[DWJ] Dragon history question

Philip Belben philip at axeside.co.uk
Tue Jul 13 12:28:20 EDT 2010


Hello all,

On a completely different subject, dragons.

European dragons are traditionally enemies of humans.  Sometimes they're 
evil; sometimes just inimical because they don't care about humans.

Modern fantasy literature has a much wider variety of dragons.  They 
come in all shapes and sizes, and range from evil to good, malevolent to 
benevolent and all shades in between.

My question is, when did dragons in Western fantasy start to lose their 
evil stereotype?

Some points on the timeline:  Two well-known dragon writers, Anne 
McCaffery and Ursula le Guin, both started thinking about dragons in the 
1960s, with novels appearing at the end of the decade.  They both 
extended the range of dragons, in different ways.

Of the great innovators of modern fantasy, Tolkien was still writing 
about a traditional inimical dragon in "The Hobbit" in 1937;  and 
Nesbit's collection "The Last of the Dragons and Some Others" (early 
1920s I think) contains IIRC only inimical dragons.

On the other hand, the dragon in Kenneth Grahame's "The Relctant Dragon" 
(serialised 1898, book 1938) was a much friendlier character.

So when was the turning point?  Does it have anything to do with the 
19th century fashion for chinoiserie?

ObDWJ:  Doesn't she have an amazing variety of dragons in her books? 
The dragon in CL (and its relatives in LoCC); the invisible dragons of 
Theare; the Dragon Reserve; the Dragon of England in Merlin Conspiracy; 
the Bannus's treatment of the false Reigners; Scales (who has to be my 
favourite dragon ever); any more?

Philip.



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