Dragons and other (un)truths and legends
Fact or fiction. So often it seems that urban myths become widely accepted facts. It’s a growing phenomenon only bolstered by the prolific use and sharing capabilities of the internet. A little faux pas or a ground-breaking celebrity rumour can reach millions of people with one innocent (or not so innocent) click of a button.
Whether it is intentional or an accidental slip-up, many of us are guilty to some extent of not letting the truth get in the way of a good story. I do wonder sometimes though if there is a grain of truth in some urban myths – in this case I desperately hope so.
Fact or fiction, mythical stories and creatures have existed in every culture for centuries. Subject of countless urban myths are dragons, the mythical creatures’ mascot.
I, like many others, am fascinated with dragons. Where did the idea of dragons come from? Could dragons have been real at one time? Do they still exist now?
Confession time. I for one believe in dragons, or at least the idea of dragons. To date, I haven’t featured this mythical creature in my own writing, but I do find them pretty darn fascinating. They are the ultimate fantasy creature.
I saw a pin recently incorrectly attributing the following quote to J.R.R. Tolkien: “Always remember, it’s simply not an adventure worth telling if there aren’t any dragons.”
I love the sentiment of this quote, but it turns out this little gem is actually another urban myth. It is believed to have come from author Sarah Ban Breathnach who coined this statement when talking about personal adventures and challenges. She likened dragons to our personal fears and happened to reference an actual Tolkien quote: “It does not do to leave a live dragon out of your calculations, if you live near him.”
Someone, somewhere, picked out the two quotes, put two and two together and got Tolkien, inspiring thousands of memes and pins around the world. But hey why let the truth get in the way of a good story.
What is true, is that great adventures DO feature dragons.
My first recollection of a love of dragons goes back to being a small child listening to an LP record by popular children’s entertainer of the 70s and 80s, Patsy Biscoe.
My favourite song was her cover of ‘Puff the MagicDragon’. Now many will tell you that the song (originally recorded by Peter, Paul and Mary) contained veiled references to smoking marijuana. Not so says Peter Yarrow from the band who maintains it is about the hardships of growing older. Another urban myth!?
The lyrics for ‘Puff, the Magic Dragon’ were based on a 1959 poem by Leonard Lipton, a 19-year-old Cornell University student and was inspired by an Ogden Nash poem titled ‘Custard the Dragon’, about a “realio, trulio little pet dragon”.
The lyrics tell a story of the ageless dragon Puff and his playmate Jackie Paper, a little boy who grows up and loses interest in the imaginary adventures of childhood and leaves Puff alone and depressed.
To be honest, all of the meaning was lost on me as a child. I just liked the tune and the idea of a dragon, who lived by the sea (in the land of Honalee) and had a human boy as a friend.
My picture of the friendly dragon was only reinforced by the film versions of Pete’s Dragon, where a young orphan named Pete is befriended by a dragon named Elliott, who also acts as his protector.
As I got older I realised that dragons were not always cute, green and loveable creatures, but it only increased my fascination.
The Hobbit is centred around outwitting and slaying Smaug the dragon; Merlin in the recent TV series featured a crafty, talking Great Dragon; and Daenerys Targaryen is the ultimate Mother of Dragons in the wildly successful Game of Thrones.
Some dragons live in caves hoarding treasure and breathing fire down on innocent villagers, others are a symbol of wisdom and strength. Regardless dragons hold a special significance in fantasy writing and history. Real or not they are the stuff of legends.
There is conjecture that the belief in dragons stems from early travellers who came across Komodo dragons, the world’s heaviest living lizards, in Indonesia. Huge fearsome looking lizards yes, but dragons…hardly.
Others track the origins of dragon stories back to the discovery of dinosaur bones. Big reptilian creatures yes, but dragons…probably not.
The lack of substantive proof though hasn’t prevented cultures all over the globe believing in dragons while simultaneously worshiping and fearing them.
Generally speaking, dragons in Asian culture (particularly Chinese) represent wisdom, luck and blessings. The dragons were seen as central to agricultural life since the dragons controlled the weather and the seasons.
Those born in the Chinese Year of the Dragon (like moi) are considered the luckiest.
Scandinavian dragons were the true fire and earth dragons, living in deep subterranean caves and vikings had dragons on the prows of their ships to strike fear into enemies.
The versions of dragons across different cultures are almost infinite, as are the descriptions. Some dragons have wings, some don’t. Some can breathe fire, others can’t. Almost always they are huge reptilian or lizard-like with scales and claws but the similarities usually end there.
I don’t have a preference for any type of dragon. Fact or fiction I don’t care. Most of the fun is in believing. Regardless of the facts, this is one case where I would never let the truth get in the way of a good story.
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