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The year of the Dragon April 14, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Entertainment.

For a mythical creature, the dragon boasts a real history.

From dragons drawn in China 5,000 years ago to Puff the Magic Dragon to the dragon of Cheyenne Mountain, this beast has lurked in the human imagination for centuries. Don’t think the long dance with dragons is over. Most recently, the dragon has been in the limelight in the fantasy world of Alagaesia, thanks to author Christopher Paolini’s three-part trilogy, “The Inheritance.”

His first book, “Eragon,” was made into a film that was just released on DVD, and the third and final book is rumored to be coming out this year, although the publisher says it could be as far off as 2010. And although there’s debate on whether the “girl dragon” will play a big role in “Shrek the Third,” which comes out May 18, just go to the movie’s Web site and see the first thing that pops up > www.shrek.com 

But dragons can be far more than light entertainment. Most dragon myths have deep links to the spiritual and magical. They burn through the pages of a vast array of sacred literature, there’s the Hindu mythology of Indra, god of the sky and giver of rain, and the biblical description of a fire-breathing leviathan in Job 41:18-19: “His snorting throws out flashes of light; his eyes are like the rays of dawn. Firebrands stream from his mouth; sparks of fire shoot out.”

Dragon myths seem to have popped up independently across the globe, Europe, Asia, North America, Africa. We even have a hometown myth, as the queer shapes atop Cheyenne Mountain gave rise to a dragon myth among the Ute Indians. Theories abound as to why dragon myths are so widespread. Perhaps it’s because the discovery of dinosaur bones fueled visions of giant reptiles for ancient peoples. Perhaps what we call “the dragon” is an amalgam of basic human fears that crop up in every culture: reptiles, teeth, great size and fire.

What the dragon myths mean is as ever-changing as the dragons themselves. In Asia, dragons often symbolized power and vitality, a symbol many emperors in China used to represent themselves. In Europe, most dragons were malevolent, a dangerous creature deep in a cave that must be slayed by the hero to gain a great treasure.

Master myth collector Joseph Campbell discussed dragons with Bill Moyers in their book “The Power of Myth.” He concluded that the European dragon, sitting in his cave on a hoard of gold that he’ll never use, represents the part of us that keeps us from getting the most out of life, the part of us that must be slayed.

Like the multiheaded Hydra in Greek mythology, however, for every dragon slayed, two more seem to appear. The dragons in “The Hobbit,” Dungeons & Dragons and video games are carrying an ancient myth into a new age.


– Greece: The Lernean (or Lernaean) Hydra sprouted new heads when one was cut off. In Greek mythology, Hercules fought and killed the Hydra. Also in Greek mythology, Jason killed a Hydra to get the Golden Fleece.

– Vikings: They often had dragon figureheads on the prow of their ships to endow their warriors with good sight and cunning.

– Mexico: Quetzalcoatl is the winged and feathered serpent from Aztec legends. Some think the myth of Quetzalcoatl started with a bird with long tail feathers that looked like a flying serpent, the Quetzal.

– Africa: Amphisbaena is a dragon with two heads, one at the tip of its tail. It is usually portrayed with scales on its body, feathered wings and feet of a rooster, and if one head holds the tail in its mouth it can roll around like a hoop.

– Indonesia: Komodo dragon, the only real “dragon,” is the world’s largest lizard at nearly 10 feet long and is an apex predator; not discovered by Westerners until the 20th century.

– North America: The Piasa was a legend created by the Illini Indians in modern-day Illinois. The birdlike creature had the body of a dragon, the head of a person and a long tail, and lived near the Mississippi River. This dragon did not bother humans until one day when it found dead bodies and tasted the meat. It liked the taste and started hunting humans.

WHAT IS A DRAGON? > Here are the common characteristics of dragons:
– reptilian
– breathes or spits fire or poison
– guards treasure, knowledge or another resource and will fight to the death for it
– lives in or is associated with water
– influences storms, rain or wind
– can fly, even if it doesn’t have wings
– magical powers
– most are smart and speak in riddles

WELL-KNOWN DRAGONS > You may recognize these fire-breathing denizens of lore.

– Puff the Magic Dragon. Made famous by the Peter, Paul & Mary song, Puff is powerful but gentle, and represents the childhood of Jackie Paper. When the boy stops believing in him, it quiets his “fearless roar.”

– Smaug. The dragon in J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit” is a wily old beast with a magnificent hoard of treasure, but Bilbo Baggins finds his weak spot.

– Dragon from “Shrek.” The girl dragon, who somehow mates with Eddie Murphy’s donkey character and gives birth to a “dronkey.”

– Saphira. The dragon that Eragon finds and befriends in the “Eragon” novel and movie.

– Draco the constellation. A far northern constellation. The most famous myth about the constellation holds that Draco represents Ladon, the hundred-headed dragon that guarded the golden apples of the Hesperides and was slain by Hercules.

– Leviathan. The biblical dragon that appears in Job as a fire-breathing sea monster.

– Nessie. The Loch Ness Monster in Scotland falls firmly into the realm of dragon mythology.

– Beowulf and the Dragon. After the evil dragon sears the countryside in rage, King Beowulf decides to take him on. Neither combatant survives the fight.

– Baal (or Bel) and the Dragon. From chapter 14 of the book of Daniel, a deuterocanonical biblical text that does not appear in most Protestant bibles, is this story of Daniel killing a dragon by making cakes of pitch, fat and hair. The dragon ate them and burst open.

– St. George and the Dragon. The patron saint of England slew a mighty dragon and saved a virgin princess who was about to be sacrificed. Although the story is thought to have been brought back from Asia by crusaders, the Christian retelling cast the dragon as paganism, and St. George’s victory becomes the victory of the faithful over heathens. St. George’s feast day is April 23.

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