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Tough Travels: Dragons

Tough Travels on Fantasy-Faction

At the start of every month, Fantasy-Faction will lead you (yes, YOU!) on a tour of the fantasy genre. From high to low, from classics to new releases, from epic to urban; each month, we will guide you in search of a different trope, theme or cliché. Lest we become lost, we’ll be referring to The Tough Guide to Fantasyland by Diana Wynne Jones.

However, since these tropes can appear in many guises (they are sneaky, precious, yes indeed) we’ve enlisted the help of our friends and travelling companions across the blogosphere (including Nathan Barnhart, who started it all) to help us on our way. You’ll find links to their own lists at the bottom of this post – along with the chance to submit your own!

With no more ado, this week’s topic is DRAGONS.

The Tough Guide advises that Dragons are ‘very large scaly beings with wings and long spiky tails, capable of breathing fire through their mouths. They can be almost any colour or combination of colours, though green, red and black are preferred. They are always very old. Most of them seem to have flown to Fantasyland aeons ago across the void. This migration was almost certainly to get away from our world, where people would insist that they were dangerous monsters that had to be exterminated. Dragons, as all Fantasyland knows, are no such thing.’ Or are they?

The Hobbit (cover)THE HOBBIT
(J.R.R. Tolkien)

For the source of the ‘dragon-as-murderous-magpie’ stereotype, look no further than The Hobbit. Smaug the Golden – greatest fire drake of the Third Age and one of the last great dragons to exist in Middle Earth – spent nearly two centuries roosting atop a hoard of gold inside the Lonely Mountain whilst devouring the soul-fabric of Benedict Cumberbatch. At least, I *think* that’s what the third Jackson movie was trying to tell us.

A Natural History of Dragons (cover)A NATURAL HISTORY OF DRAGONS
(Marie Brennan)

Unlike Smaug, the dragons of Lady Trent’s world are not objects of fear but subjects of study.

You, dear reader, continue at your own risk. It is not for the faint of heart—no more so than the study of dragons itself. But such study offers rewards beyond compare: to stand in a dragon’s presence, even for the briefest of moments—even at the risk of one’s life—is a delight that, once experienced, can never be forgotten. . . .’

(J. K. Rowling)

They might not have existed in the same universes, but Lady Trent and Newt Scamander would’ve got along like a house on fire. Scamander also knew that dragons were to be respected, not feared, just like anyone who’s read Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them knows that there are far more dragon breeds than just the Hungarian Horntail, Norwegian Ridgeback, Welsh Green, Chinese Fireball and Swedish Shortsnout. There’s also the Ukrainian Ironbelly, the Antipodean Opaleye, Hebridean Black . . .

(Genevieve Cogman)

Ms. Cogman’s dragons are not so much natural creatures as they are beings of magic. They can take human form, but they can’t always be bothered choosing to do so. And those that do live among humans are in even more danger from their mortal enemies: those pesky fae.


The Reborn King (cover)THE DRAGON’S BLADE
(Michael R. Miller)

Dragons living among humans, you say? Here’s another!

‘Darnuir made many mistakes. Death is his redemption. Reborn, and secretly raised by humans, this former dragon prince must become the king his past-self never was….’

Dragon Hunters (cover)DRAGON HUNTERS
(Marc Turner)

Marc Turner’s dragons are a little different from the others we’ve mentioned so far in that they don’t come from the skies . . .

‘Once a year on Dragon Day the fabled Dragon Gate is raised to let a sea dragon pass from the Southern Wastes into the Sabian Sea. There, it will be hunted by the Storm Lords, a fellowship of powerful water-mages who rule an empire called the Storm Isles. Alas, this year someone forgot to tell the dragon which is the hunter and which the hunted.’

Eragon (cover 2)ERAGON
(Christopher Paolini)

We’ve seen dragons as wild beasts. We’ve seen them as fearsome antagonists. We’ve seen them as creatures of majesty, and as something not so different from human. But what about the dragon as a familiar – or better still, a companion and ally? Eragon has a lot of faults, but it’s also a lot of fun; the film adaptation is nothing like the book’s charming portrayal of the increasingly complex relationship between Eragon and Saphira.

(J. P. Ashman)

On the complete reverse end of the scale is Dragonship, in which dragons are captured and harnessed and used as means of transportation. Utterly controlled through the application of technology and pain, these near-extinct beauties are abused and forced to obey the whims of their human masters.


The Adamantine Palace (cover)THE ADAMANTINE PALACE
(Stephen Deas)

The Memory of Flames series shows dragons in similar circumstances to those in Dragonship, except in this case they’re controlled and subdued through the use of alchemy, and are not captured from the wild so much as bred in captivity. But as we all know: drugs aren’t always the answer . . .

Are there any delightful dragons we’ve forgotten about? Which ones would you least like to bump into in a dark alley? Are there any that – shock, horror! – ignore the Guide completely? Let us know in the comments!

Next month’s topic will be MINIONS.

Minions of the DARK LORD can be male or female, though he tends to favour males (who seem to be more susceptible to the Evil One’s wiles). They can take many forms: BAD KINGS, ENCHANTRESSES, HIGH PRIESTS, EUNUCHS, DUKES, REGENTS or WITCHES. Additionally, there are the non-human minions, such as ORCS, TROLLS, GOBLINS and random OTHER PEOPLES . . . not to mention MUTANT NASTIES, carefully selected MONSTERS, UNDEAD, and DEMONS.

All that’s left to do now is to write your own list and then add the link below. Today, tomorrow, next month – there’s always room in the adventuring party for one more!

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  1. Avatar Lanko says:

    Nice list!

    Probably Temeraire, with dragons on the Napoleonic wars and Robin Hobb’s Realm of the Elderlings series should be in as well, but I have no idea what kind of trope they are.

  2. […] That’s my (rather short) list. The parent post on Fantasy Faction is here. […]

  3. Avatar Mervi says:

    Great list! I love Smaug and Cogman’s dragons. I haven’t yet read some of your other choices so my TBR grows, once again.

  4. […] the first day each month, Fantasy Faction take a tour of a particular fantasy trope. Last month was Strongholds, this month […]

  5. Great list! I also have Smaug, Saphira and a Harry Potter choice on my list, which will be posted tomorrow 🙂

  6. […] Travels is a monthly meme hosted by Fantasy Faction, which, inspired by The Tough Guide to Fantasyland by Diana Wynne Jones, spotlights each month a […]

  7. […] long but which feels like forever, so yeah…) I’m linking up with a small group over at Fantasy Faction if you want to participate as […]

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