Among the subgenres in fantasy, dragon-themed tales are common. With their massive size, brute strength, and ability to fly or breathe flame, it’s little wonder dragons are seen as mythic creatures. Dragons have long played a role in myth and legend across various cultures, and Dragon Fantasy has become a staple in storytelling for generations.
What is Dragon Fantasy?
Not any fantasy with dragons is considered Dragon Fantasy. There needs to be a heavy emphasis on dragons in regards to the protagonists or the plot. LoTR, for example, had lore on dragons and there was Smaug in The Hobbit. Otherwise, dragons were seldom seen in the books.
A series like Eragon, however, makes heavy use of dragons and how they influence the story. This even has its own subniche, known as Dragon Rider Fantasy. Dragon Rider Fantasy focuses on the relationship between man and dragon. It’s usually a heartfelt plot, which allows for a deeper connection with dragons and explores their mysterious nature.
Contemporary or urban fantasy reads often portray dragons as humanoid like in the Dream Water series, by Erin A. Jensen. Others, like Dragon Champion, incorporate the PoV of a dragon, which evokes a more intimate experience for the reader. After reading this series by E. E. Knight, it opened my eyes on how dragons may think, feel, or interact with a world that hated them.
Typical dragons are formidable. Many have the following:
- Ability to fly
- Breathe fire, ice, or whatever else the writer chooses
- Massive size and strength
- Cunning intellect
- Resilient hide
- Magical spells
- Huge tail as an extra weapon
- Long lifespan
But despite all their strengths, they have weaknesses. Learning how to play into these makes a good story into a great one, especially if the dragon is a protagonist:
- Sluggish and heavy
- Arrogant or naive
- Difficult to hide or blend in with big size
- Often sought out by hunting parties
- Few in number
- May be weak to a particular element, weapon, magic, or some other mechanic
- May be gluttonous for treasure
Indeed, dragons are powerful tools in storytelling. They border on demigods in how they can shift a story. A clever author knows how to manipulate draconic power in favor of tension and plot. To drive the stakes up and keep the reader reading.
Dragon Lore in History
Ranging across ancient cultures, dragons have a place in history. Some of these include:
- Celtic: dragons as deities of the forest who interacted with druids
- Norse: dragons as magical, giant snakes; neutral beings who were neither good nor evil
- Greek: dragons as giant serpents, like the hydra. the python, and Ladon
- Romans: dragons with four legs and sometimes wings
- Nautical: dragons seen by pirates and sailors; sea serpents that destroy ships
- East Asian: dragons as flying worm-like, whiskered beings with details of fishes and birds
- South America: dragons as feathered snakes, as with Quetzalcoatl
Modern storytelling has inherited these myths, and with it, a wide variety of world building. Most authors have used dragons as gods, villains, or plot mechanics that enhance the protagonist or the plot.
Examples of Dragon Fantasy include:
- Eragon (Inheritance Cycle series), by Christopher Paolini
- Dragon Champion (Age of Fire series), by E. E. Knight
- Dragonlance, by Margaret Weis, Tracy Hickman
- Dragon Rider (Dragon Rider series), by Cornelia Funke
Dragons in Ethereal Seals
In my WIP during the early age of Atläs, dragons ruled under a being called Tal’met, the Primordial Queen. After Tal’met’s fall, dragons mutated into smaller, humanoid forms called Dragonytes.
These beings are now the guardians of the planet and they rule it with their own powerful empire. An Empress commands the empire and its various cities. Vassal kingdoms pay tribute to the empire, and in return, peace is enforced and wars averted.
The main conflict comes from a being named C’haos, which has compromised the Empress’s mind and thereby the empire. Driven by this horrible being, the Empress turns more tyrannical. Kingdoms rise up to defend against this now-gluttonous Dragonyte Empire.
Half-dragons, which are a bastard bred, are shunned across Atläs. Half-breeds suffer Tal’met’s curse, the Dragonsoul, which induces uncontrollable madness. Pepper Slyhart, a half-dragon herself, must fight both the Empress and her inner demons along the story.
Abilities of Dragonytes
Earlier revisions had Dragonytes and half-dragons breathing fire and ice. They also had resistance to those temperature extremes. I scrapped those abilities in favor of more conflict-by-limitation. Purebloods still fly with their wings, but half-dragons lost that ability.
That said, Pepper must use a mount to fly. Worse, she suffers from acrophobia from a childhood incident. Plenty of tension there to have fun with.
The claws and fangs of all Dragonytes are sharp, but many chose to wield wrist-blades in favor of preserving their skeletal structure; although a crazed half-dragon will attack through whatever means necessary.
As storytelling evolves throughout the 21st century, we can expect to see more interesting uses of dragons in fiction. They are, and always will be, a force to be reckoned with. The next time you read a story about dragons—in whatever form—reflect on how they play into our culture and history. I certainly will as progress with Ethereal Seals continues. After all, they’re one of my favorite tropes in fantasy. 🙂