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Offbeat – 14 September 2012

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Whatever the case, dragons should be bad because having a cuddle buddy that is capable of incinerating villages and devouring whole convents is a waste of a good antagonist. And putting all that firepower at the disposal of a hero seems to defeat the purpose of a hero in the first place.

Teeth like rusty spikes. Vicious, biting words. Eyes that shrivel your soul. Fiery breath that can melt marshmallows and the timid people holding them out. You could be excused for thinking it’s your mum, but you would be wrong. Actually it’s a dragon we’re talking about here. Mum’s don’t breathe fire because it’s impolite. Mostly.
It’s the season for dragons again. There hasn’t been a dragon off season, but now with all the cute software routines that can produce anything from a passable iridescent scale to a bouncy cartoon creation, expect extra helpings of dragons, dragons and more dragons.
There are three major types of dragons. The first is the friendly dragon. The second is the unfriendly dragon. The third is the unfriendly dragon, which is misunderstood, because if is actually friendly and loving, but sometimes it gets grouchy like your mum.
I’m not a huge fan of the friendly dragon. Really good stories should shove you right out of your comfort zone, preferably frighten the wits out of you. I’m not sure what the point of snuggling up to a great, big friendly dragon is? Wasn’t the companion supposed to be a horse or a dog or something? How about a kitten?
The odd thing about friendly dragons is that they never seem to burp or get hiccups and accidentally set fire to the stable or reduce the dragon buddy to something crispy that you wouldn’t eat, even if there were salad and hot sauce on the table.
Misunderstood dragons? I can get by on them until they get friendly. Then my eyes glaze over and I lose interest. At this point, I must confess that I didn’t much enjoy ‘My Little Pony’ either.
Step back a couple of sentences at this point. ‘Frighten the wits out of you.’ Unless you are into finely observed drama and wrestling with conscience and manipulative people, a good story will drag you in by the baddie.
How bad should a dragon be?
I read somewhere that fear of dragons emanates from fear of reptiles, though not tortoises. I suppose some imaginative person once looked at a poisonous snake and felt a moment of happiness and deep religious reverence on observing that the thing didn’t have wings. So great is that particular fear that even mole snakes are enough to get normal people up on tables and screaming their heads off.
There was also mention of crocodiles. That’s quite a likely contender. Believe it or not, those things can jump, and their ground clearance is remarkable. I’m not sure where lizards enter into the thing, but given the typical shape of a dragon, any halfway decent psychological researcher should be able to come up with a passable hypothesis involving a gecko.
People who aren’t exposed to reptiles at a young age have the fear built in. The pleasing glossiness of scales and the slinky way a snake moves eludes them entirely.
A book called ‘Arthur, the Dragon King’ posits that people from Asia brought the myth with them to England, probably from seeing fossils of pterodactyls in the Gobi. I can’t remember how they got to England. It’s one of those long chains of reasoning. Any port in a storm.
I’ll put my money on the reptiles, not the fossils, and say that the level of evil should be index linked to amount of fear produced by the phobia for reptiles.
Whatever the case, dragons should be bad because having a cuddle buddy that is capable of incinerating villages and devouring whole convents is a waste of a good antagonist. And putting all that firepower at the disposal of a hero seems to defeat the purpose of a hero in the first place. Why not just have the dragon fly over the scenery and incinerate the entire conflict in the first chapter?
Yes, I have read Eragon and Anne McCaffery. Smaug does it for me.
There is an obvious argument against the potency of the dragon in the fact that our knowledge of biology precludes belief in creatures that can breathe fire. On the other hand, take a moment to imagine those teeth going through the flesh of your thigh or arm.
The best dragons are the scary ones.

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