It’s often said that there is nothing new under the sun, but as writers and indeed readers when have we ever done as the sun dictated? We all defy it when the light fades and we brought out a light as children and read under the covers, and now as adults when we switch on the lamp.Which brings me to today’s topic, something that is ancient and unchanging and, dare I say it, just a tad dull.
Today I’d like to talk about the most well-known reptile’s in the world, not counting a certain purple dinosaur, dragons. Dragons have been a staple of myth and legend across the globe for millennia, so of course they feature heavily in fantasy novels. Pick up any run of the mill fantasy novel and dragons will be mentioned. They are the quintessential magical creature. Ancient, powerful, wise.
Shame that they can now claim jaw droppingly boring as a title too.
They’re just so played out. Gigantic scaled reptile avian/hybrids who can expel ludicrous amounts of fire from their mouths. If a story says dragon, you know precisely what you’re getting and that to me is tragic. Fantasy means you can write anything you want, create creatures unique to your world and give them cultures, histories, variants, feuds, their own evolutionary path. As a fantasy writer, you are the god to your world. So why would you use cookie cutter creations?
There seem to be four avenues of thought when designing your dragon. In western literature, dragons are either four or six limbed, and either wise beyond measure or roughly as smart as an Alsatian. Both have upsides and down, but that we can sufficiently classify every kind of dragon using a four-way box chart does demonstrate my point rather well. Martin uses four limbed dragons with minimal intelligence, Tolkien used highly intelligent six limbed dragons as seen with Smaug and Anclagon, which then inspired the dragons in Paolini’s Inheritance Cycle.
This however is not a modern state of affairs, dragons have been homogeneous for millennia with the Greek dragon Ladon sounding identical to the Viking Sagas depictions of dragons. Fafnir is described similarly to the gold hoarding dragon from Beowulf, who is again similar to the dragon said to be gnawing on the roots of the World Tree Yggdrasil.
Just because there is nothing new under the sun, does not mean that there shouldn’t be something new under the pen. Give us more creatures. More worlds. More denizens of the deep who will haunt our nightmares, and more creatures of the sky who carry us through our dreams.