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.