Dragon Week - Tor/Forge Blog



We Asked R. R. Virdi, Is a Snake a Dragon? 

Cover for The First Binding by R. R. VirdiThe First Binding by R.R. Virdi is the hugely epic opener to the Tales of Tremaine series, and now it’s available in paperback! A while back, Virdi wrote a thoughtful article on whether snakes are dragons as a feature for Dragon Week 4: Dragons 4Ever, and we’re bringing that back, because this is hard-hitting, important fantasy fiction analysis.

By R.R. Virdi

Are snakes dragons?

It sounds like an easy question. A rather straightforward yes or no. Snakes are snakes. Dragons are dragons.



About that.

Let’s look at what makes a dragon, well, a dragon? If you take a look at the most famous common kind, the European dragon, they’ve got pretty similar appearances throughout western mythos. And it makes sense. They’re a culmination of things humanity feared long ago all morphed into one creature.

They have the necks and facial appearances of giant serpents, armored scales, horizontally slit pupils with molten gold eyes the color of greed and avarice. Sharp teeth, and they breathe fire, something we’ve long been fascinated with, and is also terrifyingly destructive. The wings of a bat, and claws as sharp and curved as lions’. They’re the ultimate monster, most of the time. And maybe that’s where we should take our look of dragons.

What makes a monster? What are their roles in stories?

Historically speaking, they’re obstacles. They’re the big the hero has to face off and defeat to accomplish some goal, be it rescuing the princess, or in some myths, freeing a much needed river from a serpent blocking it.

Many serpents in mythology have been likened to dragons, and certainly so when we head eastwards to the Asiatic dragons. One such serpent, dragon, or obstacle, if you will, is Vritra—the headed dragon-serpent of Vedic mythology. This serpent demon held the waters of the world held hostage and blocked by its body and greed until Indra, the Vedic god of storms, sky, lightning, and rains, battled the three-headed serpent. In the end, Indra was victorious and killed the demon-snake with a club imbued with the properties of a thunderbolt. There’s another similar battle between a great worldly serpent in the waters being bested by another storm god using a weapon holding all the powers of thunder in its head.

But for this deed, Indra was gifted a new name. A name that meant two things: Slayer of Vritra, and slayer of First Born Dragons.

Vritra, the three-headed serpent, was accounted a dragon then and there. When you go back far enough in mythology, the oldest of dragons in many cultures were closer to serpents than the winged beasts we often think of. And many fictional story worlds follow this convention too. In the world of Middle Earth, Glaurung, was the father of dragons.

But this beast was closer to a worm or serpent with legs than what his later descendants would come to be. Creatures such as Ancalagon the Black, the greatest and largest of all dragons to ever be birthed in Middle Earth. A winged monster so great he dwarfed mountains.

Regardless of their shape, though, all dragons/snakes served similar purposes in mythology: obstacles.

So I guess the question of whether snakes/serpents are dragons really does come down to, do they act as dragons? Do they serve the same purpose in the story?

In the Epic of Beowulf, the “dragon” is often also described as a serpent, or a worm. And while some instances mention the fire breathing aspects, some also mention the venomous bite. All throughout stories, serpents have been often interchangeable with dragons, which might be evidence in and of itself that they are the same things. Or, at least, that dragons comes from serpents, if that weren’t already obvious in their appearance.

A dragon in a story historically is the antagonist. Is that always true, especially today? No. But for their history, they were something to be defeated. Not for the sake of doing so, but they were already in a place of opposition to the needs of innocent people. They were hoarding needed wealth, demanding human sacrifices, or keeping natural resources from the populace.

In the FromSoftware game, Sekiro, a dragon comes to their land from off far away and throws off the natural process of life and death, allowing for something close to immortality and rebirth for a select few…

All at the cost of perverting the balance of things and spreading a disease known as dragonrot. The world is festering with it and people suffer. This dragon resembles the Asiatic design of dragons, closer to serpents than the European counterparts. But before you ever get to fight this great beast, you must navigate a frozen valley guarded by a monstrous white serpent closer to a giant viper than a dragon. But it may as well be a dragon, because at this point in the story, it is most certainly an obstacle.

One you’re not equipped to defeat. Only to survive.

But until that point in the game, you are only to evade this monstrous serpent that blocks your path, and do your best to come back at a later time to claim its heart. But if you dig into the lore of this creature, you’ll realize it serves another similar role to dragons. This serpent claimed sacrifices. There is a little tent in where offerings of people were left for the beast to claim. There are hidden stories you can piece together letting you know people offered members of their clans or villages up to these giant white serpents.

Sounds very similar to dragons.

Maybe, like many things throughout history, dragons have just changed shape, and their names. Nothing more.

As time’s gone on, and more media continues to birth new stories, we’ve come to classify all kinds of dragons with new names: wyrms, wyverns, drakes, amphitheres, lindworms, and so on. But the truth remains: they were serpents first, and I suppose, they’re serpents still.

So long as they exist to be something standing in the way of your protagonists, they’re all dragons, and when we have existing series where dragon can even be a mantle, or a title, that any old vanilla mortal can claim, well, I guess dragons really as mutable as the fires they breathe.

Perhaps the real dragons are the snakes…we met along the way?

Is that giant three-hundred foot long serpent blocking your mountain pass? Well, that’s a dragon. That fire breathing wingless, legless, snake that’s burning your favorite kebab place down? That, my friends, is a dragon.

That jerkwad who cut you off in his dinged up 1990’s Toyota Previa (that should have long fallen apart due to the tolls of time, never mind his accidents) with his peeling Whitesnake decals all over his doors?

Yeah, I suppose that’s a dragon too.

I guess the takeaway is: all obstacles can be dragons, but not all snakes are dragons? But some snakes are dragons, so long as they’re obstacles. But not all obstacles are snakes.

See, it’s easy!

So, are snakes dragons? I guess…it depends.

But they can be, and that’s the pretty nifty thing about fantasy. Anything can be a dragon if you work hard enough to make it so.

Note for all the danger noodle owners in the world: yes, your sweet little reptiles can also be dragons – the bestest of dragons.

R.R. Virdi is a two-time Dragon Award finalist, Nebula Award finalist, and USA Today Bestselling author. He is the author of two urban fantasy series, The Grave Report and The Books of Winter, as well as the epic fantasy novel The First Binding. His love of classic cars drove him to work in the automotive industry for many years before he realized he’d do a better job of maintaining his passion if he stayed away from customers.

He was born and raised in Northern Virginia and is a first generation Indian-American with all the baggage that comes with. He’s offended a long list of incalculable ancestors by choosing to drop out of college and not pursue one of three pre-destined careers: a lawyer, doctor, engineer. Instead, he decided to chase his dream of being an author. His family is still coping with this decision a decade later. He expects them to come around in another fifteen to twenty years.

Order The First Binding in Paperback Here

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Tor Staff Builds a Dragon

You can only write about dragons for so long without creating one. Tor staff have gathered from across the corners of our several departments to collectively design a precious little monster.

We are Tor Publishing Group. Meet our dragon.

Assigned Component: Tail
Designer: Rachel Taylor, Senior Marketing Manager

Dragons must be protected on all sides, and maybe most importantly from behind, so no pesky wannabe ‘heroes’ can sneak up and attempt a murder (cowards). The Tor Publishing Group is mighty and swift, so I think the tail must encompass those virtues, with a long, spiky tail that is fast, sharp, and deadly. AKA, the tail is made of knives. No unexpected sneak attacks will get the Tor Dragon down! BEGONE, ATTEMPTED DO-GOODERS!!!

sharp tail text: sharp, knives!

Assigned Component: Wings
Designer: Dragon Enthusiast, Marketing Assistant

Most dragons you see nowadays have thin, bat-like wings that are, frankly, not much fun. Here at Tor we’ve got flair, we’ve got pizazz, and our dragon should too so we’re taking the wing-game up a notch and giving them a pair of the fanciest, featheriest wings you’ve ever seen. Might our dragon look a tad silly? Perhaps. Will they be primed and ready to live their best dragon life? Most definitely.

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Assigned Component: Limbs
Designer: a cat, Assistant Marketing Manager

Tor Publishing Group has many imprints, so our dragon must have many limbs. At least as many limbs as we have imprints, and they all must be different to reflect the different propensities of Tor. For example, the Nightfire limb is obviously a chainsaw. The limb that represents Tor Teen will be a slightly more youthful iteration of the dragonic arm that represents Tor Books, etc.

many limbs of a dragon. one to match each imprint of tor

Assigned Component: Name
Designer: a stack of feral racoons in a trenchcoat, Assistant Director of Marketing

The ideal dragon name is hard to pin down but it’s all about branding. Do you want adventurers popping by regularly for when you’re feeling snacky? Try something intimidating but sure to pique their curiosity so they feel the trip to your digestive system is worth the effort but also sure to earn glory. Best naming convention for this purpose is BLANK the BLANK, like Doralindon the Conqueror of Cities or Steve the Ignoble.
But above all when considering a dread dragon name to terrify children around the fire in the halls of your enemies for years to come is to stay true to yourself. If you like your birth name, flaunt what your momma gave you! If you’re looking for a Nom de Guerre, don’t be afraid to flaunt your most fun qualities. Corey the Lover of Long Walks on the Beach is just as valid as The Dread Claw of Winter.

Assigned Component: Lair
Designer: A Nightfire Ghoul, Associate Editor

If I tell you there’s a dragon in all of us, you may laugh, as is your right. But you feel it, don’t you? Tail coiled around your ribs, wings tucked between your lungs, fire burning in your heart. So yes, dear reader, laugh if you’d like. But you know it’s the truth. The dragon’s lair is you. Be sure to feed it well.

a giant spine with friendly serpentine dragon curling around

Assigned Component: Magic Powers
Designer: Jill Cipher, Associate Publicist

While most readers probably imagine a fire-breathing, hoarding lizard with wings, I prefer dragons to be slightly more… peculiar. To really encompass the full idea of Tor Publishing Group, our dragon has to be a chameleon of chaos. I imagine our dragon has malleable collarbones like a cat in order to fit into small spaces; the disorienting scream of a goat; and world shaking (earthquakes, avalanches, etc.) abilities.

boulders falling on a little guy who's shouting "ah falling rocks!"







Is a Bat a Dragon? We Asked James Rollins

The Cradle of Ice by James RollinsBy now, Tor is at the forefront of research into what exactly constitutes “dragon.” We’ve entertained many queries throughout the years, determining if the umbrella of dragon extends to hippos, snakes, and Godzilla. Now, we turn to the expertise of James Rollins to advise on the dragonic status of bats. If you’ve read The Starless Crown and its sequel The Cradle of Ice, you probably know the answer.

Check it out!

by James Rollins      

My love for the natural world and all its myriad creatures was one of my main drives for pursuing a career in veterinary medicine. Even today as a full-time writer, I’ve not fully stepped away from that profession. As I’ve stated many times during book talks—yes, I can still neuter a cat in under thirty seconds.

Still, my greatest fascination about Nature is how it adheres to a dictate stated so succinctly in Jurassic Park:  Life will find a way.  I’ve always been captivated by the manner in which animals and plants discover innovative survival strategies to fill different environmental niches and how that fight has resulted in all the marvels (and horrors) found in the natural world.

While growing up, I found a new way of exploring this subject matter:  in science fiction and fantasy novels set on different worlds. I found myself especially drawn to material that explored life’s resilience across fantastic worlds. Whether it was the sandworms of Herbert’s Dune, the engineered landscape of Niven’s Ringworld, the many species of Card’s Ender’s Game, or a universe of other writers tackling how life finds a way.

Even when it came to those novels that featured dragons, I found myself most interested in the biology and the circumstance of their origins. How did the telepathy and bonding in Anne McCaffrey’s Pern books come about? What steps were taken to harness the physicality of dragons to become warriors in Novik’s Temeraire series? In Martin’s books, could dragon eggs truly be encysted for ages and require fire to bring them back to life? If so, how and why?

When it came to crafting my own fantastic world in the Moonfall Saga, I took a similar scientific eye to its construction. The series takes place on a tidally locked planet, a world that circles its sun with one side forever facing the sun, the other locked in eternal darkness. The only truly livable clime is the band between those extremes of ice and fire. Across such a harsh and unforgiving landscape, I wanted to build a biosphere of flora and fauna that made evolutionary sense. How would species survive the extreme cold and lack of sunlight? Could life find a way in the sunblasted hemisphere?

And what about dragons?

In the novel, one of the apex predators is a species of massive bat, with a wingspan of ten meters or more. We first see them in Book One (The Starless Crown). They inhabit the vast swamplands of Mýr—found in that more temperate climate of the world. They are nocturnal, haunting a drowned forest and roosting in a volcanic mountain. I wanted those bats to make biological sense, to have them fit that environmental niche in a natural way. Being arboreal, they would likely have evolved prehensile tails. As nocturnal creatures, they would need bell-shaped ears and still use ultrasonics to navigate. And without giving away any of the surprises in the books, there is a significant aspect to their biology that will allow them to bond to certain people.

In the books, I also wanted to add a level of verisimilitude to the bestiary by adding naturalistic sketches, drawings that you might find in a turn-of-the-century research journal.

Here is the Mýr bat:

sketch of a winged giant bats

Keep in mind, life will find a way, so this species is not limited to those swamplands. A subspecies evolved in the dark, frozen half of the world. It adapted to fit that harsh niche, becoming smaller and stockier, with shaggy fur, and nasal flaps that could seal to conserve body heat. Likewise, in this treeless landscape, that prehensile tail would no longer be needed. They make an appearance in the second book in the series, The Cradle of Ice.

Here is their sketch:

sketch of a winged giant batt

But what about the title of this blog post: Is a bat a dragon?

In the third volume in the series (A Dragon of Black Glass), which will be coming out in 2024, this species has also adapted to the sunblasted half of the world. To survive, they would need to burrow to survive, growing larger claws for digging, and bodies that would be hairless and elongated, with fanned tails for aerial maneuvering when out of their burrows. They would become known as “sanddragons.”

Here is a sneak peek at their preliminary incarnation (with the final version still to come):

preliminary sketch  massive crawling bat

I must note that all of these drawings were beautifully executed by graphic artist, Danea Fidler—as were all the other creature sketches featured in the books. I look forward to sharing the final versions of these “dragons” in 2024 when A Dragon of Black Glass hits bookshelves.

Order The Cradle of Ice Here:

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Showdown in the Skies: Aliens Vs. Dragons!

Strange lights fill the skies. So too does the beating of giant wings.

Shadows of an ominous future meet legends of a mythic past, and do battle. We do not come in peace, for here be dragons.

We’ve assembled a panel of experts to weigh in on the potential victors of each fight.

Check it.

The Xenomorph Vs. Toothless

Left: Xenomorph snarling Right: Toothless snarling

Proposed Victor: Toothless
Expert: Tessa Villanueva, Editorial Assistant

“What chance does anything even have against the Alpha of All Dragons? The unholy offspring of lightning and death itself? Yes, Toothless may look cute and adorable, but his intelligence is unparalleled–he’s been known to show smart and strategic thinking. He can fly over 100 mph and is agile and strong enough to dive-bomb giant dragons and knock them to the ground. He also has plasma blasts, unerring accuracy, and an indomitable fighting spirit that won’t quit–and he fights for his friends? Does the Xenomorph have friends? (Yes, she has a hive, but are they really friends?)”

Proposed Victor: The Xenomorph
Expert: a cat, Assistant Marketing Manager

“The Xenomorph is an acid-blooded, highly adaptive social hunter who has proven time and time again that in space we can hear you scream when it bursts out your chest. She’s a star terror of cinema and has torn through the armor of the Predator, and she frequently carries me to victory royales in Fortnite. Fans of Alien (1979), Aliens (1986), Alien 3 (1992), Alien: Resurrection (1997), Prometheus (2012), and Alien: Covenant (2017) understand that Toothless, who is domesticated and trained, will be ruined, ribboned, and folded into a scary xeno-cocoon.”

Stitch Vs. Melanchthon

Left: Stitch dancing Right: The Iron Dragon's Daughter by Michael Swanwick

Proposed Victor: Melancthon
Expert: Mal Frazier, Editorial Assistant

“So, you might think Stitch is going to win. Sure, there’s no way that the cutest character could ever defeat the scariest character, but we’ll give him a fair crack. Dragon #7332 (no, not your buddy’s discord username) from The Iron Dragon’s Daughter by Michael Swanwick is rusting in a heap in the disgusting child labor factory for years when he finally finds an appropriately malleable pilot and steals Jane. He’s a giant metal dragon war machine built by fairies who eat death magic and [spoilers for a book older than me] kills the entire world. Yes, the whole thing. I think he’s neat. Also he’s named after a dead philosopher which has to give you a stats boost if some kind.”

Proposed Victor: Stitch
Expert: Lizzy Hosty, Publishing Strategy Assistant

“Experiment 626 was created to cause chaos across an entire galaxy. According to the mad scientist who created Stitch, he’s bulletproof, fireproof, can think faster than a computer, can see in the dark, and move objects 3,000 times his size. His first instinct is literally destruction. It’s like he was created to not only survive a fight against a dragon, but absolutely destroy them; change my mind.”

Zanj Vs. Tairn

Left: Empress of Forever by Max Gladstone Right: Fourth Wing by Rebecca Yarros

Proposed Victor: Zanj
Expert: a cat, Assistant Marketing Manager

“Okay before anything else, if space-pirate-werewolf-queen Zanj asked me to join her in (un)holy matrimony, I would ascend to her side instantly, madly, and without hesitation. By that metric at least she’s the most powerful combatant of this whole bracket, and I think we should take that into account. Max Gladstone’s phenomenal Empress of Forever chronicles the second conflict between Zanj and her allies against the omnipotent Jade Empress, who can destroy planets with her thoughts. Yeah. Zanj is back for round two. But Tairn won’t be.”

Proposed Victor: Tairn
Expert: Lizzy Hosty, Publishing Strategy Assistant

“I just read Fourth Wing (I’m late to the party, I know), and when I tell you Tairn could literally destroy a whole fleet, I’m so serious. This dragon took on multiple [redacted] and didn’t even flinch. His only weakness would be keeping his rider alive, but for the purposes of this, Tairn has claimed no rider, so he’s practically invincible and nothing could change my mind. He can shoot fire, his teeth are as big as humans, his wing span could crush dozens just accidentally. Need I say more.”

Deoxys Vs. Chronormu

Left: Deoxys Right: Chronormu

Proposed Victor: Chronormu
Expert: a cat, Assistant Marketing Manager

“Look Deoxys might come from space, but Chronormu helped stave off the invasion of the Burning Legion. Twice. She isn’t afraid. She’s cute, she’s trans, she’s a guardian of the timeways, and when she glances at this silly triangle-island (remember that puzzle? It was awful) and chooses FIGHT, it’ll be a OHKO. Plus Deoxys has base 50 HP, no matter what form it’s in. Flop.”

Proposed Victor: Deoxys
Expert: Tessa Villanueva, Editorial Assistant

“First of all, Deoxys came from outer space from INSIDE A METEOR. You cannot get more metal than that. It was on its way to destroy the world, but it stopped just to have this little battle. It’s capable of using any of its Formes to gain an advantage in battle, whether it’s Normal, Attack, Defense, or Speed. It’s also able to regenerate any part of its body! Not to mention its ultimate signature attack, Psycho Boost–sure, the recoil will lower its special attack, but no one’s going to survive that…”

So who wins this intergalactic, inter-mythic showdown? Take to the comments and let us know!


5 Dragons Daniel M. Ford’s Adept Wizard Could Beat in a Fight

The Warden by Daniel M. FordDragonslayers have been around almost as long as dragons, but what makes a dragonslayer? Truthfully, a dragonslayer can be anyone. Your nephew, that street performer, your mail carrier… But what about a young necromancer, fresh out of school and with a chip on her shoulder? Yes. 

For more on that, we bring you Daniel M. Ford to discuss the dragonslaying capabilities of Aelis de Lenti, the main character of his fantasy novel The Warden.

Aelis de Lenti, the main character of my book The Warden, is, well, a warden, which is to say a wizard with a specific mandate to protect an area or group of people, as a kind of marshal/investigator/magistrate. And as my readers will know, her magic is not generally of the explosive, openly powerful, full-of-offensive-potential kind. So if Aelis was to go hunting dragons, she’d have to be very careful, select her targets well, prepare, and look for weaknesses other people might not see. Thankfully for her, Aelis is, while not a world class planner, really good at making it up as she goes along, and she has a couple friends—Tun, the half-orc woodsman, and Maurenia, the half-elven adventuress—that can generally be convinced to help her out.


Reaching way back into the origins of European dragons here, I think it’s reasonable to say that Aelis could come up with the idea of digging a hole and waiting for the wyrm to slither over it so she can stab it in the belly. There’s also the fact that eating the heart of this particular dragon is said to bring knowledge, which combines two things Aelis can’t get enough of; fancy cuisine and knowing things other people don’t.

The Sleeping Dragon from The Sleeping Dragon by Joel Rosenberg

Right away, the Sleeping part is a giveaway for exactly how Aelis will approach this fight.


But there’s more to it. In Rosneberg’s Guardians of the Flame series[1], dragons have a pretty well known and debilitating weakness. There is an herb known as dragonbane—a little on the nose—that is commonly found and widely known to interfere with a dragon’s magical metabolism. This generally keeps dragons of this world from messing with humans too openly. Once Aelis gets her hands on some of this herb, a few hours in a decently stocked alchemical lab—even the not very well stocked lab in her tower would probably do—and she can definitely refine it into something extra lethal. Then it’s just a matter of getting close enough, quietly enough, with some crossbow bolts or arrows to get the job done.

Or, more likely, convincing Tun and/or Maurenia to get close enough to get the job done. After all, an Abjurer’s job in a fight isn’t necessarily to deliver the killing blow so much as it is to cover those who are better prepared or equipped to do so. At least, that’s what she’d tell her friends while she talked them into it. Can her wards stand up to dragon breath? Of course they can! Probably. But we won’t even need to find out, right?

Verimthrax Pejorative, from Dragonslayer

A classic fantasy film dragon that proves very dangerous to even an experienced wizard, as seen in the film, Vermithrax Pejorative is tough to take via a conventional approach to dragon-slaying.

Aelis de Lenti is anything but conventional.

In the film, Ulrich the wizard is able to discern that Vermithrax is affected by a disease that bothers all dragons as they age, a scale-rot that causes constant pain. Aelis could certainly diagnose this, and after coaxing the dragon to get close by staking out the goat[2]to provide a free meal, and then offering to treat her scale-rot. Once she does start treating that disease, her Necromantic abilities will teach her all about draconic anatomy and weaknesses, giving her something she can surely exploit. Maybe Vermithrax dies quietly in her sleep, maybe her firebreath is suddenly disabled, maybe the next time she flies she finds that the muscles of her wings have mysteriously atrophied and she crashes into a hill. There is no equivalent of the Hippocratic Oath in Aelis’s world.

A Dracolich, any Dracolich

Sure, sure, Dracoliches like Daurgothoth the Creeping Doom are a menace to fantasy worlds. When you marry the magical power and resistances of a lich with the thousands of years of experience, intelligence, and magical abilities of a dragon, you get something fearsome.

And not one of them has ever dealt with something like a Lyceum trained Necrobane. Aelis is at her best and most powerful when fighting the undead. Once she’s got some practical experience against living dragons and is able to put that together with her Necromantic power, she can surely find a way to take down a dracolich.

Rand al’Thor, The Dragon Reborn[3]

Yes, I hear you. Rand is catastrophically powerful. If he’s got any of his angreal or sa’angreal around, like Callandor, he can probably destroy the world, or close enough as makes no difference. Aelis can’t match him with magic. She probably can’t match him blade to blade, either, as Rand is a confirmed blademaster and she is competent. Her friends wold surely know better than to even try. So why do I think Aelis could take him?

Quite simply, (at least in the early books) Rand is terrified of women, especially one that acts even a little bit interested in him. And later books Rand flat out refuses to fight a woman. Is this cheating? Fine! Aelis isn’t above cheating to achieve a goal! She can easily take Rand al’Thor[4]based on these two data points alone.

So, there you have it; the Top 5 Dragons Aelis de Lenti can take in a fight. It requires a little unorthodox thinking, because Aelis doesn’t flash the kind of power you might expect from a fantasy wizard. But she excels at getting the most out of what she does have; her wards, her Necromancy, her friends, and her willingness to cheat[5].

Order The Warden Here:

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[1]    A portal fantasy where a group of college students get transported to the world they play a fantasy RPG in and decide to Do the Industrial Revolution in order to end slavery. It shows its age in spots (it began in 1983) but it’s worth a read.

[2]    If you’ve read The Warden you know exactly which goat I mean

[3]    I do not suggest that Aelis could handle the armies surrounding Rand, the Far Dareis Mai who guard him, or Elayne, Aviendha, and Min. Just Rand.

[4]    Provided we ignore all the stuff about his world-shattering power and the massive armies, incredible resources, and similarly powerful people who’d be invested in his victory.

[5]    Please understand that I have great respect, even love, for all the dragons mentioned here.


How to Worship Your Dragon: Julia Vee & Ken Bebelle Advise

Ebony Gate by Julia Vee & Ken BebelleJulia Vee & Ken Bebelle wrote a book that’s like female John Wick with dragon magic and it’s called Ebony Gate and guess what! It’s out TODAY. We actually have Julia & Ken with us as special guests for Dragon Week, so check out their scholarly article on rituals of dragon worship, and then check out their high octane urban fantasy full of magic and assassins!

Check it out!

A Brief Description of Rituals to Worship Chinese Dragons by Julia Vee & Ken Bebelle

 Make Your Annual Pilgrimage to a Local Dragon King and Dragon Mother Temple For Blessings

Dragon King and Dragon Mother temples dot the Asian countryside. If you are in the northern reaches of China, get yourself to the Heilongdawang Temple (literally “Black Dragon Great King”) located in Longwanggou (“Dragon King Valley”) in Shaanxi province where you can njoy six days of festivities.

Modern Chinese scholars note that folkloric traditions and religions are having a revival.1 And why not? Festivities for the Great Black Dragon King include opera, dancers, circus performers, games, fireworks, and of course, gambling. This particular dragon king is more highly regarded than other local dragon kings because of his imperially conferred official title–the Marquis of Efficacious Response (Lingyinghou, 灵应侯).2

The Heilongdawang festival draws hundreds of thousands of pilgrims, all ready to donate generously to the temple coffers, burn incense, and otherwise eat copious quantities at the food stalls.

Or you can participate in a rain-summoning ceremony. In the drought-prone north, one ritual to summon rain included “casting tiger bones into a pool of water in order to scare dragons into flight, thereby creating rainclouds.”3

If you are in southern China, on the eighth day of the fifth month on the lunar calendar, you can join in with over a hundred thousand pilgrims to visit the Dragon Mother Temple in Guangdong. This temple sits along the Xijiang River and leans against Wulong (Five Dragons) Mountain. The area is known as the Pearl River Delta, and Dragon Mother devotees are spread widely across the West river and into Hong Kong and Macau. The Lung Mo temple on Pengchau island (Hong Kong) is situated on the beach.

The origins of the Dragon Mother reach back longer than the established official story, which goes something like this:

There was a young woman named Wen from Wuzhou. One day while washing clothes in the West River, she found a giant stone. From the stone sprung five lizards, who grew into dragons. She raised them tenderly and when her village had drought, the dragons brought rain. When the river threatened to flood, the dragons were there to divert the floodwaters. When she was quite elderly, the Emperor summoned her to the capital. Her dragon sons prevented the arduous journey (which was by river of course). When she passed away in 211 B.C. her dragon sons were devastated and transformed into five human scholars who held her funeral rites and buried her in Jiangwan.

Later, she was elevated in status to a deity, rising to the heavens as an immortal.

Pilgrims consider this eighth day of the fifth lunar month the Dragon Mother’s birthday and observe time-honored rituals. First, they wash their hands in the Dragon Spring to clean off the worldly dirt. The pilgrims then burn incense and present gifts at the temple. They bow, then kneel on the floor, and pray to the goddess. After this devotion, they light off firecrackers to respectfully invite the Dragon Mother to receive their gifts and fulfill their wishes.4

As one scholar notes, “It is not a coincidence that the pilgrimage to the Dragon Mother Temple falls on the eighth day of the fifth lunar month, as the fifth lunar month was the time when the danger of seasonal flooding of the West River (which is commonly known as “xiliao 西 潦,” literally “west flood”) was the most imminent. The West River therefore was both a lifeline and a constant threat to the local people, who felt a real need to appease the river as well as to express their gratitude to the river goddess on this annual festive occasion.”5

The Dragon Mother and other water goddess (“Shuimu”) traditions go back millennia and it’s not hard to see why. The specter of drought, famine, or flooding was constant. Seafaring populations too, had multiple goddesses they sought blessings from for their safe voyage (Dragon Mother, Sea Goddess Mazu, and the shuimu (“Water Goddess”).

In 1861, John Henry Gray observed a ceremony to the Dragon Mother:

“…On a small temporary altar, which had been erected for the occasion, stood three cups containing Chinese wine. Taking in his hands a live fowl, which he continued to hold until he killed it as a sacrifice, the master proceeded in the first place to perform the Kowtow. He then took the cups from the table, one at a time, and, raising each above his head, poured its contents on the deck as a libation. He next cut the throat of the fowl with a sharp knife, taking care to sprinkle that portion of the deck on which he was standing with the blood of the sacrifice. At this stage of the ceremony several pieces of silver paper were presented to him by one of the crew. These were sprinkled with the blood, and then fastened to the door-posts and lintels of the cabin.”6

It wasn’t just sailors and locals to the West river who observed such pilgrimages and prayer rituals. When there was a drought, even government officials were tasked with conducting prayers to the Dragon King.

 Failure to Worship the Dragon King, or Worse, Destruction of a Dragon King Temple, Can Lead to Heaven-Sent Disaster!

During the Great Flood of 1931 in Wuhan, one official lamented that the people blamed the flood on the destruction of a Dragon King Temple.7 The Dragon King Temple in Hankou had been demolished in 1930 to make way for a new road, so the timing of the flood was uncanny.

This flood affected 53 million people. The officials of Wuhan had to repent. Several prominent officials of Wuhan participated in rituals designed to placate the Dragon King, including the mayor. They kowtowed to the Dragon King altar, beseeching the deity to spare Wuhan from the flood.

Citizens of the region also blamed officials for outlawing the singing of “spirit operas” traditionally performed to assuage flood dragons.8

To those who worshiped the Dragon King, destroying his temple that sat atop the dyke was clearly a bad idea.

Maybe a River Near You Has a Dragon Deity.

Even if a Dragon King or Dragon Mother temple isn’t available, you can still make a pilgrimage to the rivers. At least forty rivers in China are named for dragons including these rivers in Shanghai: Shanghai: Longquangang He 龍泉港河 (Dragon Spring Port River), Bailonggang He 白龍港河 (White Dragon Port River).9

Just be sure to be properly deferential, and perhaps offer a song to the river dragon.

Julia Vee & Ken Bebelle

We would like to thank Dr. Yasmin Koppen of University Leipzig for her friendship, and generously sharing her expertise and scholarship in East Asian dragons.

Order Ebony Gate Here:

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  1. Chau, Adam Yuet “Mysterious Response: Doing Popular Religion in Contemporary China” (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2006) 88.
  2. Fan Lizhu and Chen Na “Resurgence of Indigenous Religion in China” (2013) 11.
  3. Courtney, Chris “The Dragon King and the 1931 Wuhan Flood: Religious Rumors and Environmental Disasters in Republican China” (University of Cambridge, Twentieth-Century China 40.2, May 2015) p. 88.
  4. Tan, Weiyun “Dragon mother temple keeps legend alive for 2 millennia” Shine, Nov. 12, 2021 https://www.shine.cn/feature/art-culture/2111128066/
  5. Poon, Shuk-Wah. &quot;Thriving Under an Anti-Superstition Regime: The Dragon Mother Cult in Yuecheng, Guangdong, During the 1930s.&quot; Journal of Chinese Religions 43, no. 1 (2015): 34-58. muse.jhu.edu/article/708611.
  6. Poon, pg 41.
  7. Courtney at p. 83.
  8. Courtney at p. 100.
  9. Zhao, Qiguang Chinese Mythology in the Context of Hydraulic Society Asian Folklore Studies Vol. 48, No. 2 (1989), pp. 231-246.
  10. cindyxiong. “Ancient Bronze Dragons Carving in the Ancient Dragon King Temple along Yangtze River,China. Foreign Text Means King. Stock Photo.” Adobe Stock, stock.adobe.com/images/ancient-bronze-dragons-carving-in-the-ancient-dragon-king-temple-along-yangtze-river-china-foreign-text-means-king/100861913?prev_url=detail. Accessed 6 July 2023.


Devilishly Dragonic Moments from Dragon Week History

This is our fifth Dragon Week! That’s half a decade of monstrously mythic content, and we’d be remiss if we didn’t give some spotlight and love to key moments from Dragon Weeks’ past.

Check it out!

Our Favorite Highlights from Dragon Weeks Past (2022)

dragon in distance with lightning storm menaced by wizard on mountain

We literally have so many Dragon Week highlights that the previous highlight reel takes spot one on this list. We are full of dragons. We are drowning in dragons. We are dragons.

Dragon Week 4: Dragons 4Ever!!

Are Hippos DRAGONS!?! Sarah Gailey Weighs In!

hippo breathing fire

The only thing we love more than exploring the murky boundary of the reality of dragons is asking our authors to explore with us.

Dragon Week: TOKYO DRIFT

How to Survive an Adventurer Attack: A Guide for Dragons

text: how to survive an adventurer attack 101 picture: a knight fighting a dragon (cartoony)

This one’s for the dragons among us. You need not cringe from the glinting armor of menacing nights. You have this guide.

Dragon Week: TOKYO DRIFT

The Best Dragons in Human Skin: A List by Jenn Lyons, author of The Ruin of Kings

reptilian eyes close-up

Some dragons are dragons. Some dragons are people. Jenn Lyons understands.

Dragon Week 2020

On Dragon Conservation, featuring Marie Brennan

a dragon drawing that's half fleshed and half anatomical

Dragons are cool, and we love them. That’s why we invited Marie Brennan to talk dragon conservation.

Dragon Week (2019 Original)

So, You Woke Up A Dragon? An 8-Step Guide to Survival from Brian Naslund

ethereally blue and red setting with shadow of dragon

Situation: It’s 2021 and you have suddenly become a dragon. Uh oh! Good thing this guide from Brian Naslund just dropped!

Dragon Week: TOKYO DRIFT


What Kind of Dragon Are You?

by a cat

A while ago, we used a quiz to turn y’all into books. Now, in celebration of Dragon Week—our favorite week of the year—we’re turning y’all into dragons.

Yep. Dragons.

Will you make friends or eat them?

Tell us what you get, and check out the dragon-inclusive books we’re plugging below 👇👇

The Unspoken Name by A. K. Larkwood

Buy The Unspoken Name Here:

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Buy The Ruin of Kings Here:

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The Kaiju Preservation Society by John Scalzi

Buy The Kaiju Preservation Society Here:

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Tor Books Presents…Dragon Week 5eva: Aliens Vs. Dragons

We at Tor are SO excited to bring you Dragon Week 5eva, and we’ve—BZZZZZZZT—incoming transmission. Signal Source: The stars. Message: “Dragons beware. We are aliens. We are here.”

Uh oh. Looks like we’ve got company for Dragon Week 5eva, but good news! We’ve also got a whole slew of mythically extraterrestrial content lifting off in the coming week. Check out our roundup of everything to watch out for during Dragon Week 5eva: Aliens Vs. Dragons!

Monday, 7/10

Quiz: What Kind of Dragon Are You?

background is a volcano, which is also a dragon. many different dragons populate the foreground including traditional, snake, polygonal, and dragonfly, plus semi-transparent ourobouros

Tuesday, 7/11

How to Worship Your Dragon: Julia Vee & Ken Bebelle Advise

Ancient Bronze Dragons Carving in the Ancient Dragon King Temple along Yangtze River,China.

Devilishly Dragonic Moments from Dragon Week History

a dragon the size of the world approaches the world in space

Wednesday, 7/12

Showdown in the Skies: Aliens Vs. Dragons!

area 51, the desert, during the day. a sign warns of aliens and a flying dragon menaces a landed spacecraft

5 Dragons Daniel M. Ford’s Adept Wizard Could Beat in a Fight

the shadow of a woman punching with sunset background

Thursday, 7/13

Tor Staff Builds a Dragon

an array of shiny metal gears with a series of vector dragon images in a circle around the biggest one

Is a Bat a Dragon? James Rollins Answers

Bat sketches by danea fidler in front of a transparent moon

Friday, 7/14

Interstellar Dragoncore Tunes for Soaring Through Space

a dragon shadow curling in front of a bunch of rainbow music notes with little alien spaceships inside the shadow


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