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Why Dragons?

Who doesn’t love a good dragon? Fantasy’s favorite fictional reptile is ruling the summer here at Tor, and Dragonslayer author Duncan Hamilton has some thoughts on why.

Read on below and grab your copy of Dragonslayer on July 2.


Dragons have always fascinated me. There’s something intriguing about their ancient and mysterious nature, not to mention the fact that they are not creations of modern fiction. They feature in many of the myths and legends of different cultures around the world, in such similar ways, yet with many distinct qualities, that they are incredibly compelling as subject matter.

Growing up in Europe, I was regularly exposed to dragons in myth and legend, from the story of Saint George and the Dragon to the péists associated with Irish bogs and rivers. Cast the net a little wider, and the dragon can quickly be seen to be an ancient global phenomenon.

I think any creature that has such a firm place in the human psyche—whether it was born of our ancestors trying to make sense of dinosaur fossils or is something hardwired into our brains from a time when snakes and large reptiles presented a threat to our survival—will always resonate far more than a creature of modern invention. Even those who aren’t fantasy fans are likely to be aware of dragons, though they might be unfamiliar with orcs or other creatures of modern fantasy fiction.

Ever since I started writing fantasy novels, I have wanted to write about dragons. For an author, they present a range of possibilities that is both inspiring and exciting. One thing that I think makes them so compelling is the wide range of characters they present, from the malevolent Smaug in The Hobbit, to the wise and magnanimous Draco (aka Sean Connery), from Dragonheart. This gives the writer tremendous freedom since readers will have no expectations. Dragons can be heroes. They can be villains. Perhaps they can even be both.

A dragon packs a double punch as an antagonist. The first is it’s physical presence, with size, and its intimidating form—scales, teeth, claws, and horns—setting the tone. With nothing else added to the mix, it will clearly be a formidable opponent for any would-be hero.

The second is the question of intelligence. The writer can choose to make a dragon a base creature capable of nothing more than instinctive actions or to give it great wisdom and intelligence. The wise dragon is fascinating—it might possess ancient knowledge, the answers to ancient mysteries and weighty questions. The malevolence of intelligence can be a far more powerful force for an antagonist than anything physical.

When you have the opportunity to combine both of these characteristics, the result becomes far more than the sum of the parts. But that is only for an antagonist. Dragons offer far more. Just as humans can be good, bad, and everything in between, so too can dragons.

As ally or antagonist, the dragon offers as blank a canvas as any human. Even if the creature only plays a supporting role, it occupies an important space. In my previous trilogy, The Wolf of the North, an ancient figure who may or may not be a dragon (no spoilers here!) occupies only a few pages of the trilogy, yet I get as many messages about him as I do any of the other characters.

The dragon is a powerful tool for an author, one that taps into a huge pre-existing body of literature, legend, and mythology, and is a fantasy element that the reader can instantly identify with. Possessed of so wide a range of characteristics, they provide an unmatched opportunity for any fantasy author to enrich their stories, and a worthy challenge to put their own unique stamp on.

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