Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Origin of Dragons


I spoke at Hawthorne Elementary School about four weeks ago and met a young man, Isaac, who asked me if he could interview me about dragons. He is writing a paper about dragons and wanted to ask me some questions. Of course, I said yes. He recently sent me the questions and here are my responses.

1) Do you think of dragons as evil or good?

I personally think of them as neutral. They do what they need to do to survive. Every writer spins it a different way, and every culture spins it a different way. In the Far East (China and Japan), dragons are good. They are the benefactors of the people, but in the West, dragons are considered evil. Historically, dragons are likened to Satan and the worst evil there is. The myths in Europe put the dragons as evil from birth, but I think that is a very ethnocentric view.

2) Why do you think dragons are so popular in today's culture, as opposed to other creatures, such as griffins?

I love griffins, but dragons are so powerful and represent the most famous of all mythical monsters. They fill up the mythical stories like no other monster. We grow up (especiall in the West--this means Western civilizations--Europe and America) hearing stories about dragons at a very young age. Dragons capture our imaginations and stay with many of us because they are so powerful--the apex predator with no equal. We wonder if they could have really existed, though science says they did not. Dinosaurs existed, and people have been finding their bones and fossils for so long that I'm certain that's where many of the myths began.

3) Does the study of dragons have any basis in science?

Not really, but paleontologists study dinosaurs, and we know that dinosaurs are the basis for many of the original dragon myths. Primitive people would find the bones and make up stories about what creature they could have belonged to. The people of ancient Europe and China didn't have the TV news or books to read. They saw evidence of a dragon--bones--and believed in them. Why wouldn't they? It all made perfect sense to them.

4) Where do you think the idea of dragons originated from?

Dinosaur fossils and a clever storyteller sitting around the camp fire in some cave a really long time ago.

5) What got you interested in dragons?

Books, movies, and toys. The Hobbit movie and book had a big influence on me. Also, the castle set I was given at age three. There was a castle, a knight, and a dragon. I loved those toys. I also loved the movie, Dragonslayer. That one had a lot of influence on me.

6) Do you use any source books, and if so what are your main ones?

I don't really use any source books. I do enjoy reading books like, The Draconomicon, The Dragon Slayers Handbook, and all the Dungeons and Dragons books about dragons. Every book is that particular authors take on dragons. There is no one or "true" source. Beowulf slays a dragon and that is a classic story that influences a lot of what we read about today. Also, the story of Saint George and the dragon are quite important in Western culture.

7) What is your favorite type of dragon?

Iron dragons that are huge and breathe fire and kill everything! I'm only partially kidding. I like big scary dragons, not ones that are pink with butterfly wings. I want my dragons to look impressive and to be intelligent. I don't want them to be mindless animals. I want them to be extremely intelligent.

8) Why do you think the dragon category is rarely associated with the werewolf-vampire category?

They are totally separate sub-genres in the fantasy field. Vampires and werewolves have their own devoted following.

9) Why do you think the idea of dragons has persisted for so long, since they were mentioned in Chinese culture thousands of years ago?

We want to believe in them. They represent something that is missing from us. A dragon represents great power and they stimulate our imaginations to soar to amazing heights. When a hero goes out and slays a dragon, metaphorically that hero is slaying the evil that is inside of us. It has been argued that dragons are mother nature, and slaying them is humanity conquering mother nature. Killing dragons is us having mastery over the most powerful force in the world, and that force has been dragons since ancient China and also in the West. I see little chance of dragons ever going away as a source of wonder. In a thousand years I believe people will still be writing books about dragons. My second novel, The Dragon Hunters, Book Two of the Iron Dragon Series comes out in May of 2009 and I did my best to make this a dragon hunting story like no other.

Isaac, I hope those answers helped a little.

Best wishes,

Paul Genesse, Author and Editor

Author of The Golden Cord
Book One of the Iron Dragon Series
(Five Star Books, April 2008)


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