Are dragons real? Yes, dragons exist!
Yes. Dragons are real. Well, at least I think I’m real. You tell me.
I’m a modern dragon. Check out this post where I introduced myself a little bit.
And I’ll say this right up front. Just because dragons exist doesn’t mean it’s easy being a modern dragon. Off-the-rack clothes always fit a little tight, especially in the wing joint. Qualifying for homeowner’s insurance is extremely difficult. And don’t even get me started on how hard it is to find a good dentist. (Or any dentist. Sigh.)
But even so, I really shouldn’t complain too much. Every time I’m on the subway and someone steps on my tail or stares at my wings, I have to remind myself to be grateful. Because throughout history, it was a whole lot more difficult to be a dragon than it is today.
Think “angry humans carrying pointy things coming into your lair and trying to take your gold and kill you” difficult. Not the nicest way to be roused from your sleep! But I digress.
Dragons are so prevalent in human literature that they must exist
Human literature has documented the existence of dragons for not just centuries, but millenia. From mythological time before history to antiquity, from the middle ages to the renaissance and then to modern times, dragons are everywhere. If you’re skeptical that dragons exist, the sheer frequency of dragon stories in human culture has got to mean something.
A brilliant and yet somehow concise (given the sprawling topic) history of dragon depictions in human literature can be found in Yvonne Shiau’s The Evolution of Dragons in Western Literature: A History. I highly recommend it. Shiau also gives a bit of a who’s who of famous dragons, which is always nice to see.
Yes, I’m aware of the claim that humans have really, really big imaginations, even bigger than a dragon, and that they made us all up, and, then, with the advent of modern science, concluded, in frustratingly well written essays, that despite a lengthy and robust history in the literature, especially Mediterranean and Middle Eastern literature, we dragons never existed after all.
I suppose that’s possible. Maybe dragons don’t exist now and never did. Maybe I’m just a figment of my own imagination. But even if that were true, why would dragons appear again and again throughout a wide range of human cultures all across the planet?
Also, I have to say it’s a little despiriting having to try to prove that I exist, but I get it. The first time traveler probably will have (or is it had?!) a heck of a time convincing everyone. So I’m doing my best to put my own stake in the question aside and engage in reasoned analysis.
The origins of the word “dragon”
Anyway, dragons. The word “dragon” came to modern English from the ancient Greek “drakōn,” meaning large serpent. “Dragon” then came to Middle English from Latin (draconem) by way of Old French (dragon). It should surprise no one, really, given their flight abilities, that the term “dragon” has gotten around.
And I’ll go into more detail on this in another post, but references to dragons appear at various points in the books of the Bible accepted by various Judeo-Christian faith traditions, which is not surprising when you consider that the Septuagint was a translation of the Hebrew Bible into Ancient Greek. This also suggests that some of the Biblical dragon references may be referring to “large serpents,” and not necessarily the same dragons we know and love today.
Pro tip: do NOT call a dragon “serpent.”
And here’s a cool extra factoid. The original Greek root of the word referred to the concept of “to see.” I find that fantastically awesome. And not surprising that the creature swooping high above everything else was the one associated with sight!
Theory: Could a dragon’s ability to really see be one of the dragon’s most fundamental powers, connected to a dragon’s kindness, wisdom, and beneficence? To a dragon’s cunning, jealousy, and greed?
And lest you think I’m puffing myself up and preening on my mountain roost over having superior vision, I’m not: ever since I was a level three dragonet, I’ve had to wear glasses. My sight is definitely just average, and only when corrected. Also that reminds me that I should do a post on the challenges of flying while wearing glasses. Preview: It’s not easy, especially when swooping through clouds or waterfalls. More on that another time.
Okay then, what different types of dragons are there?
So maybe you’re open to accepting that dragons exist but you’re wondering, well, what different kinds of dragons are there, exactly?
I address in another post the generally accepted taxonomy, which identifies two major categories of dragons–Eastern dragons and Western dragons. (Preview: this categorization is largely correct, in my experience!)
But for now, let me just give some examples of dragons and dragon-adjacents to further convince you that my fellow lizard people are out there, swooping about. Notable features from this incomplete list, grossly simplified:
- Dragon (Eastern): four legs, no wings, can still fly
- Dragon (Western): two legs or four legs, has wings or doesn’t, can fly and breathe fire
- Drake: Western dragon with no wings
- Hydra: Western dragon with multiple heads
- Wyvern: Western dragon adjacent with two legs
- Serpentine dragon/wyrm: Dragon with blue coloration and notable underbite. May resemble a snake.
How can dragons exist if most people don’t see them?
Dragons are magical creatures. By and large, you can only see them if they want you to see them. Stephen King put it very well when he described using stealth magic to go “dim” and be hard to detect, or nearly invisible to the casual passerby.
A great deal could be said about how dragons go dim, what it costs them, and how well it works, but I’ll leave that for a future post.
What about the lack of dragons in the fossil record?
The dimness glamour, noted above, that prevents the casual passerby from noticing a dragon under most circumstances is extremely powerful and surprisingly durable. So much so, in fact, that very rarely have human archeologists been able to observe dragons in the fossil record, even many thousands of years after the dragon’s death
Because of this magic, it’s not a matter of dragons not being in the fossil record; rather, it’s that most people can’t see them.
But I assure you that dragon remains exist and, under rare circumstances, can be viewed. If I think it’s safe, maybe I’ll write about that in a future post.
Meanwhile, I’m not going to reveal a proprietary secret by explaining how this has been arranged, but below is a rare example of a dragon skeleton.
Are dragons dinosaurs?
No. Dragons are not dinosaurs. And dinosaurs were not dragons.
Dragons tend to be very large reptilians who can do cool tricks like breathe fire and fly, and we very much still exist.
Dinosaurs, on the other hand, were a group of small, large, and enormous reptiles that appeared during the Triassic period, failed to plan ahead, and mostly became extinct as a result.
Dragons are not extinct.
That brings up another thing I think you should know. If you’re like most people, you probably tend to associate dragons with the past and not the present. I get it.
But we dragons are still here, you know? It’s kind of like if someone asks you what people in your culture like to eat but the only thing they actually care about is what your great-great-grandparents ate when they were coming up. But, um, hello! I’m here too! Modern dragon on the scene (and I like to eat cookies, fresh baked bread, and braises, for the record).
Read more in a future post about this question: What do dragons eat?
One of you sent in a question asking “will dragons ever come back?” There seems to be a group of people out there who believe that dragons were real during the Middle Ages, but then disappeared, and might or might not return. Let me be as clear as my favorite diamond in my hoard: dragons never went anywhere and they’re not going anywhere. We’re just doing our best to blend into a world where we’ve never been fully understood.
And don’t worry, there are a number of other dragons and dragon-adjacents that I will eventually cover on these pages, like the insect, smaller lizards and the tropical fruit. They exist, too!!
Until next time, I remain yours truly,