells of the adventures of Eragon and the dragon Saphira.
To slay the dragon represents the triumph of human strength over the greater forces of nature. In such stories the dragon is evil and greedy and blocking the progress of humanity.
The first dragon I ever got to know was Smaug from “The Hobbit” by J.R.R. Tolkien. I loved him lying upon his hoard of treasure and I valued the metaphor in the story of something so big and powerful being defeated by the smallest chink in its armor.
However you want to look at dragons and their lore, the fact remains that dragons make for good stories. The popularity of dragon books and movies is evidence of this as is the frequent need for people to link themselves with dragon power by applying the image of a dragon to their bodies with dragon tattoos.
The articles at this website explore dragon history, Chinese dragons, dragon slaying stories, design trends for dragon tattoos, and rare or extinct creatures that inspired dragon legends, including the fascinating Mokele-mbembe.