I love to research.
It’s true, I can get lost following one thread to another on any topic. I’ve had the mistaken opinion that my notes were only to help me gather the information I needed for current or future stories. Instead, I need to share them.
Why not? I have this space already!
So without further ado, let’s talk about dragons!
I find dragons and the lore that goes with them fascinating. I really hoped to find more stories about the benevolent type of dragons, but it turns out those are much fewer.
To begin with, where do the dragon stories come from? Most evidence points to the East as the origins of dragons. But there are some who say that the serpent in the Garden of Eden was actually a dragon, used by or inhabited by Satan. The punishment for its deception upon Eve was to crawl on its belly and eat dust all the days of its life. So that would point to a much earlier beginning.
Because I write a lot about Norse myth, even if it’s infused beneath the surface, my thoughts go to the many tales in the sagas. The most famous is Sigurd who killed the dragon Fafnir. Which is the main inspiration for J. R. R. Tolkien’s dragons Smaug and Glaurung (the first dragon in Middle Earth).
Fafnir started out as a dwarf who, affected by Andvari’s ring and gold, became so greedy he turned himself into a dragon to guard his treasure. See the resemblance? The entire story is told in the Volsung sagas.
There are a lot of twists and turns in Sigurd’s story – complete with shape-shifting otters, cursed gold, and a lot of greed. I’ve linked some interesting articles for you if you’d like to read more about them. I’ve also included a couple of short videos on Sigurd and Nidhogg.
Nidhogg was a dragon of a different color . . . er, scale. He is the dragon who lives below the World Tree, Yggdrasill, which holds up the nine realms of Norse Mythology. If the tree falls, the realms fall and the cosmos descends into chaos.
There are two different places Nidhogg is said to live. First is among the roots of the World Tree, trapped until Ragnarok when he’ll be set free. He chews at the roots, trying to free himself.
The second place where Nidhogg may reside is a place in Hel called Nastrond. Also known as The Corpse Shore, it’s the place where the worst of the worst go after they die. They wash up along the shore of Nastrond where they are met by Nidhogg who devours them.
Nidhogg shows up in a story with Ratatoskr the squirrel, and The Wise Eagle also. There’s a whole lot to unpack in that myth, which I’m going to leave it for another time. I’ve linked another video about Nidhogg, also. It’s interesting at the end of the video where it’s explained how so many people throughout history have interchanged the terms dragon and serpent.
Another fascinating story, a poem to be exact, is Beowulf. It’s a long story, but in the end, Beowulf battles a dragon in much the same way as Sigurd. However, in this case, Beowulf dies from his wounds. But not until after the dragon is dead. I’ve linked some references for this one also.
Each of the stories is interesting and could warrant its own post, but there’s a lot of websites devoted to the full stories already, I’m only trying to show a small sampling of where dragons show up in mythology. The real interesting thing is that they show up in basically every culture around the world. Including Ancient Greece with Perseus rescuing Andromeda and Heracles rescuing Hesione of Troy. In Japan, there’s the legend of Yamata no Orochi which resembles the tale of St. George; rescuing victims from becoming a sacrifice to keep a dragon at bay. Russia has St. Yegory, the Brave and Tibet has prince Schalu and his faithful companion, Saran, who end two dragons demanding sacrifice for appeasement
Fairytales are an additional place where dragons show up. This is where we see a turn in their portrayal. The dragons are either terrible gold hoarders who steal princesses, or they’re benevolent protectors who help . . . well, usually princesses. These tales are also all around the world, in nearly every culture. Most prominently, they show up in Medieval European stories including Knights giving rise to chivalric romances.
While I’m not going to get into the “princess needs rescued” issue, because I have another whole month scheduled soon where I’m going highlight warrior women. I think that discussion will help distill the good and bad of a damsel in distress.
The most interesting part of this research for me was that the tales of knights rescuing princesses aren’t actually in that many fairytales per se. It’s a few stories that have variations throughout many parts of the world. The idea of the rescue, however, has outgrown the actual tales.
There is the Georgic and Merlin story, which could have ties to Arthurian legend, but that’s not clear. And The Three Enchanted Princes is an interesting read.
I found The Dragon of the North especially intriguing. It involves a magician who tells a brave young man to find King Solomon’s ring in order to defeat a dragon who came from the North and devasted the land. If the magician could see the ring, he would interpret the writing on the inside of it for the young man. Along the way, he met a witch who possessed the ring. After some back and forth, he tricked her into showing him the ring. He wore the ring and escaped by the power of invisibility.
The magician then reads the inscription to the young man as promised. The words gave him instructions on how to kill the dragon, so he left to do so. On this journey, he met a king offering the hand of his daughter and half his kingdom for anyone who could kill the dragon. The man did kill the dragon by slipping the ring from finger to finger as needed. He married the princess, but before they could live happily ever after, the witch returned.
Transformed as an eagle, she stole snatched the prince, stole back the ring, and chained the hero in a cave. Found and nursed to health by the magician, the man returned to his wife and then lived happily ever after, but without the ring.
That should sound very familiar to anyone who has enjoyed The Lord of the Rings series.
Again, the link is below.
In modern times, we have Fiona from Shrek being guarded in a tower by a dragon, albeit it’s a very tongue-in-cheek nod to the trope. And, probably most famous of them all, Sleeping Beauty where prince Philip must rescue Aurora from Maleficent after she transforms into a dragon.
I think I could probably do an entire year’s worth of posts just talking about each of the stories in full. This is just a taste. I hope you’ve enjoyed it.
What are some of your favorite dragon myths? Do you have any that you’d like me to check out? Let me know in the comments!