John McDonald

Blogging about politics, life, and the web

Slaying Dragons for Fun and Profit

November 25th, 2008

Saint George Slaying the Dragon as envisioned by Paolo Uccello

Dragons are an ancient and culturally ubiquitous symbol that finds its way into epic poetry, religion, and local legend the world over.

Today they live in our imaginations – on TV, in movies, and in modern fantasy fiction.

I’ve always had an affection for dragons – or more accurately – I should say that I am slightly obsessed with hunting them down and slaying them.

What is a Dragon? A Villain’s Symbolic Archetype

They kind of look like lizards, they have wings, and they breath fire – but the physical appearance of a dragon offers few clues into its psychological profile and role as a symbolic villain archetype.

  • Dragons are Intellectual – Unlike most beasts and monsters, dragons are often depicted as cold and calculating killers. They do more than simply kill to survive like a lion would, they kill for wealth and political purposes (like securing more land and territory than they need.)
  • Dragons are Aggressive – You can’t just leave one alone and hope to live in peace. Any village or kingdom looks ripe for plundering is sure to attract a dragon or two.
  • Dragons Hoard Wealth – Dragons also symbolize a certain type of financial elite that plunders and hordes wealth. In describing the dragon’s reaction to the loss of a single cup, Tolkien wrote the anger could only be compared to “when rich folk that have more than they can enjoy lose something they have long had but never before used or wanted.” While the serfs starve, while they watch their farms burn, the dragon sits with treasure beyond imagination – counting its pennies with no concern for those who have died or will die in the process.

Power and Good Fortune

Of course, the symbolic associations attached to dragons greatly vary from culture to culture. In Korea, Japan, and China – dragons are often associated with the water and seen as potent forces of good luck and prosperity. The strength of the dragon and its magical essence are retained, but the view of an aggressive villain are not necessarily the same.

In China, the dragon was long associated with the emperor, but they have since backed off this relationship as it can have negative connotations to those nations in the west that still see dragons as the bad guy. This doesn’t stop the dragon from popping up as an image of national pride, the male archetype, and social power.

Dragons and Empire

“City of London Corporation” Coat of Arms

The city of London isn’t just a municipality, it is an independent incorporation – a one-mile by one-mile square in the financial heart of the city. It is the international banking capital of the globe, and rent seeking mentality of its elite is older than the country we call England today.

Chinese Astrology and the Wolf

In Chinese Astrology, the wolf is seen as a polar opposite to the dragon. Wolves and dogs represent loyalty, defensive protection, and cooperation. Dogs run in a pack and rarely turn on their masters when treated well.

Funny enough, I was born in the year of the dog (1982). When I was up for Confirmation in the Catholic Church, I picked Saint George as a patron saint (All good heroes should slay a dragon or two). Many of the video games I play involve slaying dragons and yes, I’ve even spent too many hours with pen and paper and 20 sided dice trying to kill off dragons that only exist in a dungeon master’s manual.

Why the dragon?

Honestly, they’re just that cool. Even if they’re usually evil. All the explanation, all the coincidence, it just helps make them seem even cooler.

Comments

3 Comments

RSS
  • kelseydrake says on: November 25, 2008 at 3:28 pm

     

    Absolutely – really cool! Couldn’t agree more. I once wrote a similar kind of article that was published in The Lady. There is so much info on dragons. Over at Lothian Dragons, we’re running a quiz because we want to find out what other dragon lovers think. You’re welcome to drop by!

  • Jeannie says on: May 10, 2011 at 10:11 am

     

    Dragons stories were part of the books I read, when I was younger. I did look into what the dragon symbolized and in the end quit reading books about dragons.

    Now days, I am really busy and rarely have time to read. I do watch a little science fiction now and then.

  • Peter says on: May 17, 2011 at 9:10 am

     

    Hey Kelseydrake,

    I drop by to your site and leave comments there. Yes, I love collecting dragon movies and stories about its life. They are really excite me, watching them breathing fires. These dragons are really powerful in the ancient times stories. Even today, dragons are still told in the stories. But there are dragons, the real dragons in “hearts”, are those who collect wealth and hoard them in their banks. LOLs…

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*