Dragons and the Matter of Truth
Let’s begin this article with the subject and point: Dragons are an open ended subject, so what defines a dragon can vary from person to person. There is no ‘true’ dragon and this is important to remember in the dragonkin community.
1. What is a Dragon?
What is a dragon? Well, according to the common definition, a dragon is defined as:
a mythical monster like a giant reptile. In European tradition the dragon is typically fire-breathing and tends to symbolize chaos or evil, whereas in East Asia it is usually a beneficent symbol of fertility, associated with water and the heavens.
‘A dragon is a legendary creature, typically scaled or fire-spewing and with serpentine, reptilian or avian traits, that features in the myths of many cultures around world.’
So according to this generic Internet definition and Wikipedia, a dragon is merely a giant reptile found in mythology, with European dragons (let’s call them Western) and Eastern dragons differing tremendously. They may also breathe fire, have avian traits, and feature in cultures outside of Western and Eastern, with other notable ‘dragons’ being things like lindworms, and amphipteres.
What defines a true dragon often differs between people you ask. Some may consider the true dragons to be the Western fire breathing monsters, or the gentle, serpentine Eastern dragons, or both. Within my experience, dragons are a very open ended concept with many different interpretations, so I am reluctant to state what is ‘true’ and what is not.
I consider the ‘common’ dragons to be ones that have four legs, two wings, reptilian or avian traits, and serpentine necks and tails. The front legs may be functional as arms and the dragon may be bipedal, or the dragon walks on all fours. Some may also think of ‘wyverns’, a subject of much debate on whether they are true dragons. If you wanted my opinion, wyverns, lindworms, and amphipteres do count as dragons.
I see the wyvern debate as very much a pointless one. As dragons are such an open ended concept, I do not believe there to be one ‘true’ image of a dragon. Common yes, but not ‘true’. Wyverns are often simply dragons without arms, or wings in place of arms. Some portray them as venomous, with barbed tails, even mixing in traits from a basilisk. (which also vary in portrayal)
Some may also consider a dragon to only be a reptilian creature from mythology with wings specifically. Flight and wings is very much a common feature of dragons, but not all dragons may have them. Lindworms are wingless, and most Eastern dragons are portrayed as flying without wings, most likely by magic.
In short, what defines a dragon is very much built upon many cultures and mythological stories, as well as modern media’s portrayal, which varies greatly. In my eyes, there is no one ‘true’ dragon. This comes into great consideration when observing dragonkin; dragonkin often follow the anatomical and mythological ‘rules’ of dragons, but no two dragonkin are the same. Some may consider themselves wyvern-like or more serpentine, or feathered in appearance, but still consider themselves a dragon. This is merely up to personal experience and choice.
2. How I See Dragons.
This part will be short and heavily based on my own observations and opinions. If you find this irrelevant, please skip to the next section.
I consider dragons to be many different things but my view of them as a concept is heavily influenced by the modern media’s portrayal of popular draconic characters. I acknowledge that mythos comes before and has more power over media, but all of my exposure to dragons has been through modern culture. Books, television shows, movies, and video games have all influenced how I view dragons.
I do not view dragons as purely mindless, demonic, fire-breathing monsters who eat people and burn down villages. A dragon can have varying degrees of intelligent or self-awareness, but they are not all primal bringers of destruction. Perhaps it is my own self injecting anthropomorphism or human traits into the concept of the dragon but this is truly how I see things.
This brings us to the fun subject of stereotypes. Especially when considering dragonkin, a dragon’s personality, attitude, and nature will vary. Some dragons love shiny objects, like me, some do not care for them. Some dragons prefer meat, some dragons will eat anything. Some dragons like fire, some are drawn to water, some live in ice, and so on. This is purely up to the person to decide for themselves and dictating such matters comes across as arrogant in my mind.
Dragons are very ‘humanized’ beings in how I see them. The animalistic, primal side is forgotten in favor of the more human traits. As I’ve said before, of course mythos is important and comes before media, but media has a huge part in how many see dragons today. Some are monstrous villains of grand adventure, some are loyal companions and friends and everything in between. I feel both mythological and modern portrayals are acceptable, as dragons are again, a very open ended concept. It is up to the person’s own experiences to decide this.
I love dragons. I was brought up with dragons as the brave heroes, the loyal guardians, the heralds of good luck and symbols of fortune and power. Of course I understand that this is not how dragons were originally portrayed in most cultures, but I wasn’t exposed to traditional tales for years. This could be called bias and it probably is, but plays an important role in how I see myself.
3. Modern Dragons.
This will contain musings and observations about two famous dragons, specifically from mainstream and modern media. These two dragons are specifically listed due to my knowledge of them, and I know I have missed many other famous dragons.
Toothless (How to Train Your Dragon, movie)
Toothless wins, claws down (get it?) as my favourite fictional dragon. He is both endearing and ferocious, and beautifully designed. His species is that of the Night Fury, a type of dragon shrouded in mystery and fear.
I adore his portrayal for many reasons, the biggest one being his relationship with Hiccup. I have seen discord regarding the portrayals of dragons as pets or simply as accessories for their human riders or companions. I feel Toothless takes this worry and blasts it out of the sky.
His friendship with Hiccup is very much a two-way street of mutual respect, forged through hardship and kindness. Hiccup even tries to give Toothless back his freedom in Gift of the Night Fury, to which Toothless refuses to leave due to their bond.
HTTYD takes dragons and portrays them in many different ways. For one, not all of them breathe fire. Toothless specifically shoots plasma. He also lacks the horns and large fangs of a ‘typical’ dragon. He is very similar to a cat in appearance and physical mannerisms, which adds to his charm as a character. He is a great example of why there is no ‘true’ kind of dragon.
Saphira (Inheritance Cycle/Eragon, book series)
Saphira is a dragon from the Inheritance Cycle. She may not be a favourite of mine, but I still like her as a character and as a dragon. She also shares a relationship with her human rider, but unlike Hiccup and Toothless, is ‘bound’ to him by destiny. All dragons in this universe are a generic species, and bound to a rider. They hatch specifically for a person and are bound to them for life.
I dislike this portrayal for the reason that it seems… very arbitrary that dragons are bound to their riders. The way the books were written also gives much more focus to the riders and human characters, than the dragons. I will however, give credit for the few unique ideas that Christopher Paolini applies to his dragons.
For one thing, they share a mental connection to their humans and can communicate via thoughts to their riders and others when close enough. They share feelings and emotions as well. And when a dragon dies, its soul and mind can either fade away or live on inside a jewel called an Eldunari.
Despite being very typical in appearance, breathing fire as well, I do enjoy the dragons from the Inheritance Cycle for their few unique ideas. Even if a dragon looks typical, it can still be very much a unique creature.
4. Relation to Otherkin.
So why did I just spend several longwinded paragraphs talking about the concept and portrayals of dragons? The reason is that there is no ‘true’ dragon, just as there is no ‘true’ sea serpent, griffon, or any other mythological creature. There is no definitive, one hundred percent truth that any dragonkin has to follow. Wyverns need not be discouraged and other atypical dragons need not be confused.
It is up to you to decide who you are, what you are, how you may have looked, or what being draconic means to you. Of course others can help guide you and educate you on these matters, but your identity is up to you, in your hands alone.
Draconic portrayals in both myth and media are of equal importance, and can exist together in harmony. No specific portrayal needs to dominate the other or be cast aside in favor of the other.
Just be yourself.