[DWJ] Dragon history question

Minnow minnow at belfry.org.uk
Thu Jul 15 12:16:19 EDT 2010

Philip Belben wrote:
> First of all, thanks to everyone for the amazing range of answers on 
> this topic!
> All internet lists suffer from topic drift, but one thing I love about 
> this list is that no matter how obscure the tangent at which it goes 
> off, the discussion never ceases to be interesting.  Keep it up!
> >> You know, this comment made me wonder how much of "goodness" attributed to
> >> fantastical creatures is really old colonialist assumptions - i.e a dragon
> >> is considered good when it does what humans tell it and doesn't violently
> >> object to having its treasure stolen. ("This place would be so peaceful if
> >> rabble-rousing outsiders didn't stir up our "good" subjects, who'd never
> >> mind being used and oppressed otherwise!")
> That's an aspect I hadn't considered, but it's related to something my 
> brother said when I was discussing my original question with him: 
> shouldn't we distinguish between a dragon that is evil, and one that is 
> merely the enemy - either of humans in general, or of the humans who 
> appen to be fighting it in that particular story...  

Sometimes dragons are only "the enemy" if they have been prodded with a 
sharp stick, as it were.

The story of Beowulf is fairly clear about the nature of the enemies 
Beowulf faces (this is one of the many layers to that amazing work which 
never gets a look-in when people want to make films about sex <cross 

Grendel is unrelievedly a Bad Hat and evil: he is unnatural, he is of 
the "kin of Cain" and God-forsaken, he has no good reason for his 
animosity and carries it to extremes.  He simply hates Heorot for being 
good and because the story of the gospels was sung there.

Grendel's mother has better justification for her attack on the Hall: 
her son has been killed, and since she has no other relatives to take 
vengeance or demand weregeld for him, she has to do it herself.  She is 
in duty bound.  She is not so bad:  only her being female means that her 
seeking vengeance for kin-slaying is out of order, and she is therefore 
un-sane and must be destroyed.

The dragon is acting entirely according to the nature of a dragon, which 
is also the nature of a King.  He is guarding and protecting his own, 
and is entirely without blame in this matter.  The cup *was* stolen; the 
dragon *is* entitled to avenge the theft.  Beowulf has to try to kill 
him in order to protect his own people, but it is a tragedy that he has 
to do so, because even though he does it, he knows that the dragon is 
not wrong and not evil: it is just that it is a fire-breathing dragon 
with a legitimate grudge, and as such is too dangerous to be allowed to 
go on living there.

The dragon has honourable-opponent status, in fact.  You could say that 
it is an early example of the dragn as not-evil, if you wanted one.  By 
its own lights it is definitely a Good Guy.

Oh, and it seems that dragons have stronger views against theft than 
Ancient Greeks did!


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