The western dragon is a mythical serpent creature. It is sometimes known as a wyrm.
The dragon of the modern period is typically depicted as a dinosaur with wings and it breathes fire. It protects a cavern of gold and is usually associated with a great hero, who slays it. Many modern stories represent dragons as being extremely intelligent creatures, some with the ability to use magic. Often they are extremely ancient. Some are helpful and wise, while others are greedy and guard a huge hoarde of treasure. (Until we get a more detailed discussion, please see http://www.draconian.com/whatis/ .)
The two most famous dragons of Western myth are the dragon of Beowulf, and Fafnir, who was killed by Siegfried. In both cases, the serpents guarded earthen mounds full of ancient treasure. The treasure was cursed and brought ill to those who posessed. It has been supposed by many scholars, including John Tanke of the University of Michigan, that the word dragon comes from the Old English draugr, which literally means a spirit who guards the burial mound of a king. How this image of a vengeful guardian spirit turned into a fire breathing serpent is unclear, but it had already occured at least by the 8th century when Beowulf was written down.
Other dragon legends in ancient britain also include "St George and the Dragon", a story about a brave knight who defeats a dragon rescuing a princess.
A Red Dragon is represented on the Welsh flag.
It is possible that the dragon legends of north-west Europe are at least partly inspired by earlier stories from the Roman Empire, or from the Sarmatians and related cultures north of the Black Sea.
Fantasy fiction authors whose works have featured dragons as major plot elements include:
- Anne McCaffrey ("Dragonflight" and sequels)
- J. R. R. Tolkien ("The Hobbit", "The Silmarillion" and related works)
- Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman (the "Dragonlance" series)
- Ursula K. LeGuin ("A Wizard of Earthsea" and sequels)
The Chinese dragon is a mythical creature that looks like a snake. The legend has it that Huang Ti (the emperor) used a snake for his coat of arms. Every time he conquered another tribe, he added his defeated enemy's emblem into his. Huang Ti was immortalized into a dragon that looks like his emblem. That explains why the Chinese dragon has a body of a snake; the scales and tail of a fish; the antlers of a deer; the face of a qi lin (a deer like mythical creature with fire all over his body); and two pairs of talons of eagles. They fly in the sky among the clouds. Almost all pictures of Chinese dragons show them playing with a flaming pearl. Supposedly it is the pearl that gives them their power and allows them to ascend to heaven.
Another legend says the carps become dragons after they leaped over the dragon gate.
Chinese Dragons have five toes on each foot, Korean or Indonesian have four and Japanese have three. Chinese legend tells us that Dragons originated in China, and that the further away from China the dragon goes the less toes it has, which explains the lack of toes in the other types of Dragon, there are no other dragons as if it goes too far then it has too few toes to continue and so Dragons only exist in China, Korea, Indonesia and Japan. Japanese legend has a similar story that varies in that they originated in Japan, and the further they travel the more toes they get and as a result if they get too far they have too many toes and cannot continue as they cannot walk properly. In Korea and Indonesia, depending upon which direction the Dragon travels it will either gain or lose toes and the principles of the previous two myths both apply here.
Dragon is one of the signs in Chinese zodiacs.
The dragon was a symbol for the emperor in many Chinese dynasties. It was an capital offense for commoners to wear clothes with a dragon symbol. The dragons are believed to be the rulers of the seas. They can show themselves as water spouts (tornado or twister over water).
See also Komodo dragon.