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Here Be Dragons

3 Dec

There is perhaps no fantasy creature that is as awesome, iconic and ubiquitous as the dragon, which is as popular in mythology as it is in fiction. In fantasy novel terms, perhaps the earliest fictional depiction of a dragon appeared in The Hobbit, J R R Tolkien’s 1937 prelude to The Lord of the Rings. In Tolkien’s story Smaug the Dragon is entirely antagonistic, although it must be said that he makes an eloquent and charming villain, and many of the other authors who wrote novels in the same epic fantasy tradition have also utilised dragons as principal antagonists for their heroes. For example, in the first volume of Tad Williams’ Memory, Sorrow and Thorn series, the ‘iceworm’ Igjaruk is depicted as an implacable foe, while the dragons which appear in Robin Hobb’s Liveship Traders and George R R Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series, while not strictly evil as such, are at best amoral and certainly not friendly or safe to be around. Although there are exceptions (notably in Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern) this appears to be a common theme with dragons in literature – the heroes take care around these fabulous beasts, even when they appear to be on the same side. For the origins of this contradictory characterisation of dragons, we must look to real world mythology rather than speculative fiction.

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