A Dragon By Any Other Name

Is still a dragon.  It’s true.  However, there are different varieties of dragons in ancient and medieval folklore that have different attributes.

For instance, there’s the Chinese dragon—perhaps the most colorful representation of a dragon. Unlike their Western counterparts, they are almost never depicted with wings, and overall they have a very positive connotation as symbols of power and good luck—not that they cannot be angered.  They were said to have power over water and the weather, and they were used as a symbol of the emperor’s authority in ancient and medieval times.

DragonThen there’s the traditional Western dragon that breathes fire and destroys cities.  This dragon has only four legs and boasts enormous wings.  It’s often greedy, hoarding treasure and usually has to be killed (often after kidnapping or eating a woman sacrificed by her village) by a knight in order to bring peace to the land.  On the flip side, these dragons also frequently appear as wise and give advice to human characters.

There is the variation on this dragon which has only two legs—the wyvern.  Like the traditional dragon, it has wings and breathes fire.  Sometimes, a distinction is made between a wyvern and a dragon (they can be viewed as two separate creatures) but it depends on the source.  This dragon has appeared quite a few crests and coats-of-arms throughout the ages.  Most often, in modern fiction, the wyvern is not depicted as having magical capabilities.  But we’ll get more into modern fiction later.

Of course, there are many more variations of dragons and other creatures that share similarities to dragons.  In Norse and Germanic traditions, there was a creature called the ‘lindworm,’ a wingless dragon (such as the dragon in Beowulf).  The cockatrice also bears some resemblance to dragons, except that it has the head of a lion.  It was supposed to be able to kill by looking at someone (or by breathing on them, depending on the story).

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