Good vs. Evil

Dragons are one of the few creatures in literature aside from humans that really vary in whether they are good or evil.  Think about it: how many evil unicorns, phoenixes, or mermaids are there?  Or how many good basilisks, banshees, goblins, or ogres are there?

Actually, there are quite a few: fairies, elves, witches/wizards (if they count as creatures; usually they’re just humans with magical powers), centaurs, and dwarves.  Notably, all these are very much human-like.  Dragons fit on this list, but are the only non-human-like fictional being that is capable of being good or evil.

Now, I have read a story with a good basilisk (The Immortals by Tamora Pierce) and one with goblins capable of good and evil (The Hollow Kingdom by Clare Dunkle).  However, that’s it.  Again, same disclaimer as last week, I’ve obviously not read everything with basilisks or goblins, but in my those works of literature which I have perused that’s what I’ve noticed.

Pretty much everybody has heard of Beowulf and “St. George and the Dragon,” which pretty clearly show evil dragons.  I can’t actually think of a story where dragons are entirely, one hundred percent on the side of good all the time, so if any of you can, I’d love to hear about it.  I can think of a series of novels in which dragons are neutral, being only animals—Dragon Jousters.

Not only, however, are dragons portrayed in some stories as good and others as evil, but sometimes within the same work of literature they are portrayed as being either, much like human characters.  That can be seen in The Inheritance Cycle, though I got the impression that the morality of the dragon is at least somewhat dependent on that of its rider.  However, luckily for us, we’ve got a couple better examples.  One is Dealing with Dragons.  There are good dragons, such as Kazul, who works with the Princess Cimorene to stop wizards from meddling in draconic affairs, but there is also an evil dragon who works with the wizards in the hopes of gaining power for himself.  Another good instance of this is The Elvenbane, in which the dragons of a particular “Lair”—basically a clan—are divided over a human child adopted by their shaman.  Most of the dragons torment Shana (and/or want to eat her), ultimately throwing her out to fend for herself, while others oppose their cruelty and work to save Shana and the rest of the humans living under the oppression of evil elves.

After all this, I think we can conclude that dragons are pretty diverse ethically.  Maybe this is part of what compels people to include them in stories time and again.  Regardless, dragons, just like human characters, have the power to captivate us whether they’re aiding the heroes or devastating the countryside.

5 thoughts on “Good vs. Evil”

  1. I hadn’t thought of this before, how some creatures are set in stone (almost) as good or evil, but that some are either/or, showing a broader usage of personification and portraying these creatures, dragons in your case, as something people can relate to. Now you’ve got me thinking, Kat! I wish I had read more books with dragons in them, they really are captivating creatures, but I have read some that I would recommend:
    * A Tale of Two Castles/ by Gail Carson Levine
    * Dragon Slippers/ by Georgia Day
    – I can’t remember too much about this particular one, but I read it around the same time as the afore mentioned book and remembered loving both.
    You’ve already mentioned the Inheritance Cycle, though I still have to read that last book, and then there are a couple other novels that hold dragons in a questionable position. I wouldn’t recommend either, simply because I hold family-friendly values and neither of these meet the mark, but if looking at how they portray dragons in both, they were somewhat on the negative side, though they were the main characters.
    For the one, they were shown to be emotionless, but intelligent. At least, that’s what the book leads you to believe. There is a case of a dragon falling in love with a human (dragons were also shapeshifters in this story), but for the most part emotions are beyond a dragon’s comprehension.
    The other story follows the life of a young dragon to his adulthood. It’s a dog-eat-dog world, but despite it all, this dragon still has some (if not much of) morality, aiding his friends and coming to the rescue. It’s been so long since I read it, but he showed a deep emotional state, if not a depressed one because of how deeply he felt for the people around him and those he’s lost in this brutal world.
    Now that I write all this down (sorry for the length) I realize that many dragons I’ve read about are tricksters/shapeshifters; conniving and intelligent, the cream of the crop in regality in all creatures, but show a heart in the end. I think a dragon showing it’s emotions would be an ironic vulnerability in a powerful, frightening, heavily-armored creature.

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    1. I’ve read Dragon Slippers, but I’ve never heard of A Tale of Two Castles (even though I have read some of Levine’s work). I’ll have to keep an eye out for it.
      It’s interesting that you say many of the dragons you’ve read about are shape-shifters or tricksters. I’ve actually read very few in which dragons can shape-shift. I’m wondering, what do you mean by ‘trickster’? I think that’s an interesting classification, and I’d love to know more of what you’re thinking there. Do you mean a conniving villain like Smaug or a mischievous dragon like Mushu in Mulan (or something else entirely)?

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      1. Well, beyond the actual shapeshifters that I’ve mentioned, what I really meant was that they appear to be either good or evil and turn out to be the exact opposite, changing their character profile in the middle of the story. So, yes, definitely like Mushu, where he’s greedy and only wants to help himself instead of Mulan, but changes his mind and actions later on.

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      2. What I find really interesting in that, then, is that people characters are very much like that, too. I mean, the impression you get of Snape in Harry Potter isn’t too good, but in the end you find out that he was actually a good guy. Another book I read called Dark Horse had a warrior named Athlone who turned around mid-book to help the protagonist Gabria after spending the first half suspicious and distrustful of her.
        Dragons are possibly more like humans in stories than any other creature, at least in that way.

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