Doing some recent research on dragons in heraldry for the second book in the Conjurers series, I came across Y Ddraig Goch, the red dragon from the flag of Wales. As other historical researchers will tell you, one siren-like link on the internet leads to the next until you are sucked down into endless wormholes (so to speak).
Soon I was flipping through different cultures, viewing dragons around the world. Let me tell you, that can be a daunting time suck.
And yet, so very interesting.
Of course they come in an endless variety of shapes and sizes, but just buzzing through Wikipedia, it seems that virtually every culture and time has them. There was Python of the Greeks, Illuyanka of the Hittites, The Amaru of the Inca, Tiamat of the Mesopotamians, Mušḫuššu of the Babylonians, Shenlong of China, Jörmungandr of the Norse, Xiuhcoatl of the Aztecs, Vritra of the Indo-Aryan Vedic age and so many, many more. In some traditions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, Azazel is a term meaning fallen angel and is described as a dragon in the Apocalypse of Abraham.
Some dragons are small and some awesomely large. I am always disappointed when I see medieval depictions of St. George killing the dragon, because the supposed wyrm is smaller than the saint’s horse and skewered on his lance tip like a cube of shish kebab meat.
A trifling threat. Pitiful, even.
On the flip-side you have Japan’s dragon, Yamata no Orochi, which “had an eight-forked head and an eight-forked tail; its eyes were red, like the winter-cherry; and on its back firs and cypresses were growing. As it crawled it extended over a space of eight hills and eight valleys.”
Now that’s a dragon.
The subject of dragons puts me in mind of that most excellent quote from G.K. Chesterton, as tweaked by Neil Gaiman in Coraline: “Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.”