Dragons and Dragon-Slayers
Classic legends from around the world tell of battles between a strong man and a dragon. The slaying of an evil dragon was the crowning achievement of many heroes in ancient and medieval times. Gilgamesh, Perseus, Hercules, Jason, Cadmus, Siegfried, Beowulf, Uther Pendragon, King Arthur, Sir Tristram and Sir Lancelot were all famous dragon-slayers. Christian saints were also known to slay dragons, either by sword or holy means. Approximately 40 saints have been associated with a dragon or dragon-slaying. The saint most recognized for his dragon-slaying abilities is Saint George, who saved a princess from a dragon. And, of course, Saint Michael the Archangel slew the Dragon, Satan, in the Great War of Heaven.
As for female dragon-slayers, a Middle English text composed between 1200 and 1230 tells this tale of Saint Margaret of Antiochia. Governor Olybrius wanted to marry the young maiden. When she refused, he tortured and imprisoned her. In prison the devil tempted her, first as a charming young man, then as a hideous dragon who threatened to devour her. Margaret slew the dragon by praying to the Lord while holding up a cross. Saint Catherine of Alexander was also reputed to have killed a dragon. In modern literature, The Dragonslayer's Apprentice by David Calder is a story about a teenage girl who persuades a professional Dragonslayer to train her.
Did You Know…? In the book Eragon, Galbatorix was an evil king who slew good dragons.
Beowulf's Dragon - An unnamed treasure-guarding fire-breathing dragon in 7th or 8th century England. Beowulf attacked the dragon until it was dead, but he died from the dragon’s poisonous bite.
Draco – “The Dragon,” a constellation in the northern hemisphere representing several mythological serpents.
Fafnir - The great dragon slayer of Nordic myth, Siegfried, slew the dragon, Fafnir, and seized the Ring of the Niebelung.
Gargouille – “The Gargler,” a water dragon that lived in the Seine River. The creature spouted great fountains of water which capsized boats and drowned people. Saint Romain stopped the beast by standing up to it and making the sign of a cross. The townsfolk of Rouen then killed it.
Hydra - The Greek Hydra is a dragon-like creature with a long snake-like body and many heads.
Jabberwock – Most likely a dragon in Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking-Glass (“Beware the Jabberwock, my son! The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!”)
Jawzahr - Islamic dragon thought to be responsible for comets and eclipses.
Jormungander - Also known as Jormunand, the famous serpent in Norse mythology lies at the bottom of the sea and encircles the entire world, holding land together and symbolizing infinity.
Krak's Dragon - Around the year 700 AD the legendary Polish hero, Krak, destroyed a gigantic dragon by giving it a sheepskin full of saltpeter which caused it to drink water until it burst.
Loch Ness Monster - This water dragon supposedly lives in Loch Ness, Scotland.
Mo-o – the name of this Polynesian dragon means “great sea creature.” The dragon was thought to steal oysters so the people could not make their living by harvesting pearls.
Smaug - In Tolkien’s Middle Earth, Smaug was the last living Fire Drake, and one of the most terrifying dragons in history. In his cave, Smaug would sprawl over great pile of treasures and keep an eye open for intruders. When angry he would fly out of his lair and destroy anything that crossed his path. An archer shot and killed Smaug with an arrow in the only spot without a scale on his underside.
Tarasque - Saint Martha traveled to Nerluc, France, where she tamed this evil dragon by splashing it with Holy Water, then the townspeople killed it.
Typhon - This dragon is most famous for his battles against Zeus and other Greek deities. He is master of violent winds and volcanic explosions, capable of hurling entire mountains at his enemies.
Wyvern - A heraldic dragon of Wales, with the fore part of a winged dragon, and the hind end of a serpent or lizard.
Eragon: Book One of the Inheritance Trilogy
A 15-year-old farm boy finds a dragon's egg. It hatches into a blue female dragon that he names Saphira. Together, they embark on a journey to defend his homeland against an evil king. I gave this book to my son for his 14th birthday. Once he started reading, he couldn’t put it down until 11 hours later, after he had finished all 497 pages. Since then, Peter has re-read Eragon thirteen more times during the past year and was eager to get the sequel, Eldest. My 10-year-old son Jon also recommends Eragon, saying “It was a little funny, a little sad, and a lot exciting.” I decided to venture into the world of Alagaesia myself and read both books one weekend. I must say, these stories are ten times better than the typical mass-market juvenile fiction. I think anyone who doesn’t like them is just jealous because they were written by a homeschooled teenager. The author, Christopher Paolini, was obviously influenced by Tolkien’s Middle Earth, Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders, and even Star Wars, but his story line is unique. Though the books are lengthy, the unpredictable turn of events make you keep reading to see what will happen. The first book, Eragon, has short chapters and action-packed scenes. The second book, Eldest, has longer chapters containing more background information and describing the details of Eragon’s training with the elves. I will be looking forward to the third book in the Inheritance trilogy.
For a comprehensive alphabetical list of dragons from history, myth, folklore and literature see: www.theserenedragon.net/dragonschart.html. See also www.ferrum.edu/thanlon/dragons for an annotated bibliography of dragons in children’s literature, including picture books, chapter books, novels, poems and nonfiction. Movies featuring dragons include: Dragonheart, Dragonslayer, Dragonworld, Dragon’s World, Dungeons and Dragons, The Flight of Dragons, The Hobbit, Mulan, The Neverending Story, Pete's Dragon, Quest for Camelot, Reign of Fire, and an Eragon movie which is currently in production.
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