Concerning Dragons

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Dragons have historically been associated with evil by western tradition, but in recent years a spat of books have appeared featuring friendly dragons. Is the traditional view of dragons superstitious? Or is there a certain inherent evil in dragons? Should our children be reading books that reverse the evil dragon stereotype?

DRAGONS IN THE BIBLE

There are a couple mentions of dragons in the Bible. In the original Hebrew, the author of Genesis uses the word worm to refer to Satan in the Garden. In Hebrew, worm would mean serpent or dragon. The more well known Biblical mention of a dragon is in Revelation 12, where a dragon waits to devour the child the woman is about to bring forth. Thus there are at least two place sin the Bible where the dragon is equated with the evil one.

DRAGONS IN WESTERN LEGEND

Throughout western mythology and legend, dragons are closely associated with serpents (harping back to the Hebrew Biblical word), evil, and Satan. Catalan Drac and German Lindworm are examples of snakelike dragons. The Hungarian Zomo, was a giant winged snake. In English legend, dragons are often referred to as worms. In Albanian legend, Bolla is a serpentine-like dragon that wakes once a year on St George’s feast day to devour the first human it sees. In nearly every European country, one finds legends of this sort linking serpentine dragons to evil.

PRO-DRAGON BOOKS?

A number of popular books in recent years have portrayed a very different dragon than the evil serpent of western tradition. For example, Tomie De Paola, whose work I usually like, has a picture book, The Knight and the Dragon, in which a cute chubby dragon and young knight are at first mutually terrified of each other and end by becoming good friends.  Similarly, a well loved early chapter book called My Father’s Dragon is the engaging story of Elmer Elevator, a young boy who rescues a friendly baby dragon. The Eragon series, which stars a young man who hatches a friendly dragon, has gained popularity in recent years in Catholic circles. These books and others in a similar vein, while engaging stories, are in complete contradiction to centuries of oral and written wisdom concerning dragons.

DRAGONS AND DEMYTHOLOGIZING

Michael OBrien’s A Landscape With Dragons: The Battle for Your Child’s Mind is, in my opinion, the definitive guide to understanding the intricacies of dragons, magic, fairy tales, paganism, and a plethora of other tricky topics in contemporary children’s literature. In regards to dragons, O’Brien explains that western Christian legends and myths about dragons “refer to a being who actually exists and who becomes very much more dangerous to us the less we believe he exists.” He describes recent pro-dragon literature as “demythologizing,” and explains that the devil actually would be thrilled to see us forget the traditional narrative of the good knight fighting for his King

“The dragon has a vested interest in having us dismiss the account of the battle as make-believe. It is not to his benefit that we, imitating our Lord the King, should take up arms against him. He thinks it better that we do not consider him dangerous. Of course, the well-nourished imagination knows that dragons are not frightening because of fangs, scales, and smoke pouring from nostrils. The imagination fed on truth knows that the serpent is a symbol of hatred and deceit, of evil knowledge and power without conscience.”   ~ Michael O’Brien

Imagination Forming Fantasy

If your children love fantasy, the good news is there are plenty of books that depict dragons in an appropriately fearsome manner, respecting their traditional symbolism as evil. I recently read The Squire and the Scroll to my 5 year old. This awesome picture book reinforces purity of heart and has a satisfyingly evil dragon for the young squire to slay. Margaret Hodges’  retelling of the legend of Saint George and the Dragon is another awesome picture book. For older readers, Tolkien’s The Hobbit has a wonderful depiction of Smaug as the evil dragon. Fairy tales and Arthurian legends are also rife with traditional themes about dragons.

A CHESTERTONIAN CONCLUSION

When it comes to dragons, I find myself thinking of G. K. Chesterton’s wisdom about fairy tales. Since tiny children instinctively imagine dragons and monsters as a visual symbol of the evil one, the best course of action as a parent is to give them hope for victory over that evil through stories which end with the dragon defeated.

“Fairy tales do not give the child his first idea of bogey. What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey. The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon.”  ~ G. K. Chesterton

I think we’ll be reading Saint George and the Dragon for bedtime tonight!

5 thoughts on “Concerning Dragons

  1. Christine Vincent says:

    Great article, Brittany. We seem to be reading the same books. In fact, I was going to write something like this on my website but you have done such a great job that I will share our article instead. Thanks for your great book reviews.

  2. Sl says:

    I think this needs some clarification, dragons are not all bad in scripture, In the Bible, we see it in the book of Revelation, where John sees a dragon that is then identified as “that ancient serpent (Drakon i.e. Dragon), who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world” (Rev. 12:9).

    and in In the book of Esther, Mordecai has a prophetic vision in the form of a dream. In this dream:
    And behold, two great dragons (Drakon) came forward, both ready to fight, and they roared terribly (Esth. 11:6).
    So, like John in Revelation, Mordecai has a vision involving great and terrible dragon imagery—only in his vision there are two dragons.
    Elsewhere, Mordecai gives us the interpretation of this symbol:
    The two dragons are Haman and myself (Esth. 10:7).
    So, One of the fearsome dragons represents the villain Haman but the other represents the righteous Mordecai, the defender of God’s people.

    • binzeo says:

      This article is meant to be a very ,very brief synopsis of some of the points in Michael O’Brien’s book, “A Landscape with Dragons.”
      That being said, in regards to your comment about dragons in Esther, I believe that you are oversimplifying what is a controversial passage involving the symbolism of the two dragons. Some commentators maintain that Mordecai identifies himself and Haman as the two dragons as a way of taking blame for his own sins. In the dream passage, the two dragons are poised to destroy the nations. This does not lead one to assume that either dragon is in fact on God’s side, as you put it. There are various interpretations of the symbolism here, and I would hesitate to theorize any sort of biblical commendation of dragons from it.

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