Welcome to Dragon Week 2020, a celebration of all things Dragon!
Kevin J. Anderson, author of Spine of the Dragon and upcoming Vengewar, joins us for Dragon Week 2020 after his CONTROVERSIAL inclusion of Godzilla in his round-up of ‘Top Five Deadliest Dragons‘. This year, he’s back to make even more waves by defining what makes a dragon a DRAGON. Check out his explanation below!
What Makes a Dragon a Dragon?
By Kevin J. Anderson
What has scales, wings, claws, and (sometimes) breathes fire?
Is it a giant prehistoric monster emerging from the Lost World? Is it an evil beast that lurks in caves and demands maidens as sacrifices? Is it a majestic elemental creature that can protect or save the land? Or is it a giant, scaled flaming metaphor for the terrible darkness that lives inside each person?
A dragon can be all of these things, and more.
In my novel Spine of the Dragon, which comes out in trade paperback from Tor Books this month, the people believe that a great dragon, Ossus, sleeps beneath a jagged volcanic mountain range. Ossus was created by the god Kur who, in order to make himself pure, extracted all of his dark thoughts, his jealousies, his violent urges, his innate evil, and used them to fashion the dragon. He then left the world, vowing not to return until his people figured out how to destroy the dragon, and hence the evil inside themselves. Things don’t go well from that point.
Ossus may seem like a metaphor for the darkest parts of a god, but over the course of the story he does manifest in full, dark reptilian glory, wings and flames and all. A novelist has an unlimited special effects budget.
What constitutes a dragon?
If Sir Lancelot had encountered a T. Rex preying upon helpless villagers, would he think of it as a prehistoric monster that had forgotten to become extinct? Or would he call it a dragon?
When Godzilla awakens from the depths of the ocean and rock-and-rolls through Tokyo, a huge reptilian beast that breathes fire, does that count as a dragon? In the evolution of Godzilla since the first film in 1956, the monster has become more of an elemental force, a benevolent scaly protector of Japan. That fits the mold of another type of dragon.
Frank Herbert said he considered the giant sandworms protecting the spice in Dune to be his version of dragons guarding a hoard of treasure.
As a kid, you must have dreamed of finding a dragon egg, raising and bonding with it to be your pet, your best friend, and your protector, like in Anne McCaffrey’s Pern series, or Christopher Paolini’s Eragon, or even the How to Train Your Dragon films, or (with less warm and fuzzy results) Daenarys and her three dragons in Game of Thrones. “They grow up so fast!”
In movies from the 1960s, a “dragon” or dinosaur was ably portrayed by a hapless stunt alligator or komodo dragon forced to wear makeup accoutrements. Later, in Dragonslayer (1981), which I think was Disney’s very first PG-rated film, moviegoers were promised that we would believe dragons were real—and we did. Now with vastly more sophisticated effects, such as with the Great Leonopteryx in Avatar (which surely also qualifies as a “dragon” both in appearance and story role), who can tell that it’s not reality?
But we all know dragons are real, even if they aren’t swooping over medieval towns and setting fire to thatched roofs, or plucking virgins tied to a stake in front of their bone-strewn lair. Dragons live in our hearts, in our imaginations. And in our stories.
Readers love to devour tales about dragons, just as writers love to create them. Something about dragons strikes to the heart of our psyche, our legendary core, thrums on the strings of our imaginations. I think I hear one coming now…I hope it’s a good kind of dragon.
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