23 April is St George’s Day, which is celebrated in the various places of which George is the patron saint. This list includes: England, Portugal, Cyprus, Greece, Georgia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Romania, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Macedonia, Moscow, Genova, Ljubljana, Beirut, Qormi, Aragon, Catalonia, Valencia and Palestine.
The legend of Saint George and the dragon is well-known, although it apparently has murky origins. I quite like dragons myself and thought that I’d try to reclaim their reputation a little with ten of my favourite dragon characters. After all, it’s not easy being green. Or red. Or scaly.
Everything about Shrek is pure, unadulterated fabulousness of course, but the romance between Dragon and Donkey is especially adorable. Dragon was initially introduced as an antagonist- she was guarding Princess Fiona in her castle and thus presenting a barrier to Shrek and Donkey’s rescue mission. However she falls for Donkey, and later helps him and Shrek in their fight against Lord Farquaad. In fact, she neatly stops Farquaad from marrying Fiona against her will by eating him.
She’s also appeared in the myriad Shrek sequels, most of which are a pale imitation of the joyful original. Her and Donkey’s “dronkey” offspring are pretty cute though.
Haku (Spirited Away)
When Chihiro ends up in a mysterious otherworld and has to work in a bathhouse frequented by monsters and spirits, a boy called Haku helps her to adjust. She’s perturbed by the fact that he knows her name without her telling him, but he seems to be a nice guy. As it turns out, he’s actually a nice dragon.
He needs to remember his real name in order to break the spell which enslaves him. Chihiro is eventually able to help him when she recalls where she’s met him before (in his river dragon form), and how he knows her.
Draco nobilis (Guards! Guards!)
While trolls, dwarfs, witches, wizards, vampires, werewolves etc might be common features of the Discworld, dragons are far rarer. They require a ridiculous quantity of magic to combat the laws of physics and thus exist, but one is summoned to terrorise the city of Ankh-Morpork in Guards! Guards! (as part of a plot to overthrow the city’s Patrician, Lord Vetinari).
But the dragon is more cunning than the people trying to control it- becoming king and demanding a steady supply of gold and virgin sacrifices. You’ve got to admire gumption like that. Plus Captain Vimes’ investigation of swamp dragons not only brings the City Watch a ridiculous mascot in the shape of Errol (underdeveloped, even by swamp dragon standards), it’s what brings Vimes and Lady Sybil (who becomes his wife) together. Despite all the rampaging, that dragon was clearly a matchmaker extraordinaire.
Eustace (The Voyage of the Dawn Treader)
There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.
The first line of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, by CS Lewis, is one of my favourite openings of all time. The character 0f Eustace is initially introduced as selfish and annoying- a constant pain for Edmund and Lucy Pevensie who are staying with him and his parents. They’re overjoyed when they get sucked back into Narnia, but Eustace is horrified by the experience. And seasick.
His greed and self-obsession are his downfall though, as he ends up being cursed and turning into a dragon. This transformation helps him learn his lesson in a way that nothing else seemed capable of doing. The kindness of the others- especially Reepicheep whom he was awful to in the past- to him while he’s in his dragon form seems to help him reconsider his behaviour. He’s eventually turned back into a boy by Aslan, and he goes on to be a much nicer person, and returns to Narnia (with his new friend Jill Pole) in The Silver Chair.
Gringotts’ dragon (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows)
Several dragons are encountered in the world of Harry Potter, such as Hagrid’s pet Norbert, and the ones that the champions have to get past in the Triwizard Tournament. There’s plenty of information about them in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, and in fact the Hogwarts motto translates as “never tickle a sleeping dragon”. Wise words to live by.
Harry first heard about real dragons when Hagrid mentioned, way back in the first book, the rumour that Gringotts bank used one to guard their vaults. This was proved true in Deathly Hallows when Harry, Ron and Hermione break into the Lestrange’s vault in the bank in order to destroy one of Voldemort’s horcruxes. They jump onto the back of the dragon and make a speedy escape. Without this helpful dragon, they might never have been able to defeat Voldemort.
Dragon (Jane and the Dragon)
This series of children’s books featured a girl who didn’t want to grow up to be a lady-in-waiting, she wanted to be a knight. Not only do Martin Baynton’s books subvert the usual gender roles of fairy tales (here it’s the brave girl who gets to rescue the prince) but it allows the monster to not be monstrous at all, and Jane and the Dragon become fast friends.
The books spawned a TV series, with the Dragon dutifully helping Jane with her knight training, while she tries to aid the orphaned Dragon in finding out about his heritage. And wacky hijinks ensue, naturally.
Kazul (Enchanted Forest Chronicles)
Similarly Patricia C. Wrede’s Enchanted Forest Chronicles feature an atypical intellectual princess who runs away when faced with the prospect of marriage to an idiotic prince. She travels to the Mountains of Morning, meets a group of dragons and elects to work for Kazul. Princess Cimorene quite enjoys being Kazul’s “captive” and they become firms friends, although they’re often plagued by princes attempting to rescue Cimorene.
Kazul is always shown to be fair and intelligent, and to appreciate Cimorene, who gets promoted to being the Cook and Librarian when Kazul becomes King. Although Kazul is a female dragon, the term “King” is gender-neutral, merely indicating leadership. Their lack of sexism was another reason Cimorene preferred hanging out with them to human royals. (At least until she met Mendanbar, the human King of the Enchanted Forest, anyway.)
Skysong (The Immortals)
Tamora Pierce’s Immortals quartet focuses on Daine, who possesses “wild magic” which allows her to communicate with, heal, and shapeshift into animals. In ‘Wild Magic’, the first book, she meets a dragon, Flamewing, at the battle of Pirate’s Swoop. Before Flamewing dies she entrusts her child, Skysong, to Daine’s care.
Skysong (aka Kitten) is incredibly cutesy, and changes colour depending on her mood, which is only added to by her being too young to communicate via mind-speak like older dragons. Despite her youth she’s still pretty powerful, and uses her magic to assist Daine, who is essentially her adoptive mother, on her adventures.
Maltcassion (The Last Dragonslayer)
The first book in Jasper Fforde’s young adult Dragonslayer trilogy might not be as layered and inventive as his Thursday Next books, but it’s still certainly a fun read. It’s set in the unUnited Kingdom where magic is real, but weakening. The main character is Jennifer Strange, who becomes the Last Dragonslayer.
She’s reluctant to accept the task of killing the last dragon, Maltcassion. It’s apparently due to her morals or something, but I have a sneaking suspicion that it’s impossible to hate on anyone who snarks on humans for counting in base ten and being built inside out.
Puff (‘Puff the Magic Dragon’)
‘Puff the Magic Dragon’ is a song originally made famous by the band Peter, Paul and Mary- and apparently based on a poem by an 18-year old student. The song tells the story of an immortal dragon who is left depressed and lonely when his playmate (a human child) grows up and forget about him. The dreamlike story and sound of the song, and the fact that it contains the words “Puff” and “Paper” (the surname of Jackie, the boy who plays with Puff) have led to an assumption that it’s secretly about smoking weed. But this has been vehemently denied by its writers who insist that it’s simply a song about growing up.
Whether you impute a double meaning onto the lyrics or not, there’s still a bittersweet tale there about children growing up and leaving their creativity and capacity for imagination behind. (It always reminds me of Susan no longer being a friend of Narnia in The Last Battle). It’s such an endemic song that it’s spawned many cover versions as well as adaptations, including a children’s book (pictured above) which presents a happier ending by having Puff meet a new companion.
Given that dragons are legendary creatures that we seem to have been telling stories about practically forever there’s a hell of a lot of examples of dragon characters. Got your own favourites? Tell us all about them in the comments, unless it’s that awful giant dog-dragon thing from The Neverending Story. That thing was freaky.