China and its Mythology: Dragons Galore!

The Great Zoo of China by Matthew Reilly

This is definitely a book for those who loved Jurassic Park! In fact it would make a similar great movie – so much happens it is quite amazing – every possible disaster that you can think of and some you can’t – or wouldn’t have thought of, happens. But then the author admits he did like to create ever more fanciful disasters…. and the more the merrier.

Now when it mentioned that was going to be a zoo about very unusual indeed creatures – we had to imagine it would either be the abominable snowman – or dragons. After all, as it says in the book, dragons are very well known in China and their stories are full of encounters with these creatures, so it may not be surprising that some really do/did exist. There are of course, some stunning Chinese Dragons depictions, all over silk dressing gowns from Hong Kong of course and this magnificent robe that was found in a tomb of a prince in China and can be seen in the British Museum.:

dragon robe

 

 

 

 

 

 

and beautiful paintings in fanciful landscapes,

dragon painting

 

 

 

 

 

not to mention the strange creatures that lurk on the top of Chinese buildings

DSCN2481

 

 

So dragons are really a common concept in China and of course we know that we have a number of different types of dragon reptiles available to buy as pets some from China, others from Australia, some that live in deserts and others in water.

Take a look at these…

frilled dragon

chinese water dragon red dragon
Of course, dragons have been written about before. Shakespeare in King Lear Says “come not between the dragon and his wrath” [Act1 Scene 1] and this is certainly what this book by Reilly tries to portray.

In the bible of course, Satan is often portrayed as a dragon – a great serpent with wings. And they are also the beasts that inhabit the desolate and devastated places. Sometimes also called a great worm – again with wings but… So again dragons are not nice creatures.

I thought I should try and find some ancient references to this mythical creature and according to the trusty (?) Wikipedia before the 5th century bc you can find references to dragons in:

  • Book of Job(5th century BC?): leviathan (chapter 41).
  • Apollonius of RhodesArgonautica(3rd century BC): where the dragon was guarding the golden fleece – Book 2), and also the dragon whose teeth can be sown like seed to make an army grow (Book 3).
  • Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca(after 1st century BC): the sea monster that Perseus slays to rescue Andromeda is a water dragon, and there is a dragon guarding the apples of the Hesperides (Book 2).
  • John of PatmosBook of Revelation(1st century AD): portrays Satan as a dragon (Chapters 12-13, 16:13, 20:2).

A lot of people have attempted their own best dragon story list eg http://www.barnesandnoble.com/blog/the-top-6-best-dragons-in-literature/ March 2014; and  http://www.abebooks.co.uk/books/avid-reader/dragons-literature.shtml.

But here are my favourite dragons:

  1. Ursula K. Le Guin, in her world of Earthsea (1964): the portrayal of dragons undergoes significant changes from book to book. In the original, they resemble Smaug, with unbounded greed for hoards of precious jewellery; later, they grow in stature and nobility, to become virtual demi-gods who speak the “Language of Creation” as their mother tongue. Later still, it is revealed that they share an ancestry with humanity, and that some rare humans (always women) can change into dragons at will (or they may be considered as dragons who can take human form at will). In contrast to the dragons of C.S. Lewis’s fiction, the dragons of Earthsea do not eat each other. Like Tolkien’s Smaug, they are susceptible to drowning. Le Guin is a great writer and I used some her work and advice on how to write a good story when I wrote my PhD up – good writing style goes across all genres – my doctorate was in Information Systems! But I wrote the case element up as a story and linked the history in the 5 elements as recommended by Davies and as demonstrated by Le Guin.
  2. Anne McCaffreyDragonriders of Pernseries (1966): The (genetically engineered) Dragons of PernDragons in Pern (genetically modified fire-lizards, which were Pernese natives) are ridden by “dragonriders” to protect the planet from a deadly threat, the Thread. The dragons include Faranth, MnementhRamoth, and Ruth.
  3. David and Leigh EddingsThe Belgariad(1982) and The Malloreon series (1988): Unnamed dragons. There used to be three: two males and one female but the males killed each other in the first mating season leaving the female alone for millennia.
  4. Michael EndeThe Neverending Story(1979): Falkor (Fuchur in the original German version), the luckdragon, and Smerg, an evil dragon.

Other good dragons in literature are:

  • Melanie Rawn, the Dragon Prince series(1985–1994):
  • George R. R. MartinA Song of Ice and Fireseries (1996–present), and the CCG based on the books: Drogon, Viserion, and Rhaegal, the dragons hatched by Daenerys Targaryen. Also, Balerion the Black Dread, Meraxes and Vhaghar, ridden by Aegon the Conqueror and his sisters in the conquest of Westeros.
  • Cornelia FunkeDragon Rider(1997): Firedrake, Slatebeard, Maia, Shimmertail and several unnamed dragons. The cannibal Nettlebrand from the same book may also be considered a dragon due to his appearance.
  • Robin Wayne BaileyDragonkinseries (2003): The dragons of Wyvernwood.
  • J. K. Rowling, “Harry Potter” series (1997–2007): Various dragons (including Norwegian Ridgebacks, Hungarian Horntails, Swedish Short-Snouts, Common Welsh Greens, Hebridean Blacks, and a Chinese Fireball). Dragons are mentioned throughout the Harry Potterbooks and a baby dragon appears in the first instalment and dragons later play a significant role in the fourth and seventh books. They are portrayed as having strong magic, but they do not exhibit any hints of intelligence or self-awareness. Within the series, dragons are considered very dangerous by most characters (Rubeus Hagrid being a notable exception) and private ownership of dragons is illegal.

dragon

 

 

 

But if you really like dragons in literature then do try this test:

http://www.funtrivia.com/en/subtopics/Burning-it-Up—Dragons-in-Literature-356883.html

In fact looking on the internet, the number of ways you can look at dragons is very long indeed  good ones, bad ones, in the bible, in classical literature, in films, what their names are and on and on.

They have certainly fascinated us humans ever since we thought them up – or did we? And that is the key question in this book – do they really exist but are rarely seen and what we are hearing about are folk-lore tales that we have turned into stories?

After all if the Flood that is mentioned in the Bible did really exist, and there really was an island which was inhabited which could have been called Atlantis for all we know, that sank because of a great volcanic eruption and earthquake, and it is certainly true that people worshipped bulls in Crete and we know that labyrinths exist as we have seen them in churches , who’s to say that dragons don’t or haven’t at some time, existed?

We really don’t know everything even if we pretend we do….

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