I watched a great documentary the other day about Dragons on the History Channel. It was different because it explored the scientific and historical findings that lead through civilizations. From Mesopotamia, Babylon, Egypt, Carthage, Scandinavia, China and Japan through the Middle Ages, across the ocean into Mexico with the Olmecs and Aztecs who performed human sacrifice to appease their dragon deity to Native North Americans and present day the basic concept of the dragon has endured throughout millennia.
The first evidence of dragons appeared in Mesopotamia 6000 years ago when the first written records were made. In this myth a good dragon, Marduk, slays the evil dragon, Tiamat, and uses the carcass to create all of the elements necessary for creation of the world. The question is why a dragon? Where did this concept originate? Why not a bear or wolf?
It went on to show the many civilizations that have used the various images of the dragon on pottery vessels, jewelry, facades, statuary, weaponry. They all contained similar characteristics; wings, large maw with massive teeth, horns atop the head, horn or beard below the chin, long tail, scales and clawed feet. Whether the image was Chinese with the elongated, sinewy body or European with a stout muscular shape, the main characteristics remained. One aspect that did vary greatly was personality. The European or Western dragons were always destructive and called evil. The Chinese or Eastern dragons are benign and revered.
The Imperial Chinese had an order in their government established by the number of claws on the dragon’s foot. Only the emperor could wear the image of a dragon with five claws. The Imperial Clan’s dragon had four claws and so on. They also believed that if the dragon flew eastward, toward Japan, he would lose claws. The Japanese believed that a dragon flying westward lost claws.
All societies have held a belief that dragons controlled water. In Japan the god of water is a dragon. Some held that dragons lived at the bottom of wells, lake and rivers thereby controlling the water supply. Some believe the Loch Ness creature could be a dragon.
Scientists conjecture that dragons may have been composed from three elements of which early man was deathly afraid; big cats, big snakes and big birds. Dragons share characteristics of each of these. A dragon’s head has a pointed snout full of teeth and large eyes, its neck is long and serpentine and it always has wings. It is also predatory.
While literature and myth portrayed the dragon as destructive and powerful, it wasn’t until the Catholic Church related the dragon to Satan in Revelations and the use of Gargoyles on the facades of Cathedrals that people began to identify them as evil and demonic. It was apparently the hope of the church leaders that this connection would scare people into trusting the church to save them from dragons, hence Satan. This was when such tales were born as St George and the Dragon or the Knights of the Roundtable. In all of these and more, virgin princesses were rescued from evil dragons by knights using swords. Anyone need that metaphor explained?
It is this aspect I have chosen to include in my book. I believe that dragons are symbolic and have always been part of man’s basic nature. They demonstrate parts of man that man wishes he had more of, like power and flight. They also demonstrate a part of man that he is afraid of in himself and wishes to slay. So we do it in literature. Whether evil exists in physical form or not the dragon is the perfect metaphor.