Source: How to Train Your Dragon
It’s the week of Valentine’s Day, a time to celebrate the best in our relationships, and the relationship between Toothless and human partner Hiccup is one of the most constructive dragon-human interactions to date. Though they are initially wary of each other, Toothless and Hiccup both come to realize that their assumptions about each other are wrong. The bond that develops between them proves to be highly influential, transforming an entire society.
The interaction between Toothless and Hiccup is marked, above all, by strong mutual support. Hiccup replaces Toothless’s damaged tail fin, without which Toothless cannot fly, while Toothless helps Hiccup discover purpose and confidence. The complex and daring flight patterns that they eventually learn to execute together demonstrate that in the best relationships, both partners learn to soar.
Image: From the 2010 film version of How to Train Your Dragon, copyright Dreamworks Animation.
Source: Welsh mythology
Y Ddraig Goch (The Red Dragon) has been associated with the Welsh people since the early Middle Ages. Its first confirmed appearance is in the 9th century Historia Brittonum, in which it is unearthed, along with a white dragon, during the construction of a castle for King Vortigern. The red dragon defeats the white in aerial combat, and the wizard Merlin interprets the battle as a prophecy of Welsh victory against Saxon invaders.
Y Ddraig Goch has flown on the banners of many armies and cities in various shapes, and even today its image is not standardized. The best-known depiction of the dragon, reproduced here, first appeared on a flag flown by the forces of Henry VIII during the Wars of the Roses. Today, this dragon continues to appear on the banners and logos of many Welsh organizations, reflecting their culture and their pride.
Image: Baner Cymru, the flag of Wales
Source: Summa vitiorum (mid-13th century)
Perrault’s dragon appears not in a work of fiction or a legendary tale, but in a medieval bestiary compiled by Dominican preacher William Perault. The dragons, unicorns, and other fantastic beasts in this manuscript are mixed in with mundane animals such as dogs and roosters, suggesting that these creatures were widely perceived to exist in some part of the world.
This particular dragon is interesting because it possesses two pairs of wings, a trait that is extremely rare in other dragon images. One possible explanation for this anomaly is that, prior to the 13th century, most dragons were depicted with only two legs and two wings. Perrault’s dragon may therefore represent a duplication of limbs, and I’d like to speculate that it is also a visual ancestor to modern four-legged, two-winged dragons, who have lost the second pair of wings.
Image: Original illustration from Summa vitiorum, Harley MS 3244, available at the British Library Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts.
Source: Chinese folklore and astrology
Happy Chinese New Year! As the dragon associated with the season of spring, Qinglong is closely connected to this holiday. The mythology surrounding this dragon stems largely from Chinese astrology, in which Qinglong refers to a region of the sky that includes parts of the Western constellations Virgo, Libra, Scorpio, and Sagittarius. Qinglong is known by various other names across East Asia, and the Japanese believe him to be one of four animal spirits that protect cities.
Though direct references to Qinglong seem to be relatively scarce in traditional Chinese literature, he has had a significant influence on culture and the arts. Qinglong is commonly depicted in East Asia sculpture and porcelain art, and is associated with both historical generals and modern fictional characters. Though there may be snow on the ground now, Qinglong is a reminder that spring is coming.
Image: Qinglong in cobalt blue on an undated porcelain piece
Source: classical Greek mythology
The origins of the myth of Python are unclear, but by the Classical Greek era, he had become established as the guardian of the oracle at Delphi. In the most popular version of the myth, Python pursues Leto, a human woman favored by Zeus, at the urging of Zeus’s jealous wife Hera. However, Leto eventually gives birth to the twin gods Apollo and Artemis, and Apollo goes on to kill Python and claim Delphi as his own domain.
In classical depictions, Python is shown as a serpent, but by early modern times he is often depicted as a standard Western dragon. The death of Python at Apollo’s hands is sometimes interpreted as the triumph of Hellenic civilization over a preceding culture, and it may also be one of the direct ancestors to the dragon-slayer tales of medieval Europe.
Image: Python ab Apolline interficitur, Antonio Tempesta (1555-1630), from the AMICA Library
Source: Moving by Peter, Paul, and Mary
“Puff the magic dragon lived by the sea / and frolicked in the autumn mist in a land called Honalee.” These lines open and close the story of Puff, who befriends the young boy Jackie Paper. The pair have numerous adventures in various fantastic kingdoms and on the high seas, but Jackie eventually loses interest in Honalee, leaving Puff alone in his cave. In some versions of the story, Puff eventually finds another young child to share in further adventures.
In the lyrics of the original song, Puff exhibits the typical draconic traits of majesty and ferocity only when interacting with Jackie. His story is therefore a particularly powerful example of the mutualistic dragon-human relationships that have become increasingly common in the 20th century. While Puff may be a dragon who is largely powered by imagination, we can be sure that his connection with Jackie was real.
Image: from the 1978 TV animation Puff the Magic Dragon, copyright Yarrow/Muller-My Company
Dragon’s Corner is the blog of dragon enthusiast Jonathan Liang (that’s me!) and the online home of the “Dragon of the Week” series. Actually, most of what you’ll see here is probably going to be “Dragon of the Week” posts, though there will be other updates as dragon-related news arises.
I’ve uploaded all previous “Dragon of the Week” posts so that they will all be available online, and new posts will begin on January 7. In the meantime, enjoy the site!
May you find dragons in unexpected places,