Welcome to Dragon Week, a celebration of all things Dragon!
Today, Blood of an Exile author Brian Naslund joins us to talk dragonslayers. Some are heroes. Some are villains. Some of them should LEAVE THOSE DRAGONS ALONE.
The 6 Best Dragonslayers and Hunters in Pop Culture
By Brian Naslund
People have been writing about dragons for a long time. The first mention of a dragon in literature was (arguably) a Sumerian poem during the Middle Bronze Age. And for almost the entire time people have been writing about dragons, they’ve also been writing about people trying to kill them.
Pop culture has come a long way since Sumerian poems, so I thought I’d run through the best dragon slayers fiction has to offer. Also, since few heroes work alone, I included supplementary shout-outs to the un-sung champions behind the dragon-slaying scenes.
The O.G. dragon slayer in European literature, Beowulf only killed one dragon, but he did it in style. After 50-years of peaceful king-stuff in the wake of killing Grendel and Grendel’s Mother, Beowulf catches word that there’s a pissed off lizard nearby. Does he send his lackeys to deal with the reptile (like most elderly gentleman with aching knees would have)? No. No, he does not. He grabs his sword and shield and goes to get his slay on.
First thing that happens? The dragon bites B-Wulf in the throat. But he doesn’t give up. He slams his massive sword onto the dragon’s head, which breaks his trusty steel. Still, he perseveres—drawing a dagger and gut-stabbing the lizard, killing it.
Beowulf died shortly thereafter, too, but he still goes down in history as a pioneer of dragon-slaying technique.
Supplementary shout-out goes to: Wiglaf, the only one of Beowulf’s thanes who didn’t run away when the dragon showed up. He got his arm toasted by dragon fire and definitely deserves an assist on the slaying. (Depending on what account you read, he might even deserve full credit.)
Bard the Bowman
Moving on to a Tolkien classic: the grim, bird-language understanding, sharpshooting captain of the Lake Town archers. Bard the Bowman smoked Smaug with his lucky arrow, thus saving the day and (most of) the people in the city.
The movie version certainly wins points for suspense and the helping hand from his son to form a human ballista, but either way you cut it, Bard crushed it when it comes to killing dragons.
Supplementary shout-out goes to: the thrush who told Bard where the weak spot was in Smaug’s bejeweled armor. That bird’s the real hero in this situation.
Next, we travel east to Japanese dragon mythology. Tokoyo might not be on the tip of everyone’s dragon-slaying tongue, but she should be. Here’s the condensed version of how awesome she is:
Tokoyo’s father was a samurai who gets banished from the realm. This sucks, but Tokoyo isn’t one to just lay back on something like that, so she goes looking for him on a remote island chain. Before she finds him, she runs across a priest who’s about to sacrifice a young girl to the gods for “reasons.” What does Tokoyo do? Pulls a Catniss Everdeen and volunteers herself as tribute in the girl’s stead. Then she puts a dagger between her teeth and jumps off a cliff into the sea.
Turns out there’s a dragon down there. But Tokoyo stays cool. First things first, she stabs the dragon in the eye with her dagger. Then she just goes ballistic and keeps on stabbing till it’s dead.
I won’t get into the details, but in the aftermath of this badassery, the Emperor’s life is saved and Tokoyo’s father’s banishment is lifted. Oh, and she got a city named after her that you might have heard of.
Supplementary shout-out: Nobody. Tokoyo slays solo and she’s damn good at it.
Geralt of Rivia
Curveball coming here. The gravel-voiced anti-hero of The Witcher novels, video games (and soon, Netflix series) is one of the most infamous monster hunters around. So, you’d think he’s killed his fair share of dragons, too, right? Wrong. Geralt’s personal code of ethics (which has enough gray area to put GRRM to shame) precludes killing dragons because they’re sentient, intelligent, almost extinct, and don’t attack humans without being provoked.
So, why’d I just include him in a list of the best dragon slayers? Because if that’s how dragons behave in your fictional world, refusing to kill them is the best thing you can do.
Supplementary shout-out goes to: Geralt’s dubious moral compass.
I’m gonna bullet-point the Dragonborn’s bonafides because this is the internet and attention spans are probably running thin.
- Gender- and race-fluid: The Dragonborn is whoever you create in Helgen.
- Eats dragon souls like they’re sweet rolls:
- Crafts their bones into weapons and armor afterwards: Assuming you max your smithing skill.
- Stops a dragon from literally eating the world: MVP move.
Supplementary shout-out goes to: Lydia, obviously. For carrying all those burdens.
And of course:
Silas Bershad lives in a world where dragon slayers aren’t heroes. They’re criminals. As punishment for their crimes, they get a ceremonial face tattoo and a donkey, then they get told to go kill dragons for the rest of their lives. Most of them live for about a week.
Bershad’s been killing lizards for 14 years and counting.
This vexes the king, who exiled Bershad under the assumption that he’d be dead before the next full moon. The secret behind Bershad’s ability to live so long doing the most dangerous job in the world is a topic of conjecture, but I did write a book with more details.
Supplementary shout-out: Rowan (Bershad’s sidekick and closest friend) and Alfonso (the aforementioned donkey who carries all Bershad’s gear, eats apples, and craps loyalty).
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