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Dragons have lit the fire of our imaginations for thousands of years. Incredibly powerful, magical, hoarders of treasure; destructive and nearly invincible foes of mankind. They have been revered, hated, romanticized, and demonized by cultures all over the world. You won’t find them flying over cities or burning villages to the ground in history books, but the belief in dragons as more than just fantasy has been persistent through time. Personal accounts, legends, and folklore attest to their existence, allowing for just enough doubt to make us wonder…could they have been true? And what if dragons really were once real? The question is a source of inspiration for many of us.
The medieval mind was no less captivated. Everyday life was fraught with danger, mystery, and superstition. Some speculate that the discovery of bones from dinosaurs or other large creatures may have fueled the belief in dragons. The bible itself may have further confirmed them. There are 18 different verses in the bible that contain the word “dragon,” the most gripping of those in the book of Revelation. Medieval writers, and often the Church, used the dragon as a symbol of evil or of a particular sin, as a way of teaching morality.
There are many written accounts of dealings with dragons. An interesting, and much retold one, is the Dragon of Wantley (English lore). Katharine Briggs’ An Encyclopedia of Fairies, Hobgoblins, Brownies, Bogies, and Other Supernatural Creatures cites one version of it.
“This dragon was the terror of all the countryside. He had forty-four iron teeth, and a long sting in his tail, besides his strong rough hide and fearful wings.
He ate trees and cattle, and once he ate three young children at one meal. Fire breathed from his nostrils, and for long no man dared come near him.
Near to the dragon’s den lived a strange knight named More of More Hall, of whom it was said that so great was his strength that he had once seized a horse by its mane and tail, and swung it around and round till it was dead, because it had angered him.
Then, said the tale, he had eaten the horse, all except its head. At last the people of the place came to More Hall in body, and with tears implored the knight to free them from the fearful monster, which was devouring all their food, and making them go in terror of their lives. They offered him all their remaining goods if he would do them this service. But the knight said he wanted nothing except one black-haired maiden of sixteen, to anoint him for the battle at night, and array him in his armour in the morning. When this was promised, he went to Sheffield, and found a smith who made him a suit of armour set all over with iron spikes, each five or six inches in length.
Then he hid in a well, where the dragon used to drink, and as it stooped to the water, the knight put up his head with a shout and struck it a great blow full in the face. But the dragon was upon him, hardly checked by the blow, and for two days and a night they fought without either inflicting a wound upon the other. At last, as the dragon flung himself at More with the intention of tossing him high into the air, More succeeded in planting a kick in the middle of its back. This was the vital spot: the iron spike drove into the monster’s flesh so far, that it spun round and round in agony groaning and roaring fearfully, but in a few minutes all was over, it collapsed into a helpless heap, and died.”
Whether a true tale of heroism, a lesson against evil, or pure entertainment, we are captivated by such stories. Dragons continue to fascinate us, and so part of us wants to believe. We preserve the old tales while making up new ones for coming generations to enjoy. What is your favorite dragon story?
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