Big, fire-breathing dragons
. They’re just beasts from fairy tales and fantasy fiction, right?
That’s basically true,
but those stories only tell a fraction of the dragon’s vast history.
And I’m here today to tell you that dragons are real…Sort of.
We like dragons because let’s be honest, they look cool.
Many of us have pets, and
the dragon is the ultimate fantasy—something beautiful
yet ferocious, both loyal and capable of protecting us.
Dragons have been a part of human culture for thousands of years.
Countless countries and cultures have integrated stories
of large serpentine creatures
into their oral storytelling, art, and literature
Early discoveries of inexplicable natural phenomenon
let our imagination run wild.
The mystifying nature of the dragon can most probably be accounted for
by human encounters with an astounding creature;
like a large aquatic animal floating just below the surface.
An abnormally large snake,
even an aggressive Komodo dragon became legendary monsters.
In the 13th Century, Marco Polo famously claimed to
encounter “huge serpents” with two legs and sharp teeth while traveling in China,
writing “The jaws are wide enough to swallow a man.
The teeth are large and sharp and their whole appearance is so formidable,
that neither man, nor any kind of animal can approach them without terror.”
Now, it is generally believed that these “dragons” Polo spoke of
were in fact… just crocodiles.
Dragon myths are in part a response to these encounters
and there is a rich history to them that spans across many cultures.
Each dragon is unique to the time and place of its creation.
This is why there is no one “type” of dragon.
Not all breathe fire, some don’t even have wings! Or feet!
This is a dragon.
But so is this.
Even these guys are all considered dragons.
But what accounts for such wide differences in appearance?
While there are examples of dragons all across the globe,
from the benevolent, shape shifting dragons of China
to the feathered Mesoamerican dragon-god,
for now let’s just focus on those most common in fantasy literature —
the Classical dragon and one of my personal favorites, the Wyvern.
The wyvern is a dragon frequently associated with the United Kingdom.
It’s distinct from other types of dragons
because its reptilian body possesses wings but only two legs.
George R. R. Martin adopted
the wyvern-style of dragon.
Khaleesi’s reptilian children have very long necks and tails,
large wings, and only hind legs.
Martin considered biology alongside myth
when crafting Drogon and his siblings,
arguing that living or dead, from bat to pterodactyl,
结论是 从现有的到灭绝的 从蝙蝠到翼龙
“No beast in nature has four legs AND wings.”
Well, tell that to the creators of the “Classical dragon.”
Recognizable by their four legs and powerful wings,
this form of dragon is the one most commonly seen today.
So how do we explain these differences?
Before paleontology existed,
skeletal remains were not always recognizable
as the bones belonging to long dead animals.
The prehistoric marine reptiles Plesiosaurus
were large, long-necked creatures with four long flippers.
体型巨大 脖子长 还有四条长长的鳍足
Plesiosaurus fossils easily could have been mistaken
for the two wings and two legs of a wyvern,
or even the four legs of a classical dragon.
Even today we find more evidence that
previous cultures encountered reptilian fossils.
In 2015, an ancient fossil was discovered
that appeared serpentine and has four legs.
And a recent discovery in China
revealed this two-legged dinosaur
with a pair of bat-like wings.
I told you dragons were real!
J.R.R. Tolkien had his own taxonomic system for dragons.
He classifies the creatures by their capacity to breathe fire
and how they move around.
His writings depict dragons with and without wings,
他在书里描述的龙 有的有翅膀 有的没有
with legs and without,
and only some capable of breathing fire.
His most famous dragon, the clever,
treasure-guarding “wicked worm” Smaug,
checks off multiple boxes in Tolkien’s taxonomy.
Like many authors today,
Tolkien combines different dragon myths
to create the most terrifying beast imaginable.
The most iconic trait of the dragon its ability to breath fire,
but where did this attribute come from?
The development of fire-breathing dragons
could have been a result of the geological features of Northern Europe,
specifically the presence of natural gas vents.
A wayward lightning strike or dropped torch by a miner
could have provided the spark that
sent a tongue of flame or
wave of noxious gas to the surface.
Not having a way to explain this natural phenomenon,
we filled in the gaps with a supernatural explanation
—the fire-breathing dragon.
This may also partially explain
why dragons are associated with guarding treasure,
often below ground or in dark caves.
Miners would have been likely trying to deter thieves with scary stories
of a monstrous creature protecting their own fortunes.
Depictions of the dragon as a fire-breathing creature appear as early as the 10th century,
when the gates of hell were said to be the flaming mouth of a demonic beast.
So what can we make from thousands of years of stories
and images of dragons?
What can these tales teach us?
The dragon represents a human appreciation and respect for the power of nature.
They remind us to tread carefully across rivers,
to avoid dark caverns, and to humble us in
the presence of beasts stronger than ourselves.
The dragon is legendary—
it doesn’t really matter so much whether or not it existed.
What does matter is that in an age when nature was mostly unexplained,
dragons were a way to make sense of a world that seemed much more mysterious.
Big, fire-breathing dragons